NATO chief: Putin is "not planning for peace" as war in Ukraine heads into its 2nd year
From CNN's Jessie Gretener
No one knows how the war in Ukraine will end, but “there is no sign" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has changed his ambitions" as the invasion approaches the one-year mark this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“We see the opposite. He’s not planning for peace. He’s planning for more war,” he told CNN at the Munich Security Conference.
“They are launching offensive operations already,” the NATO chief said, pointing to fighting in eastern Ukraine, specifically the city of Bakhmut. "Whether this is the big spring offensive or whether it’s just a kind of prelude to that, it’s a bit hard to tell. But they are pouring in more and more troops and more and more weapons," he added.
Stoltenberg said Russia is trying to make up for poor equipment and logistics with more troops, something he described as "throwing just waves of people on the defensive lines," a type of fighting that hasn't been seen since World War I.
“If you don’t care so much about human lives then you just throw in more and more," he said.
Stoltenberg said while how the conflict will end is unclear, what he is sure of is the importance of western military support for Ukraine.
“If you want Ukraine to prevail as a sovereign nation and if you want a peaceful negotiated solution tomorrow, then you need to provide military support today,” he said, adding that the effectiveness of negotiations for Ukraine depends on "strength on the battlefield."
1:51 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023
Portugal is ready to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine next month, defense ministry says
From CNN's Radina Gigova
Portugal is ready to send three Leopard 2 A6 combat tanks to Ukraine in March, Portugal's defense ministry said in a statement earlier this month.
The decision was made within the framework of ongoing contacts with allies and partners, the ministry said on February 8.
Some background: Several countries have offered to give tanks to Ukraine, though not all have confirmed how many they plan to send.
Much of southern and eastern Ukraine, where much of the heavy fighting is happening, is ideal terrain for combinations of modern Western tanks and armored fighting vehicles to spearhead a counteroffensive.
Additionally, Leopard 2s, Abrams and British Challengers all carry heavy machine guns, which would devastate infantry in open land. Another advantage of the Leopard 2, the tanks Portugal among other countries are planning to send, is that the ammunition for its 120 mm gun is widely available among NATO armies.
2:38 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023
Biden's historic and risky trip to Kyiv took months of planning and days of secrecy
From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Phil Mattingly
Cloaked in secrecy and weighted with history, US President Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine was the work of months of planning by only a small handful of his senior-most aides, who recognized long ago the symbolic importance of visiting the Ukrainian capital a year after Russia tried to capture it.
One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden declared Monday during the visit. “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”
A secret until the last minute: Keeping Biden’s plans secret required extraordinary measures on the part of the White House. In the weeks leading up to Biden’s travel, he and top aides repeatedly shot down the possibility of a trip to Ukraine. Every effort was made to maintain that position in the hour leading up to Biden’s surprise arrival in Kyiv.
That was in part due to the fluid nature of the trip itself. Even as the small circle of White House officials looped in on the planning grew confident it was an achievable undertaking, the realities of sending a president into a war zone where the US had no control over the air space were daunting.
The final decision was made in an Oval Office meeting on Friday evening, when Biden gave the final green light. Once the trip was on, US officials took steps to notify Moscow of their plans, an attempt at “deconfliction” meant to avoid unthinkable disaster while Biden was on the ground.
A 10-hour train ride through Ukraine:There would be a stop to refuel at a US base in Germany before continuing the flight into Poland. As he jetted eastward, Biden’s focus was plotting out his conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, hoping to use his limited time wisely in discussing the coming months of fighting.
Biden landed in Rzeszow, the Polish town where he’d stopped in March of last year to visit US troops deployed near the Ukrainian border and humanitarian efforts supporting Ukrainian refugees. During that visit 11 months ago, he alluded to what became a long-running desire to extend his journey just a little further into Ukraine.
This time around, with an expanded set of US air assets overhead keeping close watch at the Polish border, he would make the trip. Biden, his small contingent of advisers and Secret Service that traveled with him boarded the train to Kyiv for the roughly 10-hour trip to the center of the war-torn country.
It was the culmination of a process that began months earlier, as Biden watched as a parade of his foreign counterparts each made the journey into Ukraine.
Calculated risk: As Biden was briefed over several months on the planning for a potential visit, the person said that Biden only once expressed concern about the risk of a visit to Ukraine — but that was about the extent to which his visit could endanger others, rather than about his own safety. Other officials were extremely concerned about Biden’s own safety and prepared a series of security contingency plans for the trip.
“This was a risk that Joe Biden wanted to take,” said White House communications director Kate Bedingfield. “It’s important to him to show up, even when it’s hard, and he directed his team to make it happen, no matter how challenging the logistics.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden was intently focused on discussing the coming months of fighting when he sat down with Zelensky. Their talks come at what Sullivan called a "critical juncture" in the war, as Russia prepares for a spring offensive and as Ukraine hopes to retake territory seized over the past 12 months.
Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine also came just ahead of his scheduled trip to Poland later on Monday. Marchin Przydacz, a top advisor to Polish President Andrzej Duda, told CNN that Biden's visit to Kyiv is a “clear sign” of American commitment to supporting Ukraine.
Here are more of the latest headlines on the Russia-Ukraine war:
Ukraine prepares for possible Russian provocations around war anniversary: The Ukrainian military will be "ready" to respond to any possible "provocative actions" by Russia around the anniversary of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command, told CNN on Monday. The official didn't elaborate on any possible specific threats, but said if the Russians engage in some sort of "provocative actions" on February 23, 24 or 25, the Ukrainian Air Force is "on stand-by 24/7, our job is to be ready at all times. "Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. February 23 is celebrated in Russia as Defender of the Fatherland Day.
Donetsk under constant enemy shelling, official says: Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region has been under "constant" shelling by Russian forces, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a telegram post on Monday. One person was killed and two others were injured due to Russian shelling in the village of Ivanopillia near the town of Kostiantynivka, he said. Russian forces struck other villages in the region with rockets and artillery, he said. CNN has not been able to independently verify those claims.
Pro-Russian military bloggers criticize Moscow over Biden visit to Kyiv: Pro-Russian military bloggers and journalists have criticized the Kremlin for not being able to prevent Biden from visiting Kyiv. Russian army veteran and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin said Biden could be taken all the way to Bakhmut and nothing would happen to him. Russian Journalist Sergey Mardan struck a stronger tone, calling Biden’s visit a “Demonstrative humiliation of Russia.”
Kyiv mayor says Ukraine still needs modern weapons: Biden's surprise visit to Ukraine was an "important" and "symbolic" visit, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told CNN's Poppy Harlow on Monday. “It’s a risky trip, it’s a tough decision, but it’s very important and it has symbolism... it shows the whole world that the United States supports Ukraine," he said. He added that Ukrainian soldiers have already shown the world their “will and spirit,” but this is not enough. “It's very important (to have) modern weapons... to be honest we depend (on the) help of our partners,” Klitschko said.
German arms maker expects ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks to be delivered to Ukraine by July: CEO Armin Papperger made the commitment while speaking to journalists with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius after the two visited the manufacturing site of the tanks in Unterluess, in western Germany. The influential Rheinmetall CEO also announced that twenty Marder fighting vehicles will be ready to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of March.
1:50 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023
After nearly a year of war, Biden's Kyiv visit was "spiritually uplifting," Ukrainian parliament member says
After nearly a year of war and fighting for their sovereignty against Russia, Maryan Zablotskiy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said US President Joe Biden’s visit to the country’s capital Monday was “spiritually uplifting.”
He said there have been rumors of a new offensive from Russia and increased shelling but to see both presidents in Kyiv "under the active air raid alarm" was "a message to Putin" that they're in the range of his missiles and he can't "do anything about it because we're much stronger."
The last few months of the war have been difficult, Zablotskiy told CNN. He said many Ukrainians have lost friends in the conflict, but Biden’s visit was a show of united strength.
“The main thing is what will be the end result and with President Biden's visit and with this show of strength, we know that in the end, we will be victorious. That was very powerful for us,” he said.
12:57 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023
Beijing "must not supply Russia with any weapons," German foreign minister tells Chinese delegation
From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin and Jessie Gretener in London
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the Chinese delegation at the Munich Security Conference last week that they are “responsible for world peace” and that Beijing must “not supply Russia with any weapons,” she said on Monday.
“I made it clear that China in particular, as a member of the Security Council, is responsible for world peace in the situation we are currently experiencing with the Russian war of aggression, which is also a breach of international law,” Baerbock said Monday after an EU meeting in Brussels.
“This also means that China must not supply Russia with any weapons, including dual-use goods,” she added.
On Sunday, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS' "Face the Nation" program that the US is concerned that China is considering providing “lethal support” to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
While Blinken and Wang’s talks centered on the balloon saga, a senior State Department official told reporters Blinken was “quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion” during his meeting with China’s top diplomat.
Some background: As CNN previously reported, the Biden administration last month raised concerns with China about evidence it has suggesting that Chinese companies have sold non-lethal equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine, in an effort to ascertain how much Beijing knows about the transactions, 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. But China has stopped short of the more robust military assistance, like lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield in Ukraine, that Russia has requested because it has not wanted to be seen as a pariah on the world stage, officials said.
CNN's Sam Fossum, Aaron Pellish and Natasha Bertrand contributed to this post.
1:26 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023
German arms maker expects ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks to be delivered to Ukraine by July, CEO says
From CNN's Inke Kappeler
Germany’s largest arms manufacturer Rheinmetall expects the first batch of ammunition for anti-aircraft Gepard systems will be delivered to Ukraine by July, CEO Armin Papperger said on Monday.
Papperger made the commitment while speaking to journalists with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius after the two visited the manufacturing site of the tanks in Unterluess, in western Germany.
The influential Rheinmetall CEO also announced that twenty Marder fighting vehicles will be ready to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of March.
In response to Pistorius' appeal to arms manufacturers to fire up ammunition production, Papperger said his company had “doubled capacities, in some sectors even tripled them.“
“In weapons production, the warehouse is full, we are running at full steam here and we can still increase capacity with one shift,“ if contracts were made, he said.
Pistorius said the German government was working with the industry to deliver whatever was possible.
“We can deliver what we have and we can deliver what will be produced in the next months,“ he added.
The German defense minister on Monday also visited members of the Ukrainian military learning to operate Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles in Germany’s Munster.
The production of a modern battle tank takes “about two to two and a half years” from the time it is ordered, Pistorius said during the visit.
“Everything we are handing over now (to Ukraine) will only be available for replacement in two or two-and-a-half years,“ he added.
11:40 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023
What Russian pundits are saying about Biden's trip
From CNN's Rob Picheta, Olga Voitovych, Vasco Cotovio and Kevin Liptak
President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine sparked anger and embarrassment among many of Russia’s hawkish military pundits on Monday, increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader prepares to justify his stuttering invasion in a national address.
Biden’s historic visit came days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, providing a symbolic boost to Kyiv at a crucial juncture in the conflict.
But the visit caused fury in Russian pro-military and ultranationalist circles, as it upstages Putin on the eve of a major address in which the Russian president is expected to tout the supposed achievements of what he euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”
Here's what the Russian pundits are saying about Biden's trip:
Russian journalist Sergey Mardan wrote in a snarky response on his Telegram channel: “Biden in [Kyiv]. Demonstrative humiliation of Russia ... Tales of miraculous hypersonics may be left for children. Just like spells about the holy war we are waging with the entire West.” He added, “I guess there are lunch breaks in a holy war."
Russian army veteran and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin meanwhile suggested that Biden could have visited the frontlines in eastern Ukraine and escaped unharmed. “Wouldn’t be surprised if the grandfather (he is not good for anything but simple provocations anyway) is brought to Bakhmut as well… AND NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO HIM,” Girkin said. Girkin is among a number of hardline military bloggers who have repeatedly criticized what they consider a “soft” approach on the battlefield by Putin’s generals.
A Telegram account managed by Russian army and naval servicemembers, Zapiski michmana Ptichkina, noted ironically that Biden had reached Kyiv before Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Almost a year after the beginning of the Special military operation, we are waiting in the Russian city of [Kyiv] for the president of the Russian Federation, but not for the [President of the] United States,” it said.
Kyiv will be ready to respond to provocative actions by Russia around war anniversary, Ukrainian Air Force says
From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Radina Gigova
The Ukrainian military will be "ready" to respond to any possible "provocative actions" by Russia around the anniversary of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command, told CNN on Monday.
The official didn't elaborate on any possible specific threats, but said if the Russians engage in some sort of "provocative actions" on February 23, 24 or 25, the Ukrainian Air Force is "on stand-by 24/7, our job is to be ready at all times."
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. February 23 is celebrated in Russia as Defender of the Fatherland Day.