Biden denounces Putin as he ends Europe trip

Some US allies distance themselves from Biden’s Putin comments

Several US 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 told the Dimanche en Politique show on the country’s 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,” he said.

Macron said that he would not have called Putin a “butcher,” which Biden did on 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 US 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 plea for talks to end ‘cruel and senseless war’

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.”

VATICAN MEDIA / Reuters

UK says sanctions could be lifted if Russia withdraws from Ukraine

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

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 US not seeking regime change in Russia despite Biden comments

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 US 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

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

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

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

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, UK says

Russian forces appear to be attempting to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east of the country near the Moscow-backed separatist regions, the UK’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 EU

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 EU

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

Sean Penn says he will ‘melt’ statuettes if Zelenskyy not invited to speak at Oscars

Sean Penn vowed to “melt” 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 melt 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.

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