British prime minister condemns hospital bombing: “We will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes”
From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite in London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday condemned the bombing of a children’s and maternity hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, saying, “There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless.”
In a tweet, he said that Britain “is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against airstrikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes,” adding the hashtag “#PutinMustFail.”
The city council of Mariupol has posted video of a devastated maternity and children’s hospital in the city and accused Russian forces of dropping several bombs on it from the air.
Mariupol authorities accuse Russians of bombing children’s and maternity hospital
From CNN’s Tim Lister in Kyiv and Olga Voitovych
The city council of the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol has posted video of a devastated children’s and maternity hospital in the city and accused Russian forces of dropping several bombs on it from the air.
“The destruction is enormous. The building of the medical facility where the children were treated recently is completely destroyed. Information on casualties is being clarified,” the council said.
“A maternity hospital in the city center, a children’s ward and department of internal medicine … all these were destroyed during the Russian air strike on Mariupol. Just now,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration.
Donetsk region police say that according to preliminary information, at least 17 people were injured —mothers and staff — as a result of the Russian attack.
“Information on victims is being clarified,” the police said
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the air strike on the hospital in Mariupol.
“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror?” Zelensky said on his Telegram account.
The president again directed his anger at NATO for refusing to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying “Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity.”
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British American Tobacco says it will continue to operate in Russia and suspends planned investment
From CNN’s Robert North
British American Tobacco (BAT) says it will continue to operate in Russia and will suspend all planned investment into the country to focus on its portfolio of locally produced tobacco products.
“In Russia, we have a full establishment of our people right across the country, including substantial local manufacturing. Our business in Russia continues to operate. As a key principle we have a duty of care to all our employees at this extremely complicated and uncertain time for them and their families,” the tobacco firm said in a statement on Wednesday.
The statement added: “Furthermore, we are scaling our business activities appropriate to the current situation, including rationalising our marketing activities. This fast-moving and complex situation demands us to constantly assess a wide range of factors and considerations. We are complying, and will continue to comply with, all international sanctions related to this conflict in full.”
BAT currently employs around 2,500 people at its regional offices and St. Petersburg manufacturing plant.
British American Tobacco said it had suspended all business and manufacturing operations in Ukraine and was providing support and assistance to its staff there.
Earlier, tobacco firm Imperial Brands said that it had suspended all operations in Russia, including halting production at its factory in Volgograd and ceasing all sales and marketing activity. The firm said it would continue to pay all of its staff in Russia. Imperial Brands had already suspended its operations in Ukraine to prioritize the “safety and wellbeing” of its 600 employees.
US and Polish officials are still discussing possible jet deal, but logistical hurdles remain
From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak
US and Polish officials have had a number of conversations since United States officials were caught off guard by Poland’s statement yesterday about providing fighter jets, an administration official said, adding that the relationship between the two countries remains strong despite the disagreement.
And a senior administration official says providing Ukraine with MiG fighter jets remains a priority for the administration, even after the US rejected Poland’s proposal to transfer them first to the US, senior administration officials say.
While the White House was caught by surprise when Poland made its offer publicly, officials do not believe the episode precludes coming to some type of agreement that would allow the jets to get to Ukraine.
But at the same time, Tuesday’s disagreement underscores the logistical difficulties that have so far prevented Ukraine from securing the jets. And officials indicated that the odds are stacked against finding a solution to provide the jets and that there are no immediate apparent solutions to facilitate the delivery.
There are also a handful of other countries with the jets — including Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria — and officials are not ruling out talks with those nations as they seek a way forward. One official said that Ukraine’s initial request was directed at Poland, plus those three countries, but that Poland was the only country initially willing to entertain a possible jet transfer.
Officials describe the issue as two-fold: a logistics problem of getting the jets to Ukraine, and a political problem of avoiding escalation with Russia. US officials described the Polish plan as failing to adequately address both.
One administration official said the US was concerned Russia could interpret jets flying into Ukraine from a NATO base as an attack.
Another official said pressure to get the jets to Ukraine noticeably ramped up after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with US lawmakers to facilitate a transfer during a Zoom call on Saturday morning.
Prior to the call, US officials had downplayed the prospects of helping with a transfer of the MiG planes, which Ukrainian pilots have been trained to fly. Officials said they were focused mainly on other areas of security assistance, including sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The logistical challenges of getting the aircraft to Ukraine appeared to some officials an unworkable challenge, and they questioned how effective the planes would be.
But Zelensky’s request on the call, which lawmakers described as impassioned, seemed to change the calculus. Immediately after the session ended, both Republicans and Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, came out in support.
That left the administration with little choice but to publicly get behind the idea, even if some officials were skeptical. By Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was working with Polish officials to transfer the planes to Ukraine and “backfill” with US jets.
An administration official said the bilateral relationship between the two countries remains strong and that the additional US security assistance has continued to flow into Ukraine via Poland, including in the last day.
US defense official denies Russian claims, says “majority” of Ukrainian air fleet “still intact and operable”
From CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb
The “majority” of the Ukrainian air fleet is still “intact and operable,” a senior US defense official told reporters on Wednesday.
“They do have fixed-wing aircraft available to them, still the majority of their fleet is still intact and operable,” the official said, adding that the airspace over Ukraine remains “contested.”
The official said the reason the airspace over Ukraine remains “contested” is because Ukraine’s air defense systems “remains viable” and “effective.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Wednesday that 90% of Ukrainian military airfields are now out of action.
“There are practically no trained Ukrainian pilots of the first and second class left. To date, only single attempts to sorties by combat aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force have been recorded,” MOD spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said in a video message.
The US official said, “Russians have surface-to-air missile umbrellas that virtually cover the whole country.”
On the proposal for Poland to provide MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine, the official said those kinds of deals are the “sovereign decision” of each nation that decides to do something like that.
“If another nation wants to consider the provision of aircraft, I mean that’s a sovereign decision they can make and they should make on their own and in consultation with Ukraine,��� the official said.
The United Arab Emirates will encourage OPEC to consider higher oil production levels, ambassador says
From CNN’s Becky Anderson and Mostafa Salem
The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, told CNN that the UAE favors “oil production increases and will be encouraging OPEC to consider higher production levels.”
“The UAE has been a reliable and responsible supplier of energy to global markets for more than 50 years and believes that stability in energy markets is critical to the global economy,” he said.
The UAE had, last week, committed to the same oil production levels with Russia vis-à-vis the OPEC+ agreement. Otaiba’s comments signal, possibly, a change in Emirati policy from stabilizing oil production to an increase in oil production — and therefore helping decrease soaring energy prices. The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure has not released a statement at the time of this writing.
Meanwhile, the UAE is also working with the US to schedule a call between US President Joe Biden and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, an Emirati foreign ministry spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are global oil producing powerhouses, capable of increasing production to decrease soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite the price hikes, both countries recommitted last week to the OPEC+ oil production agreement with Russia. Both countries have also declined to give an outright condemnation of Putin’s invasion.
The Gulf countries are close US allies, and most recently, the UAE received additional US military defensive support to help them against Houthi threats from Yemen. But the UAE has called on the US to re-designate the Iran-backed militia on the Foreign Terror Organization list, which the US has yet to do.
The relationship between the US and the UAE is currently “under a stress test” the Emirati ambassador to the US said in a forum last week.
US defense official says Russia has launched 710 missiles against Ukraine and forces are now outside Kharkiv
From CNN’s Michael Conte
Russia has launched 710 missiles against Ukraine since the start of the invasion, and Russian forces have gotten closer to the cities of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, according to a senior US defense official.
Russian forces gained 20 km (or 12 miles) in the last day and are just outside Kharkiv now, said the official. Additionally, Russia is about 15 km (9 miles) to the north of Mykolaiv.
There have been “no significant movements” by Russian forces towards Kyiv or Chernihiv, though there continues to be “a lot of fighting” near Chernihiv, said the official
UN says at least 500 people have been killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began
From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite in London
At least 516 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in its latest update on Wednesday.
This is an increase of 42 deaths compared to the previous update on Monday.
About 908 civilians have also been injured, the UN said Wednesday.
“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the UN said.
The actual figures “are considerably higher, especially in Government-controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration,” it added.
The UN said that the increase in figures compared to the previous one “should not be attributed to civilian casualties that occurred on 8 March only, as during the day OHCHR also corroborated casualties that occurred on previous days.”
Papa John’s suspends all corporate operations in Russia
From CNN’s Matt Egan
Papa John’s International announced Wednesday it has suspended all corporate operations in Russia, adding to a long roster of Western brands distancing themselves from Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine.
Up until now, Papa John’s had been among a shrinking group of major Western companies with a presence in Russia to keep its business intact there despite the outcry over the war in Ukraine.
Papa John’s said it has stopped all operational, marketing and business support to, and engagement with, the Russian market. However, the Papa John’s brand will still exist in Russia.
The company said all of its restaurants in Papa John’s are owned by independent franchisees and a master franchisee that controls operations and provides supplies and ingredients.
Papa John’s said it is not currently receiving any royalties from these franchised stores in Russia and does not own or operate any restaurants in Russia.
“Papa John’s stands with much of the globe in condemning aggression and violence,” the company said in a statement. “We hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which today is hurting millions of innocent people, who are losing their homes, communities and people they love.”
Here’s a list of the companies that have said they are pulling back from Russia.