Russia-Ukraine war latest: new Mariupol evacuation attempt; heavy fighting expected in Kyiv, says UK – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russia-Ukraine war latest: new Mariupol evacuation attempt; heavy fighting expected in Kyiv, says UK – live” was written by Kevin Rawlinson (now); Tobi Thomas, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 31st March 2022 11.44 UTC

Roman Abramovich listens to peace talks on Tuesday
Roman Abramovich listens to peace talks on Tuesday
Photograph: AP

The Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is sanctioned by European nations over the invasion, was part of Moscow’s delegation at peace talks in Istanbul, Reuters quotes Turkish leaders as saying.

They claimed he is “sincerely” working to end the war that was started and is still being aggressively pursued by his own political ally, Vladimir Putin.

Abramovich made a surprise appearance at Tuesday’s talks in Istanbul. However, video footage showed him sat among observers rather than with the two negotiating teams.

Speaking to reporters on a flight from Uzbekistan, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Abramovich’s presence showed Putin “believes, trusts him”, according to broadcaster NTV and others.

Abramovich participated in the negotiations as part of the Russian delegation. Rather than looking at who was at the table, we should look at on whose behalf they were there.

The Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the broadcaster A Haber Abramovich has been liaising between Kyiv and Moscow since the 24 February invasion and working “sincerely” to end the fighting.

Of course, official talks are important, negotiations are important, but public opinion is sensitive, everyone wants to maintain their position, and there are channels that should be kept open between leaders and countries. Here, Abramovich plays a useful role.

According to Reuters, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Abramovich was not an official member of the Russian delegation, but acknowledged his presence to “enable certain contacts”.

Turkey, a Nato member, shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has good ties with both and has offered to mediate. It has supported Kyiv, but also opposes sanctions on Moscow; including measures against Abramovich and other Russian billionaires.

Updated

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, told the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, conditions were not yet in place for a ceasefire in Ukraine, the latter told a news conference, when asked about a telephone call with the former the previous day.

According to the Reuters news agency, Draghi also said Putin told him current gas contracts remained in force and that European firms will continue to pay in euros and dollars, rather than in roubles.

What I understood, but I may be wrong, is that the conversion of the payment … is an internal matter of the Russian Federation.

Asked about increased defence spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Draghi said Italy would reach the Nato goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2028, adding that this was not in dispute among members of his coalition.

However, Draghi said that the government’s upcoming economic forecasting document would not spell out a specific increase in defence spending.

Updated

More than 5m items of medical supplies have been given to Ukraine, helping to save tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives, the UK government is claiming.

Since the Russian invasion was launched, 13 flights carrying ventilators and other medical supplies have left the UK. Lifesaving medicines, intensive care equipment and wound packs have been donated by NHS England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The UK’s health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, has said:

The appalling atrocities inflicted on the Ukrainians by Putin’s evil attacks are causing untold misery to millions of people.

The invasion has created a medical emergency and the UK has acted swiftly to give our Ukrainian friends the medical support they need which has helped save tens of thousands of lives.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said:

The UK is continuing to play a leading role in the response to Russia’s unprovoked attacks on the Ukrainian people, with UK aid supplies flowing into Ukraine and its border regions.

From medicines and equipment, to food, generators, blankets and hygiene kits, we are working with the government of Ukraine, our trusted humanitarian partners and friends in the region to help those most in need.

Updated

The number of Ukrainian refugees who have been officially registered in Spain has reached nearly 30,000, says the country’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

He added that the number of Ukrainian refugees registered was likely to rise to 70,000 in the next few days.

Updated

The UK has said that it has imposed further sanctions of prominent Russian figures and military leaders, including Sergey Brilev, a propagandist who owns the Russia Today (RT) news channel.

Other Russian figures facing sanctions includes Aleksandr Zharov, chief executive of Gazprom-Media, Alexey Nikolov the managing director of RT and Anton Anisimov, the head of Sputnik International Broadcasting were also sanctioned.

Col-Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, dubbed “the butcher of Mariupol”, is also among the 14 new additions to the sanctions list.

Commenting on the sanctions, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said:

Putin’s war on Ukraine is based on a torrent of lies. Britain has helped lead the world in exposing Kremlin disinformation, and this latest batch of sanctions hits the shameless propagandists who push out Putin’s fake news and narratives.

We will keep on going with more sanctions to ramp up the pressure on Russia and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine. Nothing and no one is off the table.

Updated

The director general of the The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Robert Mardini, has called on Ukraine and Russia to agree on a safe evacuation of civilians from Mariupol and other frontline areas.

Speaking to Reuters, Mardini said that supplies were running low, and that up to 170,000 residents were trapped with no power.

To date the ICRC has so far led two evacuations of civilians from the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy.

Updated

As reported earlier, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.

The opposition Labour party leader of the Netherlands, Lilianne Ploumen, called on the government of the prime minister, Mark Rutte, to urgently implement EU sanctions and quickly target the assets because we can “no longer justify this to Ukraine”.

Some background:

  • Roughly 20% of Dutch natural gas comes from Russia, which has become an increasingly important trading partner for the Netherlands in recent years.
  • The Dutch, along with other EU countries including Germany, are looking for other energy sources, but quick alternatives are few and global supplies limited.
    Zelenskiy asked the Dutch to “adopt a city” in Ukraine to focus postwar reconstruction efforts.
  • The Netherlands has supplied Ukrainian forces with military equipment, including anti-tank rockets and Patriot air defence systems and is also supporting Nato’s increased presence along the military alliance’s eastern flank.
  • The Dutch have so far been unable to effectively freeze or seize tens of billions of euros in Russian assets registered in the Netherlands, due to complex tax structures that make it difficult to identify ultimate owners of corporate holdings and property.
  • A letter to parliament from the finance ministry on 22 March aid €392m ($431.24 million) in Russian assets and transactions had been frozen under EU sanctions imposed since the invasion on 24 February.

Updated

Today so far …

  • An evacuation mission is under way from Ukraine’s besieged southern port city of Mariupol. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it was planning to send a convoy of 45 buses from Zaporizhzhia to make the 220 kilometre (136 mile) journey. At least 17 of the buses have already departed.
  • Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are on their way to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol with aid supplies and stand ready to evacuate civilians, it said.
  • The boss of the British spy agency GCHQ has claimed that demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine were refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Sir Jeremy Fleming said Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “massively misjudged” his chances for a swift military victory in Ukraine and claimed that his advisers were “afraid to tell him the truth”.
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told the Australian parliament that his country is “undefeatable” against Russia as long as it can count on the support of the global community. Zelenskiy accused Putin of “nuclear blackmail” and said that an unchecked Russia was a “threat” to the world, suggesting its actions may inspire other nations to follow suit, in a thinly veiled warning about China to the parliament he was addressing.
  • As well as appearing before the Australian parliament today, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.
  • Zelenskiy said in a video address to the people of Ukraine last night that he doesn’t believe Russia’s vows to de-escalate its fighting. He said peace talks with Russia continue “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.
  • Moscow would not refuse a direct meeting between its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, but any talks between them would need to be substantive, the Russian foreign ministry has said.
  • The UK’s international trade secretary was asked about UK-India relations in the wake of India’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that “we understand why they’ve chosen to sit on the fence at the moment. They have connections in both directions.” Both the UK foreign minister and Russia’s Lavrov are in India at the same time.
  • Taiwan’s defence ministry has set up a working group to study the tactics of the war in Ukraine, including how the country has been able to hold out against Russia. Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Oil prices tumbled on reports that the United States is considering tapping its reserves to combat a supply crisis sparked by the Ukraine war. The Russian rouble meanwhile has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, for now. I am handing over to my colleague Tobi Thomas and heading off to host our Thursday quiz. I will be back later on.

Updated

Red Cross says it is on way to besieged Mariupol with aid supplies

Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are on their way to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol with aid supplies and stand ready to evacuate civilians, it said.

Ewan Watson, ICRC spokesperson, said Ukraine and Russia must agree on the exact terms of the operation, which is planned for Friday, adding that “tens of thousands” of lives depend on its success.

“For logistics and security reasons, we’ll be ready to lead the safe passage operation tomorrow, Friday, provided all the parties agree to the exact terms, including the route, the start time, and the duration,” Watson told Reuters in Geneva.

Earlier Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it was planning to send a convoy of 45 buses from Zaporizhzhia to make the 220 kilometre (136 mile) journey to Mariupol. At least 17 of the buses have already departed.

Updated

As well as appearing before the Australian parliament today, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has appeared in the Netherlands via video link and asked the Dutch parliament for weapons, reconstruction aid and to halt all business with Russia in response to the invasion of his country.

“Stronger sanctions are needed so that Russia doesn’t have a chance to pursue this war further in Europe,” Reuters quote him telling lawmakers. “Stop all trade with Russia.”

Ukrainian President Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament.
Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament.
Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

Updated

The US said on Wednesday that Russian forces had begun to pull out of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power site, which they seized on the first day of the invasion on 24 February.

An employee at Ukraine’s exclusion zone management agency claimed on Facebook that some soldiers had been taken to a special medical facility with acute radiation sickness, but this has not been confirmed.

On Monday workers at the site separately alleged to Reuters that soldiers had driven their armoured vehicles without radiation protection through a highly toxic zone called the “Red Forest”, kicking up clouds of radioactive dust.

Kim Willsher, our Paris correspondent who visited Chernobyl in 1990, writes:

“If either account is accurate it would suggest a remarkable level of either ignorance of what happened at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 when the nuclear plant’s Reactor 4 exploded after an experiment went wrong, or criminal recklessness. The ‘Red Forest’ is so named because the tops of the pine trees around the nuclear plant glowed red from the radiation they absorbed after the catastrophe.

The contaminated trees were later dug up and buried, but seeds from them were taken and grown to see what effect the radiation had on them. When I visited in 1990, scientists at the Chernobyl Research Centre showed me the result: saplings, many with bizarre mutations, some with needles growing backwards. Scientists estimated the contaminated area would not be safe for 24,000 years, give or take a thousand.

Before the war, tourists could visit around the area, but only with a permit and with official tour guides who have Geiger counters and know where to go. There are still many radioactive ‘hot-spots’ and no go areas.

It is possible the Russian troops did not know of the danger. On the day after the disaster, it was the sixth item on the Soviet news and locals were kept in the dark as radiation rained down on them. In 2019, when the Chernobyl mini-series was broadcast, Vladimir Putin dismissed it as American misinformation and said Russia would make its own ‘version’ of the tragedy blaming the CIA.”

Updated

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told the Australian parliament that his country is “undefeatable” against Russia as long as it can count on the support of the global community.

In a virtual speech to MPs and senators in Canberra, the Ukrainian president requested Australia send Bushmaster armoured vehicles to assist in the fight against Russia, saying they would “do much more for our common freedom and security than staying parked on your land”.

“You have very good armoured personal vehicles, Bushmasters, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment that could strengthen our position in terms of armaments,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy accused Vladimir Putin of “nuclear blackmail” and said that an unchecked Russia was a “threat” to the world, suggesting its actions may inspire other nations to follow suit, in a thinly veiled warning to the parliament he was addressing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy receives a standing ovation after addressing the House of Representatives via a video link at Parliament House in Canberra.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy receives a standing ovation after addressing the House of Representatives via a video link at Parliament House in Canberra.
Photograph: Alex Ellinghausen/AAP

“The distance between our countries is big, it’s thousands of kilometres … but there’s no such thing as distance for the brutality and chaos that Russia brought to the east of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.

“Whatever is happening in our region because of the Russian aggression … has become a real threat to your country and your people as well,” he said. “This is the nature of the evil. It can instantly cross any distance, any barriers, destroy lives.”

Read more from Josh Butler and Daniel Hurst on this: Volodymyr Zelenskiy asks Australia to send armoured vehicles to help fight Russia

Updated

Here are some more of the pictures that have appeared recently on the newswire depicting the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian youth comfort each other as they wait to get for a bus at Palanca-Maiaky-Udobne border crossing point between Moldova and Ukraine.
Ukrainians comfort each other as they wait for a bus at Palanca-Maiaky-Udobne border crossing point between Moldova and Ukraine.
Photograph: Daniel Mihăilescu/AFP/Getty Images
A local resident stands next to the grave yesterday of his friend killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol.
A resident stands next to the grave yesterday of his friend killed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Mariupol.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, the partially sunken remains of a Russian landing ship are seen in the port city of Berdiansk, Ukraine.
In this satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC, the partially sunken remains of a Russian landing ship are seen in the port city of Berdiansk, Ukraine.
Photograph: Planet Labs PBC/AP
The interior of a destroyed house in the village of Lukianivka.
The interior of a destroyed house in the village of Lukianivka.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Gen Sir Nick Parker, former commander of land forces in the British army, has somewhat controversially said Nato has been “defeated”, and called for a smaller coalition of nations to develop an offensive counter-strategy to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

PA Media quote him telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

Nato’s bluff was called. We were unable to stop the Russians trampling all over Ukraine and now Nato is holding the line of the 2004 expansion, along the line of the Baltic states and Poland and Hungary and Romania.

And what it has to do is to defend that line, it’s in what in military terms we would call a defensive position.

And I don’t think it has the capacity to move on to the offensive with its 30 nations all with slightly different views.

We need to have a smaller coalition of nations who can start to develop an offensive counter-strategy to Putin.

Updated

Moscow would not refuse a meeting between its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, but any talks between them would need to be substantive, RIA news agency has cited the Russian foreign ministry saying.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said earlier today that Turkey was working to bring together the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers for further talks after hosting peace negotiations in Istanbul this week.

Updated

17 buses already on way from Zaporizhzhia to Mariupol – more buses to follow

The Ukrainian government is sending 45 buses to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Seventeen buses have already left for Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia, around 220 kilometres (136 miles) to the north-west

“Tonight, we received a message from the International Red Cross Committee that the Russian Federation confirms its readiness to open access for the humanitarian convoy to the city of Mariupol with transit through the city of Berdiansk,” she said in video posted on Telegram. “We are sending 45 buses to the Mariupol corridor.”

Agence France-Presse report that another 28 were waiting for authorisation to pass the Russian checkpoint in Vasylivka, near Zaporizhzhia.

“We will do everything possible to ensure that buses arrive in Mariupol today and pick up people who have not yet been able to get out of the city,” Vereschuk said.

The Russian defence ministry yesterday had said that a humanitarian corridor would be opened from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, from 10am (0700 GMT) on Thursday.

“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said last night. The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire.

Updated

The boss of the British spy agency GCHQ has claimed that demoralised Russian soldiers in Ukraine were refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft. Sir Jeremy Fleming, in a speech given in Australia, said Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “massively misjudged” his chances for a swift military victory in Ukraine and claimed that his advisers were “afraid to tell him the truth”.

Here are some video clips of his talk:

 

Updated

A new fund-raising effort for LGBTQ+ people fleeing Ukraine because of the war has been launched today by campaigning group All Out.

Matt Beard, executive director at All Out, said: “These funds are supporting LGBT+ Ukrainians with evacuation, shelter, food, water, medication and legal support. This is happening both inside the country and in neighbouring countries like Romania.

“Thousands of people are still being forcibly displaced every day. They all need our immediate and ongoing help. And LGBT+ Ukrainians are feeling particularly vulnerable.”

Transgender people have already experienced difficulties in crossing the border out of Ukraine, due to issues with documentation. The funds raised are helping organisations like Lambda Warszawa, the oldest Polish LGBT+ organisation in Warsaw. Those working at the organisation say: “We’re dealing with people who are facing multiple traumas. They’re fleeing Ukraine, a homo- and transphobic country ravaged by war, and they arrive in Poland, another country that, while peaceful, is similarly anti-LGBT.”

All Out is a global not-for-profit organisation established in 2010.

“Before the invasion of their country, there was some progress towards equality for all. Now the hopes and dreams of an emerging generation of LGBT+ Ukrainians have been cruelly dashed. Instead of increasing safety, dignity and equality, they face the prospect of the kind of brutal homophobia and transphobia increasingly seen in recent years under the Putin regime,” said Beard.

Updated

Europe must stop buying oil and gas from Russia and should apply new sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, said.

Reuters report Nausėda told a joint news conference with the Danish prime minister: “Europe must stop buying Russian gas and oil, because the Kremlin regime uses this money to finance destruction of Ukrainian cities and attacks on peaceful civilians. The fifth sanction package must deliver a maximum blow to the Kremlin regime.”

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, left, and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda pose for the media prior to their meeting at the Presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, left, and Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, pose for the media prior to their meeting at the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Photograph: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

Earlier, Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, had said she expects more sanctions to be applied, without specifying what they might be.

Updated

Ukraine’s president Zelenskiy addresses Australian parliament

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been addressing the Australian parliament via videolink. His appeal to them was based on the threat to global security if Russia is not halted in its ambitions against Ukraine. He told them:

We haven’t seen this in the world, for a country to start a war against a neighbouring country, openly declaring their enslavement or destruction. Not to leave even the name of that nation. Not to have even any opportunity for this nation to live freely.

Government members and senators applaud Ukrainian’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy before he addresses the Australian parliament.
Government members and senators applaud Ukrainian’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy before he addresses the Australian parliament.
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Zelenskiy went on to specifically warn about the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, telling the Australian parliament:

No one can say any part of the world [is safe] from radioactive contamination which will come if nuclear weapons are used … A country which is using nuclear blackmail should receive sanctions which would show that such blackmailing is destructive for the blackmailer.

He also raised the spectre of aggressive nations being encouraged by any Russian success, saying:

But the most terrible thing, if we don’t stop Russia now, if we don’t hold Russia accountable, than some of the countries of the world that were looking forward to a similar war against their neighbours will decide that such things are possible for them as well. The fate of global security is decided now.

Here are a selection of the latest pictures to be sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine:

A general view taken last night showing fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
A general view taken last night showing fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A woman waits for evacuation in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine yesterday.
A woman waits for evacuation in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine yesterday.
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock
This photograph taken near Kyiv shows a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka.
This photograph taken near Kyiv shows a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka.
Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
A family of Ukrainian refugees crosses the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland.
A family of Ukrainian refugees crosses the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland.
Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

On Sky News, the UK’s international trade secretary was asked about UK-India relations in the wake of India’s refusal to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that “we understand why they’ve chosen to sit on the fence at the moment. They have connections in both directions.”

However she went on to say:

But for us, it’s really important to see all countries who believe in democracy and the rule of law and, indeed, defending your own territorial borders and wanting to have that sovereignty, respected, by those around you, to stand up for that.

The UK’s foreign secretary is currently visiting India, in a trip awkwardly timed as it coincides with India also hosting Russia’s foreign minister Sergie Lavrov. Our diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour has more.

Bus convoy has departed to evacuate civilians from Mariupol – Ukraine’s deputy PM

It looks like there is some progress on the humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from Mariupol. Reuters report that Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said that a convoy of Ukrainian buses has set out for the southern port city.

Updated

In the UK, the government minister that has been put up for interview duties is Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international secretary for trade. She opened by saying:

The prime minister continues to be very clear that Putin must fail in his outrageous and illegal war in invading Ukraine. And the UK Government continue to work hand in glove with both our US and our EU allies to support Ukraine to defend their territorial country borders, and to make sure that Putin turns his tanks around and takes them home.

On the question of the processing of refugees wanting to come to the UK, Trevelayn said the schemes are “moving at pace”. The UK has so far issued just over 25,000 visas to Ukrainians. Over 4 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their country so far.

Trevelyan was also asked on Sky News about the so-called “golden visa scheme”, where Russian oligarchs had been able to buy themselves residency in the UK by investing at least £2m into the country. Eight people who took advantage of that scheme have subsequently been put on to the list of people sanctioned by the UK government.

Asked whether this showed poor judgement from the government on who it had allowed into the country, Trevelyan entirely side-stepped the question, instead arguing that everybody, including the US and EU, must hold firm on sanctions:

There are some who say, if Putin just demonstrates that he might want to step back, we should all start to unwind these sanctions. Sanctions are there to make it very, very clear that Putin’s war must fail. That Putin’s behaviour is unacceptable. The financial pressures that we are applying with him and to those who support him, who are oligarchs, regardless of where they happen to be living now, cannot sustain their lifestyles. We will not allow that.

Taiwan’s defence ministry has set up a working group to study the tactics of the war in Ukraine, including how the country has been able to hold out against Russia, and has been discussing this with the United States, according to a recent Reuters report.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, wary of Beijing possibly making a similar move on the island and the possible impact of the war on China’s military thinking on Taiwan.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of parliament, defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said they had had “contact” with foreign countries to talk about how the war was being fought, and had set up their own working group to study it.

Topics Taiwan is following include Russia’s poor military performance and Ukraine’s resistance, he said.

It is not only discussed in exchange meetings between the United States and Taiwan, but also discussed with other countries that have regular contacts with Taiwan.

However, we will not make remarks rashly, but through internal discussions which are important, to get results that are helpful for building armaments and preparing for war.”

A quick snap from Reuters here, that Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen expects more sanctions against Russia. She is visiting Lithuania but declined to say what was being discussed.

  • This is Martin Belam here now, taking over from Samantha Lock. I will be here for the next few hours. You can get in touch with me at martin.belam@theguardian.com

Some more images to come from Ukraine illustrate the destruction inflicted on the country.

An elderly woman walks past a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
An elderly woman walks past a damaged Russian tank in the town of Trostyanets in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA
A swing set seen in the aftermath of bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
A swing set seen in the aftermath of bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman and her dog seek shelter underground in a metro subway station in Kharkiv.
A woman and her dog seek shelter underground in a metro subway station in Kharkiv.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is now a battlefield once home to 1.4 million people.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, is now a battlefield once home to 1.4 million people.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

While the Russian rouble re-emerged from the rubble, oil prices tumbled on Thursday on reports that the United States is considering tapping its reserves to combat a supply crisis sparked by the Ukraine war.

Here is a report from Reuters:

Equities struggled to build on the week’s rally after Russia poured cold water on hopes that ceasefire talks were progressing, leaving the prospect of a protracted war in eastern Europe that has already sent shockwaves through the world economy.

WTI tumbled more than 5% and Brent more than 4% as reports said US President Joe Biden was looking at releasing a million barrels a day for several months as he tries to temper a surge in the market to more than $100.

Concerns about demand in China owing to a lockdown in Shanghai was adding to downward pressure.

The White House this month put an embargo on oil from Russia as part of a series of wide-ranging sanctions against the country for its invasion.

However, that sent prices soaring further and put added upward pressure on world inflation, which was already at multi-decade highs.

Officials said the president would make a statement Thursday on plans to cut energy costs “and lower gas prices at the pump for American families”.

The news comes as the International Energy Agency urges other countries to further tap their reserves.

The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.

The currency was trading at 75.5 to one US dollar on Thursday morning, compared with almost 140 to the dollar at the beginning of March when it crashed with the onest of sanctions. That is actually better than it was on 22 February, two days before the invasion, when it was at 80 per dollar.

Russia has bolstered the currency by raising interest rates to 20% – therefore encouraging investment in the rouble – and imposing capital controls which mean that people cannot swap roubles for other currencies.

The Kremlin’s threat to make European gas importers like Germany pay for their supplies in roubles – thus boosting the currency’s value – has also helped. More help has come from China and India, which have increased the amount of Russian oil they are buying thanks to generous discounts from Moscow.

In case you missed the earlier announcement of a possible ceasefire in Mariupol, here are the details we reported earlier.

The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.

A humanitarian corridor from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, via the Russian-controlled port of Berdiansk, would be opened from 10am (7am GMT), the ministry said on Wednesday.

Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car in a residential area in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car in a residential area in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

“For this humanitarian operation to succeed, we propose to carry it out with the direct participation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross,” the ministry statement said.

The Russian ministry asked Kyiv to guarantee the “unconditional respect” for the ceasefire through written notification to the Russian side, the UNHCR and ICRC before 6am (3am GMT) Thursday.

Moscow also asked the Ukrainian army to commit to ensure the security of the bus convoys along the designated corridor.

The ministry also said it had agreed to a proposal from Kyiv to open in the last 24 hours four new humanitarian corridors from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia.

Heavy fighting likely to take place in Kyiv in coming days – UK MoD

The UK’s ministry of defence has just released its latest intelligence report, suggesting heavy fighting will likely take place in Kyiv in the coming days.

Despite Russian statements indicating an intended reduction of military activity around Chernihiv, significant Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued.

Russian forces continue to hold positions to the east and west of Kyiv despite the withdrawal of a limited number of units. Heavy fighting will likely take place in the suburbs of the city in coming days.

Heavy fighting continues in Mariupol, a key objective of Russian forces, however Ukrainian forces remain in control of the centre of the city.”

Updated

Zelenskiy doubts Russia’s promise to de-escalate fighting

Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to Ukraine last night that he doesn’t believe Russia’s vows to de-escalate its fighting.

In a televised speech, Zelenskiy said peace talks with Russia continue “but for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.

Today I have few words, not much time, a lot of emotions and even more tasks. It is that kind of moment. A turning point, when we can and should talk only about the most important thing.

Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics.”

Zelenskiy spoke of the promise made by Russia to withdraw troops from the north of Ukraine.

We know that this is not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile. Consequences of the work of our defenders. But we also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.

We do not believe anyone – we do not trust any beautiful verbal constructions. There is a real situation on the battlefield. And now – this is the most important thing. We will not give up anything. And we will fight for every meter of our land, for every person.”

EU and US officials have concurred with Sir Jeremy Fleming’s remarks.

A senior EU diplomat told Reuters earlier:

Putin thought things were going better than they were. That’s the problem with surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ or only sitting with them at the end of a very long table.”

Russian troops were being told that they were taking part in a military exercise prior to the Ukraine invasion, but had to sign a document that extended their duties, said two European diplomats.

They were misled, badly trained and then arrived to find old Ukrainian women who looked like their grandmothers yelling at them to go home,” added one of the diplomats.

There are no signs at the moment that the situation could foster a revolt within the Russian military, but the situation is “unpredictable” and western powers “would hope that unhappy people would speak up,” said the senior European diplomat to Reuters.

Sir Jeremy Fleming also said there were growing signs that Russian soldiers “short of weapons and morale” were “refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft”.

Fleming said in a speech in Canberra at the Australian National University:

We’ve seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

Putin has massively misjudged the situation … We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth.”

A destroyed Russian tank seen in Sumy region, Ukraine.
A destroyed Russian tank seen in Sumy region, Ukraine.
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

Updated

It looks like being another turbulent day on the international energy markets where oil has dropped nearly 5% in trade so far today to just under $108 a barrel.

The fall has been partly driven by continued lockdowns in China but it will help ease the price surge caused by sanctions on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Oil prices are closely linked to natural gas prices and the cost of the latter also fell on Thursday.

Gas markets are still uncertain, however, about how the standoff with Russia over its demand to be paid in roubles will be resolved. Concern about the possible loss of supply in Germany prompted Berlin to activate emergency plans on Wednesday that could eventually lead to gas rationing. Russia supplies around 30% of Europe’s gas – but 40% of Germany’s.

A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin.
A bus passes by the Adlershof gas-fired power station in Berlin.
Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

Capital Economics said in a note on Wednesday that the standoff could increase pressure on household incomes if it leads to rsationing and in turn higher prices for commodities and consumer goods.

The industrial sector would bear the brunt of any power rationing imposed as a result of Europe’s shift away from Russian energy, but the direct economic impact of this would be smaller than one might expect. However, the knock-on impact from higher commodity prices would be felt more widely, making output in some sectors even more uneconomic and tightening the squeeze on household incomes.

Updated

Putin ‘misled’ by advisers, White House says

Vladimir Putin has made a strategic miscalculation in launching the invasion of Ukraine and his advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, in a speech given in Australia, said the Russian leader had misjudged the strength of Ukrainian resistance, the western response and the ability of his forces to deliver a rapid victory.

“It all adds up to the strategic miscalculation that western leaders warned Putin it would be. It’s become his personal war, with the cost being paid by innocent people in Ukraine and, increasingly, by ordinary Russians too,” Fleming said.

Western security officials want to lay the responsibility for February’s unprovoked invasion on Putin, who they characterise as a dominant, isolated leader who is making poor decisions partly because he no longer gets accurate information or honest opinions from his subordinates.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers are “afraid to tell him the truth” about the extent of his error, the boss of British spy agency GCHQ said in a speech on Thursday.
Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

As a result, Fleming said he believed that the failure to achieve a quick victory must be causing discord in the Kremlin. “Even though we believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.”

Earlier, US officials made a similar point, arguing that Putin was being misled by advisers who were too scared to tell him how poorly the war in Ukraine is going and how damaging western sanctions have been. Kate Bedingfield, director of communications at the White House, said:

We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership.

We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.

So, it is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby later agreed with the White House assessment: “It’s [Putin’s] military. It’s his war. He chose it … the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.”

Some of the latest images to come out of Ukraine provide a striking illustration of life for those living during war.

Fire and smoke light up the night sky in a shade of bright orange, east of Kharkiv.

Once-bustling city streets are seen deserted while a Russian missile lies in a children’s playground.

Women nurse newborn babies in metro stations now being used as bomb shelters.

A man walks through the debris in the aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
A man walks through the debris in the aftermath of Russian bombing in the besieged city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Deserted streets in the aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Deserted streets in the aftermath of shelling in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
A Russian missile is seen in a children’s playground.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A woman holds her baby in a metro station being used as a bomb shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Photograph: Hamed Hami Roshan/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
This general view taken on 30 March shows fire and smoke lighting up the night sky, east of Kharkiv.
Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

Zelenskiy warns Russia is preparing a large offensive in Donbas

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned that Russia is massing its forces in the eastern region of Donbas in preparation for a big offensive.

Speaking in one of his trademark late-night television addresses from the streets of Kyiv, Zelenskiy said any withdrawal of Russian troops from the regions around Kyiv and Chernihiv – as stated by the Kremlin on Tuesday – was due to Ukrainian resistance.

But he added:

We also see that at the same time there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes in Donbas. And we are preparing for this.

This assessment tallied with Russia’s other statement on Tuesday that it had allegedly completed its operations in Kyiv and was turning to the eastern area of Donbas which has been home to two self-styled pro-Russian separatist republics since 2014.

A Russian military report released late on Wednesday said:

All the main tasks of the Russian Armed Forces in the Kyiv and Chernigov [Chernihiv] directions have been completed.

A planned regrouping of troops is taking place in these areas, its goal is to intensify actions in priority areas and, above all, complete the operation to completely liberate Donbas.”

Read more on the military situation, peace talks and other key developments here:

Updated

Summary

Hello. It’s Samantha Lock with you to continue our coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian troops are building up in the country’s east, as the White House claimed Putin was being misinformed by his inner circle over the performance of the military.

Here is a comprehensive rundown of the latest developments over the past 12 hours:

  • The Russian defence ministry announced a local ceasefire on Thursday to allow civilians to be evacuated from Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol, according to Agence France-Presse.
  • Russia and Ukraine will resume online peace talks on Friday 1 April. A senior Ukraine official said leaders of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, could meet “soon”, but the Kremlin downplayed hopes of an early breakthrough. Ukraine’s president said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday that “for the moment there are just words, nothing concrete”.
  • Zelenskiy said he talked to Joe Biden for an hour on another “very active diplomatic day”, thanking the US president for a new $1bn humanitarian aid package and an additional $500m in direct budget support. Zelenskiy said: “The support of the United States is vital for us. And now it is especially important to lend a hand to Ukraine, to show all the power of the democratic world.”
  • The Ukrainian president also said he was cautious of Russia’s “verbal constructions” and described the movement of Russian troops as “not a withdrawal, but the consequences of exile”. “Yes, there is an ongoing negotiation process. But these are still words. So far no specifics,” he added.
  • A recent Russian military report appears to contradict Russia’s promise to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s north following “meaningful” progress at peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday. The report from Russia’s ministry of defence published in a Telegram post late on Wednesday states Russia is merely undertaking a “planned regrouping of troops” after successfully completing its military objectives in Kyiv and Chernihiv.
  • Russian shelling continued on Wednesday despite Moscow saying on Tuesday that it would scale back its attacks around Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv. However, reports citing the Pentagon said that Russian forces were “walking away” from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
  • UK, US and EU officials say Putin has been misled over Russian military performance. Putin has received misinformation about how well Russia is doing and how much the sanctions have affected the country because some of those closest to him are afraid to tell him the truth, according to a speech planned by the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy service on Thursday.
  • Sir Jeremy Fleming said that some Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders, and that they are poorly equipped and have low morale.
  • Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a briefing: “It’s his [Putin] military. It’s his war. He chose it…the fact that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting.
  • Global restrictions on exports of industrial components to Russia have hit car and tank production. A carmaker has shut down and tank production has halted, according to the US.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials have said.
  • The Russian rouble has recovered to its pre-war value despite western sanctions on the country’s exports and financial systems.
  • Germany could ration power if a standoff over a Russian demand to pay for fuel with roubles disrupts or halts supplies.
  • President Joe Biden’s administration is also considering releasing 1 million barrels of oil a day for several months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to reduce gasoline prices, two senior US officials said.
  • Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, is due to land in India on Thursday to urge Narendra Modi’s government to reduce its strategic dependency on Russia. Her arrival in New Delhi coincides with that of her sparring partner Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who will be making his first visit since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The UK has announced new laws targeting the access of Russian oligarchs to “UK aviation and maritime technical services”, according to the Foreign Office.
  • Eight Russian oligarchs on the UK sanctions list over their links to Vladimir Putin were granted “golden visas” to live in Britain. The individuals were granted the right to live in the UK after promising to invest at least £2m under the controversial tier 1 investor visa scheme, the UK government has admitted.
  • Russian hackers have recently attempted to penetrate the networks of Nato and the militaries of some eastern European countries, according to a report by Google’s threat analysis group. The report did not say which militaries had been targeted in what Google described as “credential phishing campaigns” launched by a Russian-based group called Coldriver, or Callisto.
  • Slovakia has said it will expel 35 Russian diplomats based on information provided by intelligence services. Fellow EU countries Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic have all announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
  • It could take at least a year for Ukraine to hold a referendum on its neutrality – a key Russian demand to end the war – according to the head of Ukraine’s delegation at peace talks with Russia.

Updated

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