February 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 7:24 a.m. ET, March 1, 2023
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12:31 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

UN nuclear watchdog concerned about Ukraine nuclear power plant 

From CNN's Jessie Gretener and Sugam Pokharel in London

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on November 24, 2022.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on November 24, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, expressed concern on Tuesday about Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, citing delays in staff rotations, an increased security presence on-site, and nearby fighting.

“The sound of artillery fire near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the temporary loss of its only remaining backup power line have again underlined persistent nuclear safety and security risks during the military conflict in the country,” Grossi said in a statement.

The IAEA said its team members stationed at the plant heard around 20 “detonations” on Monday afternoon, writing they were “apparently in the vicinity of the plant.” It also cited an increased security presence on site over recent weeks.

“This is a concerning trend that shows the urgency and importance of establishing a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant,” Grossi stressed.

He also raised concerns about continued delays for the rotation of the IAEA experts on site, saying the current team should have been replaced more than three weeks ago and that he hopes the rotation can finally occur later this week. 

The UN nuclear agency also confirmed that the plant’s backup power line was restored on Sunday afternoon after losing power twice on Saturday morning. It said the disconnection occurred on the other side of the Dnipro river.

12:20 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Here's what Biden administration officials are saying about China supporting Russia

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

On Tuesday, a top State Department official said that “in many ways, China has been supporting Russia's war in Ukraine from the beginning,” even if it hasn’t provided lethal aid.

Additionally, the United States has already blacklisted a bevy of Chinese companies for supporting Russia, a top Commerce Department official also said.

Thirteen Chinese entities have also been added to the Entities List by the US Commerce Department for providing support to Russia, including one “that was supplying parts to the Iranian drone program,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security at the Commerce Department Alan Estevez said a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“We will not hesitate to put companies on the Entity List as soon as we see factual data that they are supplying Russia. And we have, we're looking at across all third parties, but especially China in that regard,” Estevez said.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink noted that the US has “made very clear that we will not hesitate to take steps to hold to account PRC entities that assist Russia.”

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink testifies during a hearing at the US Capitol in 2021.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink testifies during a hearing at the US Capitol in 2021. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa/AP)

“And we've made that very clear to the Chinese. The Secretary certainly did so in Munich, and of course, the President and the national security adviser have done so directly to the Chinese on previous occasions,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly accused Beijing of trying to have it “both ways” on the war.

“It’s, on the one hand, trying to present itself publicly as neutral and seeking peace, while at the same time it was talking up Russia’s false narrative about the war. It is, as I said, providing nonlethal assistance through its companies and now contemplating lethal assistance,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC last week.

Speaking at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Kritenbrink noted that Beijing has disseminated Russian propaganda and used its own disinformation “to support Russia's war there and to blame, inappropriately, the war on the west, the United States, and NATO.”

“We've seen China's stepping up its economic engagement and purchases from Russia,” Kritenbrink said.

11:29 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin signs law formally suspending New START participation

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Tuesday that formally suspends Russia's participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

"The Russian Federation suspends the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, signed in Prague on April 8, 2010," the text of the law's explanatory note said.

Putin said last week that Russia was suspending participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but it was not withdrawing from it. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said Moscow will continue to respect the caps established in the treaty and reiterated that Putin’s suspension of the treaty is “reversible.”

The Russian president is the one who can make the decision to resume the country's participation in the agreement. 

Some context: The treaty is the last in a long series of nuclear treaties between the US and Russia, previously the Soviet Union. It puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.

The treaty was already essentially paused since Russia had recently refused to open up its arsenal to inspectors.

A top US State Department official said Monday that the United States "very much" hopes Russia is still interested in arms control, but Putin's decision to suspend New START participation calls the interest into question.

“By tying it to Ukraine right now, tying it to an immovable object in the sense that our support for Ukraine will not be limited by their New START decision, they’re really placing in doubt their support for the treaty itself,” Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Mallory Stewart said.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Rob Picheta, Anna Chernova, Nathan Hodge, Lauren Kent and Radina Gigova contributed to this post.

11:24 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

US and its allies have trained more than 4,000 Ukrainian military members, top defense official says 

From CNN's Nicky Robertson and Oren Liebermann

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, left, meets with Soldiers assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s 7th Army Training Command supporting combined arms training of Ukrainian Armed Forces battalions in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on February 17.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, left, meets with Soldiers assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s 7th Army Training Command supporting combined arms training of Ukrainian Armed Forces battalions in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on February 17. (Staff Sgt. Jordan Sivayavirojna/U.S. National Guard)

A top US defense official told the House Armed Services Committee that the US and its allies have now trained more than 4,000 members of the Ukrainian military. 

“Collective training is ongoing throughout Europe and is dramatically increasing Ukrainian combined armed organizations, all told, since January, the US military has trained over 1000 Ukrainians, bringing the total by the United States trained by the United States to just over 4000,” Lt General Douglas Sims II, director of operations for the Joint Chief of Staff, said.

 The US military has also been training Ukrainians on the Patriot missile system at Fort Still, Oklahoma, and Sims announced that the training will be finished soon.  

“US armed forces will soon complete the training and equipping of Ukraine's first Patriot battery,” Sims told the Committee.

This is the first time the Pentagon has specified when that training may end.

“We are confident the Ukrainians will employ Patriots with the same expertise they are demonstrating every day with their current air defense capabilities,” Sims added.

11:03 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

US possibly sending fighter jets to Ukraine is "not a wise use" of resources, Democratic lawmaker says

From CNN's Michael Conte and Oren Liebermann

An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies at the Nevada Test and Training Range, on September 14, 2007, near Indian Springs, Nevada.
An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies at the Nevada Test and Training Range, on September 14, 2007, near Indian Springs, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The House Armed Services Committee has determined the possibility of sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine “is not a wise use of the resources that are necessary to win the fight,” according to the top-ranking Democrat on the committee.

“The honest truth is the cost of trying to get the F-16 up and ready to operate in Ukraine, even if we basically said there’s nothing more important than that one weapon system, and spent all of our time and all of our resources on doing it, best case scenario, we could maybe get some operational F-16’s into Ukraine within a year, maybe eight months if we really pushed it,” ranking member Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, said at a hearing on Ukraine oversight.

Smith added that the F-16 would “struggle to survive” on the battlefield.

“You don't just have to train the pilots,” said Smith. “You have to train the mechanics, you have to have airfields that can accommodate the F-16 and you have to have the spare parts to make it work.”

More on the divide over supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine: As some outspoken Republican lawmakers threaten to block future aid to Ukraine, a small group of House GOP members who traveled to the country recently vowed to consider a list of key weapons and other crucial necessities during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.

Zelensky, who met with House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Michael McCaul and four other House GOP members, told the group he planned to send them a list of weapons, which includes F-16 fighter jets, that he believes are necessary to speed up the end of the war with Russia.

Zelenky’s specific goal of obtaining US F-16 fighter jets has become an increasingly controversial ask. Both President Joe Biden and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have previously opposed such a move due to concerns about how it could escalate the conflict.

But the argument against providing F-16s is becoming more difficult to make as senior military leaders have privately acknowledged to GOP lawmakers in recent days that those weapons would help Ukraine win the war, according to a source familiar.

Last week, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, supreme allied commander for Europe and head of US European command, told 10 GOP lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that F-16s would help Ukraine win. Asked if that was the case, Cavoli said “yes,” the source said, confirming details first reported by Politico.

While Cavoli’s comments go further than what senior US officials have said publicly, they also reflect diverging views within the Pentagon – notably splitting with the more cautious approach of Milley who has long been wary of any move that could provoke Russian escalation, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Read more about this here.

With previous reporting from Alayna Treene and Zachary Cohen

10:39 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russian authorities claim Ukrainian drone landed in Moscow region

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

A Ukrainian drone has crashed near Kolomna in Russia's Moscow region, according to Gov. Andrey Vorobyov on his Telegram channel.

“This happened near the village of Gubastovo, the target was probably a civilian infrastructure facility, it was not damaged. There are no casualties or destruction on the ground," the head of the region said. “The FSB and other competent authorities are dealing with the situation, nothing threatens the safety of residents.”

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti posted a photograph of the drone, which appeared to resemble a Ukrainian-made UJ-22 attack drone. The UJ-22 is capable of traveling up to 800 kilometers (or about 500 miles).

It's unclear where or when the photograph of the crashed drone was taken.

Also Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported electronic warfare systems had suppressed Ukrainian drones that tried to attack Krasnodar and neighboring Adygea in southwestern Russia.

RIA Novosti also reported the Russian military shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Surazh region near the Belarus border.

CNN is unable to independently verify the claims. The Ukrainian authorities have not commented on any drone attacks into Russian territory. 

10:42 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russian shelling kills at least 4 and injures 5 in Kherson, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

Russian artillery shelled civilian parts of Kherson city Tuesday, killing 4 and wounding 5, the Kherson regional military administration (RMA) said.

"A total of 4 people have been killed and 5 wounded in Kherson region as a result of Russian army strikes."

One of those killed was a 71-year-old Kherson resident, who suffered shrapnel wounds.

One woman was rescued from under the rubble of her home. "Doctors are now doing everything possible to save her," the RMA said.

The village of Komyshany just west of the city was also shelled. A 45-year-old man was killed, while a 68-year-old woman died in Mykolaivka.

Russian forces shelled liberated parts of Kherson almost every day from the east bank of the Dnipro, which they still hold.

The Ukrainian military's Operational Command South said Tuesday that Russia was occasionally moving sabotage groups on the estuary of the Dnipro. "Our units destroyed two such boats," it said.

The Command said that in the Black Sea, "the enemy ship grouping has been significantly increased, despite the moderate sea storm. There are 17 ships there now, including 5 missile carriers and 2 submarines. The total volley of Kalibr-type missiles can reach 32 missiles."

The Kalibr is one of the more powerful and accurate cruise missiles in the Russian arsenal.

"The enemy continues to conduct aerial reconnaissance which means that missile attacks, both massive and targeted, are possible," Operational Command South warned. "The threat level has been significantly increased."
10:03 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin tells security service to step up operations

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Board in Moscow, Russia, on February 28.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Board in Moscow, Russia, on February 28. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told members of the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday that counterintelligence should be strengthened to counter Western intelligence services.

"In general, it is necessary to strengthen the line of counterintelligence," Putin said, adding that he believes "they have thrown additional personnel, technical and other resources against us."

"We need to respond accordingly," he said in his speech to the FSB.

Putin said important information about Russia's control systems, military and law enforcement structures, defense industry enterprises, critical technologies and personal data "must be reliably protected," adding that "this fully applies to information about the latest Russian weapons and equipment."

"It is necessary to further increase the level of security of the information and digital space in Russia, to identify and stop attempts to disrupt the work of Russian resources and communications," he said. 

The Russian president reiterated his claims of "terrorism" from Kyiv, as Moscow continues its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Putin told the FSB to work together with law enforcement agencies and "act decisively and offensively; use the entire arsenal of operational, analytical and other means."

"At the same time, it is necessary to constantly keep in sight objects of critical infrastructure, places of mass stay of people, transport hubs, enterprises of the military-industrial complex and the fuel and energy complex," he added.

He also said it is necessary to develop regional segments of Russia's nationwide system of countering terrorism, including in the regions of Ukraine that he claimed to annex in defiance of international law.

9:43 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Physician describes frightening situation in Bakhmut: "I'm really scared"

From CNN's Daria Tarasova in Kyiv

A doctor who is still in the city of Bakhmut has told CNN she is very scared by the constant shelling and the sound of the fighting.

Elena Molchanova continues to work in Bakhmut even as the fighting comes closer to the city, which is virtually cut off from humanitarian relief.

"I'm really scared. But I'm sure everything will be OK," she said.

"I'm living in the basement and attending to people in the hospital in the same building. People very rarely come to the hospital. Many left the city when they had the opportunity. Those who remain are afraid to come under the shelling," she told CNN. 

She said people with heart problems and those needing bandaging after an injury were those who most often came for help. She said she changes dressings for those who have been hurt.

Molchanova said that food and water were no longer being brought to the city. "Volunteers are coming very rarely." She said she has some stock left and can survive.

Before the war, Molchanova worked as a specialist in infectious diseases, but now she treats patients as a general practitioner. 

She spoke to CNN via text message as calls from the city are difficult because of a lack of connections.

There are thought to be several thousand civilians still in Bakhmut, though the exact number is unknown. Routes into and out of the city have become much more dangerous in recent weeks, with several aid missions coming under fire.