March 8, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Joshua Berlinger, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, March 9, 2023
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5:05 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Putin to carry on war in Ukraine — possibly for years, US intelligence director says

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen and Michael Conte

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The US intelligence community believes that Russia "probably does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur," according to the unclassified annual threat assessment report of the intelligence community on Wednesday. 

"Russian leaders thus far have avoided taking actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the risk for escalation remains significant," the report said. 

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress that the war in Ukraine has become a “grinding attritional war in which neither side has a definitive military advantage,” but said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to carry on, possibly for years. 

"We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains, but Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor, and that prolonging the war including with potential pauses in the fighting may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia's strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” Haines said.

Haines said that Russia will likely be unable to sustain even its currently modest level of offensive operations in Ukraine without an additional mandatory mobilization and third-party ammunition sources.

“They may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy,” she said.

But Haines cautioned that a potential spring offensive by Ukraine may be limited by “the extent to which Ukrainian forces are having to draw down their reserves and equipment as well as suffer further casualties” defending against current Russian operations.

Haines and the other top intelligence officials — CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Chris Wray, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone – testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday at the panel’s annual public worldwide threats hearing.

12:59 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Ukrainian sports stars honor soldier who was apparently executed by Russian troops

From CNN’s Matt Foster in London

A group of Ukrainian sports stars paid tribute to a Ukrainian soldier who appeared to be executed by Russian troops in a video, reciting the Ukrainian battle cry “Heroyam Slava (Glory to the heroes).” 

The athletes involved include tennis star Elina Svitolina and Premier League soccer players Oleksandr Zinchenko and Mykhailo Mudryk.

The athletes’ video comes in response to an impassioned call from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Monday evening address where he implored people to “respond to his (the soldier’s) words in unity: ‘Glory to the hero. Glory to heroes. Glory to Ukraine.’”

The original video that provoked Zelensky’s plea shows an unarmed troop allegedly in Russian captivity wearing Ukrainian combat fatigues and smoking a cigarette, near what appears to be a fighting position. The man is then shown pulling the cigarette from his mouth, blowing out the smoke and saying, “Slava Ukraini (Glory to Ukraine),” before being executed, with fighters off camera firing several shots at him.

Oleksandr Usyk, former boxing heavyweight world champion and Olympic gold medalist, separately issued a video of himself reading a poem in tribute to the soldier via his Telegram.

“Glory to Ukraine,” the poem reads. “You took a bullet for saying that. And you are gone."

"But eternal memory, warrior, to you. You crushed the enemies for the homeland, you showed the strength, the strength of the AFU. Yes, glory to heroes, and to you in heaven."

5:09 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

US intelligence report: Moscow has "increased its reliance on nuclear weapons" due to losses in Ukraine

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Zachary Cohen

As Russia deals with "extensive damage" from its war in Ukraine, Moscow will grow more dependent on its nuclear, cyber and space capabilities, US intelligence agencies said in their unclassified annual threat assessment report.

Heavy losses on the battlefield in Ukraine "have degraded Moscow’s ground and air-based conventional capabilities and increased its reliance on nuclear weapons," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in the report, which intelligence officials testified on before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

"Although its cyber activity surrounding the war fell short of the pace and impact we had expected, Russia will remain a top cyber threat as it refines and employs its espionage, influence, and attack capabilities," according to the report.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “nuclear saber-rattling” an attempt to “deter the West from providing additional support to Ukraine.”

“He probably will still remain confident that Russia can eventually militarily defeat Ukraine and wants to prevent Western support from tipping the balance and forcing a conflict with NATO,” she said before Congress on Wednesday.

1:05 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Friend remembers Ukrainian paramedic who was killed while evacuating wounded in Bakhmut

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Olga Voitovych  

Yana Rykhlitska, a 29-year-old paramedic of the 93rd brigade, died near Bakhmut, Ukraine.
Yana Rykhlitska, a 29-year-old paramedic of the 93rd brigade, died near Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Defense Ministry)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude on International Women's Day to all the women who have fought or died for Ukraine as the war with Russia continues.

Zelensky dedicated his message to "all the women who work, teach, study, rescue, heal, fight — fight for Ukraine," as well as "all the women who gave their lives for our country."  

A Ukrainian woman who recently died, Yana Rykhlitska, was a 29-year-old paramedic working with the 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade. She was killed on March 3 near the embattled city of Bakhmut, the country's defense ministry said in a post featuring several pictures of Rykhlitska.  

"She was evacuating the wounded when the car she was in got shelled," the defense ministry said. "Yana was a true hero, ready to risk her life to help others. Eternal memory and glory to our fallen heroes!" 

One of Rykhlitska's friends, Tetiana Samsonova, who is a volunteer, told CNN on Monday that Rykhlitska worked at a stabilization point in Bakhmut, which "is a place where the wounded are being prepared for the long journey to the doctors to ensure their survival."

"A few days before she died, I texted to her, 'take care of yourself'. There was some sense of anxiety for her. Later I saw that other people were texting her the same thing at the same time," she said.  

"The last time we spoke with Yana was the same day she passed away, a few hours earlier. I texted her and asked how she was doing. She replied, 'fun,' which meant that there was a lot of work, and that 'everyone was still alive'," Samsonova said. 

Samsonova said she met Rykhlitska eight years ago.

"I taught her drawing. She had her own unique magic. Even when she wasn't wearing makeup or costumes. This, of course, helped her at the front. This magic, and her sense of humor," she said. 

"There were three of us, volunteer friends. My friend texted the next morning that Yana was gone. And my first thought was that I hated my intuition," Samsonova said.  

"When we asked her parents if they needed help, they flatly refused. They said that all the money people wanted to raise would go to help the Ukrainian army, just like Yana wanted," she said. "She was extremely heroic. I don't know who among my acquaintances has done more for Ukraine than she has." 

Rykhlitska's funeral was on Tuesday in the western-central city of Vinnytsia, where she lived before the start of Russia's full-scale invasion. 

11:43 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Polish president calls for training of Ukrainian pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets

From CNN’s Adam Pourahmadi in Abu Dhabi

Polish President Andrzej Duda talks to CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday.
Polish President Andrzej Duda talks to CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday. (CNN)

The training of Ukrainian pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets is “necessary,” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda told CNN’s Becky Anderson. 

The Polish president said he believes that Ukraine’s armed forces will want to be “up to the NATO standard” and therefore will want to use F-16 fighter jets. 

“The training of Ukraine in pilots is important and it is quite necessary,” Duda said.

In the US: The United States is working with Ukrainian pilots in the US to determine how long it would take to train them to fly F-16 fighter jets, three sources briefed on the matter told CNN. Two Ukrainian pilots are currently at a military base in the US having their skills tested in flight simulators to see how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s.

Duda is also in Abu Dhabi on Poland’s first bilateral visit in 13 years to warn Emirati leaders of Russian propaganda and to relay how the situation in Ukraine looks from his "very close perspective.”

More than a year since Russia launched its war on Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates' wider policy — as is the case with much of the Middle East — is one of neutrality. Energy-rich Gulf states have benefited from the rise in prices brought by the war in Ukraine, which has added tens of billions of dollars to their coffers, while Russia continues finding financial escape routes into UAE markets.  

“I'm convincing them to be very sensitive to Russian propaganda,” Duda said about his meetings with Emirati leaders. 

11:21 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Zelensky welcomes UN secretary general to Kyiv for talks on grain initiative

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres attend the joint press conference following their meeting on March 8, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres attend the joint press conference following their meeting on March 8, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Roman Pilipey/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has welcomed the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to Kyiv for discussions on extending the grain initiative that allows Ukraine to export its agricultural produce from Black Sea ports.

"We are interested in ensuring that there is no hunger in the world, and our common policy is to extend the grain initiative corridor. We also raised the issue of the future prolongation of the initiative," Zelensky told a news conference.

"It is very important that we are talking in Kyiv about how to restore peace, international security, and the full force of the UN Charter – those norms that are equally important to all nations on earth," Zelensky said.

Background on grain initiative: Russia suspended its participation in an agreement that guarantees safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine in October 2022, but quickly reversed course a few days later. Turkey, alongside the United Nations, helped broker the deal in July 2022.

The US also announced three new partnerships last week as an effort to boost Ukraine’s agricultural sector and help supply the country’s grain to the world, USAID officials told CNN.

According to the UN, Ukraine normally supplies the world with around 45 million tons of grain every year. It ranks among the top five global exporters of barley, corn and wheat. It’s also by far the biggest exporter of sunflower oil, accounting for 46% of the world’s exports.

8:58 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Germany searched boat suspected of carrying explosives used for Nord Stream pipelines attack

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea on September 27.
Gas emanating from a leak on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea on September 27. (Swedish Coast Guard/Getty Images)

The German federal prosecutor's office searched a boat in January that was suspected of carrying explosives used in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipeline detonations in September, according to a statement from the prosecutor’s office.

"The Office of the Attorney General of Germany had a ship searched from January 18 to 20, 2023 in connection with a suspicious ship rental," the statement details.

"The evaluation of the seized traces and objects is ongoing. The identity of the perpetrators and their motives are the subject of ongoing investigations," it said.

Investigations are ongoing, and reliable statements cannot be issued yet, particularly as to whether a state controlled these plans, it added.

It comes after a media report cited new intelligence that a "pro-Ukrainian group" may have been behind the attack last year.

"There are no grounds for suspecting employees of the German company that leased the ship," the office said.

More details from German public broadcaster's report: The boat left the Baltic sea port of Rostock, Germany, on September 6, 2022, according to German public broadcaster ARD, citing its own investigation. The ARD reporting cited unnamed security sources from five countries.

ARD said the boat carried six people: one captain, two divers, two assistant divers and a doctor. The nationalities of those six are not known, according to ARD. The broadcaster said the group was using professionally falsified passports to rent the boat.

A truck delivered the group's gear to the harbor beforehand, it said. 

ARD said the investigators, according to its research, were able to piece together the route of the boat after September 6: It went to Wieck, a German municipality east of Rostock, and could also be pinned on the Danish island of Christiansø, northeast of Bornholm. 

The boat was – according to ARD — returned in a dirty state and the investigators, according to the broadcasters’ research, were able to find traces of explosives on the cabin table.

The German prosecutors’ office declined to give any more information when asked for any further details.

CNN also approached the port of Rostock and is awaiting a response, but it is a public holiday today.

8:55 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023

NATO chief "can’t rule out" that Bakhmut may fall in the coming days

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press upon arrival to the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers on March 8, in Marsta, Sweden.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press upon arrival to the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers on March 8, in Marsta, Sweden. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said he can't rule out that Russian forces will soon take over the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU defense ministers in Stockholm, he said he “cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days.” 

Stoltenberg said that “this does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war,” adding the conflict in the eastern Donetsk region “just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia.” 

Let's recap: The head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that the eastern part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is now under his mercenary group's control. CNN cannot independently confirm Prigozhin’s claim. While the Ukrainian military did not address his claims, it said that Russian attacks in the Bakhmut area continue, but described them as unsuccessful and incurring heavy losses. Wagner, the predominant forces in the Bakhmut area, is also running out of prisoners to recruit, according to Western officials.

8:48 a.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Republican US House leader says he has no plans to visit Ukraine in response to Zelensky invite

From CNN's Clare Foran

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is inviting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to visit Ukraine to see the situation on the ground firsthand – an invitation that comes as the Republican Party faces a divide over whether the United States should continue to provide aid to the country under attack from Russia.

“Mr. McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions,” Zelensky told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview.

But when told of the invitation on Tuesday, McCarthy told CNN that he does not plan to visit Ukraine, and argued that President Joe Biden has not acted quickly enough to aid the country. McCarthy, a California Republican, has said he supports Ukraine but does not support “a blank check,” a position he repeated on Tuesday – even though there is federal oversight of all the dollars that are spent there.

“I think that Speaker McCarthy, he never visited Kyiv or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position,” Zelensky said.

As speaker, McCarthy must navigate competing views within his party over sending additional assistance. There is widespread bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress, but some House Republicans are calling for an end to further military and financial aid to the country.

“When the Democrats and Republicans come to us, they see the supply roots – every shell, every bullet, every dollar,” Zelensky said.

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