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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6:41 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russia's new territorial "realities" can't be infringed upon in possible peace talks, says Kremlin

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova 

Russia's new territorial "realities" cannot be infringed upon during possible talks with Kyiv, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday. 

"There are certain realities, I mean the new Russian territories, there is the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which cannot be ignored, which the Russian side will never be able to infringe upon. These are very important realities," Peskov told reporters during a regular call.

"The Russian Federation also has certain goals, which it is attaining in the course of the special military operation. Of course, given the favorable state of affairs and the appropriate attitude of the Ukrainian regime, this can also be decided at the negotiating table," he said. 

"The main thing is to achieve our goals, this is our priority for sure," he added. 

When asked how favorable the present moment is for these negotiations, Peskov replied:

"Currently, probably no one can ascertain the signals from the Ukrainian side. At the moment, we proceed from the impossibility de jure for the Ukrainian side to negotiate on this matter. We proceed from this."

6:37 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Leopard 2 tanks spotted near Bakhmut, pro-Russian official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

German-made Leopard tanks have been spotted near Bakhmut, according to an advisor to the head of the self-declared pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic.

“There have been claims that Leopards have appeared near Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut),” Yan Gagin told state broadcaster Russia 1 on Tuesday.

Gagin went on to downplay the presence of the tanks near the frontline.

“There is no need to sensationalize this. Given the muddy weather now, it will make it difficult for heavy vehicles like the Leopard to move,” he said. “[It] is the same armored target as all the others.”

CNN could not independently verify Gagin’s claims, but European officials have said previously that the first donated Leopard 2 tanks have begun arriving in Ukraine.

6:33 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russia's defense ministry says Ukraine launched failed drone attack as fire breaks out in oil depot

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Anna Chernova and Gianluca Mezzofiore

The Russian Ministry of Defense has accused Ukraine of attempting a drone attack against civilian infrastructure in the Krasnodar region of Russia.

“UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) were suppressed by the electronic warfare units of the RF (Russian Federation) Armed Forces,” said the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD), adding that none of the drones hit their target.

“Both drones lost control and deviated from their flight path. One UAV fell in a field, and another UAV, deviating from the trajectory, did not harm the attacked civilian infrastructure facility,” the MOD statement read.

Social media video geolocated by CNN showed a fire at a Rosfnet oil depot in Tuapse, on the Krasnodar region’s Black Sea coast. It’s unclear if the facility was the intended target, but Ukraine has previously targeted oil depots within Russian-controlled territory.

CNN could not independently confirm if Ukraine was behind the alleged attack and Ukraine did not immediately comment on the incident. Ukraine has in the past declined to comment on similar operations.

6:42 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

NATO chief says Finland and Sweden joining alliance is top priority

From CNN’s Eve Brennan

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speak to the press in Helsinki, Finland, on February 28.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speak to the press in Helsinki, Finland, on February 28. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland and Sweden's applications to join the NATO military alliance is a “top priority," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

“The time is now to ratify and to fully welcome both Finland and Sweden as members,” he said at a joint presser with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Helsinki. 

“It is inconceivable that there would be any threat against Finland or Sweden without NATO reacting,” he added. 

Stoltenberg went on to say that, so far, Finland and Sweden have had the “quickest accession process in NATO’s modern history.” 

Both countries applied for membership in May last year, and in June all NATO allies agreed to invite both countries to join the alliance and set out accession protocols. 

So far, 28 out of the 30 allies have ratified both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. Only Hungary and Turkey have not yet done so.    

The Hungarian parliament have made it clear they will start discussion within a few days, according to Stoltenberg. 

Stoltenberg added that Turkey had expressed some concerns about the countries’ accession, mainly concerning Sweden. 

More on NATO bids: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that his country's talks with Sweden and Finland on the Nordic countries’ NATO accession bid will resume on March 9.

Finnish PM Marin was clear on her country's reasons for joining the alliance, saying that the "NATO line is the only line that Russia wouldn’t cross.” 

Marin said that those countries which have not yet ratified Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership are “a burden to NATO.” 

“Because we are fulfilling the criteria, there shouldn’t be any problems when it comes to our membership,” she said, adding that she hopes Hungary and Turkey will ratify soon. 

Stoltenberg also added that Ukraine “will become a member of our alliance… but that is a long-term perspective.” 

5:39 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin to have "serious conversation" with security service, Kremlin says

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova 

Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a "serious conversation" with the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The role of the service "can hardly be overestimated" in the present time, Peskov added during a regular call with reporters. 

"Putin will take part in the meeting of the Board of the Federal Security Service today. The President will make a speech, part of which will be open," Peskov said. 

"There will also be a part behind closed doors as is traditionally the case, a big voluminous speech by FSB Director Bortnikov in the presence of the president."

The meaning of the service at present moment can hardly be overestimated so it will be a serious conversation," added Peskov.

"Mainly, it will be about summing up last year's results of the [FSB] service and setting the outlooks for the upcoming year."

On Monday, a statement from the Kremlin revealed that Putin will take part in a meeting of the Board of the Federal Security Service, during which "the results of the operational and service activities of the FSB bodies in 2022 will be summed up and priority tasks for 2023 will be identified."

5:14 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin informed of temporary closure of St. Petersburg airport, says Kremlin

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the temporary closure of the St. Petersburg airport, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov refused to provide any further details but did say that city authorities and the military would provide an update later.

Russian state news agency RIA reported that airspace restrictions around St. Petersburg had been lifted following the closure.

Flight tracking websites showed aircraft taking off from Pulkovo airport again after operations had been suspended.

Earlier Tuesday, the city government had said that the airport was not accepting any flights until noon local time. And state news agencies RIA and TASS reported that the airspace in a 200-kilometer (125-mile) radius of the city had been closed until 13:20 local time.

Flight tracking services showed flights turning around and returning to their departure airport.

The announcements came after reports of an unidentified object in the air, but authorities have not confirmed the reason for the closure.

4:50 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russian radio and TV sound air raid warnings after hack

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Anna Chernova

Russian radios and TV channels sounded air raid sirens and displayed warnings after they were hacked on Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said in a statement.

As a result of the hacking of the servers of radio stations and TV channels in some regions of the country, information about the announcement of an air raid alert was broadcast,” the statement read.

“The Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia informs that this information is false and does not correspond to reality.”

Social media videos showed radios playing air raid sirens after the hack, which is the second in quick succession after the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations reported a similar incident last week.

Air raid sirens have become a common feature of life in Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion.

4:38 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

US Army veteran killed fighting for Ukraine had a "very strong sense" of right and wrong, father says

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

US Army veteran Andrew Peters died fighting for Ukraine on February 16.
US Army veteran Andrew Peters died fighting for Ukraine on February 16. (Courtesy John Peters)

The father of a US Army veteran who was killed fighting for Ukraine earlier this month said Ukrainian commanders had warned his son that Russia’s invasion resembled “World War I or II” before he enlisted in the country's defense.

Andrew Peters, 28, died in action on Feb. 16 while serving with Ukraine's International Legion of Defense. 

His father, John Peters, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Monday that "we did our homework" researching the unit, which was created by President Volodymyr Zelensky to allow foreign citizens to join the Ukrainian resistance against Russian occupation and fight for global security.

"Even the commanders over there didn’t pull any punches — they said this is dangerous, this is not like Afghanistan, this is not like Iraq… this is knockdown drag-out gutter fighting, this is like World War I or World War II,” John Peters said.

“There were a number of guys who left after hearing that, but Andrew was like, 'no I’m going to stick this out. I’m going to finish this.'"

Andrew Peters, from Marshfield, Wisconsin, had served a tour with the US Army in Afghanistan prior to joining Ukraine's war effort.

In the interview, his father said he was “like any other average 28-year-old American,” and someone with a “very strong sense of what was right and wrong.”

“I still remember one of the times he called, he said: 'Dad, you cannot imagine the amount of destruction and suffering that’s going on over here. What you see on TV does not do it justice,'” John Peters said. 
3:23 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Ukrainian commander says Wagner is throwing its "most trained" units into battle for Bakhmut

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Hannah Ritchie

A view from a window of an apartment destroyed by Russian forces in Kostiantynivka, near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27.
A view from a window of an apartment destroyed by Russian forces in Kostiantynivka, near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27. (Ignacio Marin Fernandez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The situation around the embattled city of Bakhmut is "extremely tense," partly because of the involvement of the "most trained" assault units of Russian mercenary group Wagner, the commander of Ukraine's ground forces said on Tuesday.

According to a Telegram post from Ukraine’s military media center, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said that "despite significant losses," in the fight for the eastern city, "the enemy has thrown the most trained Wagner assault units into the offensive, trying to break through the defense of our troops and surround the city.”

Ukrainian troops have been struggling to maintain access to Bakhmut as Russian forces have been gradually advancing north and west of the city in recent weeks.

“In the battles for Bakhmut, our soldiers are showing numerous examples of resilience, courage and heroism,” Syrskyi added. 

Some context: Ukrainian officials have highlighted the growing intensity of the fighting around Bakhmut in recent weeks. 

On Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said attempts to defend the city were "getting more and more challenging," while Col. Yuriy Madyar, commander of the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade, described the situation there as "extremely difficult."

CNN's Maria Kostenko contributed reporting.