President Vladimir Putin gave a speech to tens of thousands of supporters at Moscow’s main football stadium, but it didn’t go to plan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was the star of honour at an extraordinary nationalistic pro-war rally in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, which hosted the World Cup final in 2018.
Against a backdrop of thousands of Russian flags he justified the invasion by claiming genocide had been committed against Russian speaking Ukranian citizens – claims denied by Kyiv.
But all did not go well in the TV broadcast. Halfway through his speech, the feed cut to flag waving and a pop singer leading viewers to miss much of what Putin said.
Meanwhile, Western countries are ramping up their criticism of Putin, with six countries now accusing the Russian President of war crimes.
Both the US and France have accused Russia of making no effort towards peace talks, with the country instead ramping up attacks on civilians across Ukraine.
The death toll is still not known after a theatre sheltering civilians, including children, was reduced to rubble in Mariupol on Thursday.
Moscow troops have also increased attacks on residential areas outside of Kyiv as they continue to face tough resistance from Ukrainian forces protecting the capital.
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Read on for the latest updates.
Wild scenes in Russia
Tens of thousands of people showed up to a festival in Moscow to show their support for the Russian army — as wild images show a packed football stadium of Russians waving flags.
The city’s Luzhniki stadium, which hosted the World Cup final in 2018, is packed out for the pro-war rally on the anniversary of Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014.
That was the moment Moscow’s displeasure with Kyiv turned into military action.
There are reports of state employees being bussed in, while the crowd watches a video with Ukrainian flags being thrown to the ground.
There are also reports that people were being paid by the government to attend.
Several of Russians Olympians were also present. But some commentators suggested a few of them didn’t look entirely comfortable.
‘Putin has vanished. Where the hell did he go?’
It looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin’s woes on the battlefield may be following him to Moscow and live TV.
A patriotic festival in the Russian capital designed to drum up support for the war and featuring Putin himself as star of honour went wrong when the apparently live feed cut out midway through the president’s speech.
Putin had been justifying the invasion as a way to protect the people of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine when he disappeared from the live feed replaced by a nationalist pop singer.
Putin was cut mid-sentence as he was saying: “It so happened that the beginning of the operation coincided by chance with the birthday of one of our outstanding military…”
“The feed suddenly cut out,” said Moscow Bureau Chief for the Financial Times Max Seddon.
“Where the hell is Putin? What happened?”
Emma Burrowes, a reporter for the UK’s ITV News based in Moscow, had the same reaction.
“What on earth is going on? Putin just vanished mid sentence. Something very odd just happened.”
The feed cut to nationalist singer Oleg Gazmanov who has been banned from Ukraine and several other form Soviet states due to his incendiary anthems.
Mr Seddon later said that the as live (but not actually live as it turns out) feed cut out before Putin finished his speech.
The Kremlin later said that the broadcast was “interrupted due to technical problems on the server”.
The TV station was then forced to run the entire speech again from the top.
You wouldn’t want to be that person at the network who pulled the plug too early on Putin.
Putin claims Ukraine committed ‘genocide’
Before he was uncermoniusly dumped from live TV, Putin made a tub thumping speech designed to persuade Russians that his so-called “special miliary operation” was justified.
He kept his comments focused on Crimea, which Russia forcefully anexxed from Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine’s eastern Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk which Russia this year recognised as sovereign states.
“Crimeans did the right thing by putting a barrier in the way of neo-Nazis,” Russian news service RIA Novesti quoted him as saying.
Putin’s justification that Ukraine needs to be “de-nazified” has been a theme of the conflict. Banners in the stadium said “a world without Nazism”.
Kyiv has pushed back against claims Ukraine is riven with Nazis. Indeed, President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.
Russia had done a lot to improve Crimea and Sevastopol, Putin said.
“The region had to be pulled out of the humiliating state within Ukraine,” he added.
On the Donbass, Putin said “genocide was committed” by Ukraine.
“The purpose of the military operation is to get rid of this.”
There’s no doubt that Kyiv has been in conflict with its eastern regions. But Ukraine points out the reason for that is becuase Russian backed speratists took over Donetsk and Luhansk. It refutes claims of “genocide”.
Putin said Russian soldiers – the same soldiers that have been shelling hospitals and shooting dead motorists – were “heroes”.
He quoted the Holy Scriptures when talking about Donbas, said RIA Novesti: “There is no more love than if one lays down his life for his friends.”
Foreign minister presses for more sanctions
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has pressed the European Union on introducing more sanctions against Russia in a meeting with foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about a further package of sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.
“We discussed the preparation of the 5th EU sanctions package on Russia. Pressure will keep mounting as long as it is needed to stop Russian barbarism. We also discussed protection and help for Ukrainians who fled from Russian bombs to the EU,” he said on Twitter.
Mr Kuleba encouraged future punishments for those complicit with the current war, declaring that Russian soldiers taking orders on the ground “bear responsibility” alongside Vladimir Putin.
“Some want to live in a simple world where Putin is solely responsible for the war,” he said. “The reality is that someone actually drops bombs on Ukrainian cities, shoots evacuees, forms ‘Zs’, backs Putin in surveys. Like in 1930s, they bear responsibility, even if poisoned by propaganda.”
Mayor Klitschko gives Kyiv update
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has revealed one more civilian death in the Ukrainian capital as a result of Russia’s assault. The former boxer, who has attracted a lot of attention in recent weeks for his steadfast defiance against the invasion force, posted a video of himself among debris on Friday morning local time.
Klitschko said a number of houses and a local kindergarten were damaged as a result of recent shells.
“The enemy continues to attack the capital. In the morning, a residential area in the Podolsk district was shelled by orcs,” he said. “One person died, 19 were injured, including four children. 6 houses, kindergartens and a school were damaged. Rescuers and medics are working on the spot.”
Kyiv was spared from intense shelling for 24 hours, but early sirens before 6am indicated Vladimir Putin’s forces are shaping up for another deadly day of attacks. The Kyiv strikes were followed soon after by the bombing of an air maintenance building in Lviv, close to the country’s second-largest airport.
Lviv wakes up to air raid
Citizens in the city of Lviv were rocked awake by the sound of air raid sirens this morning just after 6am local time. Correspondents on the ground reported hearing up to four huge blasts shortly after.
The local mayor later confirmed an aeroplane maintenance plant was destroyed after initial claims civilian buildings at Ukraine’s second biggest airport had been hit.
He said the area near the airport was hit, but not the airport itself.
Officials have warned locals to avoid sharing photos of the shelling and to be prepared to return to cover if Russia’s raids continue.
The number of casualties is yet to be confirmed.
It came as the capital Kyiv suffered more strikes in the early morning following a 24-hour hiatus, suggesting Russia has begun to scale up its air attacks across the nation on Friday.
Search for survivors continues after theatre bombing
Emergency workers are continuing the search for survivors after shells demolished a theatre in Mariupol this week. Officials said up to 1,200 civilians were being housed in the building inside one of the heaviest-hit cities of the war.
The strikes prompted further accusations of war crimes committed by Russia, with Ukrainian and Western officials declaring it a deliberate attack on a civilian site. Satellite images showed the word “children” written in large letters outside the building.
The number of people killed by the attack still remains unclear.
Ukraine‘s ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova revealed a bomb shelter in the building had protected some of those taking refuge.
“Work is underway to unlock the basement,” she said.
‘Victory condition’: Grim sign Putin could win
Russian forces may be moving to encircle the bulk of Ukraine’s military in a pincer move that “could represent a victory condition”, UK analysts have warned.
While much of the West‘s focus has been dominated by Russia’s apparently stalled attempts to take major cities including Kyiv, Mariupol and Odessa, researchers from the Royal United Services Institute say recent troop movements suggest Moscow’s true goal is to encircle the Ukrainian army.
Most of the nation’s defences remains near the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk under the aegis of the Joint Forces Operation.
Analysts say preparations for an amphibious assault on Odessa “may have been a feint, given that the ground forces such an assault could have linked up with appear to be moving north”.
“The position of this force is looking increasingly precarious as Russian forces advance to encircle it on three axes,” analyst Sam Cranny-Evans and research fellow Dr Sidharth Kaushal wrote in the report, titled Not Out of the Woods Yet: Assessing the Operational Situation in Ukraine.
“Viewed in conjunction, these advances present a troubling picture whereby the Ukrainian forces opposite Donetsk and Luhansk are at risk of encirclement on the eastern side of the Dnieper.
“If this is indeed the focus of Russia’s approach, then the emphasis on Russia‘s ability to take major cities as a metric of success will have been an analytical error, as Russia appears more intent on pinning Ukrainian forces in cities like Kharkiv while it bypasses them.”
“For Ukraine, this represents a critical moment,” they wrote. “The encirclement and destruction of a large part of the country’s regular armed forces could represent a victory condition for Russia in two ways.”
They point to 1940, when German forces did not besiege Paris. “Having encircled the French army in the field and decisively beaten it, this became unnecessary,” they wrote.
“To hold Kyiv and other major cities at the cost of allowing the forces of the JFO to be encircled could prove disastrous. Even if Ukrainian will did not collapse following the encirclement and destruction of the JFO, the elimination of this force could lead Russia to claim it had achieved its goal of demilitarising Ukraine and would enable an annexation of Donetsk and Luhansk at a minimum.”
They add that for an insurgency to be successful, “they require a regular force to both pin the attention of an occupier and conduct eventual counteroffensives”.
“The survival of the forces currently in the east of Ukraine would therefore be critical to an insurgency’s success,” they wrote.
Ukraine, Ukrainian shoots down seven Russian aircraft
Ukraine’s air force has claimed to have destroyed a further 14 aerial units on Thursday, including seven aircraft.
“According to Ukraine’s air force Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ukraine’s air defence destroyed seven aircraft, one helicopter, three UAVs, and three cruise missiles,” reported the Kyiv Independent.
A convoy of Russian tanks originally designated to take the capital has been held up by Ukraine’s military, prompting doubts the invading force is rethinking its assault entirely.
“An ill-judged ground assault on a city as well-prepared as Kyiv with really determined and committed defenders would be a very costly business,” one official said.
“I think there comes a point where even Russia has to count the cost of casualties.”
However, scattered attacks continue to plague the city, with civilians dying on a daily bases. Ukraine’s State Service reported one dead as the result of a warehouse fire after Russian shells hit the Sviatoshynsky district of Kyiv.
US fears Putin will threaten nukes
US intelligence officials believe Vladimir Putin may threaten to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine’s defence forces continue to thwart Russia’s invasion.
Defence Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier outlined the concerns in a report on global threats dated March 15, obtained by Fox News.
“As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength, Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences,” he wrote.
Lt. Gen. Barrier said Moscow‘s recent placement of its nuclear forces on high alert was “likely intended to intimidate”, and that the Kremlin could threaten to use “tactical, non-strategic nuclear weapons” to scare an adversary into submission.
“Russia views a powerful, survivable nuclear force as the foundation of its national security, and its modernised general purposes forces as critical to meet any conventional military threat and project Russian power abroad,” he wrote.
‘No way out’: American citizen killed
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has confirmed an American citizen was killed in Ukraine on Thursday.
The New York Times reported that James Whitney Hill, 68, was killed during heavy Russian shelling in the city of Chernihiv, which lies along Russia’s invasion route from Belarus to Kyiv.
Mr Hill, originally from Idaho, had been seeking medical care for his partner Ira, a Ukrainian citizen.
“My brother Jimmy Hill was killed yesterday in Chernihiv, Ukraine,” his sister Cheryl Hill Gordon wrote on Facebook. “He was waiting in a bread line with several other people when they were gunned down by Russian military [snipers]. His body was found in the street by the local police.”
In the days before his death, Mr Hill posted a series of harrowing updates on Facebook.
“Intense bombing! Still alive. Limited food. Room very cold. Ira in intensive care,” he wrote on earlier this week.
“Not allowed to take photos. Spies throughout city. Bombing has intensified, no way out.”
In another post he wrote, “We could try a break out tomorrow but Ira’s mom doesn’t want to. Each day people are killed trying to escape. But bombs falling here at night. Risk either way … I only have Wi-Fi a few hours a day. We have enough food for a few days.”
Russian troops ‘running out of food’
Russia is struggling to resupply its forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel, according to the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest intelligence update.
“Logistic problems continue to beset Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine,” the MoD said on Thursday.
“Reluctance to manoeuvre cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel. Incessant Ukrainian counter-attacks are forcing Russia to divert large number of troops to defend their own supply lines. This is severely limiting Russia’s offensive potential.”
UK leaders duped by Russian ‘impostors’
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel both held conversations before becoming suspicious and ending the calls.
Mr Wallace, who was in Poland at the time, believed he was talking to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal when he agreed to the video call on Microsoft Teams.
He said the man looked and sounded like Mr Shmyhal and was posing in front of a Ukrainian flag, but that he grew suspicious when the caller began to ask questions relating to UK security including potential deployments of British warships to the Black Sea.
The Defence Secretary told The Telegraph he ended the call after “eight or nine minutes” after the questions became more and more “ridiculous”. He has now ordered an inquiry, saying it had been “properly set up” and requested via an email in the name of an aide at the Ukrainian embassy.
“Today an attempt was made by an impostor claiming to be Ukrainian PM to speak with me,” Mr Wallace wrote on Twitter. “He posed several misleading questions and after becoming suspicious I terminated the call. No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukraine. A desperate attempt.”
Ms Patel subsequently disclosed she had also been targeted. “This also happened to me earlier this week,” she replied. “Pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us. We stand with Ukraine.”
Sources close to the Home Secretary confirmed to The Telegraph she had taken the call but refused to say how long she had spent talking with the impostor or who they had impersonated.
Putin reveals demands to end violence
Vladimir Putin has laid out his demands to end the ongoing violence in Ukraine, but some of them will be a tough pill to swallow.
The Russian President rang Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday afternoon and revealed exactly what it will take for him to pull Russia’s troops from Ukraine.
Mr Erdogan’s leading adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, listened in on the call and told the BBC that Mr Putin’s demands fall into two categories.
He told the publication that the first four demands were “not too difficult” for Ukraine to meet and involve an acceptance that Ukraine should be neutral and join NATO.
Other demands in this category include Ukraine having to undergo a disarmament process to ensure the country isn’t a threat to Russia in the future and the Russian language would have to have legal protections in the country.
Mr Kalin told the BBC Mr Putin also wants Ukraine to undergo what he describes as “de-nazification”, though it is unclear exactly what that entails.
The more difficult demands apparently lie in the second category, with Mr Putin demanding face-to-face negotiations with President Volodymyr Zelensky before a peacekeeping agreement can be decided upon.
Mr Kalin said there were other conditions that could prove contentious, including the status of Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, with the assumption being that Russia will demand the Ukrainian government give up that territory.
Russia will also likely demand Ukraine formally accept that Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Moscow in 2014, does belong to Russia.
Mr Putin’s list of demands come amid official reports that morale among Russian troops is waning, with the invasion of Ukraine and bid to capture the city of Kyiv taking much longer than initially expected.