February 2, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Eliza Mackintosh, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:11 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
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5:27 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Poland and Baltic states condemn efforts by IOC to allow Russian and Belarus athletes to compete

From CNN's Victoria Butenko and Lindsay Isaac 

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland have condemned efforts by the International Olympic Committee to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international competition after banning them when Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.

In a joint statement Thursday, the sports of ministers of the four nations accused the IOC of precipitating special exemptions to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in “international sports competitions including the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, allowing sport to be used to legitimize and distract attention from Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Efforts to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sports competitions under the veil of neutrality legitimize political decisions and widespread propaganda of these countries also through the use of sport as a distraction from the illegal aggression against Ukraine,” it added. 

The ministers are calling on international sporting bodies to follow their lead. “We highly appreciate all international sport organizations and federations that have removed athletes and representatives of Russia and Belarus from international competitions and organizations and we urge them not to change their position until Russia and Belarus stop their aggression against Ukraine.”

UN experts however have commended the IOC for considering allowing individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in international sports competitions as “neutral athletes.”

“We urge the IOC to adopt a decision in that direction, and to go further, ensuring the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality,” the office of the high commission of Human Rights said in a statement.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US administration does not object to allowing athletes from Russia or Belarus from taking part in the 2024 Summer Games and 2026 Winter Games — as long as it is "absolutely clear" that they are not representing their home countries,

She reiterated that current sanctions against Russia and Belarus must remain in place. 

5:18 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Senators call on Biden to delay F-16 jet sale to Turkey until Finland and Sweden allowed into NATO

From CNN's Haley Britzky

A United States Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on February 16, 2022.
A United States Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on February 16, 2022. (Larry MacDougal/MCDOL/AP)

A bipartisan group of senators urged President Joe Biden to delay the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Ankara agrees to allow Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Sweden and Finland are waiting for Turkey to approve their admission to NATO, of which Turkey is a member. Congressional sources previously told CNN that the Biden administration was preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the sale of F-16s to Turkey, which would be among the largest arms sales in years.

The group of 27 senators wrote in their letter on Thursday, however, that Congress "cannot consider future support for [Turkey]," including the sale of the F-16 jets, until Turkey "completes ratification of the accession protocols." 

"Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance's unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine," the letter says. "A productive and mutually beneficial bilateral security relationship with [Turkey] is in the interest of the United States, and we are awaiting the government's ratification of the NATO accession protocols for Sweden and Finland."

Some background: Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO last summer, just months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the time that he would reject the effort, accusing the two countries of being "like guesthouses for terror organizations."

Those tensions have continued. Just last week, Turkey called for a meeting between the three countries to be postponed after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the Swedish government was complicit in the burning of the Quran during a protest in Stockholm. A Turkish state news agency reported that the meeting was canceled due to an "unhealthy political environment."

4:51 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Zelensky says Ukraine deserves to start EU integration talks this year

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with President of the European Commission during her visit in Kyiv on February 2.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with President of the European Commission during her visit in Kyiv on February 2. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he reached "important mutual understandings" with the president of the European Commission regarding Ukraine’s bid for accession into the European Union.

Zelensky said he had productive talks with the commission leader, Ursula von der Leyen, and members of the College of the European Commission Thursday. 

The talks showed that all parties understood "the fact that Ukraine needs constant and full support in defense against Russia," the Ukrainian president said in his evening address Thursday.

"And about the fact that our further integration should give energy and motivation to our people to fight despite any obstacles and threats. I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership already this year," he added.

Zelensky thanked von der Leyen and her colleagues in the EU for the military, financial and social support of Ukraine "on the path of integration."

Kyiv will host the 24th EU-Ukraine summit Friday. European leaders plan to discuss financial and military support for the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression.

More background: The European Commission is the EU's executive arm, made up of one leader from each member state, which is responsible for proposing and enforcing legislation.

Leaders of the 27 EU member states have given Ukraine candidate status, starting the process for formally considering granting the country membership.

It is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from all the member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip. The average time it takes to join the EU is just under five years, according to the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. However, some member states in eastern Europe have had to wait as long as 10 years. 

Zelensky has said his government is working on new reforms that will make Ukraine “more human, transparent and effective” as he prepares for further talks on the country’s possible addition to the bloc. That includes a push to tackle corruption.

A spokesperson for the commission said last month that anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process."

CNN's Luke McGee contributed reporting to this post.

4:53 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

US expected to include longer-range missiles in new $2.2 billion Ukraine aid package, sources say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Kevin Liptak

The US is expected to include longer-range missiles in a new Ukraine security package worth approximately $2.2 billion, according to a senior administration official and multiple US officials.

The package will include a commitment to provide Ukraine with the Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, a guided missile with a range of 90 miles, two officials said.

Though the missiles will effectively double the range of Ukrainian weaponry, the package won’t include the long sought-after ATACMS missile with a range in excess of 200 miles. The US has constantly rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for that system over concerns they may be used to hit targets deep inside Russia.

This is the first security package since the US committed to providing Ukraine with advanced M-1 Abrams tanks in January — a decision made in concert with European countries providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks.   

The package, which could be announced as early as Friday, will be split between $500 million in weapons and equipment pulled directly from US inventories and approximately $1.7 billion in supplies purchased from military contractors, known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).

Details of the package were first reported by Reuters.

On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said there would be another announcement of security assistance to Ukraine “soon” without providing further details.

Some background: The Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, which is fired from a HIMARS rocket launcher, has an effective range of some 90 miles, according to Saab, the company that developed the weapon in conjunction with Boeing.

That’s more than twice the range of the GMLRS munitions that Ukraine currently launches from the HIMARS rocket launchers. The long-range missile then unfolds small wings and uses a rocket engine to fly toward its target. 

But the new weapon will not arrive in Ukraine immediately, since it will not come directly out of US inventories. Instead, the US will contract with the weapons manufacturers to provide the long-range missile to Ukraine, a process which could take weeks or months.

The package also includes ammunition for artillery and HIMARS, as well as support systems and equipment for the Patriot missile system, one official said. Ukrainian forces have not completed training on the Patriot system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma – but the US is making sure the logistics and maintenance are in place well before the first Patriot battery is operational in Ukraine, the official said.

Within the last month, the US has announced three of the largest aid packages to Ukraine in a sign of ongoing support as the war nears its one-year mark. 

3:50 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Number of people wounded in latest attack on Kramatorsk rises to 7

From CNN's Tim Lister, Fred Pleitgen and Sana Noor Haq

At least seven people were wounded in Thursday's attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration.

That included one person who was critically injured and is currently undergoing surgery, the leader said in an evening update. Officials hope to soon move him to the nearest safe hospital outside the region.

Most residents of the buildings that were hit by missiles in the city center had already left to seek temporary accommodation in safer areas, Kyrylenko added.

“Such a relatively small number of victims indicates that only 15% of those who lived in these buildings before stayed there (at the moment of the strike). That is, most of the residents had left," he said.

Kyrylenko urged those remaining in the city to evacuate.

Officials said earlier Thursday that the latest barrage of missiles damaged 13 two-story buildings, three four-story buildings, a children's clinic and school, garages and cars.

A CNN team had just arrived at the scene and heard the first incoming strike on Kramatorsk. CNN saw the second attack, with two impacts about one minute apart.

Thursday's assault followed a pair of missile strikes that killed at least three people in the city Wednesday night. Rescue operations had still been underway when the latest bombardment rocked Kramatorsk.

3:31 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

White House not opposed to allowing Russian and Belarus athletes to compete as individuals in Olympics

From CNN's Sam Fossum

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talks to reporters during the daily news conference February 2 in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talks to reporters during the daily news conference February 2 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The White House does not object to allowing athletes from Russia or Belarus from taking part in the 2024 Summer Games and 2026 Winter Games — as long as it is "absolutely clear" that they are not representing their home countries, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

She reiterated that current sanctions against Russia and Belarus must remain in place. 

"In cases where sports organizations and event organizers, such as the International Olympic Committee, choose to permit athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in supporting events, it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states," Jean-Pierre said, adding that the use of any official Russian or Belarusian flags, emblems or anthems should be prohibited.

She continued: 

"The United States has supported suspending Russia and Belarus' sport national governing bodies from International Sports Federation, removing individuals closely aligned to the Russian and Belarusian states, including government officials from positions of influence in international sport federations such as boards and organizing committees, encouraging national and international sports organizations to suspend and broadcasting of sports competition into Russia and Belarus." 

Some background: The White House's comments come after the International Olympic Committee outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming games as neutrals, which has drawn public outcry from Kyiv.   

“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC’s executive board declared at the time. 

The IOC this week said it would stand by sanctions imposed on both countries following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has decried what it called "defamatory" statements

Ukrainian government officials and star athletes like Ukrainian tennis star and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina have called for Russian athletes to be banned from qualifying for the upcoming games. 

“With this in mind, we must stick to banning Russian and Belarusian athletes, sending a strong message worldwide, that we are united in the sanctions imposed against Russia and Belarus and that there are consequences for the heinous acts of their governments; their lives cannot continue as normal and the world, nor the Russian or Belarusian people can be ignorant of the atrocities they are committing in Ukraine,” Svitolina said Wednesday. 

Russian and Belarusian athletes are currently banned by many sporting federations following a previous recommendation by the IOC. 

2:55 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Ukrainian military claims Russian forces are preparing covert mobilization in Donetsk

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russian forces are preparing for a "covert mobilization" in the eastern Donetsk region, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Thursday on its official Facebook page

"In the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk region, Russia is preparing for covert mobilization. In particular, in the city of Horlivka, all budget and communal institutions were ordered to submit lists of necessary persons to the occupation military commissariat. All these people will be examined by special commissions of the enemy, with subsequent conscription into the ranks of the enemy," it said in the statement.

Russian forces continue "active reconnaissance and preparation for an offensive in several directions,” it said, adding that "offensive operations" continue toward Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiiv and Novopavliv.

For context: Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned that Russia planned on using its claimed annexations as a pretext to draft Ukrainians in occupied areas. In October, the military said Russian forces were carrying out “door-to-door” checks in occupied areas, looking for young men of conscription age.

2:05 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Kherson official says Ukrainian Armed Forces are countering increased shelling of residential areas

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Kostan Nechyporenko 

A top Kherson official said the Ukrainian Armed Forces are "working very well" to counter increased shelling of residential areas in the southern Ukrainian city.  

Two people were killed and seven wounded by overnight shelling from Wednesday into Thursday, according to Yurii Sobolevskyi, the first deputy head of the Kherson Regional Council. Sobolevskyi said on a Ukrainian national telethon Thursday that all of the injured are currently in the hospital. 

"The enemy continues to shell mostly residential areas — private households and areas with high-rise apartment buildings. It's definitely not military targets," he added.  

He declined to speculate as to whether the intensification in shelling could be linked to a possible Russia plan to carry out an offensive on Feb. 24.

"We are keeping silent on the movement of their forces, the accumulation of their forces at the request of our military. We see some movement, some concentration. But I am sure that our armed forces are well aware of what is happening and are ready for any scenario," he added. 

He stressed that Ukrainian forces are "working very well" to destroy military targets on the eastern bank of the Dnipro river and fend off the groups that have attempted to enter Ukrainian territory. 

Remember: Russian troops withdrew from the western half from Kherson in early November 2022.

3:01 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Ukraine’s defense chief pledges not to strike Russian territory if given long-range missiles by allies 

From Victoria Butenko and Lindsay Isaac

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov speaks during a press conference in Paris on January 31.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov speaks during a press conference in Paris on January 31. (Julie Sebadelha/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Ukraine's minister of defense said the country will provide guarantees that it would not strike Russia should it receive the long-range missiles it has been asking its allies for.

“As Ukraine needs long-range missiles that will not allow the enemy to maintain defenses and force them to lose, it is ready to coordinate targets with partners," Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov said at a meeting with the European Commission Thursday, state media Ukriniform reports. 

Reznikov called on other countries to help Ukraine establish anti-missile defense capabilities. He emphasized the need to get Patriot and SAMP/T systems at the first opportunity, along with more IRIS-T and NASAMS, which are both air defense systems.

"If we had the opportunity to strike at a range of 300 kilometers (about 186 miles), the Russian army would not be able to maintain defenses and would be forced to lose. Ukraine is ready to provide any guarantees that your weapons will not be involved in attacks on Russian territory. We have enough targets in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine and are ready to coordinate targets with our partners," he said.

Ukraine also needs to increase the amount of artillery, shells and weapons capable of surpassing and destroying Russian e-warfare and air defense systems, he added. Ukraine will receive Western battle tanks after a long negotiation and is seeking fighter jets to push back against Russian and pro-Moscow forces.