Nuclear war is “no longer unthinkable” and a “plausible chain of events” in Ukraine could spark it, a senior military officer has warned.
Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have ended fruitlessly for another day, as the Russian invasion continues to stall.
“There are fundamental contradictions,” Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Pololiak said of the talks, aimed at ending the war.
“But there is certainly room for compromise. During the break, work in subgroups will be continued,” he added.
We are now on day 20 of the conflict. According to United States officials, Russian ground forces are still making “limited to no progress in achieving their objectives”.
The Russians continue to face “stiff Ukrainian resistance” in the outskirts of Kharkiv. In the capital, Kyiv, civilian targets such as residential areas are being struck “with increasing frequency” by long-range bombardment. And the situation remains grim in Mariupol, which is “isolated and still suffering heavy bombardment”.
And in further unwelcome news, a senior British air force officer has warned nuclear war is “only a few steps” away. Hence the caution from Western leaders.
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Read on for the latest updates.
Assault on Kyiv intensifies
Russia appears to have intensified its bombardment of the Ukrainian capital, with explosions across the city occurring more frequently.
The city’s military command has imposed a 35-hour curfew, and Mayor Vitali Klitschko has described the situation as a “difficult and dangerous moment”.
“This is why I ask all Kyivites to get prepared to stay at home for two days, or if the sirens go off, in the shelters,” Mr Klitschko said.
“Movement around Kyiv without special permits is forbidden. It is only allowed to go outside with the aim to get to the shelters.
“The capital is the heart of Ukraine, and it will be defended. Kyiv, which is currently the symbol and forward operating base of Europe’s freedom and security, will not by given up by us.”
This tweet is from Channel 7’s Chris Reason, who is in Kyiv.
Russia announces sanctions on US officials
Russia has announced retaliatory sanctions on a number of high profile US officials, including President Joe Biden.
Other names on the list are: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Mr Biden’s son Hunter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and a few more you likely won’t have heard of.
These people are now blocked from entering Russia, and any of their assets held in the country will be frozen. I’m sure they’re all crushed.
Nuclear war ‘only a few steps’ away
A senior officer in Britain’s air force has uttered words none of us want to hear, warning that nuclear war is “only a few steps” away, The Sun reports.
British Air Marshal Edward Stringer was explaining the caution of Western leaders, including his own Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden, who have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia and provided aid to Ukraine without intervening directly in the conflict.
“It’s no longer unthinkable,” Stringer said, referring to nuclear war.
“And it will certainly be weighing on the minds of those who are making all the political calculations at the moment. Hence the very straight and consistent line from Biden and all the other senior heads of state recently.
“It is in the realms of possibility, and that is what people have to get their heads around.”
He said it was possible to “sketch a plausible chain of events” leading to nuclear war.
“That’s only a few steps, to get from where we are now to a confrontation that could see the use of nuclear weapons, which I think is a pretty terrifying prospect for anybody sensible.”
Vladimir Putin’s fatal flaw
There has been no shortage of speculation about Vladimir Putin’s mental faculties recently, given his decision to engage in a war that could charitably be described as unwise, and has otherwise been called “perhaps the greatest military blunder in modern European history”.
Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, is the latest expert to share her thoughts on Putin’s decision-making. She spoke to Business Insider.
“It’s a personalistic system. Ultimately, what matters is what Putin thinks,” she said.
“Putin, personally, is obsessed with Ukraine.”
Instead of admitting when things go wrong, she said, Putin “doubles down”.
“It’s clear that there are issues with information, but also his ability to process information, frankly, at this point.”
This calls to mind a recent interview with the celebrated historian Stephen Kotkin, most famous for his biography of Joseph Stalin. Professor Kotkin recently spoke to The New Yorker about Putin’s regime.
In one small slice of that lengthy interview, he suggested a core problem for Putin was one extremely common among dictators: a dearth of good information.
“You have an autocrat in power, or even now a despot, making decisions completely by himself,” he said of Putin.
“Does he get input from others? Perhaps. We don’t know what the inside looks like. Does he pay attention? We don’t know. Do they bring him information that he doesn’t want to hear? That seems unlikely. Does he think he knows better than everyone else? That seems highly likely. Does he believe his own propaganda or his own conspiratorial view of the world? That also seems likely.
“And so we think, but we don’t know, that he is not getting the full gamut of information. He’s getting what he wants to hear. In any case, he believes that he is suprerior and smarter.
“This is the problem of despotism. It’s why despotism, or even just authoritarianism, is all-powerful and brittle at the same time.
“Despotism creates the circumstances of its own undermining. The information gets worse. The sycophants get greater in number. The corrective mechanisms become fewer. And the mistakes become more consequential.”
I encourage you to read the whole thing if you have a spare 15 minutes. It’s a fascinating discussion with an expert who knows his subject well.
Foreign leaders travel to Ukraine’s capital
The leaders of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have all travelled to Kyiv to meet with their Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, and show their support.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, hailed the gesture as “the courage of true friends”.
“Your visit to Kyiv at this difficult time for Ukraine is a strong sign of support. We really appreciate it,” said Mr Zelensky.
Meanwhile, NATO has confirmed there will be a meeting of its members’ heads of state in Brussels next Thursday, March 24. US President Joe Biden will be among the attendees. The main subject of discussion will, of course, be the war.
‘A menace’: Russia brutally denounced
Russia announced its withdrawal from the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organisation, shortly before members voted to expel it today. It appears to be a case of jumping before getting pushed.
The council’s 46 remaining member countries voted in favour of a resolution saying there was “no place for an aggressor” in Europe.
“Despite the many appeals to cease the hostilities and to comply with international law, the Russian leadership has persisted in its aggression, escalating the violence in Ukraine and making threats, should other states interfere,” the resolution said.
“Through its attitude and actions, the leadership of the Russian Federation poses an open menace to security in Europe.”
The council was founded in the wake of World War II to protect human rights. Russia joined it in the 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Brave Russian protester re-emerges
The Russian state television employee who bravely stormed onto the set of a live broadcast to protest against the war has emerged after disappearing for 24 hours.
Marina Ovsyannikova was seen leaving a court in Moscow after being fined 30,000 roubles ($376). That punishment was not for the protest itself, but for a video message she recorded beforehand, in which she described the war as a “crime”.
“These were some of the hardest days of my life,” Ms Ovsyannikova told reporters.
“I spent two days without sleep. I was questioned for more than 14 hours. They didn’t allow me to reach my family or give me any legal aid. I was in a fairly difficult position.”
She could still face harsher charges, and a potential prison sentence, under laws forbidding criticism of the war or the Russian military.
However, according to prominent human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov, the swift fine indicates a “political” call has been made by Russian authorities to pursue the case no further.
“The fact that she has already received a quick punishment indicates that a political decision has been made not to persecute her further,” he said.
24-year-old journalist killed in Ukraine
Another journalist has been killed in Ukraine, following the deaths of Brent Renaud and Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.
Today Fox News confirmed that Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshinova, who was travelling with Mr Zakrzewski, had died. A third reporter, Benjamin Hall, was wounded.
“Their vehicle was struck by incoming fire yesterday while in the field,” CEO Suzanne Scott told staff in an email.
“Sasha was just 24 years old and was serving as a consultant for us in Ukraine. She was helping our crews navigate Kyiv and the surrounding area while gathering information and speaking to sources.
“She was incredibly talented and spent weeks working directly with our entire team there, operating around the clock to make sure the world knew what was happening in her country.
“She was a joy to work with. Several of our correspondents and producers spent long days with her reporting the news, and go to know her personally, describing her as hardworking, funny, kind and brave.”
She offered the network’s “deepest condolences” to Ms Kuvshinova’s family.
Russia accused of taking hospital patients ‘hostage’
Ukrainian officials in the besieged southern city Mariupol have accused Russian forces of taking hospital staff and patients as “hostages”.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration, said hundreds of people were being held at the Mariupol regional intensive care hospital against their will.
“It is impossible to get out of the hospital,” he said, quoting one of the hospital employees who managed to get information out of the building.
“They shoot hard, we sit in the basement. Cars have not been able to drive to the hospital for two days. High rise buildings around us are burning.
“The Russians have rushed 400 people from neighbouring buildings to our hospital. We can’t leave.”
Mr Kyrylenko said the hospital was “practically destroyed”, but its staff and patients had remained in the basement.
“Respond to these vicious violations of the norms and customs of war, these egregious crimes against humanity,” he begged human rights organisations.
“Russia and every citizen involved in crimes in Ukraine must be punished.”
Mariupol’s deputy mayor, Sergei Orlov, told the BBC the Russians were “using our patients and doctors like hostages”.
Russian troops are allegedly firing at the Ukrainian army from the windows of the hospital, perhaps trying to provoke it to shoot back.
‘High price to pay’ for chemical attack
The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has warned that Russia will face a “high price” if it uses chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.
However he stopped well short of committing to military action from the alliance, should Russia cross that line.
“Throughout this crisis, they have tried to create different kinds of false flag operations to try to provide excuses for use of force,” Mr Stoltenberg said at a media conference overnight.
“Now we have seen them accusing Ukraine and also NATO allies of producing and developing chemical weapons, and that is an absolute lie.
“It does make us a bit concerned about the possibility that they are actually planning to do that. And the President of the United States and other allies also made it very clear that if they use chemical weapons, there will be a high price to pay.
“But I will not speculate about any military response from NATO.”