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Secretary of State Blinken, other officials walk back Biden remarks on Putin ouster

The president said the Russian leader "cannot remain in power," but the U.S. has clarified it is not pursuing regime change in Moscow.

Coverage on this live blog has ended, please click here for the latest developments.

The day after President Joe Biden's fiery remarks, which some said were tantamount to calling for regime change in Russia, several U.S. officials took to the Sunday morning news shows to walk back those controversial remarks. Biden had said Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power" during a fiery speech from Poland. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Sunday that the U.S. was not pursuing "a strategy of regime change" in Moscow.

The fallout from the comments, which prompted a swift response from the Kremlin, overshadowed Biden's efforts to frame Russia's war in Ukraine as the battle of a generation and to rally the world's support behind the embattled democracy.

While NATO countries have backed Kyiv and sought to punish Moscow with sanctions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again urged NATO to send more planes, tanks and weapons to support his country's dogged resistance.

Having struggled to make progress in the first month of the war, Moscow's forces appeared to be focusing on an effort to secure control of eastern Ukraine while battling Ukrainian counterattacks.

See full coverage here.

Ukraine prepared to discuss neutrality with Russia to end war

96d ago / 11:05 PM UTC

96d ago / 9:34 PM UTC

City of Kyiv announces remote education will resume

96d ago / 8:36 PM UTC

The official website of Kyiv City Administration announced Sunday that remote learning would resume on Monday.

"Starting on Monday, March 28, remote education will resume," the post read. "Kyiv's primary schools, professional and technical educational institutions, as well as vocational and post-secondary institutions will resume studies online. The goal of remote study during wartime is not just to impart knowledge to students but also to provide a form of psychological support and an opportunity to converse. So, there won't be any bad grades or homework."

Turkish president stresses need for cease-fire in Ukraine in call with Putin

96d ago / 8:10 PM UTC

ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the need for a cease-fire in Ukraine in a telephone call Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan’s office said.

Erdogan also called for an improvement to the humanitarian situation in the region, according to the statement.

The two leaders agreed the next meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials should be held in Istanbul, the statement added, without giving a time frame.

Meanwhile, a member of the Ukrainian delegation that's in talks with Russia said Sunday that the two sides have decided to meet in person beginning on Monday. However, Russia’s chief negotiator said the in-person talks would begin on Tuesday. Neither said where the talks would be held.

Russia's aggression has failed to destabilize Ukraine, Zelenskyy says

96d ago / 7:20 PM UTC

Russia's armed aggression remains unsuccessful because it has failed to destabilize Ukraine's leadership, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday. 

The Ukrainian president's comments were posted to his official government website, and appeared to be translated from Zelenskyy's interviews for Russian media. Zelenskyy alleged that Russia had made attempts to initiate early elections in areas where Russia had influence in order to "provoke political chaos in Ukraine." 

"This destabilization was necessary in order to split the majority with strong regional governance," Zelenskyy said. "Chaos in the economy and instability of the political spirit in Ukraine would lead to escalation on the part of the Russian Federation." 

Russian forces were not welcomed as its leaders had predicted, Zelenskyy said, and the "parallel solution" became an attempt to "neutralize" leadership. But Zelenskyy insisted that Russia had falsely predicted his government had no support within society. 

96d ago / 6:36 PM UTC

Member of Ukraine delegation says in-person talks with Russia to resume Monday

97d ago / 6:22 PM UTC

LVIV, Ukraine — A member of the Ukrainian delegation in talks with Russia on ending the month-long war says the two sides have decided to meet in person in Turkey beginning on Monday.

Davyd Arakhamia, the leader in parliament of the faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, said on Facebook that the in-person talks were agreed upon in a video consultation. He did not give further details.

However, Russia's chief negotiator said the in-person talks would begin on Tuesday, rather than Monday.

The two sides have met previously with no deal reached.

Last passenger train links from Russia into European Union suspended

97d ago / 5:34 PM UTC

HELSINKI — One of the last remaining passenger train links from Russia into the European Union has been suspended following the departure of the last two Allegro high-speed trains from St. Petersburg to Helsinki.

Finland’s state-owned railway company VR said Friday it would suspend services between the Finnish capital and Russia’s second-largest city on Sunday, closing one of the last public transport routes for Russians who want to reach the EU.

Citing the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, the Finnish railway company said it was no longer appropriate to operate the route. It added that Finnish citizens and “people who wanted to depart from Russia have had adequate time to leave.”

Only a morning departure from Helsinki to St. Petersburg ran on Sunday, while the afternoon train was cancelled. Two departures from St. Petersburg left as scheduled.

Russians wishing to travel to Finland can do so through crossing points on the 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border with Russia that remain open for private cars. Bus services to Finland continue to operate both from St. Petersburg and Moscow.

New Ukraine law limits troop movement reports

97d ago / 4:50 PM UTC

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed a law restricting the reporting on troop and military equipment movement unless such information has been announced or approved by the military general staff.

The state news agency Ukrinform reported Sunday that the law calls for potential prison terms of three to eight years for violations.

The law bans “unauthorized dissemination of information about the direction, movement of international military assistance to Ukraine, the movement, movement or deployment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or other military formations of Ukraine, committed in a state of martial law or a state of emergency,” Ukrinform said.

Offering Ukraine further military equipment an 'evolving conversation': U.S. ambassador to NATO

97d ago / 4:04 PM UTC

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said Sunday that the alliance was engaged in "evolving" talks with Ukraine about offering additional military equipment following President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's latest plea for more planes, tanks and weapons to support his country's resistance.

"We've spoken with President Zelenskyy many times in recent weeks, we've heard their requests for assistance," Smith said on CNN’s “State of the Union." "In many cases, we've delivered those anti-aircraft anti-armor capabilities, we are assessing their air defense needs."

On the proposal from Poland that would have made its old Russian-made MiG fighters available to a U.S. base in Germany for potential handover to Ukraine, she said the answer was still no. The Biden administration rejected the idea earlier this month, saying it would be a “high risk” step that could ratchet up tensions with Moscow.

"If any NATO ally wanted to provide those types of pieces of equipment, the fighter jets the MiGs, that is a sovereign decision. They can take that sovereign decision. But right now the United States is very much focused on their air defense needs," the diplomat said.

She also attempted to walk back Biden's fiery remarks on Putin, which some said were tantamount to calling for regime change in Russia.

“The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop," Smith said, calling Biden's remarks “a principled human reaction” to the stories he heard from Ukrainian refugees during his trip to Europe.

Republican Sen. James Risch urges Biden to 'stay on script'

97d ago / 3:12 PM UTC

A ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sunday encouraged Biden to "stay on script" following the president's remark about Putin a day earlier.

“He gave a good speech at the end, but as you pointed out already, there was a horrendous gaffe right at the end of it," Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I wish he would stay on script. Whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him. But my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script,” he added. “Please Mr. President, stay on script."

Ukrainian ambassador says Biden's Putin comments show U.S. stands with Ukraine

97d ago / 3:05 PM UTC

Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, said the people in her country heard Biden’s Putin comment "loud and clear." 

In a carefully crafted speech aimed at rallying support for Ukraine, it was an ad-libbed line that caught the world's attention. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said of his Russian counterpart on Saturday.

"We heard President Biden loud and clear" that the U.S. will be with Ukraine in this fight, Markarova said in an interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Ukrainians understand anyone who is a "war criminal, who attacked neighboring countries, who's doing all these atrocities" cannot be in power, she said.

Biden's remark was the latest in a string of gaffes or unscripted moments on his overseas trip. A White House official said later that the president had not been calling for "regime change," adding that his "point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called the moment a mistake. 

"Well, first, I think all of us believe the world would be a better place without Vladimir Putin," he said on "Meet the Press" today. "But second, that's not the official U.S. policy."

Russian authorities block website of German newspaper Bild

97d ago / 2:34 PM UTC

BERLIN — Russian authorities have blocked the website of German newspaper Bild, part of its efforts to control the message on Ukraine.

Communications and media regulator Roskomnadzor said Sunday it blocked Bild’s website at prosecutors' request.

Instagram and Facebook were already blocked in Russia after Roskomnadzor said they were being used to call for violence against Russian soldiers. Russian authorities also have shut access to foreign media websites, including BBC, European news network Euronews, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza.

Bild says it has been putting Russian-language reports on Russia’s war in Ukraine and its slide toward “totalitarian dictatorship” on its website, and parts of its live video broadcasts have been subtitled in Russian. It noted that it also has a Russian-language Telegram channel.

Bild editor-in-chief Johannes Boie said the decision to block its website in Russia “confirms us in our journalistic work for democracy, freedom and human rights.”

Russia could try to break Ukraine in two, says Ukraine’s military intelligence chief

97d ago / 1:48 PM UTC

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military intelligence chief says that Russia could try to break Ukraine in two.

Kyrylo Budanov said in remarks released by the Defense Ministry on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has realized “he can’t swallow the entire country” and would likely try to split the country under “the Korean scenario.” That’s a reference to the decades-old division between North and South Korea.

Budanov said that “the occupiers will try to pull the occupied territories into a single quasi-state structure and pit it against independent Ukraine.” He pointed to Russian attempts to set up parallel government structures in occupied cities and to bar people from using the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia.

Budanov predicted that Ukrainian resistance will grow into a “total” guerrilla warfare, derailing Russia’s attempts.

Most Americans doubt Biden's ability to handle Ukraine conflict, NBC News poll finds

97d ago / 1:03 PM UTC

Amid Europe’s largest land war since World War II, 7 in 10 Americans express low confidence in President Joe Biden’s ability to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and 8 in 10 worry that the war will increase gas prices and possibly involve nuclear weapons. 

And during the nation’s largest inflation spike in 40 years, overwhelming majorities believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy.

Those are some of the major findings of a new national NBC News poll, which found that Biden’s overall job approval rating had declined to 40 percent, the lowest level of his presidency.

Read the full story here.

Chuck Todd: Biden 'said something out loud that all of us have been thinking'

97d ago / 12:52 PM UTC

Russians who live abroad say Moscow is hardening views of those back home

97d ago / 12:42 PM UTC

The number of Russian expatriates living in the West is growing, but they said conversations with peers and family back home about the war have grown more difficult in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

Since President Vladimir Putin suggested Russians who live abroad were “scum” and “traitors” in a speech last week, conversations they manage to have with relatives and friends back home have grown tense or they avoid the topic of the war altogether.

Numerous Russians have fled the country as a result of the invasion and the crackdown, likely for good, but the views of those still in Russia have hardened in support of the Kremlin, as years of anti-West propaganda get cemented in the country’s new reality.

Read the full story here.

Students in Kyiv to resume learning online starting Monday

97d ago / 12:31 PM UTC

As Kyiv continues to stand firm against Russia's advance, high school and college students in Ukraine's capital will be able to resume learning Monday, albeit only remotely. 

"We made this decision based on the opinion of experts, primarily psychologists who support the resumption of the educational process," said the deputy chairman of the Kyiv City Council, Valentyn Mondryivsky.

"The purpose of distance learning during the war is not only the acquisition of new knowledge, but also psychological support, communication, switching children's attention," Mondryivsky said. 

Teachers have been told to avoid "extensive homework" and assessments, he added, with a focus on helping students rather than creating additional stress. 

Some U.S. allies distance themselves from Biden's Putin comments

and

97d ago / 12:10 PM UTC

Several U.S. allies have distanced themselves from President Joe Biden's forceful comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday he would choose words that do not escalate tensions around the war in Ukraine. 

“We want to stop the war that Russia has launched, without waging war and without escalation," Macron said on the “Dimanche en Politique” show on the France 3 TV channel. "We made the choice not to intervene in the conflict militarily. We must not be in the escalation, neither of the words nor of the actions."

Macron said he would not have called Putin a “butcher,” as Biden did Saturday.

In a speech in Poland, Biden also said of Putin: "For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power." The White House and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have since clarified that the U.S. is not pursuing “a strategy of regime change” in Moscow.

Britain's education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, told Sky News that it was “up to the Russian people” to decide the fate of Putin. 

Pope steps up pleas for talks to end 'cruel and senseless war'

97d ago / 12:03 PM UTC

Pope Francis has stepped up his pleas for negotiations to end the fighting in Ukraine.

Francis told the public in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that “this cruel and senseless war” continues after more than a month, representing “a defeat for all.”

He lamented that parents are burying their children, and “the powerful decide and the poor die.” Once again, he didn’t cite Russia by name as the aggressor.

Referring to reports that about one-half of all the children in Ukraine have been displaced by the conflict, Francis said that “war doesn’t just devastate the present but also the future of society.”

The pontiff reiterated his condemnation of war as barbarous and sacrilegious. He said that “humanity must understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to cancel war from the history of man before it cancels man from history.”

Image: Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican
VATICAN MEDIA / Reuters

U.K. says sanctions could be lifted if Russia withdraws from Ukraine

97d ago / 11:20 AM UTC

British foreign minister Liz Truss says sanctions imposed on Russian individuals and companies could be lifted if the country's military withdraws from Ukraine and commits to end aggression, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday.

Britain and other Western nations are using economic sanctions to cripple the Russian economy and punish President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. 

In an interview with the Telegraph, Truss held out the possibility the measures could end if Moscow changed course.

"What we know is that Russia signed up to multiple agreements they simply don’t comply with. So there needs to be hard levers. Of course, sanctions are a hard lever," she said.

"Those sanctions should only come off with a full ceasefire and withdrawal, but also commitments that there will be no further aggression. And also, there’s the opportunity to have snapback sanctions if there is further aggression in future. That is a real lever that I think can be used," Truss added. 

Separatist leader says vote on joining Russia possible soon

97d ago / 10:41 AM UTC

A Moscow-backed separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has said his breakaway region could soon hold a referendum on joining Russia.

"I think that in the near future a referendum will be held on the territory of the republic," Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said Sunday according to the region's news outlet. "The people will exercise their ultimate constitutional right and express their opinion on joining the Russian Federation."

But speaking with state news agency Tass, State Duma deputy Leonid Kalashnikov said Sunday that now was not the right time to hold a referendum on the region's entry into Russia.

Russia formally recognized the independence of two breakaway republics in Ukraine's east last month, shortly before it launched its full-scale invasion of the country.

Blinken says U.S. not seeking regime change in Russia despite Biden comments

97d ago / 9:48 AM UTC

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the United States is not trying to topple Russian President Vladimir Putin despite its harsh condemnations of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken spoke a day after President Joe Biden said of Putin during a speech in Warsaw: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Blinken said Biden’s point was that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”

He said the U.S. has repeatedly said that “we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter.”

“In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people,” Blinken said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives to give a news conference with Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2022.
JACQUELYN MARTIN / AFP - Getty Images

Zelenskyy reiterates appeal for planes and weapons, asks if West is afraid of Moscow

97d ago / 9:31 AM UTC

In the wake of President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe to rally Ukraine's allies, the country's leader reiterated his view that the West has not done enough to support Kyiv. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded in a video message late Saturday that Western nations provide a fraction of the military hardware in their stockpiles and asked whether they were afraid of Moscow.

Zelenskyy said Kyiv needed planes, tanks, air-defense and anti-ship systems.

"That is what our partners have, that is what is just gathering dust there," he said in the address. "This is all for not only the freedom of Ukraine, but for the freedom of Europe."

"We are waiting for 31 days already. So who is governing the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it really still Moscow through intimidation?" Zelenskyy said.

Russia says it destroyed a fuel depot near Lviv

97d ago / 9:13 AM UTC

Russia's defense ministry has said it used “high-precision weapons” to destroy a large fuel depot in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday. 

Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said the depot provided fuel for Ukrainian troops in western Ukraine as well as near capital Kyiv, according to the state news agency Ria.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said it extinguished a fire that resulted from the strike on the depot early on Sunday.  

Several explosions hit the city on Saturday, with a military factory also hit and five people injured, according to the local officials.

Lviv has been a relative safe haven for the millions of Ukrainians escaping fighting elsewhere in the country. The attacks took place just 40 miles from the border with Poland, a NATO ally, shortly before President Joe Biden gave an address there during his visit to the country. 

This handout photograph taken and released by the Ukrainian State Emergency Service on March 27, 2022 shows the firefighters putting out a fire after Russian missiles strikes to infrastructure including a fuel storage facility on the western Ukrainian cit
HANDOUT / AFP - Getty Images

2 'humanitarian corridors' agreed on Sunday, Ukraine says

97d ago / 8:21 AM UTC

Evacuations from some war-ravaged cities in Ukraine are set to continue on Sunday. 

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a Telegram video message that two humanitarian corridors had been agreed upon in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Vereshchuk said the corridor from the besieged southern city of Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia will be by personal transport only.

There will also be an evacuation by bus from the southeastern port city of Berdyansk to Zaporizhzhia, Vereshchuk added. 

In the Luhanks region, Vereshchuk said evacuations will take place from the town of Rubizhne to Bakhmut. 

Invasion could spell end to Russian culture in Ukraine, Zelenskyy says

97d ago / 7:44 AM UTC

One of the casualties of the deadly Russian invasion of Ukraine will be Russian culture itself within the nation's borders, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address Saturday.

Though Russian is the nation's second language, spoken by the president and nearly one third of the country, Zelenskyy argued that when the dust settles, Ukrainians will reject all things Russian.

Zelenskyy noted that Russian has been a part of daily life in the cities that are now under siege. 

"Russia itself is doing everything to ensure that de-russification takes place on the territory of our state," the president said, according to his office's English translation of his remarks. "You are doing it. In one generation. And forever."

Russian forces trying to encircle Ukrainian troops in country's east, U.K. says

97d ago / 7:08 AM UTC

Russian forces appear to be attempting to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east of the country near the Moscow-backed separatist regions, the U.K.'s defense ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence update, the ministry said Russia was concentrating its effort to surround the forces directly facing the two regions by advancing from Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south. 

In northern Ukraine, the situation remained "largely static" with Russian attempts to reorganize their forces stymied by Ukrainian counterattacks, the ministry said. 

In an earlier briefing released overnight, the ministry said Russia continued to strike targets across Ukraine from the air, including many in densely populated areas, but that it was facing major challenges in the skies as well.

Russia has been relying on munitions launched from greater distances to avoid Ukrainian air space, it said, due to Ukrainian anti-aircraft fire.

Finland to suspend its rail link between Russia and the E.U.

97d ago / 7:04 AM UTC

Finland's national railway operator has said it will suspend services between Helsinki and St. Petersburg in Russia on Monday, closing the rail link between Russia and the European Union.

VR, the operator, said it had been told by the Finnish state it was no longer appropriate to run the service, known as the Allegro, in light of sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian Railways said in a short statement they were aware of the Finnish decision due to sanctions.

Trains from Russia to Finland's capital Helsinki have been packed with Russians in recent weeks as some used it to leave the country urgently and mutual airspace closures cut off flight connections between Russia and the E.U.

The border between Finland and Russia remains open for crossings by private car.

97d ago / 7:03 AM UTC

Sean Penn says he will 'smelt' statuettes if Zelenskyy not invited to speak at Oscars

97d ago / 7:02 AM UTC

Sean Penn vowed to “smelt” his statuettes from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences if it does not ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak during the live telecast of Sunday evening’s ceremony.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Acosta, Penn said the Academy has an obligation to offer Zelenskyy a platform to speak about Russia's invasion. 

Penn alleged that it was his "understanding that a decision has been made not to do it." 

“If it comes back to it, I will smelt mine in public,” Penn said. 

The Academy did not immediately respond for an NBC News request for comment. 

On Monday, Amy Schumer, who is co-hosting the Oscars ceremony alongside Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall, stated that she had pitched the event’s organizers on finding “a way to have Zelenskyy satellite in or make a tape” for the ceremony. 

NBC News contributed to this report.