Moldova summons ambassador, expels Russian diplomat

Moldova has summoned the Russian ambassador and expelled another Russian diplomat following the opening of polling stations for Russia’s presidential election in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria.

Moldova’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it had summoned Russian Ambassador Oleg Vasnețov following the ballot in Transnistria last weekend, as Russia held its presidential election.

“The Moldovan side expressed its protest against the presidential elections held by Russia in the Transnistrian region, against Moldovan authorities’ stance,” the ministry said on social media platform X.

“A diplomat was declared persona non grata,” it added, without giving further details.

A woman selling candles and incense at the central market in Chisinau, Moldova, on April 29, 2022.

Daniel Mihailescu | Afp | Getty Images

Around 9,000 children to be evacuated from Russia’s Belgorod region, governor says

A view shows the damaged Belgorod city hall hit by a drone attack in Belgorod on March 12, 2024.

Stringer | Afp | Getty Images

Russian authorities in the Belgorod region are to evacuate around 9,000 children from the region, which borders Ukraine, because of repeated shelling by Ukraine’s armed forces, the governor said Tuesday.

“Today we are resettling a large number of villages,” Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said at a United Russia party meeting Tuesday, news agency Tass reported.

“We are now planning to remove about 9,000 children from Belgorod” and several districts in the wider region, he said.

The governor said 16 people were killed and 98 injured because of shelling in the Belgorod region over the past week.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the claim. Belgorod has been a focal point for repeated Ukrainian strikes against Russian territory, however, although Kyiv rarely comments on such attacks.

— Holly Ellyatt

What could we see from 6 more years of Putin?

Russian incumbent President Vladimir Putin, who was declared winner of the presidential election by the country’s electoral commission, is seen on a screen on the stage as he attends a rally, which marks the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2024. 

Maxim Shemetov | Reuters

Putin’s reelection to a fifth term in office at the weekend was one of the least surprising political events so far this year, but it has prompted questions as to what we can expect from another six years of the strongman’s leadership.

Analysts share their views on what we can expect now that Putin has strengthened his grip on power, with the Ukraine war, domestic economic reforms and a possible government reshuffle key factors to watch.

Read more on the story here: War, reforms and a possible successor? Here’s what we could see from 6 more years of Putin

— Holly Ellyatt

Polish President calls for NATO to urgently ramp up spending

'If Russia is stopped in Ukraine, it won't attack again': Polish president

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Monday that NATO must urgently increase its defense spending to ensure it does not become the next target of a Russian attack.

Speaking to CNBC, Duda cited unspecified German research which suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doubling down on his shift toward a war economy with a view to attacking NATO in 2026 or 2027.

“The alarm bells are ringing,” he told Steve Sedgwick, according to a translation.

Duda said it was therefore more critical than ever to ramp up the alliance’s military spending to 3%, describing his increased target as “common sense.”

— Karen Gilchrist

Out of money, Pentagon chief looks to convince allies of commitment to Ukraine

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday will try and convince European allies that President Joe Biden’s administration is still committed to supporting Ukraine, even as Washington has essentially run out of money to continue arming Kyiv and few signs that Congress will move to replenish funds.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin takes part in a welcome ceremony for Latvia’s Defense Minister Andris Spruds at the Pentagon in Washington, DC on March 14, 2024. 

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has so far refused to call a vote on a bill that would provide $60 billion more for Ukraine and the White House has been scrambling to find ways to send assistance to Kyiv, which has been battling Russian forces for more than two years.

Austin will be leading the monthly meeting known as the Ukraine defense contact group (UDCG), held at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, of about 50 allies that have been militarily supporting Ukraine.

The Pentagon said Austin, who is making his first overseas trip since a prostate cancer treatment, will reiterate that Washington is committed to Ukraine. But officials say the lack of funding available is already having an impact on the ground in Ukraine and Ukrainian forces are having to manage scarce resources.

Last week the Biden administration said it would send $300 million in military assistance to Ukraine, but added that it was an extraordinary move after unexpected savings from military contracts the Pentagon had made.

Officials have not ruled out that they could find additional savings, but they say that amount would not be enough to make up for the lack of Congressional action. Experts say that Austin will face a skeptical audience in Europe.

— Reuters

Putin attends rally in Moscow after election win

People attend a rally and a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Red Square in Moscow on March 18, 2024. 

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin briefly attended an open-air rally in Moscow on Monday evening at which he told the crowd that the annexation of Crimea and other regions in Ukraine had been difficult but worthwhile.

The rally and concert in Red Square marked the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The annexation was a precursor to a simmering conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine’s armed forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and Russia’s wholesale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Since then, Russia has also illegally annexed four other partially occupied regions in Ukraine, attempting to “Russify” the regions and holding voting there ahead of the three-day Russian presidential election last weekend that Putin won. Ukraine condemned the ballots held on its territory, describing them as illegal.

Putin told a large, flag-waving crowd that the “return” of those other regions to Russia had turned out to be “much more grave and tragic” than Crimea’s, but said that it had been accomplished, Reuters noted.

Putin also told the crowd that rail links had been restored from Rostov in southern Russia to the Russian-occupied cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, and would soon also connect directly with Sevastopol in Crimea.

“Just this morning, I was informed that the railway from Rostov to Donetsk to Mariupol and Berdyansk has been restored. We will continue this work. Soon trains will pass directly to Sevastopol. And this will be another alternative road to the Crimean bridge,” he said, in comments translated by Reuters.

— Holly Ellyatt

Why Germany is reluctant to send ‘Taurus’ missiles to Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz holds a speech during the GermanDream Awards 2023 in Berlin, Germany, November 30, 2023. 

Lisi Niesner | Reuters

Debate around military aid to Ukraine is deepening the cracks in Germany’s administration — but despite “extremely unusual” public rifts, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to prevail.

The question at the heart of a months-long dispute is whether Germany will send Ukraine long-range Taurus missiles, which can independently locate and destroy a target after being released by a carrier.

Scholz has firmly rejected Kyiv’s request for these missiles — but he looks increasingly isolated in this position.

One key concern is that Ukraine may need on-the-ground help from German soldiers to work the Taurus missiles — a red line for Scholz.

According to leaked discussions by senior army chiefs reported by German media, there are very few copies of the complex data needed to program Taurus missiles. It means that Germany itself would likely lose access to the material if it handed those over to Ukraine, making it a potentially risky move.

Read more on the story here: Germany’s refusal to send ‘Taurus’ missiles to Ukraine is highly contentious — but won’t break the government

— Sophie Kiderlin

Pictures show destruction in Ukraine after recent shelling

Pictures show the aftermath of shelling in multiple Ukrainian towns that have been attacked by Russia in recent days.

A fire broke out by Russian airstrike in a residential building at the Vovchansk in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 18, 2024.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout | Anadolu | Getty Images

A resident Oleh stands in his house damaged by Russian shelling on March 18, 2024 in Khmelnytskyi Oblast, Ukraine.

Svitlana Krentovska/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

A shell crater is seen near a house of the Kriazh family destroyed by Russian shelling on March 17, 2024 in Makyshyn, Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine.

Oleksandr Tirok/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

The wreckage of a car is seen amid rubble and debris at a house of the Kriazh family destroyed by Russian shelling on March 17, 2024 in Makyshyn, Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine.

Oleksandr Tirok/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC” | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

Putin mentions Navalny by name for the first time in years

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the media at his campaign headquarters in Moscow on March 18, 2024. 

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin was upbeat after winning a fifth term in power in Russia’s presidential election over the weekend.

He chose his victory speech to supporters and the Russian press to make his first public remarks on the death of his political nemesis, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, mentioning his name for the first time in years.

When asked by NBC’s Keir Simmons about the death, Putin responded by calling his death a “sad event” and claiming he had been prepared to involve Navalny in a prisoner swap with the West.

Click here to read more on this story: Putin talks about his nemesis Navalny’s death for the first time as he basks in election win

— Holly Ellyatt

EU says Russian voters were deprived of ‘a real choice’

The EU headquarters in Brussels.

John Thys | Afp via Getty Images

The European Union pronounced that Russian presidential elections took place in an “ever-shrinking political space” that violated civil and political rights, after Vladimir Putin secured another six-year term.

“Russian authorities have continued to increase the systematic internal repression by cracking down on opposition politicians, civil society organisations, independent media and other critical voices with the use of repressive legislation and politically motivated prison sentences,” the EU said in a statement out Monday.

The circumstances in which the elections were held “deprived Russian voters of a real choice and heavily limited their access to accurate information,” the bloc added, while also condemning presidential votes carried out by Russia in occupied territories of Ukraine.

Ruxandra Iordache

Kremlin praises Putin’s ‘unique’ result in presidential elections

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia December 7, 2023. 

Sergei Bobylev | Via Reuters

Vladimir Putin’s sweeping win in Russia’s presidential vote over the weekend was a “unique” result, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, defending the electoral process from Western accusations.

In Google-translated comments reported by Russian state news agency Tass, Peskov said that foreign statements questioning the legitimacy of the election were “absurd,” noting that he expected international congratulations for Putin’s victory to continue pouring in for more than one day.

The European Union has criticized the circumstances under which Putin secured over 87% of the popular vote, stressing a restrictive political environment and a lack of genuine opposition in the electoral race. It also refused to acknowledge the polls held in Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.

Ruxandra Iordache

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