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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4:01 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

Russian forces are pounding Bakhmut, but city isn't surrounded, Ukrainian officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister and Maria Kostenko

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

Russian forces are pounding the eastern city of Bakhmut, but they have not seized control, Ukrainian commanders said Tuesday.

"Over the past 24 hrs the enemy is raging, shelling with all they have," Col. Yurii Madyar, Commander of Ukraine's highly experienced 28th Brigade, said on Telegram "They don’t really have success on the ground — hence they’re making it up from the skies. They are just breaking this city into molecules."

There has been an uptick in Russia's use of combat planes to target Ukrainian defenses around Bakhmut, according to social media videos and accounts of Ukrainian troops in the area.

"There were no significant success for enemy in any directions, they are constantly trying though," Madyar said. "It’s complicated in the northern flank. The enemy is dreaming to cut the entrance to Bakhmut and take part of the road known as the road of life under their fire control."
"Bakhmut is not surrounded," Madyar said, echoing claims from other Ukrainian sources. "The entrance road remains dangerous. It is not under enemy fire control but under possible fire exposure/impact. This means that there are sections of road that may potentially be exposed to fire at targets moving in those sections."

Russian ground forces are trying to break through Ukrainian positions using groups of up to 20, according to Mykyta Shandyba, head of the press office of the 10th separate mountain assault brigade. "We are repelling all attacks," he told Ukrainian television.

In its operational update, the military's General Staff said Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had repelled attacks in a number of settlements to the north and west of Bakhmut (Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka, Chasiv Yar).

3:25 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

War in Ukraine must end with strategic failure for Russia, Pentagon official says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The war in Ukraine must end with strategic failure for Russia, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.

“[W]hat I will say is our position is that this has to end in a strategic failure for Russia, that no aggressor looking at this across the world thinks, ‘Oh that’s a good idea, I’m going to get what I want and not pay any price,’” Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, adding that any negotiations must be “a Ukrainian-led process because they’ve earned it.” 
2:56 p.m. ET, February 28, 2023

There is no credible evidence that US weapons for Ukraine are being diverted, US defense official says

From CNN's Nicky Robertson

Celeste Wallander speaks during the House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Celeste Wallander speaks during the House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday. (House Appropriations Committee)

The US has not found any evidence that weapons it has provided to Ukraine have been found outside of Ukraine, according to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

"Instead, we see Ukraine's frontline units effectively employing security assistance every day on the battlefield,” Celeste Wallander told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The US has adapted its accountability practices for combat environments to avoid the risk of illicit diversion, she added.

Another top Pentagon official, Lt. General Douglas Sims, stated that there are no reports that weapons have gone missing from Ukraine, and it would not be in the interest of the Ukrainians to get rid of them.

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.