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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3:15 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Finland begins construction of barriers along frontier with Russia, border agency says

From CNN’s Jessie Gretener and Sugam Pokharel in London

(Finnish Border Guard)
(Finnish Border Guard)

Finland has begun construction of barrier fences on its eastern border with Russia. 

The Finish Border Guard said in a statement that the pilot phase of the eastern border barrier fence project began on Tuesday.

“In Pelkola, the construction of a pilot fence of approximately three kilometres has started on both sides of the Imatra border crossing point,” according to the statement.
“Work on the terrain begins on 28 February 2023 with forest clearance and will proceed in such a way that road construction and fence installation can be started in March, followed by the construction of a technical surveillance system. The pilot is expected to be completed by the end of June,” it added. 

The project, launched at the end of 2022, includes plans to build a 130 to 260-kilometer (80 to 161 miles) fence along the country's 1,300-kilometer eastern border. 

Remember: The Finnish border was one of the few entry points for Russians after many Western countries shut their air space and borders to Russian planes in response to the Ukraine invasion. Helsinki closed its border at the end of September 2022, around the time traffic over the frontier intensified as Russians tried to flee President Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilization” of hundreds of thousands of citizens to fight in the war. More than 8,500 Russians crossed the border in one day alone.

In an earlier statement, the Finish Border Guard said the fence would not be built along the entire length of the border but instead would focus on border crossing points and other riskier areas.

Funding has been granted for the project’s pilot phase, as well as the implementation of the most important target areas, which are set to be constructed between 2023 and 2025.

CNN’s James Frater and Xiaofei Xu contributed reporting to this post.

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Finland is part of NATO. It is currently seeking to join the alliance, along with Sweden.

1:33 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Senior Pentagon official argues against providing F-16s to Ukraine due to timelines, cost and war priorities

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

A senior Defense Department official argued against providing F-16s and the necessary training to Ukraine at this time because of how long it would take, its cost and Ukraine’s most urgent priorities as the war passes the one-year mark. 

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said it would take 18 months to provide F-16s to Ukraine and train their pilots on flying the fourth-generation fighter. The cost of doing so would quickly drain the authorized money for providing US aid to Ukraine, Kahl said, when F-16s are not one of the top three priorities for Kyiv right now. 

“It's just hard for me to tell any member of Congress or the American people that the best use of that dollar spent right now is on F-16s,” Kahl told Tuesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on the oversight of US aid to Ukraine.

Kahl said Ukraine’s top three priorities remain air defenses, artillery and armor, which he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized to President Joe Biden during their meeting in Kyiv last week. 

The cost of sending 36 older F-16s to Ukraine, which is approximately half of what the US Air Force estimates Ukraine will ultimately need to replace its Soviet-era fighters, will cost about $2-3 billion, Kahl said.

He added that providing Ukraine with new F-16s would take between three to six years.

Kahl also said Ukraine may receive different fighter jets, such as the British Tornado or Swedish Gripen, which require completely different training. He said it "doesn't make sense" to train Ukrainians on the F-16 system if they might not receive it.


12:53 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russia lacks the resources to compete in an arms race, top Pentagon official says

From CNN's Sam Fossum and Oren Liebermann

Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on February 28.
Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on February 28. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Russia does not have the resources for an "unconstrained" nuclear arms race, according to US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin H. Kahl, when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to suspend the nuclear arms treaty, New START.

"Frankly, Russia is in no position for an unconstrained nuclear arms race. They do not have the money, especially given the strain on their military from the war, sanctions, export controls. So, you know, I think this was a way for him to generate some rhetorical headlines. But I think as a practical matter, it has not changed the situation," Kahl told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. 

If Moscow uses nuclear weapons of any kind as part of their ongoing invasion of Ukraine, top US officials have made it "very clear" that the consequences would be severe, he added.

While he noted that there needs to be vigilance given Russia remains a dangerous power with a lot of nuclear weapons, he said it's unlikely Moscow will use nuclear weapons. 


Kahl testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Kahl testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

"They were already out of compliance with the inspections regime using Covid and other things as excuses. It's also interesting that Putin decided to suspend, as opposed to leave the treaty. I think that's actually an indication that it's not effective leverage over us," Kahl told lawmakers.

12:31 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

UN nuclear watchdog concerned about Ukraine nuclear power plant 

From CNN's Jessie Gretener and Sugam Pokharel in London

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on November 24, 2022.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on November 24, 2022. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, expressed concern on Tuesday about Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, citing delays in staff rotations, an increased security presence on-site, and nearby fighting.

“The sound of artillery fire near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the temporary loss of its only remaining backup power line have again underlined persistent nuclear safety and security risks during the military conflict in the country,” Grossi said in a statement.

The IAEA said its team members stationed at the plant heard around 20 “detonations” on Monday afternoon, writing they were “apparently in the vicinity of the plant.” It also cited an increased security presence on site over recent weeks.

“This is a concerning trend that shows the urgency and importance of establishing a nuclear safety and security protection zone at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant,” Grossi stressed.

He also raised concerns about continued delays for the rotation of the IAEA experts on site, saying the current team should have been replaced more than three weeks ago and that he hopes the rotation can finally occur later this week. 

The UN nuclear agency also confirmed that the plant’s backup power line was restored on Sunday afternoon after losing power twice on Saturday morning. It said the disconnection occurred on the other side of the Dnipro river.

12:20 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Here's what Biden administration officials are saying about China supporting Russia

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

On Tuesday, a top State Department official said that “in many ways, China has been supporting Russia's war in Ukraine from the beginning,” even if it hasn’t provided lethal aid.

Additionally, the United States has already blacklisted a bevy of Chinese companies for supporting Russia, a top Commerce Department official also said.

Thirteen Chinese entities have also been added to the Entities List by the US Commerce Department for providing support to Russia, including one “that was supplying parts to the Iranian drone program,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security at the Commerce Department Alan Estevez said a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“We will not hesitate to put companies on the Entity List as soon as we see factual data that they are supplying Russia. And we have, we're looking at across all third parties, but especially China in that regard,” Estevez said.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink noted that the US has “made very clear that we will not hesitate to take steps to hold to account PRC entities that assist Russia.”

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink testifies during a hearing at the US Capitol in 2021.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink testifies during a hearing at the US Capitol in 2021. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa/AP)

“And we've made that very clear to the Chinese. The Secretary certainly did so in Munich, and of course, the President and the national security adviser have done so directly to the Chinese on previous occasions,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly accused Beijing of trying to have it “both ways” on the war.

“It’s, on the one hand, trying to present itself publicly as neutral and seeking peace, while at the same time it was talking up Russia’s false narrative about the war. It is, as I said, providing nonlethal assistance through its companies and now contemplating lethal assistance,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC last week.

Speaking at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Kritenbrink noted that Beijing has disseminated Russian propaganda and used its own disinformation “to support Russia's war there and to blame, inappropriately, the war on the west, the United States, and NATO.”

“We've seen China's stepping up its economic engagement and purchases from Russia,” Kritenbrink said.

11:29 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Putin signs law formally suspending New START participation

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Tuesday that formally suspends Russia's participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

"The Russian Federation suspends the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, signed in Prague on April 8, 2010," the text of the law's explanatory note said.

Putin said last week that Russia was suspending participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, but it was not withdrawing from it. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said Moscow will continue to respect the caps established in the treaty and reiterated that Putin’s suspension of the treaty is “reversible.”

The Russian president is the one who can make the decision to resume the country's participation in the agreement. 

Some context: The treaty is the last in a long series of nuclear treaties between the US and Russia, previously the Soviet Union. It puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.

The treaty was already essentially paused since Russia had recently refused to open up its arsenal to inspectors.

A top US State Department official said Monday that the United States "very much" hopes Russia is still interested in arms control, but Putin's decision to suspend New START participation calls the interest into question.

“By tying it to Ukraine right now, tying it to an immovable object in the sense that our support for Ukraine will not be limited by their New START decision, they’re really placing in doubt their support for the treaty itself,” Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Mallory Stewart said.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Rob Picheta, Anna Chernova, Nathan Hodge, Lauren Kent and Radina Gigova contributed to this post.

11:24 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

US and its allies have trained more than 4,000 Ukrainian military members, top defense official says 

From CNN's Nicky Robertson and Oren Liebermann

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, left, meets with Soldiers assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s 7th Army Training Command supporting combined arms training of Ukrainian Armed Forces battalions in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on February 17.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, left, meets with Soldiers assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division and U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s 7th Army Training Command supporting combined arms training of Ukrainian Armed Forces battalions in Grafenwoehr, Germany, on February 17. (Staff Sgt. Jordan Sivayavirojna/U.S. National Guard)

A top US defense official told the House Armed Services Committee that the US and its allies have now trained more than 4,000 members of the Ukrainian military. 

“Collective training is ongoing throughout Europe and is dramatically increasing Ukrainian combined armed organizations, all told, since January, the US military has trained over 1000 Ukrainians, bringing the total by the United States trained by the United States to just over 4000,” Lt General Douglas Sims II, director of operations for the Joint Chief of Staff, said.

 The US military has also been training Ukrainians on the Patriot missile system at Fort Still, Oklahoma, and Sims announced that the training will be finished soon.  

“US armed forces will soon complete the training and equipping of Ukraine's first Patriot battery,” Sims told the Committee.

This is the first time the Pentagon has specified when that training may end.

“We are confident the Ukrainians will employ Patriots with the same expertise they are demonstrating every day with their current air defense capabilities,” Sims added.

11:03 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

US possibly sending fighter jets to Ukraine is "not a wise use" of resources, Democratic lawmaker says

From CNN's Michael Conte and Oren Liebermann

An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies at the Nevada Test and Training Range, on September 14, 2007, near Indian Springs, Nevada.
An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies at the Nevada Test and Training Range, on September 14, 2007, near Indian Springs, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The House Armed Services Committee has determined the possibility of sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine “is not a wise use of the resources that are necessary to win the fight,” according to the top-ranking Democrat on the committee.

“The honest truth is the cost of trying to get the F-16 up and ready to operate in Ukraine, even if we basically said there’s nothing more important than that one weapon system, and spent all of our time and all of our resources on doing it, best case scenario, we could maybe get some operational F-16’s into Ukraine within a year, maybe eight months if we really pushed it,” ranking member Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, said at a hearing on Ukraine oversight.

Smith added that the F-16 would “struggle to survive” on the battlefield.

“You don't just have to train the pilots,” said Smith. “You have to train the mechanics, you have to have airfields that can accommodate the F-16 and you have to have the spare parts to make it work.”

More on the divide over supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine: As some outspoken Republican lawmakers threaten to block future aid to Ukraine, a small group of House GOP members who traveled to the country recently vowed to consider a list of key weapons and other crucial necessities during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.

Zelensky, who met with House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Michael McCaul and four other House GOP members, told the group he planned to send them a list of weapons, which includes F-16 fighter jets, that he believes are necessary to speed up the end of the war with Russia.

Zelenky’s specific goal of obtaining US F-16 fighter jets has become an increasingly controversial ask. Both President Joe Biden and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have previously opposed such a move due to concerns about how it could escalate the conflict.

But the argument against providing F-16s is becoming more difficult to make as senior military leaders have privately acknowledged to GOP lawmakers in recent days that those weapons would help Ukraine win the war, according to a source familiar.

Last week, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, supreme allied commander for Europe and head of US European command, told 10 GOP lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that F-16s would help Ukraine win. Asked if that was the case, Cavoli said “yes,” the source said, confirming details first reported by Politico.

While Cavoli’s comments go further than what senior US officials have said publicly, they also reflect diverging views within the Pentagon – notably splitting with the more cautious approach of Milley who has long been wary of any move that could provoke Russian escalation, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Read more about this here.

With previous reporting from Alayna Treene and Zachary Cohen

10:39 a.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russian authorities claim Ukrainian drone landed in Moscow region

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

A Ukrainian drone has crashed near Kolomna in Russia's Moscow region, according to Gov. Andrey Vorobyov on his Telegram channel.

“This happened near the village of Gubastovo, the target was probably a civilian infrastructure facility, it was not damaged. There are no casualties or destruction on the ground," the head of the region said. “The FSB and other competent authorities are dealing with the situation, nothing threatens the safety of residents.”

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti posted a photograph of the drone, which appeared to resemble a Ukrainian-made UJ-22 attack drone. The UJ-22 is capable of traveling up to 800 kilometers (or about 500 miles).

It's unclear where or when the photograph of the crashed drone was taken.

Also Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported electronic warfare systems had suppressed Ukrainian drones that tried to attack Krasnodar and neighboring Adygea in southwestern Russia.

RIA Novosti also reported the Russian military shot down a Ukrainian drone over the Surazh region near the Belarus border.

CNN is unable to independently verify the claims. The Ukrainian authorities have not commented on any drone attacks into Russian territory.