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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4:33 p.m. ET, February 28, 2022

White House wants to "reduce the rhetoric and deescalate" after Putin's nuclear deterrence move

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

White House press secretary Jen Psaki shown in this February 23, 2022 file photo in Washington, D.C.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki shown in this February 23, 2022 file photo in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Biden administration wants to “reduce the rhetoric and deescalate” after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s deterrence forces – which include nuclear arms – be placed on high alert, the White House said Monday. 

“We've seen this pattern from President Putin over the course of the last several months and even before then, where he manufactures the threat in order to justify a greater aggressive action,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told MSNBC.

“The Russians – President Putin included as the leader of Russia – have committed to taking steps to reduce nuclear threats," she added. “Everybody knows that that is not a war that can be won." 

Psaki said the US has its “own preparations” and “own ability and capacity to defend the United States,” but has not changed alert levels. 

“We have not changed our own alerts, and we have not changed our own assessment in that front, but we also need to be very clear eyed about his own use of threats,” she said. “What we want to do right now is reduce the rhetoric and deescalate.”

The administration is also doubling down on the decision not to use US troops to create a no-fly zone in Ukraine, calling it “not a good idea” and "not something the President wants to do."

The implementation of a no-fly zone by the US military “would essentially mean the US military would be shooting down planes, Russian planes," Psaki said. “That is definitely escalatory that would potentially put us into a place where we're in a military conflict with Russia.

US President Joe Biden will talk about the situation in Ukraine during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, she confirmed.

Biden would talk about “the fact that the President has built a coalition of countries around the world to stand up to Russian aggression, to stand up to President Putin, to put in place crippling sanctions, that will be a part of what people will hear in the speech. That wouldn't have been the case three months ago,” she said. 

“If we look back at history,” she continued, “President Obama gave a speech during the worst financial crisis of our lifetime. President Bush gave a speech shortly after the worst terrorist attack on our homeland ever. It's always about expressing how you're going to lead the country.” 

She said there would be new policy proposals in the speech.

11:48 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Explosions heard near Kyiv

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

Several large detonations were heard around 6:40 p.m. local time Monday to the east of the Kyiv's city center.

They were the largest explosions heard Monday.

They were followed by sirens going off across the city.

 

12:40 p.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Talks end between Russia and Ukraine

From CNN's Seb Shukla and Tim Lister

Russian and Ukrainian talks have ended in Belarus and the two parties have returned to their capitals for consultations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's adviser, Mikhaylo Podolyak, told reporters after the talks.

"Ukrainian and Russian delegations held the first round of negotiations. Their main goal was to discuss ceasefire and the end of combat actions on the territory of Ukraine. The parties have determined the topics where certain decisions were mapped out. In order for these decisions to be implemented as roadmap, the parties are returning for consultations to their capitals. The parties discussed holding another round of negotiations where these decisions can develop," he said Monday.

In the last few moments, three large explosions were heard in Kyiv.

11:59 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

UK will ban all Russian vessels from its ports

From CNN’s Anna Cooban in London   

The UK will ban all Russian vessels from entering its ports, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday.

"Today I've written to all UK ports asking them not to provide access to any Russian flagged, registered, owned, controlled, chartered or operated vessels,” Shapps said in a tweet.

Shapps shared a letter addressed to all UK ports stating that the "Department for Transport does not consider it appropriate for Russian vessels to continue to enter UK ports,” after its' “unprovoked, premeditated” attack against Ukraine.

“The maritime sector is fundamental to international trade, and we must play out part in restricting Russia’s economic interests and holding the Russian government to account,” Shapps continued. 

Shapps said legislation would follow to implement the change.

12:44 p.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US security assistance to Ukraine has arrived within the last day, senior defense official says

From Oren Libermann and Michael Conte

US security assistance to Ukraine has continued to arrive, including within the last day, a senior defense official said Monday morning.

Without detailing exactly what type of assistance is going in, the official said it includes both ground and airborne defensive capabilities. 

Over the weekend, the same official said that ground convoys and routes are options the US has evaluated for sending in assistance in light of the contested airspace over Ukraine.

In the period before the invasion, the US had sent in Javelin anti-armor missiles and approved the transfer of Stringer anti-aircraft missiles from NATO allies to Ukraine.

The US has not seen any efforts by Russian forces to “interdict” security assistance the US is sending to Ukraine, according to the senior defense official, despite Russian efforts to capture the airports around Kyiv.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly characterized the US' assistance involving Stringer anti-aircraft missiles.

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.