Global Review – 17th March

Russians hit Mariupol theatre sheltering 500 civilians

City officials in the besieged city of Mariupol said Wednesday that Russian bombing had hit a theatre that was being used to shelter civilians. The officials said they did not know if there were any casualties in the strike, but said hundreds of civilians had been taking refuge in the building. Mariupol, a southern port city on the Sea of Azov, has been under siege and bombardment from Russian forces for more than two weeks during which communications, electricity, water and heating had been almost completely cut off. Belkis Wille, Human Rights Watch referent, said satellite images showed two clear written words, “children” in Cyrillic characters, in front of and behind the structure to warn the Russians of civilians sheltering there. However, the Russian military said that the theatre was hit by fire from the Ukrainian “Azov Battallion”.

Zelensky compares the Mariupol siege to that of Leningrad

Speaking in Russian in a video released on social media, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly told the Russian people: “Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people.” The siege of Leningrad lasted from 8 September 1941 to 27 January 1944; it was the longest in modern history after that of Sarajevo (from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996). “We are taking the residents of Mariupol, who managed to escape to Berdyansk, to Zaporizhia. In total, more than 6,000 residents of Mariupol were transported in one day, more than 2,000 of whom are children.”

Russians keep up shelling

Kremlin forces kept up their bombardments of besieged cities, including intensified shelling of the capital Kyiv as more than three million Ukrainians have fled and hundreds have died. The sirens sound again at 2.25am this morning, warning of an air attack in the Kyiv region, in the Ukrainian capital and in the surrounding areas. The inhabitants are invited to go to the civil protection shelters.

Earlier, the US Embassy in Kyiv said Russian forces had shot dead 10 people waiting in line for bread in Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv. Russia denied the attack and said the incident was a hoax. Footage from Ukraine’s state broadcaster showed bodies lying on the street. The Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation.

Meanwhile, emergency services said rescue workers had found the bodies of five people, including three children, during searches of shell-hit residential buildings in Chernihiv.

The governor of Zaporizhzhia region said Russian forces had fired artillery at a convoy of evacuees from Mariupol, wounding five people on Wednesday. Ukraine’s military said children were among the casualties.

Three people were killed and five wounded after shelling caused a fire at a market in eastern Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, emergency services said.

Russia has become a terrorist state – Zelensky

In his nightly video address, Zelensky says that “the world must officially recognise that Russia has become a terrorist state”. Reiterating his calls for more sanctions against Russia, more weapons for Ukraine and a no-fly zone, the Ukrainian leader also said “real protection” for his country was a prerequisite for any negotiations with Russia to succeed. “My priorities in the negotiations are absolutely clear: the end of the war, security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country,” he said.

Kremlin says Ukraine operation ‘going to plan’

The Kremlin has insisted the war in Ukraine was “going to plan”, despite the fact that the Russian army yet to capture any of Ukraine’s biggest cities. President Putin on Wednesday said he was ready to discuss neutral status for Ukraine but what he calls a “special military operation” to “demilitarise and denazify” the country was “going to plan”, justified by the need to uphold Russian security.

Moscow condemns Biden’s ‘war criminal’ comment

The Russian government has hit out at President Biden for having called Vladimir Putin “a war criminal” as he was walking out of an event at the White House. A reporter raised the question with Biden, asking “Mr President, after everything we’ve seen, are you ready to call Putin a war criminal?” At first, Biden said, “No.” The reporter from Fox News then asked if Biden will travel to Poland where more than two million Ukrainian refugees have fled since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. “Did you ask me whether I should call…?” Biden said. “Oh, I think he is a war criminal.” For the American president, his Russian counterpart was inflicting “devastation and horror, bombing apartments and maternity wards. These are atrocities, an outrage to the world.” The White House said the president had been speaking “from the heart”. The Kremlin said the US President’s comments were “unacceptable” and “unforgiveable rhetoric”, recalling how “his bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world”.

Kremlin says neutral Ukraine is ‘possible compromise’

The Financial Times reports progress has been made on a “tentative peace plan” between Russia and Ukraine. It says the plan would see Ukraine renounce any ambition to join NATO and pledge not to host foreign military bases on its territory, though adds there is concern that Moscow is simply using the talks in order to buy time and regroup its forces. Russia has said that a neutral Ukraine with its own army, along the lines of Austria or Sweden, was being looked at as a possible compromise in the peace talks with Kyiv. RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying, “This is a variant that is currently being discussed and which could really be seen a compromise.”

ICJ orders Russia to ‘immediately suspend’ war

The United Nations’ top court on Wednesday ordered Russia to “immediately suspend the special military operations” against Ukraine. The ruling by the International Court of Justice came after Ukraine accused the Kremlin of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention by falsely accusing Ukraine of genocide to justify its invasion. The UN has ordered Russia to ‘suspend the special military operations’ against Ukraine. Although the rulings are binding, the ICJ – also known as the World Court – has no direct means of enforcing them, and countries previously ignored them. Still, President Zelensky celebrated the “complete victory”, adding “Russia must comply immediately. Ignoring the order will isolate Russia even further,” he tweeted. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also called for “Putin to withdraw and stop the attacks”.

Berlin approves Germany-Italy gas solidarity agreement

The German government has approved a bilateral solidarity agreement between Germany and Italy, which provides for gas deliveries in case of extreme need. According to what ANSA learned from the German ministry, the agreement will be signed on March 29, on the sidelines of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogues, by Ministers Roberto Cingolani and Robert Habeck. And it will come into effect from that moment on. Germany has already signed a similar agreement in the past with Denmark, and with Austria. And it plans to enter into similar agreements with other EU countries. Later today, Draghi will meet the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal and Greece to formulate a common gas acquisition policy.

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