February 21, 2024 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Antoinette Radford, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Tori B. Powell and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 22, 2024
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9:33 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Canada joins growing list of countries summoning  Russian ambassador following Navalny's death

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Canada said it “condemns in the strongest terms the death of opposition leader Alexey Navalny” and holds "the Kremlin entirely accountable,” Global Affairs Canada wrote on X Wednesday.

At the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ request, Ambassador Oleg Stepanov was summoned in protest over the death of Navalny in Russian custody.

"A senior official from Global Affairs Canada met with him to convey Canada’s strong condemnation and called on the Kremlin to conduct a full and transparent inquiry into the death; and release Navalny’s body without delay to his family," a statement from Global Affairs Canada said.

The Russian Embassy responded by urging “Canada to stop interfering” with Moscow’s internal affairs in a statement on Telegram Wednesday.

“Every death is a tragedy. But the death of a Russian citizen is strictly Russia’s matter. Thus, we urge Canada to stop interfering into our internal affairs,” the statement read.

Some background: Several nations — including France, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Germany — have also summoned the Russian ambassador to their countries over Navalny's death in the past few days. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, accused Western countries of politicizing Navalny's death and said the investigation into the cause of death has "not concluded yet."

8:52 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Former Putin speechwriter says discontent toward Putin in Russian society is on the rise

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Discontent toward Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russian society is on the rise, according to Abbas Gallyamov, Putin's former speechwriter.

Gallyamov noted that Russian success in Avdiivka will be a key factor to “suppress this discontent” and “strengthen Putin’s domestic standing” ahead of Russian elections.

If there were no victory in Avdiivka, Putin would fail to “solidify his control” over Russia, Gallyamov told CNN's Brianna Keilar Wednesday. This military gain gave him “an additional injection of legitimacy” and is very beneficial for his presidential campaign.

Talking about people reportedly detained across Russia over vigils for opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Gallyamov said “sooner or later this will definitely backfire” because the discontent in society is growing and “at some moment it can become very strong.” 

Gallyamov said Putin is trying to get rid of all the opposition leaders to at least make discontent in Russian society be "unstructured," "disorganized" and "leaderless" ahead of future elections.

8:34 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Moscow aims to "build up a bank of hostages with American passports," Russian investigative journalist says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is trying to keep tabs on everyone with an American passport who comes to Russia, according to Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov.

“The main goal of the whole operation is to build up a bank of hostages with American passports,” Soldatov told CNN's Brianna Keilar Wednesday, commenting on Ksenia Karelina, a Russian-American arrested in Russia for allegedly donating about $51 to Ukraine.

He said Moscow will use it “as leverage” in any future negotiations with Russia.

9:22 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Russian-American arrested in Russia was just excited to visit her grandparents, boyfriend says

Ksenia Karelina seen here in an undated social media photo.
Ksenia Karelina seen here in an undated social media photo. Ksenia Karelina/Facebook

A US-Russian dual citizen was excited to go back to her hometown in Russia to see her grandparents, but she had no idea that she would be arrested and face charges of treason for allegedly donating just $51 to a Ukrainian charity, her boyfriend said.

Chris Van Heerden, the boyfriend of Ksenia Karelina, said she never thought this would happen. The couple, who live in Los Angeles, flew to Istanbul together before Karelina continued to Russia to see her family while Van Heerden flew back to California.

Van Heerden said Karelina was detained, but released, when she entered the country. Later, on the day she was due to fly back to the United States, she told him she was relieved they were going to let her go home — but that was the last time he heard from her.

"I believe in America. I do believe that America will bring her back to me and that's the hope I'm holding onto,” Van Heerden said, adding that she never talked about any donations and that she is “so proud to be Russian” and never “intervene with anything about the war” in Ukraine.

Chris Van Heerden, the boyfriend of Ksenia Karelina, spoke with CNN on February 21, 2024.
Chris Van Heerden, the boyfriend of Ksenia Karelina, spoke with CNN on February 21, 2024. CNN

The boyfriend said she wrote him a letter after being arrested. In the letter, which he calls a “love story,” Karelina describes conditions and expresses her worry about her boyfriend.

He said her attitude about what is going to happen varies day by day. Some days she is strong and feels like she will get home soon, but other days, she wrote him: “It’s like I’ll just sit on my bed and stare at a wall for hours, like, knowing that I'm going to be here forever because that's what she's thinking.”

Van Heerden told CNN that she was a "semi-pro ballerina" for years but was a full-time esthetician before being arrested in Russia.

6:52 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Ukraine shot down 7 Russian fighter jets within a week, Zelensky says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on February 16.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on February 16. Thibault Camus/Pool/AP

Ukraine shot down seven Russian fighter jets within the past seven days, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Seven combat aircraft – Russian 'Su' jets – were shot down in a week,” Zelensky said in his nightly address Wednesday.

Russia has not publicly commented on the incidents.

Russia has lost 338 aircraft since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, the general staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported Wednesday.

CNN cannot independently verify these numbers.

9:12 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Men detained at St. Petersburg Navalny vigils were handed military draft summonses, monitoring group says

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Some of the men detained at vigils for Alexey Navalny in St. Petersburg, Russia, were handed military draft summonses, OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights group that monitors repression in the country, said in a Telegram post on Wednesday.

“In St. Petersburg, those detained during the laying of flowers in memory of Alexey Navalny are given summonses to register for military service and clarification of their credentials at police departments and temporary detention centers," OVD-Info said, without providing any additional details.
6:14 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Russia claims capture of a key village, but Ukraine denies it. Here's what you should know

From CNN staff

Russia claimed to capture Krynky, a small, but key, riverside village situated on the left bank of the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, according to Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Ukraine's Operational Command denied Shoigu's claim, describing it as “a manipulation and falsification of facts.” 

Here are other headlines you should know:

  • Avdiivka developments: A pro-Kremlin Russian military blogger, Andrey Morozov, has reportedly died just days after he reported that Russia had suffered massive losses during its assault on the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka. Several well-informed pro-Russian military bloggers as well as Russian state news agencies and newspapers reported he had died by suicide. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded medals to Russian soldiers Wednesday as the military continues to celebrate its victory in capturing the eastern Ukrainian town.
  • Developments on the ground: In eastern Ukraine, footage geolocated by CNN Wednesday, showed Russian forces hoisting their flag over the Donetsk village of Pobieda, near Mariinka. Russian military bloggers said Ukrainian forces had “retreated” and were regrouping in positions to the south. And in southern Ukraine along the Zaporizhzhia front, Moscow has for weeks been pushing east and north toward Robotyne, as well as west, toward Mala Tokmachka.
  • Detained US-Russian citizen: Dual US-Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina, a 33-year-old Los Angeles resident, is being detained in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg because she allegedly donated $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity while she was in the US, according to her employer.

  • Grain dispute: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Andrzej Duda to meet with him at the Polish-Ukrainian border to settle the grain dispute that has led to several blockades by farmers. He also called on the European Commission to send a representative to attend the meeting.
  • Sanctions: The UK is sanctioning six individuals who were in charge of the “Polar Wolf” penal colony, where Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny died last week. They will be banned from the UK and have their assets frozen, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement Wednesday.
  • US aid and diplomacy: White House spokesperson Andrew Bates attacked Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson over not putting the $95 billion foreign aid package on the floor for a vote, accusing him of putting "his own internal politics above the safety of the American people" in a new memo Wednesday morning. Also, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were a matter of yards from each other at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday, but they did not speak or even appear to look at each other during a roughly 15-minute photo session of the ministerial meeting.
6:47 p.m. ET, February 21, 2024

Top US diplomat and Russian foreign minister do not interact at G20 meeting despite being near each other

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talks on the phone during the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro. In the foreground, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak to each other.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talks on the phone during the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro. In the foreground, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak to each other. Kira Hofmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were a matter of yards from each other at the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday, but they did not speak or even appear to look at each other during a roughly 15-minute photo session of the ministerial meeting.

It comes just days after the death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, which the US and its partners have blamed on Russia, and amid news that Russia has detained a dual US-Russian citizen.

Blinken last year met briefly with Lavrov on the margins of the G20 to confront him about the war in Ukraine, Russia’s suspension of cooperation in a nuclear arms reduction treaty and its detention of Americans.

It is unclear if the two will meet at this year’s G20 meeting.