February 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury, Jason Kurtz, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 1, 2022
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11:40 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US defense official says Russians "causing civilian harm" and "striking civilian targets"

From CNN's Michael Callahan

Russian forces are “causing civilian harm and they are striking civilian targets,” a senior US defense official told reporters Monday, but it is unclear “whether it’s intentional and directed,” the official added. 

“We’re not making apologies here for the Russians, we obviously see that residential areas and civilian targets are being struck, there’s no question about that, you can see with the, just in plain sight, in terms of the imagery that’s coming out of Ukraine,” the official said. 

But as for “whether it’s intentional and directed, we’re just not in a position to be able to confirm that,” the official added. 

11:26 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US has not seen Belarusian forces fighting in Ukraine, defense official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

US officials have not seen Belarusian troops “being readied to move into Ukraine” or “that they are moving or are in Ukraine,” a senior US defense official told reporters Monday. 

The forces inside Ukraine are Russian. Russian President Vladimir Putin has “just under 75% of the combat power that he had assembled” for this invasion inside of Ukraine right now, the official said. 

CNN reported earlier that Ukrainian intelligence indicates Belarusian "readiness to maybe participate directly" in the invasion of Ukraine, "in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border."

A second source close to the Ukrainian government told CNN that in addition to the Ukrainian intelligence, the Biden administration has also conveyed to the Ukrainian government that Belarus is preparing to invade Ukraine.

11:31 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Kremlin: Putin told Macron that Russian forces do not pose threat to Ukrainian civilians

From CNN’s Alla Eshchenko in Atlanta and Anna Chernova in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, initiated by the French side on Monday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

During the call, the two sides “had a serious and thorough exchange of opinions around the situation in Ukraine,” the Kremlin said.

“French side has expressed its known views" about its hope for a quick settlements through dialogue and negotiations, the Kremlin readout stated. "Vladimir Putin has stressed that such a settlement is only possible with unconditional consideration of Russia’s legitimate defense interests, including recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea, solving tasks of demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and ensuring its neutral status.”

The readout added that Russia is open for negotiations with Ukraine.

It also claimed that the Russian Armed Forces do not pose any threat to civilians [in Ukraine] and blames the threat on Ukrainian nationalists. 

“Russian President has stressed that the Russian Armed Forces do not threaten civilians and do not strike civilian objects. The threat comes from Ukrainian nationalists who use the civilian population as a human shield, deliberately place striking weapon systems in residential areas, and who intensified shelling of cities in Donbas,” the statement read.

Putin and Macron agreed to remain in contact, the readout concluded.

More background: The ongoing Russian assault has inflicted widespread suffering and casualties on the Ukrainian population. The UN’s Refugee Agency said Monday that more than 500,000 refugees had so far fled Ukraine to neighboring countries amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and military aggression.

The number of known civilians killed in Ukraine is at least 352, with 14 of those children, Ukraine's Ministry of Interior said Sunday.

A senior US official told reporters Monday that Russian forces are “causing civilian harm and they are striking civilian targets," but it is unclear “whether it’s intentional and directed,” the official added.

11:23 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Official: US hasn't seen "anything specific" since Putin's decision to put deterrence forces on high alert

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb

US has not seen “anything specific” since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he ordered his country’s deterrence forces, including nuclear weapons, on high alert on Sunday, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday.

“We’re still monitoring and watching this as closely as we can, given President Putin’s announcement yesterday,” the official said. “I don’t believe we’ve seen anything specific as a result of the direction that he gave.”

“We remain comfortable and confident in our own strategic deterrence posture,” the official added.

11:22 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Russian forces could take "more aggressive approach" towards Kyiv, senior US defense official says

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Michael Conte

It is possible that the Russians could take a “more aggressive approach” in their attempts to take the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, because they are frustrated that their progress has slowed and they’ve faced resistance from Ukrainians there, a senior US defense official told reporters on Monday.

“Certainly, they have been slowed and they have been frustrated by their lack of progress on Kyiv, and one of the things that could result is a reevaluation of their tactics and the potential for them to be more aggressive and more overt in both the size and the scale of their targeting of Kyiv,” the official said in response to a question from CNN’s Barbara Starr. 

The official said they have “not seen” that more aggressive approach “yet” from the Russians, but “the frustrations could lead to a more aggressive approach.” 

“We still believe that Kyiv is an objective for them. It’s impossible to speculate as to how they may or may not change their plans going forward,” the official said.

The Russian forces are now “roughly 25 km out of Kyiv,” a senior US defense official told reporters Monday morning eastern time. 

Russian forces are “advancing on the ground and trying to get closer to Kyiv.” Russian forces “clearly want to encircle Kyiv from multiple locations, not just the north, but to move around it as well from the south,” the official added. 

“The Ukrainians are putting up continued and sustained and stiff resistance in and around Kyiv, and we certainly don’t see any slackening off on their part either,” the official said.

11:21 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Germany vows to take in all Ukrainian refugees 

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

Germany has vowed to take in all Ukrainian refugees who flee from a Russian invasion of their country.

“We will take in all Ukrainians fleeing,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at a joint news conference with her Slovenian counterpart Anze Logar on Monday. “We are helping fleeing people from Ukraine. We are standing at the borders to bring help to the people and to bring people to all European countries."

Baerbock also promised more humanitarian help to Ukraine.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, Baerbock asked all countries who “believe in the Charta of the United Nations" to isolate the Russian leadership for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Today it is already the fifth day of Putin's war against Ukraine and innocent people in Ukraine. He has brought incredible sufferings upon Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands are fleeing, millions fear for their lives and their future. As atrocious as these pictures are, they make us more decisive! Ukraine does not stand alone, Europe, the Western Union of Values firmly stands at the side of the brave Ukrainians,“ Baerbock said.

In a major policy shift, Germany promised weapons to Ukraine on Saturday.

“Putin's war has thrown us into a different era. We will re-evaluate previous certainties and therefore we will help Ukrainians with weapons and other equipment,” Baerbock added.

11:17 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

UN World Food Programme launches emergency food assistance for people fleeing Ukraine 

From Sharon Braithwaite in London

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance to people within Ukraine and in neighboring countries following an official request from the Ukrainian government, the UN agency said Monday. 

The organization is calling for $570 million USD in order to provide support to refugees fleeing violence amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

“We are deeply concerned for the impact of hostilities on the lives and livelihoods of civilians,” Margot van der Velden, WFP’s Director of Emergencies, said in a statement. 

“As the situation evolves, there is a need to ensure that affected communities have continued access to any humanitarian support they may require and that the safety of humanitarian staff on the ground is guaranteed,” she added. 

According WFP staff in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, “food supplies are running low” and grocery store shelves are “almost empty,” the statement added.

“Food shortages will be another obstacle facing residents of Kyiv, many of whom have taken shelter in metro stations,” the WFP added. 

The UN agency has stated that its food assistance operation is also set to cover Romania and Poland initially, with the possibility to extend to Moldova and Slovakia. 

Earlier on Monday, the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than 500,000 refugees had so far fled Ukraine to neighboring countries amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and military aggression.

11:09 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

UK will lead efforts to block Russia from Interpol

From CNN’s Anna Cooban in London

Britain will seek to suspend Russia from international policing body Interpol, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told parliament on Monday.

"The Ukrainian government has today requested that the Russian government be suspended from its membership of Interpol, and we will be leading all international efforts to that effect,” Patel said.

Interpol is a global agency that facilitates police across its 195-member countries to collaborate on criminal investigations.

11:14 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Russian forces moved about 3 miles closer to Kyiv's city center since yesterday, US defense official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman & Jeremy Herb

The Russian advance on the Ukrainian capital city Kyiv “remains slowed,” but Russian forces moved five kilometers (about three miles) closer to the city center since yesterday.

The Russian forces are now “roughly 25 kilometers out of Kyiv,” a senior US defense official told reporters Monday morning eastern time. That is about 15 miles.

“Their advance on Kyiv still appears to be their main line of effort, and we expect that they’re going to want to continue to move forward and try to encircle the city in coming days,” the official said.

Taking Kharkiv “remains an objective” for the Russians, and “they continue to try to advance on” the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, but the Russians have not taken either city yet, the official said.

“The current belief is that if they can get Kharkiv and they can get Mariupol, if you draw a line between those two cities, you can see that that would allow them to section off the eastern part of Ukraine,” the official said.

The US has not seen “anything specific” since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he ordered his country’s deterrence forces, including nuclear weapons, on high alert on Sunday, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday. 

“We’re still monitoring and watching this as closely as we can, given President Putin’s announcement yesterday,” the official said. “I don’t believe we’ve seen anything specific as a result of the direction that he gave.”

“We remain comfortable and confident in our own strategic deterrence posture,” the official added.