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
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 trainedover 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
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.
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.
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 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.
10:05 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023
Putin says Russian security agencies should be established in claimed annexed regions of Ukraine
From CNN's Radina Gigova and Uliana Pavlova
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday it is important for Russia to establish and strengthen resources of Russian security entities in the regions he proclaimed annexed from Ukraine.
"It is worth paying increased attention to the formation of security agencies in the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. Strengthen their operational staff resources," Putin said in opening remarks at a Federal Security Service (FSB) meeting.
Key background: In late September 2022, Putin proclaimed Russia would seize of nearly a fifth of Ukraine, following so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “shams” by Ukraine and Western nations.
Under the annexation process, which is illegal under international law, Moscow recognized four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk – home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics where fighting has been ongoing since 2014 – as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, despite Ukraine controlling parts of those regions.
CNN's Joshua Berlinger, Anna Chernova and Tim Lister contributed to this post.
8:38 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023
Situation in Bakhmut is "much worse than officially reported," Ukrainian soldiers say
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych
Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut describe a worsening situation on the ground as Russian forces continue to apply pressure to capture the eastern Ukrainian city.
“The situation in Bakhmut is very difficult now. It is much worse than officially reported,” a soldier who didn’t want to be named told CNN on Tuesday. “We should add another 100% difficulty to the official reports. In all directions. Especially in the northern direction, where the orcs [Russians] have made the biggest advance.”
The soldier refuted Russian claims that Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut had been cut off and were unable to get supplies into the city.
“The Khromove [settlement] is the key for the defense of the city. When it is captured, only one Bakhmut - Kostiantynivka road will remain to supply the city,” the soldier explained. “It is already under the enemy's fire control, and if the enemy captures it, supplies will be impossible.”
Despite the challenges, the soldier said Ukrainian forces would defend the city as long as possible. “The city will be defended until the end, no matter what.”
"We all understand that we are holding on and dying to win time for a counteroffensive in the spring,” the soldier also said. “We cannot give up every city without a fight.”
Another soldier referenced only by his call-sign Kyivan, described a similar situation in a video posted on social media.
“As of the morning of February 28, the situation around the defense of Bakhmut is quite difficult,” Kyivan, who used to be based in Bakhmut said, citing information he is getting from colleagues inside the city.A third soldier speaking alongside Kyivan described the battles in Bakhmut as “hellish,” but added that Ukrainian soldiers were “holding everything.”
11:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023
Top US diplomat reiterates concerns China will provide lethal aid to Russia
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated the Biden administration’s concern that China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine and warned that Beijing would face consequences for such a move.
“We did very clearly warn China about the implications and consequences of going through with providing such support,” Blinken said at a press conference in Kazakhstan. “We will not hesitate, for example, to target Chinese companies or individuals that violate our sanctions, or otherwise engaged in supporting the Russian war effort.”
Blinken said he raised the issue “directly” with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi when he saw him on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, and US President Joe Biden raised it with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia in November.
If China were to support Russia's war efforts, it would create a "serious problem" for US-China relationship as well as China's relationships with other countries around the world, Blinken said, adding that he hopes China will take US warnings seriously and refrain from helping Russia.
“China can't have it both ways when it comes to when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can't be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand, while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” Blinken said.