February 20, 2024 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Deva Lee, Jack Guy, Antoinette Radford, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, February 21, 2024
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11:54 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

Russia produces "thousands of drones a day," defense minister says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Sergei Shoigu addresses a conference in Kubinka, Moscow region, on August 15, 2023. 
Sergei Shoigu addresses a conference in Kubinka, Moscow region, on August 15, 2023.  Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images/File

Russia produces “thousands of drones a day,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an interview with state media TASS on Tuesday.

Shoigu said Russia had made a "giant step" in making uncrewed aircraft "over the past eight to nine months."

"Today, our use of FPV drones amounts to hundreds per day, and production amounts to thousands per day,” Shoigu told TASS, adding that drone production “requires constant and continuous improvement.”

According to Shoigu, the significant increase in production was possible in part due to “the new generation of entrepreneurs” who got involved in drone and military equipment production.

Ukraine also plans to ramp up its drone production this year.

During a press conference in December, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv plans to produce one million drones in 2024.

10:58 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

2 killed and 1 injured after Russian drone hits car in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region

From CNN’s Mariya Knight and Maria Kostenko

Two men were killed and one woman was injured after a Russian drone hit a car with civilians in Ukraine's northeastern region of Kharkiv, a military official said on Telegram Wednesday.

A man with his wife and a driver were on their way home from work at a local farm when the strike took place in the village of Petropavlivka, said Oleh Syniehubov, the head of Kharkiv regional military administration.

The woman was taken to the hospital after the strike, Syniehubov said.

11:17 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

11 Ukrainian children return home after repatriation from Russia, Ukrainian parliament commissioner says

From CNN’s Mia Alberti

Oleksandr (L), who was kept at a state boarding school in Russian-occupied Lugansk hugs his aunt Viktoria, after he crossed the border from Belarus to Ukraine, in the Volyn region, on February 20.
Oleksandr (L), who was kept at a state boarding school in Russian-occupied Lugansk hugs his aunt Viktoria, after he crossed the border from Belarus to Ukraine, in the Volyn region, on February 20. Roman Pilipey/AFP/Getty Images

Eleven Ukrainian children reunited with their families after being repatriated from Russia on Tuesday, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets said on X.

"There are 6 girls, including two twin two-year-old sisters, and 5 boys. The youngest returned child is 2 years old, the oldest is 16 years old," Lubinets wrote.

Oleksandr, 16, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): "Everything will get better. After all, with loved ones, life will be easier from now on."

The children were repatriated from Russia through Qatari mediation and with the support of the United Nations Children's Fund. 

6:43 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

Russian troops to keep advancing into key eastern Ukrainian town. Here are the latest headlines

From CNN staff

A local civilian chops wood for making fire in the downtown of Ocheretyne, a village near Avdiivka on February 19.
A local civilian chops wood for making fire in the downtown of Ocheretyne, a village near Avdiivka on February 19. Narciso Contreras/Anadolu/Getty Images

An Ukrainian commander stationed on the outskirts of Avdiivka said Russia has the capacity to continue its advance into the eastern town and will "continue to do so."

Maksym Zhorin, deputy commander of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, posted to Telegram on Tuesday that Ukrainian troops are "clearly aware that the Russians have enough forces in the town itself to continue their offensive."

He said Russian troops were headed in the direction of Lastochkyne.

Here are the latest headlines:

  • US to impose sanctions on Russia: The US will announce a major sanctions package against Russia on Friday, a White House official said. It is intended to hold President Vladimir Putin accountable for his two-year war on Ukraine — and for the death of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
  • Navalny: Navalny's mother released a video Tuesday appealing to Putin to allow her to see her son. Navalny's body will not be returned to the family for at least two weeks, according to a his spokesperson. Meanwhile, Navlany's younger brother, Oleg Navalny, has been added to Russia's wanted list, according to Russian state media TASS.
  • Putin awards military honors to high-ranking prison official: Putin awarded Valery Boyarinev, the deputy director of the Russian Prison Service, a special rank of Colonel-General of Internal Service, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Boyarinev’s promotion comes three days after Navalny died and some of Navalny’s allies are drawing a link between the promotion and his death. Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied on Tuesday that there is any link between the death of Navalny and this promotion. CNN cannot verify this claim.
  • Navalny widow asks EU to not recognize Russia's election: Navalny's widow has urged the European Union to not recognize next month's Russian elections. A transcript released Tuesday revealed Yulia Navalnaya's passionate plea to the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union as she blamed Putin for killing her husband.

  • Russian attack in Sumy region: Five people, including a mother and her sons, have been killed by a Russian drone attack in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine, according to the region's military administration.
  • Ukraine commits to democracy despite remaining under martial law: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the nation is staunchly committed to democracy, even as it is unclear if elections will be held this year during the country's war against Russia. Elections usually occur every five years in Ukraine — with the last held in 2019— but do not take place while the country is under martial law.
  • US dual citizen arrested in Russia: The FSB security service arrested a dual US-Russian citizen on charges of treason for collecting funds for Ukrainian organizations and openly supporting Kyiv. FSB said Ksenia Pavlovna Karelina, a 33-year-old Los Angeles resident, was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg.
  • Russian defector reportedly dead: A Russian helicopter pilot Maxim Kuzminov who defected to Ukraine in a dramatic operation is dead, Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) told CNN. The statement comes as Spanish authorities investigate the killing of a man shot dead in Spain a week ago.

11:00 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

First group of Ukrainian pilots to complete US F-16 training by summer

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

In this July 2021 photo, a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, assigned to the 121st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is refueled during a mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in the US Central Command area of responsibility.
In this July 2021 photo, a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, assigned to the 121st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, is refueled during a mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in the US Central Command area of responsibility. Senior Airman Taylor Crul/US Air Force

The first four Ukrainian pilots are scheduled to complete training on F-16 fighter jets by summer, according to the Arizona National Guard. The pilots began training in mid-October with the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Arizona. The Pentagon said the training process would take several months to complete.

A second group of another four pilots began training in January, according to Capt. Erin Hannigan, a spokeswoman for the Arizona National Guard, while a third group of four is currently going through English-language training, which is required to fly the fourth-generation US fighter jet.

All of the pilots are expected to complete their training between May and August, said Hannigan, though the exact timeline depends on the progress of the program.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky requested F-16 fighters for months, believing the advanced US jets would be able to challenge Russia's aerial power over the battlefield. 

Last summer, a coalition of nations led by Denmark began training Ukrainian pilots on the US jets. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have pledged to provide Ukraine with the F-16s jets after the training program. The US also committed to approving the transfer of the jets as soon as training was completed.

5:34 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

Estonian government says officials arrested several people with ties to Russian-directed influence operation

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu

Estonia has detained 10 suspects for “acting on behalf of a Russian special service” in connection to influence operation on its territory, its government announced Tuesday.

The people arrested by the Estonian Internal Security Service include both Russian and Estonian nationals, officials said. The goal was for the Russian group to "spread fear and create tension in Estonian society,” the Estonian Internal Security Service said in a statement.

Investigators suspect these people were recruited by the Russian special service to gather information and perform various actions — like vandalizing the cars of the interior minister and several monuments. Some of those arrested were recruited via social media, according to Margo Palloson, director general of the Estonian Internal Security Service.

Russia has not yet responded to these claims.

More context: With Russia's war in Ukraine raging in the region, the arrests in Estonia come as the tension between Talinn and Moscow has continued to rise in recent days.

Estonia joined NATO in 2004 and has been a particular target because of its substantial Russian-speaking minority — nearly 25% of the population. The Kremlin is also directly involved in shaping Russian influence operations in neighboring countries, according to Presidential Administration documents leaked last year.

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed reporting to this post.

7:43 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

Putin calls Ukraine's withdrawal from Avdiivka an “unconditional success"

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks during the Strong Ideas For The New Times Forum in Moscow, Russia on February 20.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks during the Strong Ideas For The New Times Forum in Moscow, Russia on February 20. Contributor/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka “an unconditional success” during his meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin on Tuesday.

However, Putin said the success in Avdiivka “needs to be developed” and Russian troops have to push further, well prepared “with personnel, weapons, equipment, and ammunition.”

Putin noted that he would talk to Shoigu separately about meeting the needs of the military in this area.

Shoigu echoed Putin, agreeing that the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka is “a great success for the mixed group of troops, units, formations, everyone without exception.”

“For nine years, day after day, underground passages, concrete structures were made, special lines were made so that one could move without going to the surface,” Shoigu said, adding that Russian air force, army and attack aviation played a major role in capturing Avdiivka as Russia carried out “about 460 aerial strikes” daily before the withdrawal from the city.

Shoigu claimed that Ukrainian armed forces leadership was ordered to withdraw from the city when the Ukrainian troops “were already on the move and leaving this settlement” and called it “a chaotic retreat.” Shoigu noted that while retreating, a lot of Ukrainian soldiers were captured as they were wounded in the process and were unable to escape.

The defense minister also claimed that Krynky, a small riverside village situated on the left bank of Dnipro river in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, is “completely” under Russian control at the moment.

Ukraine's Operational Command "South" denied Russian claims of being in control of Krynky after Shoigu's announcement and called it “a manipulation and falsification of facts.” 

“The defense forces of southern Ukraine continue to hold their positions, inflicting significant losses on the enemy,” the command said.

10:09 p.m. ET, February 20, 2024

US officials were planning for a new sanctions package before Navalny's death, senior official says

From CNN’s Kevin Liptak

US officials had been working on a new sanctions package for Russia ahead of last week's death of Alexey Navalny, and are now supplementing them in the wake of the opposition leader's death, according to a senior US official.

The package will be timed around the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and officials are coordinating with European partners on the new package, the official said.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday the new measures would be a "substantial package" that covers a wide range of elements linked to the Russian defense industrial base and sources of revenue for the Russian economy that power the country's "war machine."

Sullivan described the package as "another turn of the crank" after withering western sanctions on Moscow since the start of the Ukraine war. While those sanctions have hampered Russia's economy, they haven't deterred President Vladimir Putin from proceeding with the invasion.

Existing sanctions have "isolated" Russia on the world stage, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said aboard Air Force One Tuesday. American assistance has degraded the country's military, she said.

Jean-Pierre said the White House was being careful in detailing the exact parameters of the sanctions to avoid capital flight before the punishments are in place.

President Joe Biden plans to confer with fellow G7 leaders on a conference call Friday timed around the anniversary of the start of the Ukraine war.