February 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 7:24 a.m. ET, March 1, 2023
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11:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Top US diplomat reiterates concerns China will provide lethal aid to Russia

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 2.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 2. Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated the Biden administration’s concern that China is considering providing lethal aid to Russia for its war in Ukraine and warned that Beijing would face consequences for such a move.

“We did very clearly warn China about the implications and consequences of going through with providing such support,” Blinken said at a press conference in Kazakhstan. “We will not hesitate, for example, to target Chinese companies or individuals that violate our sanctions, or otherwise engaged in supporting the Russian war effort.”

Blinken said he raised the issue “directly” with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi when he saw him on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, and US President Joe Biden raised it with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indonesia in November.

If China were to support Russia's war efforts, it would create a "serious problem" for US-China relationship as well as China's relationships with other countries around the world, Blinken said, adding that he hopes China will take US warnings seriously and refrain from helping Russia.

“China can't have it both ways when it comes to when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can't be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand, while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” Blinken said.
8:21 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin admits to "losses in our ranks" during speech 

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova, Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday. (Russian Pool via VGTRK)

Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted to "losses in our ranks" while thanking members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for fighting extremism inside the country, as well as working in claimed Russian-occupied territories.

"Unfortunately, there are losses in our ranks," he said at the start of an FSB meeting. "The leadership of the FSB must do everything to provide additional support to the families of our fallen comrades."

Putin said that "2022 was a special year for the whole country and for your service."

"The FSB units were directly involved in the special military operation, they were solving complex, non-standard operational tasks here, covering the state border, actively fighting terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and extremism," he claimed. 

Putin's "special military operation" is the euphemism the Russian president and leadership uses to describe the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"I would like to thank the management and all employees of the department, especially those who acted at the forefront, in the liberated territories, in the frontline zone and, I would add, behind enemy lines. I want to thank you for this work, dear comrades," he said. 

In November 2022, US Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said Russia has likely suffered more than 100,000 killed and wounded soldiers as a result of the war in Ukraine, and Ukraine is probably looking at similar numbers.

7:57 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

A general view shows buildings damaged by a Russian military strike in the frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27.
A general view shows buildings damaged by a Russian military strike in the frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27. (Alex Babenko/Reuters)

The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut continues to come under attack from Russian forces, and a local pro-Russian official has claimed "it is already clear that Ukraine has lost" the city.

Meanwhile, the airport serving the Russian city of St. Petersburg has reopened following an unexplained temporary closure, and hackers caused Russian radios and TVs to play air raid sirens.

Here are the latest headlines:

  • Bakhmut "extremely tense": The situation around the embattled city of Bakhmut is "extremely tense," said the commander of Ukraine's ground forces Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi. "Despite significant losses," in the fight for the eastern city, "the enemy has thrown the most trained Wagner assault units into the offensive," he added.
  • Pro-Russian official claims Bakhmut will fall: Russian forces control routes into Bakhmut and it’s only a matter of time until the city falls into Russian hands, according to a pro-Russian official. German-made Leopard tanks have been spotted near Bakhmut, added the official, but "muddy weather" means it will be "difficult for heavy vehicles like the Leopard to move."
  • NATO chief names "top priority": Finland and Sweden's applications to join the NATO military alliance is a “top priority," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “The time is now to ratify and to fully welcome both Finland and Sweden as members,” he said.
  • St. Petersburg airport temporarily closed: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the temporary closure of the St. Petersburg airport, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Russian state news agency RIA reported that airspace restrictions around St. Petersburg had been lifted following the closure.
  • Putin to meet security services: Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a "serious conversation" with the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The role of the service "can hardly be overestimated" in the present time, Peskov added.
  • Kremlin highlights "new Russian territories": Russia's new territorial "realities" cannot be infringed upon during possible talks with Kyiv, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday. "There are certain realities, I mean the new Russian territories, there is the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which cannot be ignored," said Peskov.
  • Russia alleges failure of Ukrainian drone attack: The Russian Ministry of Defense has accused Ukraine of attempting an unsuccessful drone attack against civilian infrastructure in the Krasnodar region of Russia. However, social media video geolocated by CNN showed a fire at a Rosfnet oil depot in Tuapse. It’s unclear if the facility was the intended target.
  • Hackers activate air raid sirens on Russian media: Russian radio stations and TV channels sounded air raid sirens and displayed warnings after they were hacked on Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations said in a statement. 

6:52 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Pro-Russian official claims it's a matter of time until Bakhmut falls

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

A Ukrainian serviceman looks through a window of a damaged residential building as the sounds of shelling continue in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27.
A Ukrainian serviceman looks through a window of a damaged residential building as the sounds of shelling continue in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on February 27. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces control routes into Bakhmut and it’s only a matter of time until the city falls into Russian hands, according to an adviser to the head of self-declared, pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic.

“Now the fighters are already working in the city, almost in the central district, they have approached it,” Yan Gagin told Russian state broadcaster Russia 1 on Tuesday.

“There is almost complete control of all the routes along which either new fighters for rotation, ammunition or new equipment can be brought in," he said.

“It is already clear that Ukraine has lost Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut). The only question is when it will happen,” added Gagin.

CNN could not independently verify Gagin’s claims, but Ukrainian military commanders have in the past 24 hours described a worsening situation in Bakhmut, calling it “extremely tense” and “extremely difficult.”

Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday that the situation in the Eastern Ukrainian city was getting “more and more challenging.”

"The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, to secure and defend it," Zelensky said, soon after military commanders spoke of hundreds of Russian strikes in the area.

6:41 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russia's new territorial "realities" can't be infringed upon in possible peace talks, says Kremlin

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova 

Russia's new territorial "realities" cannot be infringed upon during possible talks with Kyiv, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday. 

"There are certain realities, I mean the new Russian territories, there is the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which cannot be ignored, which the Russian side will never be able to infringe upon. These are very important realities," Peskov told reporters during a regular call.

"The Russian Federation also has certain goals, which it is attaining in the course of the special military operation. Of course, given the favorable state of affairs and the appropriate attitude of the Ukrainian regime, this can also be decided at the negotiating table," he said. 

"The main thing is to achieve our goals, this is our priority for sure," he added. 

When asked how favorable the present moment is for these negotiations, Peskov replied:

"Currently, probably no one can ascertain the signals from the Ukrainian side. At the moment, we proceed from the impossibility de jure for the Ukrainian side to negotiate on this matter. We proceed from this."

6:37 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Leopard 2 tanks spotted near Bakhmut, pro-Russian official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

German-made Leopard tanks have been spotted near Bakhmut, according to an advisor to the head of the self-declared pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic.

“There have been claims that Leopards have appeared near Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut),” Yan Gagin told state broadcaster Russia 1 on Tuesday.

Gagin went on to downplay the presence of the tanks near the frontline.

“There is no need to sensationalize this. Given the muddy weather now, it will make it difficult for heavy vehicles like the Leopard to move,” he said. “[It] is the same armored target as all the others.”

CNN could not independently verify Gagin’s claims, but European officials have said previously that the first donated Leopard 2 tanks have begun arriving in Ukraine.

6:33 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russia's defense ministry says Ukraine launched failed drone attack as fire breaks out in oil depot

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Anna Chernova and Gianluca Mezzofiore

The Russian Ministry of Defense has accused Ukraine of attempting a drone attack against civilian infrastructure in the Krasnodar region of Russia.

“UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) were suppressed by the electronic warfare units of the RF (Russian Federation) Armed Forces,” said the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD), adding that none of the drones hit their target.

“Both drones lost control and deviated from their flight path. One UAV fell in a field, and another UAV, deviating from the trajectory, did not harm the attacked civilian infrastructure facility,” the MOD statement read.

Social media video geolocated by CNN showed a fire at a Rosfnet oil depot in Tuapse, on the Krasnodar region’s Black Sea coast. It’s unclear if the facility was the intended target, but Ukraine has previously targeted oil depots within Russian-controlled territory.

CNN could not independently confirm if Ukraine was behind the alleged attack and Ukraine did not immediately comment on the incident. Ukraine has in the past declined to comment on similar operations.

6:42 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

NATO chief says Finland and Sweden joining alliance is top priority

From CNN’s Eve Brennan

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speak to the press in Helsinki, Finland, on February 28.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speak to the press in Helsinki, Finland, on February 28. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland and Sweden's applications to join the NATO military alliance is a “top priority," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

“The time is now to ratify and to fully welcome both Finland and Sweden as members,” he said at a joint presser with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Helsinki. 

“It is inconceivable that there would be any threat against Finland or Sweden without NATO reacting,” he added. 

Stoltenberg went on to say that, so far, Finland and Sweden have had the “quickest accession process in NATO’s modern history.” 

Both countries applied for membership in May last year, and in June all NATO allies agreed to invite both countries to join the alliance and set out accession protocols. 

So far, 28 out of the 30 allies have ratified both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. Only Hungary and Turkey have not yet done so.    

The Hungarian parliament have made it clear they will start discussion within a few days, according to Stoltenberg. 

Stoltenberg added that Turkey had expressed some concerns about the countries’ accession, mainly concerning Sweden. 

More on NATO bids: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that his country's talks with Sweden and Finland on the Nordic countries’ NATO accession bid will resume on March 9.

Finnish PM Marin was clear on her country's reasons for joining the alliance, saying that the "NATO line is the only line that Russia wouldn’t cross.” 

Marin said that those countries which have not yet ratified Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership are “a burden to NATO.” 

“Because we are fulfilling the criteria, there shouldn’t be any problems when it comes to our membership,” she said, adding that she hopes Hungary and Turkey will ratify soon. 

Stoltenberg also added that Ukraine “will become a member of our alliance… but that is a long-term perspective.” 

5:39 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin to have "serious conversation" with security service, Kremlin says

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova 

Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a "serious conversation" with the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Tuesday, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The role of the service "can hardly be overestimated" in the present time, Peskov added during a regular call with reporters. 

"Putin will take part in the meeting of the Board of the Federal Security Service today. The President will make a speech, part of which will be open," Peskov said. 

"There will also be a part behind closed doors as is traditionally the case, a big voluminous speech by FSB Director Bortnikov in the presence of the president."

The meaning of the service at present moment can hardly be overestimated so it will be a serious conversation," added Peskov.

"Mainly, it will be about summing up last year's results of the [FSB] service and setting the outlooks for the upcoming year."

On Monday, a statement from the Kremlin revealed that Putin will take part in a meeting of the Board of the Federal Security Service, during which "the results of the operational and service activities of the FSB bodies in 2022 will be summed up and priority tasks for 2023 will be identified."