February 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Leinz Vales and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:50 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023
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12:24 a.m. ET, February 27, 2023

Zelensky fires Ukraine's commander of joint forces

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference in Kyiv on February 24.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference in Kyiv on February 24. (James McGill/SOPA Images/SIPA/AP)

Ukraine’s commander of joint forces operation has been dismissed from his post, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in a decree Sunday.

Major Gen. Eduard Mykhailovich Moskalov had been appointed to the position last March when Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk was appointed head of the Kyiv regional military administration.

Zelensky did not provide an explanation for Moskalov's dismissal, but it's the latest in a long line of recent leadership changes made by his administration.

Ukrainian authorities have conducted a series of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns across the country, and a variety of high-profile dismissals have followed.

It is not yet clear if Moskalov's firing was connected to the recent corruption purge.

8:55 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

On first visit to Kyiv, Saudi foreign minister signs off on $400 million Ukraine aid package

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday in Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday in Kyiv. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

For the first time since the two countries established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, a Saudi foreign minister has visited Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky's office released a video of him meeting Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday.

Zelensky said he expected the meeting would "provide a new impetus to further intensification of our mutually beneficial dialogue."

"Thank you for supporting peace in Ukraine, our sovereignty, and territorial integrity," he continued. "This is very important for us and our society."

Saudi Arabia has steered a neutral course in the conflict. The Kingdom mediated a prisoner exchange last year, in which two American and five British citizens were released from Russian detention. 

Sunday's visit was the first to Kyiv by a Saudi Foreign Minister in 30 years.
Sunday's visit was the first to Kyiv by a Saudi Foreign Minister in 30 years. (MOFA of Saudi Arabia/Twitter)

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, called the meeting successful in a message on Telegram.

"Ukraine will receive real help from Saudi Arabia," the Ukrainian official said. "The Presidential Office signed two documents formalizing a $400 million aid package to Ukraine: $100 million in humanitarian aid and $300 million in oil products."

"Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have common challenges and experiences in dealing with them. We are talking about Iranian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) that were supplied to certain 'rebels' and attacked Saudi oil facilities," Yermak said, in a reference to the use of Iranian drones by Houthi forces in Yemen.

"Since last year, the same Iranian UAVs have been in possession of Russian terrorists and have been attacking Ukraine's energy infrastructure."

8:06 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

CIA director says there's evidence Russia offered to help Iran's missile program in exchange for military aid

From CNN’s Sam Fossum

CIA Director William Burns said in an interview Sunday that the alliance between Russia and Iran is developing rapidly, an emerging narrative that he called "disturbing."

"It's moving at a pretty fast clip in a very dangerous direction right now, in the sense that we know that the Iranians have already provided hundreds of armed drones to the Russians, which they're using to inflict pain on Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. We know that they've provided, you know, ammunition for artillery and for tanks as well," Burns said on CBS' "Face the Nation." 

Burns said the CIA is also seeing signs that Russia is proposing to help the Iranians on their missile program, and at least considering the possibility of providing fighter aircraft to Iran, in exchange for military aid in their ongoing invasion.

Meeting with Russia's spy chief: Burns also described his conversation with the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, and said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "too confident" in his ability to grind down Ukraine.

He called the discussion with Naryshkin "pretty dispiriting," but said he got some key points across.

"My goal was not to talk about negotiations. That's something that Ukrainians are going to need to take up with the Russians when they see fit. It was to make clear to Naryshkin — and through him, to President Putin — the serious consequences should Russia ever choose to use a nuclear weapon of any kind as well. And I think Naryshkin understood the seriousness of that issue, and I think President Putin has understood it as well," Burns said. 

Asked why the conversation was dispiriting, Burns added: "There was a very defiant attitude on the part of Mr. Naryshkin as well, a sense of cockiness and hubris, reflecting Putin's own view — his own belief today that he can make time work for him, that he believes he can grind down the Ukrainians, that he can wear down our European allies, that political fatigue will eventually set in." 

8:46 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

The brutal fight for Bakhmut has turned to urban combat as forces battle for every inch of territory

From CNN's Tim Lister

A Ukrainian Army serviceman waits for an order near Bakhmut on Thursday.
A Ukrainian Army serviceman waits for an order near Bakhmut on Thursday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

There is one thing that Russian and Ukrainian accounts agree upon: The fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut is relentless, and the casualties — on both sides — are high. 

A fierce fight in the streets: Until a few weeks ago, the battle was waged largely with tanks, artillery and mortars. But Bakhmut has increasingly become a field of urban combat, with every street and building in the suburbs and surrounding villages contested.

Russian forces — including fighters from the Wagner private military company — have edged toward the center of the city from the east, south and north.

Ukrainian units have launched frequent counter-attacks to try to reclaim some territory and preserve their precarious access to Bakhmut from the west. That access has become gradually more complicated as routes into the city have come under control of Russian forces.

Ukrainian soldiers on unofficial social media accounts have said they are increasingly reliant on dirt roads to reach — and leave — Bakhmut, tracks that may become impassable as the frost turns to mud.

Russia aims to encircle Ukraine's troops: Rather than drive directly toward the city center, Wagner groups have sought to surround the city in a wide arc from the north. In January, the groups claimed the nearby town of Soledar, and have since taken a string of villages and hamlets north of Bakhmut.

That process appears to have gone a step further in recent days, with Wagner apparently reaching the village of Yahidne immediately to the northwest of Bakhmut. The village sits on a route that, until recently, was used by Ukrainians to get in and out of the city.

The next target for the Russians could be the town of Chasiv Yar, a straggling collection of Soviet-era apartment blocks, sitting on high ground which has already been extensively damaged. Ukrainian officials said it came under artillery fire again Sunday.

How long will Ukraine defend the city? The conundrum for the Ukrainian military is whether it remains feasible to continue defending Bakhmut.

At the beginning of February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, "No one will surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress."

More recently, in an interview with Italian media, Zelensky's tone was slightly different. “It is important for us to defend (Bakhmut), but not at any price and not for everyone to die,” he was quoted as saying.

If Bakhmut can no longer be held, it will be important to note where Ukrainians choose to draw their next defensive lines. The cities of Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk are not far to the west of Bakhmut and have already registered an uptick in Russian missile attacks.  

For now, there's no sign of a withdrawal of Ukrainian units from the Bakhmut area and the brutal fighting wears on.

8:43 p.m. ET, February 26, 2023

US says China will face "real costs" if it provides lethal aid to Russia for war in Ukraine

From CNN's Jasmine Wright and Paul LeBlanc in Washington

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a daily press briefing November 10, 2022, in Washington, DC.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a daily press briefing November 10, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday vowed there would be “real costs” for China if the country went forward with providing lethal aid to Russia in its war on Ukraine.

“From our perspective, actually, this war presents real complications for Beijing. And Beijing will have to make its own decisions about how it proceeds, whether it provides military assistance. But, if it goes down that road, it will come at real costs to China. And I think China’s leaders are weighing that as they make their decisions,” Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

In diplomatic conversations with China, he added, the US is “not just making direct threats. We’re just laying out both the stakes and the consequences, how things would unfold. And we are doing that clearly and specifically behind closed doors.”

Sullivan’s comments come at a critical juncture in the war in Ukraine. The US has intelligence that the Chinese government is considering providing Russia with drones and ammunition for use in the war, three sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.

It does not appear that Beijing has made a final decision yet, the sources said, as negotiations between Russia and China about the price and scope of the equipment are ongoing.

Since invading Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly requested drones and ammunition from China, the sources familiar with the intelligence said, and Chinese leadership has been actively debating over the last several months whether or not to send the lethal aid, the sources added.

Read more here.