March 9, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 0502 GMT (1302 HKT) March 10, 2023
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12:06 a.m. ET, March 9, 2023

Zelensky says he won't meet with Putin because Russian leader can't be trusted

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky can’t currently envisage a situation in which he would meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“We don't have any circumstances to talk to the Russian Federation president because he doesn't hold his word,” Zelensky told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when asked what it would take to set up such a meeting.
“We don't have any confidence in him,” Zelensky said.
“Russia should leave our territory. And after that, we're happy to join the diplomatic tools. In order to do that, we can find any format with our partners just after that.”

Personal life: The Ukrainian leader also spoke about how he and his family are dealing with the war, which is now in its second year.

“My daughter joined the university and she studies there, and my son is attending school in Ukraine,” he said. “They're both in Ukraine. They're very much like other Ukrainian kids. We live with sirens.”

“We want victory. We don't want to get used to war, but we got used to the challenges. Everyone wants one thing — to end the war,” he said. 

10:35 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Fighter jets could decide a Ukrainian victory, Zelensky says

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he is "very grateful" for US President Joe Biden's visit to Ukraine last month. 

“It's an important signal to the whole world that the US is supporting us. And I think that US believe that we will prevail,” Zelensky said.

But on the question of whether the US will send Ukraine F-16 fighter jets to help the battle for control in the skies, Zelensky said, “The fighter jets issue is difficult. We're waiting for this decision to be taken.”

“We really need this and really appeal to the president that they could start training Ukrainian pilots, and President Biden told me that it will be worked upon … I believe that the United States will give us the opportunity to defend our skies,” Zelensky said.

Asked if the supply of Western jets will “make or break” a Ukrainian success in the war, Zelensky said: “Yes, we believe so.”

Recalling a discussion with Biden over jets, Zelensky said Biden and his aides felt jets “were not needed” at the moment.

"And I said, 'No, we need those jets,'" Zelensky said.

“What fighter jets could do, they could help us to defend ourselves,” Zelensky said. “That's why we need it urgently."

More on Ukrainian pilots: The US is working with Ukrainian pilots in the United States to determine how long it would take to train them to fly F-16 fighter jets, three sources briefed on the matter told CNN.

Two Ukrainian pilots are currently at a military base in the US having their skills tested in flight simulators to see how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s.

A US military official added that “there are no updates to provide regarding F-16s to Ukraine” and there are no immediate plans to increase the number of Ukrainian pilots in the US.

9:27 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Top Ukrainian general visits Bakhmut for third time in less than a week 

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Denis Lapin in Kyiv

One of Ukraine’s top military commanders visited the city of Bakhmut for the third time in less than a week, a video posted on his official Telegram account on Wednesday showed. 

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine's second highest-ranked general, said his men were doing everything they could to ensure Russian forces made the wrong move, referencing a chess strategy. 

“Zugzwang in chess is a situation where any move by a player leads to a deterioration of his position,” the post read. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the enemy is in this situation in this war.”

Ukrainian forces were holding their ground, he added. Other military leaders have said it is a priority for Ukraine to continue defending Bakhmut, where fighting has intensified.

CNN could not independently verify where the video was recorded but metadata on the file suggested it was recorded Wednesday.

Syrskyi organized and led the defense of Kyiv, successfully driving back Russian forces that had nearly encircled the Ukrainian capital at the beginning of Russia’s invasion. He has paid regular visits to frontline units in the Donbas and elsewhere, including Bakhmut. His previous visit to the city was at the end of last week.

9:50 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Exclusive: Zelensky invites House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to visit Ukraine

From CNN's Clare Foran

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is inviting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to visit Ukraine to see the situation on the ground first hand — an invitation that comes as the Republican Party faces a divide over whether the United States should continue to provide aid to the country under attack from Russia.

“Mr. McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions,” Zelensky told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview.

But when told of the invitation on Tuesday, McCarthy told CNN’s Manu Raju that he does not plan to visit Ukraine, and argued that President Joe Biden has not acted quickly enough to aid the country. McCarthy, a California Republican, has said he supports Ukraine but does not support “a blank check,” a position he repeated on Tuesday — even though there is federal oversight of all the dollars that are spent there.

“I think that Speaker McCarthy, he never visited Kyiv or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position,” Zelensky said.

Read more here.

8:25 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

"This is respect for Ukraine": Zelensky thanks Georgia protesters for holding his country's flag

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Denis Lapin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Georgian protesters for holding his country’s flag during demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“I want to thank everyone who has been holding Ukrainian flags in the squares and streets of Georgia these days. I want to thank you for our national anthem that was played in Tbilisi. This is respect for Ukraine, and I want to express my sincere respect for Georgia,” Zelensky said. “There is no Ukrainian who would not wish success to our friendly Georgia. Democratic success. European success.”

Georgians have been coming out in force, protesting a foreign agents law introduced by the country’s ruling party that's widely seen as very similar to Russian legislation.

Protesters say the law will leave Georgia further from joining the European Union and NATO. 

“We want to be in the European Union and we will be. We want Georgia to be in the European Union, and I am sure it will be,” Zelensky added. “We want Moldova to be in the European Union, and I am sure it will be. All free peoples of Europe deserve this.”
9:28 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Here's why some people are comparing Georgia to Ukraine

From CNN's Sophie Tanno and Niamh Kennedy

Protests have erupted in Georgia this week after the country’s parliament passed the first reading of a draft law that would require some organizations receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”

It has been compared to a draconian set of laws adopted in Russia and condemned by rights groups as a bid to curtail basic freedoms and crack down on dissent in the country.

The developments have sparked mass unrest, with thousands of demonstrators gathering outside Tbilisi’s parliament building on Tuesday night, waving not just the Georgian flag but also that of the European Union.

The country, which won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has long been playing a balancing act between its citizens’ pro-European sentiment and the geopolitical aims of its powerful neighbor, Russia.

In March 2022, Georgia applied for EU membership — an ambition that may be jeopardized by the proposed legislation.

Comparisons with Ukraine: Analysts have noted similarities between the situation in Georgia and Ukraine — both former Soviet republics which have found themselves caught between the East and the West.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank drew comparisons between the situation in Georgia and Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in 2011 that had Russia not invaded Georgia in 2008, NATO would have expanded into Georgia.

The 2008 conflict centered on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway provinces in Georgia. They are officially part of Georgia but have separate governments unrecognized by most countries.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are propped up by Russia.

The 2008 invasion of Georgia only lasted days, but it appeared to have the same revanchist ambitions that drove Putin’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and last year, writes the ECFR.

“In this light, Russia’s wars in Georgia and Ukraine seem part of a single imperial project,” the report said.

Read more here.

8:24 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Ukraine may have repaired bridge on main road to Bakhmut, footage shows

From CNN's Denis Lapin and Vasco Cotovio

Ukrainian forces may have repaired a bridge on the main road connecting the village of Chasiv Yar to the city of Bakhmut, according to video and an image geolocated by CNN. 

The bridge had been hit by Russian artillery, which left a large crater that made the road unusable and forced Ukrainian forces to use dirt roads to supply their forces defending the fiercely contested city.

The footage shows a temporary bridge has been placed on top of the crater, and a vehicle is seen driving over it.

CNN could not independently verify when the video was filmed but the potential repair of the bridge could mean the reopening of a vital supply line for Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut.

9:07 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

Putin to carry on war in Ukraine — possibly for years, US intelligence director says

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Zachary Cohen and Michael Conte

The US intelligence community believes that Russia "probably does not want a direct military conflict with US and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur," according to the unclassified annual threat assessment report of the intelligence community on Wednesday. 

"Russian leaders thus far have avoided taking actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the risk for escalation remains significant," the report said. 

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress that the war in Ukraine has become a “grinding attritional war in which neither side has a definitive military advantage,” but said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to carry on, possibly for years. 

"We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains, but Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor, and that prolonging the war including with potential pauses in the fighting may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia's strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” Haines said.

Haines said that Russia will likely be unable to sustain even its currently modest level of offensive operations in Ukraine without an additional mandatory mobilization and third-party ammunition sources.

“They may fully shift to holding and defending the territories they now occupy,” she said.

But Haines cautioned that a potential spring offensive by Ukraine may be limited by “the extent to which Ukrainian forces are having to draw down their reserves and equipment as well as suffer further casualties” defending against current Russian operations.

Haines and the other top intelligence officials — CIA Director William Burns, FBI Director Chris Wray, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone — testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday at the panel’s annual public worldwide threats hearing.

8:23 p.m. ET, March 8, 2023

EU defense ministers call for plans to support Ukraine with ammunition

From CNN's Jessie Gretener

The European Union is "at the decisive moment now" for the bloc's support to Ukraine, its Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said Wednesday. 

Speaking at the EU defense ministers meeting in Stockholm, Breton urged that “it is absolutely mandatory that we move towards a sort of war economy mode in terms of supply and defense industry."

"We need to do whatever it takes to supply Ukraine, especially with ammunitions,” he said.  

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called for EU defense leaders to work on a standard procurement scheme in the short term and increase defense capacity in the long term. 

In a separate interview with CNN Wednesday, Borrell's spokesperson Peter Stano said the EU's top diplomat proposes the bloc spend $1 billion on joint procurement of "crucially needed" ammunition for Ukraine.

“Right now, at this particular point, the ammunition is something the Ukrainians are needing most,” Stano said.

During the meeting, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson echoed Borrell’s called for a plan, saying, “The Ukrainians direly need the ammunition in order to continue this war. And the other aspect of it is that we have to ramp up production in Europe.” 

“There are some talks about the EDA. I think it’s very important that the European Defence Agency has a coordinating role. There are also being proposals launched,” Jonson said. 

Meanwhile, Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur urged leaders to make sure they are not “digging into the bureaucracy,” adding that “the aim is 1 million rounds for Ukraine.” 

CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi contributed reporting to this post.