February 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 6:30 PM ET, Sat February 18, 2023
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6:13 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

US warns allies at Munich conference that China may increase support for Russia

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

The US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military, US officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN.

The officials said there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.

The officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen to suggest a recent shift in China’s posture, but they've been concerned enough that they have been sharing the intelligence with allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference over the last several days, the officials said.  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise the issue if he meets with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday on the sidelines of the conference, officials said, though such a meeting is not yet confirmed.

Vice President Kamala Harris also alluded to China’s support for Russia during her speech in Munich. 

“We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” Harris said Saturday. “Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order."

Officials said the US is seeing China try to publicly present itself as a proponent of peace and maintain relationships with Europe, while at the same time quietly aiding Russia’s war effort and considering the provision of lethal aid.

Speaking at the conference Saturday, Yi said Beijing is prepared to present a peace proposition for Ukraine. Many European Union leaders in Munich share the US' wariness of Beijing’s intentions.

More background: The Biden administration last month raised concerns with China about evidence suggesting Chinese companies have sold non-lethal equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine, according to two US officials. 

That equipment has included items like flak jackets and helmets, multiple sources familiar with US and European intelligence told CNN.

China has stopped short of more robust military assistance, however, including lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia has requested such aid, but China has not wanted to be seen as a pariah on the world stage, officials said.

But there are signs now that Beijing could be considering it, the officials said, and the Biden administration is warning publicly and privately that the US is monitoring closely for any violations of Western sanctions prohibiting military support for Russia. 

China and Russia publicly declared a “friendship without limits” just before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and Wang Yi is set to visit Russia this month, CNN has reported.

1:34 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Russia's war in Ukraine emboldens North Korea, South Korean foreign minister says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin warned Saturday that Russia's attack on Ukraine has emboldened North Korea.

"Russia's armed attack on Ukraine and the global attention on the war in Europe are, as we witnessed, emboldening Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea through the precipitation of aggressive missile launches, including the (intercontinental ballistic missiles)," Park said during a discussion panel in Munich.

Park said North Korea has "resumed ballistic missile testing, probably an ICBM, after a break lasting almost 50 days, clearly signaling its intent to conduct additional provocations."

The US government also said North Korea had test-launched a presumed long-range ballistic missile Saturday, calling it “a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions."

On Friday, North Korea had warned of “continuous and unprecedented strong responses” if the US and South Korea go ahead with planned military exercises, according to a statement by North Korea’s foreign ministry.

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report from Seoul.

12:54 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Former US commander predicts Ukrainians will be able to push back Russian troops this summer

Gen. David Petraeus attends the Warsaw Security Forum in 2022.
Gen. David Petraeus attends the Warsaw Security Forum in 2022. (Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Gen. David Petraeus told CNN he believes Ukrainian troops will be able to push Russian forces further back this summer, contingent on arms supply and strategy.

It will take successful combined arms warfare — a complementary approach where multiple kinds of fighting units support one another — to succeed, Petraeus told CNN's Nic Robertson at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

"You can get the enemy to crumble and ideally collapse — and that is possible this summer, at least locally — and hopefully sufficient to cut that land bridge that Russia has established that enables them to connect into Crimea along the southeastern coast of Ukraine," said Petraeus, who was the US and coalition commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later served as director of the CIA.

"If you cut that, you can start the isolation of Crimea, you can reduce it as a logistical support hub, and then you can divide the Russian forces. And then if you can take down the Kerch Strait bridge, you've really isolated them," he added.

Petraeus said if that scenario plays out, combined with long-range weapons for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), there'd be a "very different dynamic" in the conflict.

If Russian losses continue to pile up, "at some point, the Kremlin has to recognize this war is unsustainable on the battlefield. And if you continue to tighten the economic, financial and export controls, you make it unsustainable (on) the homefront as well," he said.

He also said Ukrainians being trained on Western weapons seem to be doing so at remarkable speed.

"The reports (from Western colleagues) are that the Ukrainians are just blowing right through their training. They’re done within day one at noon, and you’re on day two, and they’re having to accelerate the training very significantly. And even when they go back to the barracks after a very long training day, they’re reading the manuals. They want to get back to the fight, back to protecting their families," he said.

Ukrainian troops are receiving training on Leopard 2 tanks in Poland, the UK government said earlier this month that it will begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, and the first group of Ukrainians completed training at a US base in Germany on Friday.

"I think they will be able to achieve the kind of combined arms effects that the Russians have not achieved," Petraeus reiterated.

CNN's Cristiana Moisescu contributed to this report.

2:24 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Blinken says US wants to ensure lasting peace in Ukraine by guarding against future Russian aggression

From CNN's Duarte Mendonca

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that his government has a “profound stake” in a “just and durable” peace in Ukraine. 

“Any peace has to be consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter," Blinken said during a discussion panel at the Munich Security Conference.

And, the top US diplomat said, it's in the best interest of countries around the world to make sure the outcome doesn't somehow validate Russia's move to seize territory by force.

"If we do that, we will open a Pandora's box around the world, and every would-be aggressor will conclude that, 'If Russia got away with it, we can get away with it,'" Blinken said. "And that's not in anyone's interest, because it's a recipe for a world of conflict."

Joined in a debate panel by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken went on to assert that a durable peace means Ukraine will have the tools to stop aggression before it escalates in the future. 

“We have to do everything in our power to make sure that Russia won't simply repeat the exercise a year, five years later,” Blinken said. 

“So even as we're doing everything we can to provide Ukraine with the assistance it needs now to deal with the Russian aggression, we have to be thinking — and we are — about what the post-war future looks like to ensure that we have security and stability for Ukrainians, and security and stability in Europe,” he added. 

Later during the discussion, the US Secretary of State reiterated his country’s commitment to helping Ukraine during the war against Russia, noting "the unprecedented assistance" that's been provided and "an enduring commitment" to help Ukraine's defense long term.

Blinken added that the US has "no doubt at all about Ukraine's victory and success."

"And there's a simple, powerful reason for that — irrespective of anything else, including the support that we're providing," he said. "The biggest single difference is that Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, for their future, for their land. The Russians are not, and that will be the biggest thing." 

11:15 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

CIA director says intelligence sharing on Russia has been "essential" in coalition to support Ukraine

From CNN’s DJ Judd

CIA Director Bill Burns said intelligence sharing with NATO allies has been critical to holding together a coalition in support of Ukraine over the past year.

“I think the intelligence sharing that we engage in — and it's a two-way street; we've learned a lot from our NATO partners, we learn a lot from the Ukrainians as well — I think has been the kind of essential cement in the coalition that (US President Joe Biden) has organized,” Burns said during a panel at a Saturday session of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“It's a constant day-by-day challenge, to be able to work as hard as we can across the US intelligence community with (NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Christopher Cavoli) and our partners in Europe to make sure that we have the clearest picture possible across the alliance," the CIA director said.

The US puts a premium on sharing with its partners "in a very quick and systematic way,” Burns added. 

Republican Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also offered praise for Burns and the intelligence community for ensuring intel on Russia is up to date.

“I just want to give ... Director Burns credit for the fact that we had sort of taken our eye off the ball with respect to Russia, we had sort of moved on, and we didn't have as much resources directed toward Russia as the Ukraine issue was unfolding,” Turner said. “And Director Burns, along with the Department of Defense and the director of National Intelligence had to really pull together, including our allies, new information and new critical analytical scrutiny of what we could find."

11:07 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Ukrainian authorities report more Russian attacks in Luhansk and Kharkiv regions

From Maria Kostenko and Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

The eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Kharkiv faced more attacks from Russian forces Saturday, as newly drafted Russian soldiers appear to be replacing Wagner fighters, local military leaders said.

“The number of the Wagners has significantly decreased nowadays compared to what we saw a few months ago. Most likely they were killed in the Bakhmut and Soledar sectors,” Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, wrote on Telegram.

“We are seeing new units of mobilized personnel who are coming in after several months of training. They are the ones who are going on the offensive now,” he said. 

Hayday added that the eastern city of Kreminna is one of the areas seeing the most fighting, saying that "the overall situation is difficult but fully controlled. The number of attacks and shelling of our positions has indeed increased."

Russian forces are jamming Ukrainian drone signals while also deploying suicide squads to detect Ukrainian forces’ positions, according to Hayday.

In Kharkiv: Towns in the Kharkiv region, northwest of Luhansk, were also shelled by Russian forces on Saturday, killing one civilian and injuring two, according to Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.

1:08 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

British prime minister and US vice president agree Putin's war in Ukraine is global, UK spokesperson says

From CNN's Lauren Kent

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris meet at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris meet at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Ben Stansall/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris concurred during their meeting at the Munich Security Conference the war in Ukraine is global in scale.

“They agreed that Putin’s war in Ukraine is a global war, both in terms of its impact on food and energy security and in terms of its implications for internationally accepted norms like sovereignty. The prime minister and Vice President Harris condemned those countries who have supported Putin’s efforts politically and militarily," according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

"They paid tribute to the enduring strength of the UK-US relationship, which protects our people and makes the world a more secure place. They agreed there is no clearer evidence of that than in Ukraine, where we are the country’s two closest international partners," the UK government spokesperson continued. 

Downing Street added that the two also discussed how to increase international action on Ukraine to secure peace for the future.

"They agreed on the importance of thinking beyond Ukraine’s immediate needs to how the international community can ensure Ukraine never faces the same threats again," the spokesperson said.

10:46 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Moscow signals displeasure with Moldova's moves to align more with EU, Russian state media reports

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Moscow is displeased that Moldova appears to be moving closer to the European Union, Russian state media reports, amid growing US concerns that Russia could attempt to destabilize the small eastern European country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Saturday that Moscow remains open to "constructive and pragmatic" dialogue with the Moldovan government in Chișinău, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

“Unfortunately, Chișinău's course toward Russia is unlikely to change," she continued. 

Moldova’s parliament this week approved a pro-Western government.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has accused Russia of plotting to destabilize the country, which Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed as “completely unfounded and unsubstantiated.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced "deep concern" this week about the prospect of further Russian meddling with Moldova.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola also expressed the body's "unwavering solidarity" with Moldova in an open letter on Tuesday. "The place of the Republic of Moldova is with us, in the European family," he said.

Why Moldova is important: The small country, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a handful of “frozen conflict” zones in eastern Europe emerged, including a sliver of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine known as Transnistria.

The territory declared itself a Soviet republic in 1990, opposing any attempt by Moldova to become an independent state or to merge with Romania. When Moldova became independent the following year, Russia quickly inserted a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

This supposed “peacekeeping” presence has mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

Alarm bells in Moldova and the West grew louder when the Kremlin began to claim the rights of ethnic Russians are being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, which contained two breakaway Russian-backed statelets.

In the context of the war today, the Russian-backed separatist enclave at the southwestern edge of Moldova could now present a bookend to any westward Russian assault from eastern Ukraine.

CNN's Elise Hammond and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

1:03 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

EU chief urges allies to speed up production lines to help Ukraine stop Putin’s “imperialistic plans”

From CNN's Nic Robertson in Munich and Duarte Mendonca

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. 
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.  (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said allies need to “double down” on military support for Ukraine in order for Russian President Vladimir Putin's goals in Ukraine to fail.  

"We absolutely have to double down and we have to continue the really massive support that is necessary (so) that these imperialistic plans of Putin will completely fail — this is one goal — and that Ukraine is able to win," von der Leyen said in a panel discussion with CNN's Christiane Amanpour at the Munich Security Conference Saturday. 

The EU chief appealed to allies to work together and speed up production of items that Ukraine has said it needs, such as ammunition.

"It cannot be that we have to wait months and years til we are able to replenish, until we are able to deliver that to Ukraine," von der Leyen said.

The European Commission president suggested using production approaches similar to those seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when governments worked with pharmaceutical companies to scale up supply.

“We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that gives the defense industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver,” von der Leyen said.