February 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Rob Picheta, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:06 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022
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8:31 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Audio emerges appearing to be of Ukrainian fighters defending island from Russian warship

From CNN's From Tim Lister in Kyiv and Josh Pennington

An audio clip has emerged of what appears to be an exchange between Ukrainian soldiers on an island in the Black Sea and an officer of the Russian Navy.

All the soldiers — who were defending Snake Island — are reported to have been killed, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"All border guards died heroically but did not give up. They will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously," Zelensky said.  

At some point on Thursday, a Russian warship approached the island. 

According to the purported audio exchange, the Russian officer says: "This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed."

The alleged response from a Ukrainian soldier: "Russian warship, go f*** yourself."

8:27 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Blinken briefs US lawmakers, says this will be "a bloody mess for Russia"

From CNN's Manu Raju, Zachary Cohen, Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand

In a conference call with US lawmakers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he thinks the war will be a "bloody mess" for Russia but warned it could take a while, according to a person familiar with the call. 

This “will take a long time to play out,” Blinken told the lawmakers, the person told CNN.

He told members that how long this goes “is mostly dependent on the Ukrainian people.” Blinken added: “Will they allow themselves to be subjected to a puppet government?"

Attacked from three directions: A separate source familiar with tonight’s briefings told CNN that lawmakers were told Kyiv is under attack from the north, south and east, though it was unclear if administration officials believed it would likely fall.

The officials told lawmakers that Russia has been facing greater resistance from Ukrainian forces than anticipated, according to a fourth source on the call. But they did not say whether Kyiv would fall, as it is still too early assess the dynamics on the ground, the source said. 

Sanctions on Russia: The administration briefers also said they were launching unprecedented sanctions, “both in terms of impact and coordination” that would severely impair the tech, financial and energy sectors.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen defended not cutting Russia off from SWIFT — a high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world — arguing that if was even better to directly target the big Russian banks. Though she added that "all actions remain at Treasury's disposal.”

A separate source confirmed SWIFT is not off the table, but defended the decision not to take Russia off the platform today, arguing that it is really a way of communicating and Russia would find other ways to communicate.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a new deployment of ground and air forces to NATO's eastern flank, even as he reiterated US troops would not engage in direct conflict in Ukraine.

In the call, Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, reiterated that the US troops were aimed at both reinforcing Ukraine and trying to prevent Putin from attacking a NATO member.

7:57 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US secretary of state is "convinced" Moscow will try to overthrow the Ukrainian government

From CNN's From Hansler and Kylie Atwood

(From ABC News)
(From ABC News)

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he is “convinced” Moscow is going to try to overthrow the Ukrainian government.

Blinken's comments came during a taped national TV interview in which he was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambitions.

“You don't need intelligence to tell you that that's exactly what President Putin wants. He has made clear he’d like to reconstitute the Soviet Empire, short of that he’d like to reassert a sphere of influence around the neighboring countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc,” said Blinken.

Blinken went on to promise that NATO would stand in the way of Putin's ultimate goals. 

“Now, when it comes to a threat beyond Ukraine’s borders. There's something very powerful standing in his way. That's article five of NATO, an attack on one is an attack on all,” the top diplomat said.

7:41 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

DHS to lead domestic response to Russia-related impacts to the US amid cyberattack concerns

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands

The Department of Homeland Security has been designated as the lead federal agency managing the domestic response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis in the wake of warnings about potential cyberattacks on the US and ongoing disinformation campaigns. 

As part of the effort, DHS has set up a group to monitor Russian activity and coordinate among federal agencies, according to DHS.

The new group, to be led by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency executive director, Brandon Wales, will work across the federal government to prepare for and respond to potential threats to the US.

“While there are no specific threats to the homeland at this time, DHS is taking appropriate steps to ensure Federal efforts are coordinated should the need arise,” the agency said in a statement.

DHS has previously set up similar groups in moments of crisis. Last year, for example, DHS established a so-called Unified Coordination Group following the evacuation out of Afghanistan.

Among the current concerns held by homeland security officials is potential cyberattacks.

On Thursday: President Biden said the US is "prepared to respond," if Russia pursues cyberattacks against US companies or critical infrastructure. 

For months, the US has been working closely with the private sector to "harden our cyber defenses" and "sharpen our ability to respond to Russian cyberattacks," Biden said. 

In a PBS interview earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, though there is no information to suggest a specific, credible cyber threat against the US homeland, "it is our responsibility to be prepared."

"[W]e've been disseminating information, providing resources to the private sector for over two months now, once the prospect of a Russian attack against Ukraine materialized," he said, when pressed on whether sanctions could trigger a cyberattack. 

Last month: CNN reported that Russia would consider conducting a cyberattack on the US homeland if Moscow perceived that a US or NATO response to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine "threatened [Russia's] long-term national security," according to a DHS intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN.

The Russian conflict could also have an impact on the spread of misinformation and disinformation in the US.

DHS intelligence chief John Cohen said that escalated tensions between Russia and Ukraine have the potential to exacerbate the threat environment in the US, particularly as it relates to Russian disinformation campaigns and "Active Measure techniques," referring to long-standing political warfare methods used by Russia. 

Russia has maintained a "sustained level of activity" related to disinformation campaigns and influence operations in the US, according to Cohen, who spoke earlier this month at a George Washington University Program on Extremism event. 

Previously, Russia's influence operations focused primarily on promoting narratives associated with Covid-19, the 2020 election and issues relating to immigration and race in the US.

As tension with Ukraine spiked, DHS observed an increase in the Russian promotion of narratives trying to lay the blame for the Ukraine crisis "at the feet of the US," he said.

6:58 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US Holocaust Museum condemns Putin's war pretext that Ukraine needs to be "denazified"

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's exploitation of Holocaust history as a pretext for war in Ukraine.

The museum said Thursday that in justifying Thursday's attack, "Vladimir Putin has misrepresented and misappropriated Holocaust history by claiming falsely that democratic Ukraine needs to be ‘denazified’.”

In a statement, the museum added that "equally groundless and egregious are his claims that Ukrainian authorities are committing ‘genocide’ as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine."

Putin, in an unscheduled televised address early on Thursday, made false claims about genocide perpetrated against ethnic Russians in eastern regions of Ukraine and declared an operation to "demilitarize and denazify Ukraine." 

"We strongly condemn this unprovoked attack and are greatly concerned about the loss of life. The Museum stands with the Ukrainian people, including the thousands of Holocaust survivors still living in the country," said Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, the museum's chairman.

“These survivors are remnants of one of Europe’s largest pre-war Jewish populations that was almost completely decimated by the Germans in World War II. Having suffered terribly as victims of both Nazism and Communism, Ukrainians today are seeking to fulfill their democratic aspirations,” Eizenstat added.

6:42 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Zelensky says 137 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russian invasion began

From CNN's Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that according to preliminary figures, at least 137 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the Russian invasion began early on Thursday, and 316 soldiers have been wounded. 

In a video message posted on his Facebook account, Zelensky said other states were “afraid” to support Ukraine’s accession to NATO. 

Sounding somber and looking tired, Zelensky went on: “Who is ready to guarantee Ukraine's accession to NATO? Honestly, everyone is afraid.” 
“I asked all the partners of the state if they are with us. They are with us, but they are not ready to take us into an alliance with them,” he said. 

“No matter how many conversations I had with foreign leaders, I heard a few things. The first is that we are supported. I am grateful to each state that helps us concretely, not just in words. But there is a second — we are left alone to defend our state. Who is ready to fight with us? Honestly — I do not see," Zelensky said.

“Today I asked the 27 leaders of Europe whether Ukraine will be in NATO, I asked directly. Everyone is afraid, does not answer. And we are not afraid, we are not afraid of anything,” Zelensky said. 

6:58 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Former US President Jimmy Carter condemns "unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine"

From CNN's Josh Campbell

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/FILE)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/FILE)

Former President Jimmy Carter has tweeted a statement on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it “threatens security in Europe and the entire world.”

“Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine using military and cyber weapons violates international law and the fundamental human rights of the Ukrainian people. I condemn this unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine that threatens security in Europe and the entire world, and I call on President Putin to halt all military action and restore peace. The United States and its allies must stand with the people of Ukraine in support of their right to peace, security, and self-determination," Carter said in the statement.


6:23 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US is ready to accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing invasion, White House says

From CNN's Allison Malloy

The US is ready to accept Ukrainian refugees and that the government is prepared to assist European countries neighboring Ukraine handle an increased inflow of refugees fleeing a Russian invasion, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

"We are," Psaki said when asked by CNN's MJ Lee whether the US was prepared to accept Ukrainian refugees, adding, "But we certainly expect that most if not the majority will want to go to Europe and neighboring countries. So, we are also working with European countries on what the needs are, where there is capacity. Poland, for example, where we are seeing an increasing flow of refugees over the last 24 hours."

She added, "We've been talking and engaging with Europeans about that for some time."

7:18 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine president says Russian sabotage groups have entered Kyiv

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he believes that Russian sabotage groups have entered the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

In a video statement late Thursday, Zelensky said:  "According to our information, the enemy marked me as target No. 1, my family, as target No. 2. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv."

He added: "I am staying in the government quarter together with others."