Ukraine war updates: Putin says NATO won't be attacked but F-16s will; Kyiv claims Russia knew terror attack was coming

Pictures show destroyed houses in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region in the south-east of the country. The region’s governor Ivan Fedorov said in a post on Telegram that two women had been injured in the attack.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

Rescuers stand near an explosion crater after a Russian drone attack on March 28, 2024 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Olena Lysenko/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

A woman looks at a destroyed private home after a Russian drone attack on March 28, 2024 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Olena Lysenko/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

A woman removes the rubble of a destroyed private home after a Russian drone attack on March 28, 2024 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Olena Lysenko/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

Rescuers remove debris after a Russian drone attack on March 28, 2024 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Alena Natalukha/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

The White House on Thursday described as “nonsense” Russia’s allegation that Ukraine was involved in the attack on the Crocus City concert hall, saying it was clear that Islamic State was “solely responsible.”

In a briefing to reporters, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that the United States passed a written warning of an extremist attack to Russian security services, one of many provided in advance to Moscow.

— Reuters

Suspects in the terror attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall received money and cryptocurrency from Ukraine, the Russian investigative Committee said in a Telegram post on Thursday.

It also said it had found connections to Ukrainian nationalists. No evidence was presented alongside the Telegram post. Ukraine has vehemently denied any links to the attack.

“As a result of working with detained terrorists, studying the technical devices seized from them, and analyzing information about financial transactions, evidence was obtained of their connection with Ukrainian nationalists,” the committee said on Telegram, according to Google Translate.

An additional suspect who is allegedly part of a “terrorist financing scheme” has also been detained in connection with the attack, the committee said.

Accusations have been flying between Russia and Ukraine regarding the attack, with Russia saying Ukraine and its allies were behind it and Ukraine accusing Russia of being aware of plans for the attack before it took place.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Ukraine asked Western allies for air defense supplies at an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council on Thursday after a spate of Russian missile attacks on critical and energy infrastructure, Ukraine’s mission to NATO said.

Russia last Friday conducted its largest air strike on Ukraine’s energy system since invading in February 2022, damaging power units at a major dam and causing blackouts for more than a million people in a number of regions.

Firefighters extinguish a fire at an electrical substation after a missile attack in Kharkiv, on March 22, 2024, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine. 

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

The mission said on the X platform that Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov had briefed partners on the aftermath of the attacks, urging them to provide more equipment to block incoming salvos.

Moscow has described its recent attacks as part of a series of “revenge” strikes in response to Kyiv’s attacks on Russian regions, and increased its use of harder-to-stop ballistic missiles.

— Reuters

Poland’s prime minister said the country is close to an agreement with Ukraine over the thorny issue of agricultural imports.

“We are close to a solution,” Donald Tusk said at a news conference, in comments reported by Reuters.

“This applies to the amount of products that can flow into Poland, once we determine it, we are close to ensuring that transit does not disturb the Polish market.”

Polish farmers with their tractors and vehicles block the expressway S3 during a demonstration. Polish farmers are staging protests against cheap Ukrainian grain flooding the market and EU regulations on pesticide and fertiliser usage. Tractors with Polish flags blocked motorways and major junctions in almost 200 locations in Poland. 

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Farmers in Poland and neighboring eastern Europe countries have staged a number of protests in recent months at a glut of cheaper Ukrainian agricultural imports, ranging from grain to sunflower seeds, flooding the market and affecting their own crop prices.

A majority of Ukraine’s agricultural produce is now being exported over land, via eastern Europe, rather than by sea due to the war.

— Holly Ellyatt

The Kremlin was forced to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to visit the Crocus City Hall, saying it would be inappropriate for him to do so while an investigation is ongoing.

On Thursday, it was confirmed that 143 people died in the attack against the Moscow concert venue last Friday night. The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the massacre.

A view shows the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 26, 2024.

Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked by reporters on Thursday why Putin had not yet gone to the Crocus City Hall, which has been largely reduced to a burned-out shell after gunmen set fire to the building. Peskov answered that such a visit was impractical.

“From the first minutes of this terrible terrorist attack, all relevant services and the leadership of the Moscow region, headed by [regional governor Andrei] Vorobyov, took all the measures that should be taken in such situations to ensure the rescue of people, the provision of medical care to the victims, and fire fighting,” he said in Google-translated comments reported by Russian state news agency Tass.

“Carrying out some kind of study tour 1712131182 is completely impractical, because it would simply interfere with the [Moscow regional] headquarters’ work.”

Leaders often visit the sites of national disasters, largely to pay respects and to show solidarity with the families of victims — as well as to be seen doing so. Putin’s record in this regard is patchier, with his initial silence following terrorist attacks and national tragedies most often being ostensible enough that it has been a source of rare criticism.

— Holly Ellyatt

Security measures in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv will be tightened after a spate of Russian ballistic missile attacks and threats of escalation, a city official said on Thursday.

Russia staged concerted air strikes on Ukraine’s energy system last week in what Moscow said was part of a series of “revenge” strikes in response to Kyiv’s bombardment of Russian regions.

Moscow has since increased its use of ballistic missiles, which are much faster than regular cruise missiles and harder to shoot down, to attack Ukrainian cities.

Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said a city defense council would review the staging of public events and enhance security around large gatherings.

Ukrainian law enforcement officers examine fragments of a rocket at the site of a missile attack in Kyiv on March 25, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Five people including a teenage girl were injured on March 25, 2024 during a Russian missile attack on Kyiv, where falling debris also damaged at least two buildings in central districts.

Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

He said the decision had been made because of Russian statements and Russian forces’ use of missiles that reach their target within minutes of being fired.

He added that Russian agents “and other enemy elements” could be attempting to infiltrate the city.

“I ask Kyivans to remain calm. Do not panic. We are using preventative measures so that Kyiv and its residents are reliably defended,” he said on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials regularly urge their Western allies to supply more air defence systems and munitions to thwart increasing Russian missile and drone attacks.

— Reuters

The Kremlin said “absolute silence” is necessary while government-level talks take place over a possible prisoner exchange involving detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

“With regard to exchange matters, we have repeatedly emphasized that there are certain contacts, but they must be carried out in absolute silence,” Peskov told reporters in his daily press briefing, news agency RIA Novosti said.

“Violation of this … only creates additional problems and prevents people from achieving any result in this process,” Peskov said.

The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, charged with espionage, appears for a hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia on March 26, 2024. Gershkovich will remain in custody until June 30, 2024. 

Moscow City Court Press Service | Anadolu | Getty Images

Gershkovich was arrested on spying charges by Russian authorities on March 29, 2023. The reporter as well as his employer and the White House all vehemently deny the charges against him, saying they’re politically motivated and unfounded.

Earlier this week, a Russian court extended his pre-trial detention by three months. Nonetheless, hope remains that Gershkovich could be exchanged for a Russian prisoner, an option Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s open to.

The journalist’s parents expressed optimism earlier this week over the state of government-level talks over his possible release, saying they knew the U.S. government “is taking the case very seriously.”

— Holly Ellyatt

President Vladimir Putin’s foreign intelligence chief paid a visit to North Korea this week to deepen bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang and discuss broader regional security, Russia’s spy service said on Thursday.

Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the main successor to the KGB’s First Main Directorate, visited Pyongyang on March 25-27, the SVR said. North Korea’s KCNA state media first reported the visit.

Naryshkin met North Korean Minister of State Security Ri Chang Dae, the SVR said.

“They discussed topical issues of the development of the international situation, ensuring regional security, and deepening Russian-North Korean cooperation in the face of attempts to increase pressure from external forces,” the SVR was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. 

Vladimir Smirnov | Afp | Getty Images

KCNA said the two sides discussed further boosting cooperation to deal with the “ever-growing spying and plotting moves by the hostile forces”.

Putin has deepened ties with North Korea since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and the United States and its allies have condemned what they say have been significant North Korean missile deliveries to Russia to help its war effort.

Both Russia and North Korea have repeatedly dismissed the criticism. Moscow says it will develop ties with whatever countries it wants and that its cooperation with Pyongyang does not contravene international agreements.

— Reuters

Russia’s Labor Ministry reportedly warned Thursday that attempts are being made to recruit citizens in Kyrgyzstan to carry out terrorist acts on Russian territory.

Kyrgyzstan’s Labor Ministry said it had received a warning from its Russian counterpart that recruiters were using social media to try to entice people, including children, “to participate in terrorist acts on Russian territory,” it stated on its website.

“The Representative Office of the Ministry of Labor in Russia warns that through social networks and popular instant messengers such as Telegram, there are cases when citizens living in Russia are recruited to participate in terrorist acts,” the website noted.

The Kyrgyz Labor Ministry said Russia’s Labor Ministry representative office “calls on citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic living or temporarily staying in Russia not to succumb to various provocations, not to find employment through social networks, not to participate in various events, and also to exercise control over children,” it added.

Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda, a suspect in the shooting attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue, is escorted after a court hearing at the Basmanny district court in Moscow, Russia March 24, 2024. 

Shamil Zhumatov | Reuters

The statement comes days after a deadly terrorist attack in Moscow killed 143 people. Russian authorities have since arrested a number of suspects, among them Tajik and Kyrgyz nationals, that it has accused of terrorism offences. Nonetheless, Moscow has also blamed Ukraine and West for being behind the attack despite presenting no proof of involvement. They deny any role in the attack.

The ministry warned “that participation in a terrorist act is punishable by the criminal legislation of the Russian Federation up to life imprisonment.” The Moscow terror attack has put pressure on interethnic relations in Russia, where many migrants of Central Asian origin live and work.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian forces shot down 26 out of 28 attack drones launched overnight by Russia, Kyiv’s military said on Thursday. The Iranian-made drones were destroyed over parts of eastern, southern and southeastern Ukraine, the air force added.

The Zaporizhzhia region’s governor said on Telegram that two women had been wounded when debris struck a residential neighbourhood in the regional capital.

Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters seen during the inspection of a destroyed private house following a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia on March 22, 2024.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Prosecutors in the eastern Kharkiv region said a restaurant, a store and offices were damaged by debris from three drones.

The air force added that Russia’s overnight attack included several types of missiles. The military’s southern command reported on Telegram that those launched from planes over the Black Sea had “lost their combat capability”.

Odesa region governor Oleh Kiper said Russia carried out a separate missile strike later in the morning but that no injuries had been reported. He did not specify the target. Russia has launched regular air strikes on population centres far behind the lines of its two-year-old full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

— Reuters

Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine, speaks during the farewell ceremony for Dmytro Kotsiubailo on Independence Square on March 10, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine’s intelligence chief claimed on Wednesday that Russia was aware that a terrorist attack was being planned since at least Feb.15.

Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, told a defense forum that Russia knew of a plot to attack it well ahead of the March 22 attack at the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow, in which 143 died.

“At least, since February 15, 2024, the Russian Federation had been aware about the plot. I will tell you more, this information passed through their intelligence station in Syria. From there it was forwarded to Moscow. So they shouldn’t be telling tales that this all materialized in a strange way out of nowhere,” Budanov said, news agency Ukrinform reported.

The Islamic State militant group claimed it was behind the Moscow attack, but Russia has blamed Ukraine and its allies, saying they orchestrated the attack. They reject the claims as “nonsense” and the White House said it had warned Russia weeks ago that it believed an attack was “imminent.”

Budanov claimed Russia knew where the combat groups would come from, and which countries the attackers would travel through to reach Russia. Discussing why Russia would allow an attack to take place, Budanov said it could be a precursor to the removal of “several high-ranking officials” or that “another option is that they actually underestimated the scale of what would happen.”

“They thought that the incident would be more local, and wanted to blame Ukraine for everything,” the intelligence official said.

Budanov did not present evidence to back up his claims. Similarly, Russia has not produced evidence to back up its claims that Ukraine and the West were behind the terrorist attack.

Read more here: Russia knew of terrorist attack plot weeks ago, Ukraine’s military spy chief says

— Holly Ellyatt

 Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during an annual expanded Prosecutor General’s Office meeting, March 26, 2024, in Moscow, Russia. 

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the idea that Russia could attack NATO, but he warned that any F-16 fighters given to Ukraine by its Western allies would be legitimate targets for Russian forces.

Speaking to air force pilots Wednesday, Putin said U.S. spending on defense exceeded Russia’s and said, “are we, having this ratio, going to fight with NATO, or what? Well, this is just nonsense!” news agency Tass reported.

Asked about the delivery of F-16 jet fighters, which a number of European countries have pledged to deliver to Ukraine, Putin said such combat aircraft would not change the war.

“If they deliver the F-16, they are talking about it, like they are training pilots, it will not change the situation on the battlefield. And we will destroy aircraft the same way we destroy tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment today, including multiple launch rocket systems,” he warned.

Putin accused the military alliance NATO of expanding toward Russia, stating “they came right to our borders! Were we moving towards the borders of those countries that were part of the NATO bloc? We didn’t touch anyone! They were moving towards us.”

NATO’s land border with Russia has more than doubled since Finland joined the bloc in 2023, a move precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Russia repeatedly accuses NATO of encroaching upon it, NATO notes that “even after Finland’s accession, only 11% of Russia’s land border is shared with NATO countries.”

— Holly Ellyatt

A man places a candle at a makeshift memorial in front of the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 26, 2024. 

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

The number of people killed in the Moscow terrorist attack has risen to 143, Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the death toll rose from 139 to 140, with Health Minister Mikhail Murashko noting that 19 people, including three children, remained in a serious condition after the attack at the Crocus City Hall.

The Investigative Committee’s investigation into the terrorist attack is ongoing.

— Holly Ellyatt

Residential buildings are being damaged by the impact, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 27, 2024. On the afternoon of March 27, Russia struck Kharkiv. Apartment buildings were damaged, and at least one person died. 

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Russia may have used a new type of guided bomb in airstrikes on the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv that killed at least one person on Wednesday, local officials said.

The officials said four children including a three-month-old baby were among 19 people wounded in Kharkiv in the latest strikes since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, some of which have caused blackouts, including in Kharkiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the attack as “Russian terror” and Volodymyr Tymoshko, head of the Kharkiv regional police, said Moscow may have used a new type of guided bomb which he described as the UMPB D-30.

“This is something between a guided aerial bomb which they (the Russians) have used recently, and a missile. It’s a flying bomb so to say,” Tymoshko said at the site of the strike.

Regional governor Oleh Synehubov also suggested Moscow may have used a new type of bomb, saying: “It seems that the Russians decided to test their modified bombs on the residents of the houses.”

Russia did not immediately comment on their remarks. It denies targeting civilians although the war has killed thousands of people, uprooted millions and destroyed towns and cities.

Two residential buildings and a medical institution were partially destroyed, and a total of 14 buildings, including an educational facility, were damaged, Synehubov said on the Telegram messenger.

— Reuters

A Russian court sentenced Lyusya Shtein, a member of Pussy Riot and a former municipal deputy in Moscow, to six years in prison in absentia for anti-war social media posts, the court’s press service said on Wednesday.

Shtein, 27, was found guilty of spreading “war fakes” in connection with a March 2022 post on X, in which she accused Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine of “bombing foreign cities and killing people”, Russian independent news outlet Mediazona reported.

At least 19,855 people have been detained in Russia for expressing anti-war views since President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

Those found guilty of spreading “false information” about Russia’s army risk 10 years in prison.

The Moscow court said Shtein, who served as a Moscow municipal deputy until 2022, would begin her sentence once she could be extradited to Russia.

— Reuters

Spokeswoman of Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova attends the annual press conference held by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2024. 

Maxim Shemetov | Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that it’s “extremely hard to believe” that the Islamic State (IS) militant group would be able to launch an attack like the one that occurred in Moscow last Friday, in which 140 died.

Zakharova is among senior Russian officials claiming that Western countries and Ukraine were behind the Crocus City Hall attack, despite Islamic State saying it had carried out the massacre.

Zakharova’s comments, reported by Reuters, were less cautious than those from the Kremlin, with Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov telling CNBC Wednesday that “an investigation is underway” and that “the final version [of the investigation] has not yet been announced.”

People bring flowers to a makeshift memorial in front of the burnt-out Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 25, 2024. 

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Aside from Russian political hawks, pro-Kremlin Russian media commentators have also claimed the attack was not typical of IS, citing the fact the attackers were not wearing suicide belts and did not appear to be religious fanatics.

Russian media personalities have also parroted the line that the attackers tried to flee toward Ukraine, a line disputed, unusually, by Putin’s close ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who said the attackers originally fled toward Belarus but had been forced to change direction, toward Ukraine, because of Belarus’ enhanced security measures.

— Holly Ellyatt

Military experts operate at the site of a Russian aerial bombing of a high-rise residential building in the Shevchenkivskyi district on March 27, 2024 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

At least one person has died and 12 have been injured, including children, in the latest Russian strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv, its mayor Ihor Terekhov, said on Telegram on Wednesday. Some of those injured are in serious condition, he added.

Experts are collecting debris of a modernized UMPB D-30 guided bomb used by Russian troops to strike a residential area in the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, on March 27, 2024. 

Ukrinform | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Apartment buildings and a emergency medical facility were struck and the search for those in need of help is still ongoing, Terekhov said.

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

— Sophie Kiderlin

A police officer patrols in front of the Russian State Duma and the building of the Hall of Columns, April 8, 2022.

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Russian state investigators said on Wednesday they would study a request from parliamentarians to investigate what they called the “organisation, financing, and conduct of terrorist acts” against Russia by the United States and other Western countries.

The director of Russia’s FSB security agency said on Tuesday that he believed Ukraine, along with the United States and Britain, were involved in an attack on a concert hall just outside Moscow that killed at least 139 people.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron posted on X: “Russia’s claims about the West and Ukraine on the Crocus City Hall attack are utter nonsense.”

Islamic State took responsibility for the Moscow shooting. Washington and Paris have said they have intelligence confirming the Islamist militant group was behind the attack.

— Reuters

The head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday said that the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine were behind a deadly terrorist attack in Moscow last week.

FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told pro-Kremlin journalist Pavel Zarubin claimed that the U.S., U.K. and Ukraine were responsible for the attack, claiming that the attack was beneficial to Western intelligence services and Ukraine to destabilize Russia.

“We believe that the action was prepared by the radical Islamists themselves, and naturally the Western intelligence services contributed to this, and the Ukrainian intelligence services themselves are directly related to this,” Bortnikov said, RIA Novosti reported.

Ukraine has already vehemently denied any involvement in the attack and the White House has said Russian claims to the contrary are “Kremlin propaganda.” The U.K., U.S. and Ukraine have not commented on Bortnikov’s latest claims.

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Alexander Bortnikov waits to watch the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. 

Kirill Kudryavtsev | Afp | Getty Images

Almost 140 people were killed in the Crocus City Hall concert hall, when gunmen entered the venue and opened fire, as well as set fire to the venue. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility, but Russia was quick to connect Ukraine to the outrage, without presenting evidence.

Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted that the attack was carried out by so-called “radical Islamists,” but continued to claim Ukraine was linked to the attack.

Bortnikov reiterated Russia’s claim that the attackers were caught, as they tried to flee toward Ukraine, where, he said, they were expected and were going to be greeted “as heroes.”

“The bandits intended to go abroad. Precisely to the territory of Ukraine. According to our preliminary operational information, they were expected there,” he told Zarubin, in an interview posted in Russian on his Telegram channel.

— Holly Ellyatt

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