NATO allies will support Ukraine "for as long as it takes," secretary general says
From CNN's Radina Gigova in London
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday NATO allies, working closely with the EU, will continue supporting Ukraine "for as long as it takes" so that Kyiv can "uphold its right to self-defense."
"NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg said as he opened a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels. "Today we will discuss our continued support, which is essential to help Ukraine prevail as an independent sovereign state and to uphold the international rules-based order."
"President Putin made two strategic mistakes — he underestimated the strength and the bravery of the people of Ukraine and its armed forces, and he underestimated the resolve and unity of NATO and our partners," Stoltenberg added.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov are also attending the meeting.
During his opening remarks, Stoltenberg asked the audience to stand up for a moment of silence in solidarity with the victims of the deadly earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria.
11:44 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Fewer than 5,000 civilians remain in eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, military says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
Fewer than 5,000 civilians remain in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the head of Ukraine's Donetsk region military administration said on Tuesday.
" [Evacuations] are literally taking place under constant shelling, and armored capsules are saving the evacuation crews," said regional military head Pavlo Kyrylenko in a television interview, adding that "the number of people staying in Bakhmut should be minimized, and the military should do their job."
Entry to Bakhmut is restricted for civilians who are not locals, but people who are registered there are able to leave and enter the city.
Kyrylenko also noted that more than 12,000 children have been evacuated from Bakhmut.
"There are less than 140 children," he said. "Children from orphanages, children from difficult families whose parents were deprived of parental rights — all such children were evacuated."
Regarding the ability of volunteer organizations to reach the city, Kyrylenko added, "The residents have everything they need, stock of food and water. If we see that delivery is necessary, we will do it through military administration."
Bakhmut remains the focus of Russia's main attacks, according to one official for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who spoke to CNN on Monday.
In mid-January, CNN reported that Ukrainian officials said perhaps only 10% of the pre-war population remains in Bakhmut. On the western side of the city, which slopes down to a valley out of view of Russian positions, some civilians have been trying to carry on as best they can.
With previous reporting from Ben Wedeman, Kosta Gak and Kareem Khadder
11:37 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Zelensky met with Canadian foreign minister to discuss further security and defense cooperation
From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday met with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly in Kyiv, where he says the pair discussed further security and defense cooperation.
"We talked about the priority needs of the Defense Forces of Ukraine," Zelensky said in a Telegram post following the meeting. "Further cooperation in the field of security and defense was discussed in detail. Canada's support of the Ukrainian army is invaluable in these turbulent times for us."
"I highly appreciate the warm attitude of your society towards Ukrainians, towards our people who came to Canada. You help us not only on the battlefield but also financially, in the energy sector," Zelensky added in a news release. "I also want to note the political support of Ukraine, in particular at the United Nations."
Zelensky and Joly also discussed steps to be taken to aid Ukraine's reconstruction and the issue of demining areas of Ukraine where fighting took place, according to the press release.
11:03 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
No current indications that Russia is preparing for "massive aerial attack," US defense secretary says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that they are not seeing Russia “massing its aircraft” ahead of an aerial operation against Ukraine.
“In terms of whether or not Russia is massing its aircraft for some massive aerial attack, we don't currently see that. We do know that Russia has a substantial number of aircraft in its inventory and a lot of capability left,” he said. “That's why we've emphasized that we need to do everything that we can to get Ukraine as much air defense capability as we possibly can.”
Austin spoke from Brussels, where he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley are meeting with other defense leaders in the ninth Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting since the beginning of Russia’s invasion almost one year ago.
10:45 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Russia has lost "strategically, operationally" one year after its invasion of Ukraine, top US general says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
A little less than a year since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has “lost strategically, operationally, and tactically,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said from Brussels on Tuesday.
“Putin thought he could defeat Ukraine quickly, fracture the NATO alliance, and act with impunity. He was wrong,” the top US general said. “Ukraine remains free, they remain independent. NATO and this coalition has never been stronger, and Russia is now a global pariah. And the world remains inspired by Ukrainian bravery and resilience. In short, Russia has lost — they’ve lost strategically, operationally, and tactically, and they are paying an enormous price on the battlefield.”
Milley and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Brussels for the ninth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, to discuss ongoing support for Ukraine as it fights against Russia.
Milley said on Tuesday that until Putin “ends his war of choice,” the international community “will continue to support Ukraine with the equipment and the capabilities it needs to defend itself.”
12:08 p.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Ukraine expected to conduct offensive against Russia in the spring, US defense secretary says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he expects to see Ukraine conduct an offensive in the spring.
“What Ukraine wants to do at the first possible moment is to establish or create momentum and establish conditions on the battlefield that continue to be in its favor,” he said in a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday.
“And so we expect to see them conduct an offensive sometime in the spring and because of that we are, we all of the partners in in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, have been working hard to ensure that they have the armored capability, the fires, the sustainment to be able to be effective in creating the effects on the battlefield that they want to create,” he said.
Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley are in Brussels for the ninth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which focuses on providing support to Ukraine in its war against Russia. Austin is also participating in a meeting with NATO's defense ministers. The one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion is just over a week away.
12:09 p.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Dwindling ammo stockpiles worry NATO allies while they try to keep Ukraine’s troops firing
It’s hard to get exact numbers on exactly what weapons individual nations currently hold in their arsenals due to the sensitivity of the information. But multiple European defense and security sources have told CNN that there are serious concerns at just how much of Europe’s ammunition has been used on the battlefield and not replaced. Even the biggest supplier of weapons to Ukraine and the world’s top military exporter, the United States, is having trouble keeping up with the demand, as CNN reported late last year.
On Monday night, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of alliance officials that “the current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production – this puts our defense industries under strain.”
How we got here: Decades of budget cuts across Europe have led to policy makers keeping a deliberately low stock on the assumption that there would not be a land war that could swallow up ammunition at similar levels to World War I or II, experts said.
“The combination of no immediate threat and the financial pressures on European governments over the past couple of decades led to a conspiracy of dressing the shop window while letting the stockroom empty out,” said Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The picture European defense officials paint is a grim one. No one wants publicly to say that supporting Ukraine has caused problems, but the ammo crunch is coming and it will take major intervention to put right.
Of course, the vast majority of people involved in European defense at any serious level stand firmly by the support they have provided to Ukraine.
The looming ammunition crisis has, however, revealed that policymaking is often based on convenient assumptions of the best-case scenario. After all, taking no action, in the short-term at least, is often cheaper than taking action.
Brad Lendon contributed reporting for this story.
10:50 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Bakhmut won’t be captured "anytime soon," Russia's Wagner mercenary group says
From CNN's Mick Krever in London.
The head of Russia’s Wagner private military company on Tuesday warned that the capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was far from imminent.
“Bakhmut will not be taken tomorrow, because there is heavy resistance and grinding, the meat grinder is working,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin said in a statement distributed on a Wagner Telegram channel. “For the meat grinder to work properly, it is impossible to suddenly start festivities. There won't be any festivities anytime soon.”
Despite months of intense battle, Wagner and Russian forces have failed to capture Bakhmut, though they are slowly pushing towards encircling the city.
And yet, Prigozhin cautioned that that was anything but imminent. He was responding to a question about whether Wagner forces had captured a small portion of northern Bakhmut.
“I don’t understand where this nonsense comes from,” he said. “In all directions, the enemy is becoming more active, pulling up more and more new reserves. Daily 300 to 500 new fighters approach Bakhmut in all directions. Artillery fire intensifies with each day.”
“To date, heavy fighting is going on in the north. There are no prerequisites for encircling the enemy in the northern regions. Attack is carried out house by house, square meter by square meter. We are seeing the full-blown military engagement. It is just not clear where all these stories about some encirclement and something else come from.”
Some more context: On Sunday, Wagner claimed to have captured a small settlement north of Bakhmut, Krasna Hora. Ukrainian officials have disputed that claim. In announcing the claimed capture, Prigozhin said that “within a radius of 50 km, give or take, there are only PMC [private military company] Wagner fighters who will take Bakhmut.”
That statement caught the attention of Sergey Markov, a pro-Kremlin military blogger.
“Official reports continuously emphasise that Artemovsk [the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut] is being taken by ‘assault groups of volunteers’ with the combat support from the Russian Army missile and aviation units,” Markov wrote. “This indicates that although the public squabble between the small but successful Wagner and not yet so successful but very large Ministry of Defense ended on the orders of the authorities, contradictions remain.”
Some degree of power struggle, Markov said, is normal.
“This is a struggle for resources such as powers, tasks, money, staff and glory for victories. Up to a certain point, this is quite a healthy competition. But only up to a certain point," he said.
With translation by Olena Mankovska
9:25 a.m. ET, February 14, 2023
Russian frigate docks in South Africa ahead of joint naval drills with China and Russia
From CNN’s Eve Brennan in London, Steph Busari in Lagos and Ghazi Balkiz in Johannesburg
Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate, armed with Zircon hypersonic missiles, has docked in Cape Town, South Africa, ahead of joint military drills with South Africa, Russia and China, Cape Town’s Russian Consulate said on Monday.
“The battleship arrived in the Mother City on its way to Durban where it will take part in joint [South Africa]-[China]-[Russia] naval drills scheduled for February 17-27,” the consulate said on Twitter.
Why it matters: The exercises come as Russia nears the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine, and it is also an opportunity for Moscow to show it is not entirely isolated on the world stage, despite widespread international condemnation of the invasion.
In January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor defended the naval drills after they held talks in Pretoria during Lavrov’s first visit to South Africa since the invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Russian state-owned news agency TASS quoted a source close to Russia’s defense industry, saying the frigate “will perform a training launch of a Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic missile during a joint exercise with South African and Chinese navies.”
CNN's Radina Gigova contributed reporting to this post.