'If you're frightened you should stay home': CNN flies with Ukrainian attack helicopter
03:18 - Source: CNN

What we covered here

  • The US government formally declared that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in its war on Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement at the Munich Security Conference Saturday.
  • Russia launched cruise missiles at Ukraine from the Black Sea on Saturday, according to Ukraine’s military. Local leaders report increased Russian attacks in the eastern Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.
  • The US has started observing “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military, officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN.
  • Outgunned Ukrainian pilots are fighting against Russia in old Soviet-era helicopters. Read the CNN exclusive here.
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We’ve wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine here.

Blinken was "quite blunt" in warning against China's support for Russia during meeting with top diplomat

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the Biden administration’s “deepening concern” over Beijing’s support of Russia’s war during his meeting Saturday with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, a senior State Department official told reporters.

“The secretary was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion,” the official said.

Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that China would be publishing a paper on how to find a political solution to the Ukraine war. While no formal proposal has been made public, the US official cast doubt on China leading this effort.

“It would appear to us that the Chinese are trying to have it both ways,” the official said. “On the one hand, claiming that they would like to contribute to peace and stability in Ukraine, and yet on the other hand, taking these concerning steps to support Russia’s war of aggression there.”

Some background: US officials told CNN that the US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military. 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 conference over the last several days, the officials said.

Moscow-backed leader claims Russia is making progress around embattled city of Bakhmut

Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, claims there has been an “improvement of Russian positions” around the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut.

Pushilin repeated the Wagner mercenary group’s claim that it has taken control of Paraskoviivka, a village on the north end of the city, for Russia.

“In the vicinity of Artemovsk (the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut) there is already information about the improvement of positions — Paraskoviivka has been liberated, which makes it possible to get closer to blocking the remainder of the road to Chasiv Yar,” Pushilin said on his website Saturday.

That road is the only one that functions as a supply route for Ukrainian troops in the area, the DPR head claimed, and fully blocking the route would bring Russian control over Bakhmut “many times closer.”

Pushilin said each position in the city “is being conquered through tough fighting.”

CNN has not independently verified Pushilin’s claims on troop movements.

Additionally, the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Pozyvnoy Brus claimed Saturday that after taking control of Paraskoviivka, Wagner units began to storm Berkhivka, a northwestern suburb of Bakhmut.

“Several roads that are important for supplying the Bakhmut group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine go through this settlement,” the pro-Wagner channel said.

What Ukraine is saying: Despite claims by Pushilin and the Wagner Group about controlling Paraskoviivka, the Ukrainian military claimed it was still repelling Russian attacks on the settlement as of Saturday morning.

And a Ukrainian solider, identified as Yuri, told Ukrainian media that Kyiv’s forces still had access to Bakhmut. He said the city was not encircled by Russia, despite Moscow’s intensified assault and abundant ammunition. 

According to Yuri, the supply routes that “the enemy says they have under their ‘fire control’ are accessible,” and there are “no problems with the delivery of personnel, equipment or ammunition to the city of Bakhmut.” 

German defense minister says he expected more tank pledges after Germany's decision on Leopards

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told CNN he expected more countries to come forward with battle tanks for Ukraine after Germany pledged Leopard 2 tanks in late January, but he is buoyed by the total number pledged so far.

“I wasn’t really frustrated; I was a little bit disappointed, I would say, because the voices we heard before (the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein) were louder. And therefore I expected more afterwards, after our decision,” Pistorius told CNN’s Nic Robertson at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

But adding up the German tanks, the Abrams tanks from the US and the Challenger tanks from the UK, “it is a lot” that will be provided to assist Ukraine in its battles against Russia.

Germany expects to deliver the Leopard 2A6 tanks in the last week of March, Pistorius confirmed, with “sustainable delivery of tanks during the following month.”

He added that the German and Polish defense industries will work together to produce ammunition and spare parts for the tanks, as well as repair mechanisms.

Addressing frustrations from countries like Lithuania about shoring up NATO’s eastern flank, Pistorius said officials are “working on it,” but it takes some time because “we have to reconstruct our forces,” ramp up infrastructure and wait for NATO plans.

In addition, “the threat we have to face as the eastern flank is not only at one point; it might appear at any point,” he said.

Pistorius said the unity he has witnessed at the Munich Security Conference gives him hope about the current situation.

“What I see is a very, very strong unity, the very strong commitment in joint commitment that we want, and we will support Ukraine as long as it takes. And this is very important, a very important signal for the Ukrainian people, which really fights a very, very admirable fight against Russian aggression,” he told Robertson.

CNN’s Cristiana Moisescu contributed to this report.

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

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.

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

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.

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 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.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.

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.” 

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

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.”

Ukrainian authorities report more Russian attacks in Luhansk and Kharkiv regions

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.

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

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris meet at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.

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.

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

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.

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

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 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. 

Foreign minister expresses confidence that Ukraine will receive planes from allies

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a meeting at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said Saturday that he was certain the country’s allies would eventually supply fighter jets to help it fend off the Russian invasion.

“I will take a risk of saying that Ukraine will receive planes, it’s a matter of time and procedure,” Dmytro Kuleba said during a press conference at the Munich Security Conference.

“It will take more time than tanks. We understand that, but the very kind of logic, the basic sense of how the situation evolves, will take all of us to the decision on planes,” the Ukrainian foreign minister said.

Kuleba asked allies that may potentially send fighter jets to first prioritize pilot training.

“First, the decision was made to provide Ukraine with certain weapons and then training began, which led us to what? A waste of time. So we propose to kind of turn the tables and begin with training,” he said. “This is our request to all our friends who can potentially share planes with us, begin training as soon as possible without undertaking at this very moment any additional commitments.”

Near the end of his press conference, Kuleba asked those in the room to show more faith in Ukraine when talking about its lack of resources. 

“A year ago, people here in Munich were telling me that we are not going to stand for more than 24, 48 hours — that we know you are not going to make it, you’re not going to survive. You have to be rational. We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. Have trust in us, be with us, and we will win,” Kuleba said. “Impossible is nothing. We proved it so many times over the last year of the year.” 

Some background: Since securing pledges for hundreds of modern battle tanks from Western allies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has turned his attention to modern fighting planes.

It was a key element of his pitches during visits to London and a European Union summit last week.

The United Kingdom will soon begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, though the country’s defense secretary has cautioned that any move to send British jets to Ukraine is likely years away.

Other Kyiv allies, while signaling openness to discussing the possibility, have also cautioned a decision to supply the military planes would not come quickly.

Top US diplomat says "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilians led to Russia crimes declaration

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.

In a statement Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed comments from Vice President Kamala Harris in declaring Russia has committed crimes against humanity in its war against Ukraine.

The determination was “based on a careful analysis of the law and available facts,” Blinken said in the statement released by the US State Department.

“Members of Russia’s forces have committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children; torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions; rape; and, alongside other Russian officials, have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families,” Blinken said. “These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.”

Earlier Saturday, Harris announced the US declaration on Russia at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, which Blinken is also attending.

“We reserve crimes against humanity determinations for the most egregious crimes,” Blinken said. “There can be no impunity for these crimes. All those responsible must be held accountable.”

China says it will propose peace plan for Ukraine, as chief diplomat refers to conflict as "warfare"

Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.

Beijing is ready to present its peace proposition for Ukraine, its top diplomat announced Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, in a rare remark that referred to the Ukraine conflict as a war.

“This warfare cannot continue to rage on,” said Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Territorial and sovereignty integrity of all countries will be respected in China’s proposal, Wang said, adding that Beijing will continue to work for peace.

“We can of course continue to shout out our positions at international conferences like this one, but I suggest that we should also begin to think calmly, especially for my friends in Europe,” he said.
“We need to think about what efforts we can make to bring this warfare to an end,” Wang added.

Some key context: Many European Union leaders in Munich remain wary of Beijing’s intentions, as Wang called on European countries to change their approach to the war.

US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday said the US was “troubled” by China’s continued support of Russia since the war in Ukraine began.

And European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen told CNN on Saturday: “We need more proof that China isn’t working with Russia, and we aren’t seeing that now.”

China has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. In late 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that their partnership was more important than ever in the face of “unprecedented pressure” from the West. Xi echoed Putin’s message of unity, saying that the two countries should “strengthen strategic coordination” and “inject more stability into the world,” according to Chinese state media Xinhua.

In September 2022, Putin conceded Beijing had “questions and concerns” over the invasion, in what appeared to be a veiled admission of diverging views on the war.

China’s top diplomat will also visit Russia this month, according to its foreign ministry, in the first visit to the country from a Chinese official in that role since the war began.

US vice president commits to supporting Ukraine "for as long as it takes" during speech in Munich