March 17, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 9:58 p.m. ET, March 17, 2023
6 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
4:26 a.m. ET, March 17, 2023

Poland's decision to send jets to Ukraine won't prompt Biden to send F-16s, White House says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

MIG-29 fighter jets of the Polish Air Force take part in a NATO shielding exercise at the Lask Air Base on October 12, in Lask, Poland.
MIG-29 fighter jets of the Polish Air Force take part in a NATO shielding exercise at the Lask Air Base on October 12, in Lask, Poland. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Poland's decision to send Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine is a "sovereign decision" that won't spur President Joe Biden to send US F-16 aircraft, according to the White House.

Biden has said shipments of US fighter jets aren't in the cards at the moment, though he hasn't ruled it out entirely.

The pledge from Poland to send four jets, which is a break from other NATO partners, doesn't alter that decision-making, said John Kirby, a top official at the US National Security Council.

"It doesn’t change our calculus with respect to F-16s," he said.

"These are sovereign decisions for any country to make and we respect those sovereign decisions," he said, adding later, "They get to determine not only what they’re going to give but how they’re going to characterize it."

Kirby declined to endorse the decision, saying he didn't think it was the US' place "to characterize Poland's decision one way or another."

11:07 p.m. ET, March 16, 2023

Analysis: Battle for Bakhmut leaves Wagner boss out in the cold

Analysis from CNN's Tim Lister

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the combative boss of Russia’s Wagner private military group, relishes his role as an anti-establishment maverick, but signs are growing that the Moscow establishment now has him pinned down and gasping for breath.

Prigozhin placed a bet on his mercenaries raising the Russian flag in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, albeit at a considerable cost to the ranks of his force and probably to his own fortune.

He spent heavily on recruiting as many as 40,000 prisoners to throw into the fight, but after months of grinding battle and staggering losses he is struggling to replenish Wagner’s ranks, all the while accusing Russia’s Ministry of Defense of trying to strangle his force.

Many analysts think his suspicions are well-founded — that Russia’s military establishment is using the Bakhmut “meat-grinder” to cut him down to size or eliminate him as a political force altogether.

At the weekend, Prigozhin acknowledged that the battle in Bakhmut was “difficult, very difficult, with the enemy fighting for each meter.”

In another video message, Prigozhin said: “We need the military to shield the approaches (to Bakhmut). If they manage to do so, everything will be okay. If not, then Wagner will be encircled together with the Ukrainians inside Bakhmut.”

Just when Prigozhin most needed the support of regular Russian forces and a reliable flow of munitions, neither appears to be available.

Wagner has made incremental gains around Bakhmut and now holds the eastern part of the city. But it seems unable to generate enough force to expel Ukrainian forces from the rest of Bakhmut. And its fighters are spread thin as they push northwest and southwest beyond the city.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank assesses that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “is likely seizing the opportunity to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces in Bakhmut in an effort to weaken Prigozhin and derail his ambitions for greater influence in the Kremlin.”

Read the full analysis here.

12:49 p.m. ET, March 17, 2023

US believes Russia has recovered some small pieces of debris from downed drone, US official says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Oren Liebermann

The US believes Russia has recovered some debris in the Black Sea from the downed US surveillance drone, a US official familiar with the matter told CNN. The official described the recovered wreckage as pieces of fiberglass or small bits of the MQ-9 Reaper drone. 

CNN reported on Wednesday that Russia had reached the location where the US surveillance drone went down in the Black Sea, approximately 70-80 miles southwest of Crimea.

But the Biden administration downplayed the significance of the drone wreckage or the potential to glean any sensitive intelligence from the remains of the aircraft. 

“We made it impossible for them to be able to glean anything of intelligence value off the remnants of that drone, whatever remnants there might be on the surface of the water,” John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, told CNN on Wednesday. 

After the collision between the US drone and the Russian fighter jets early Tuesday morning, the drone operators took steps to erase the sensitive software of the drone before it fell into the Black Sea, according to US officials.

“Whatever's left … that's floating will probably be flight control surfaces, that kind of thing. Probably nothing of real intrinsic value to them in terms of terms of reengineering or anything like that,” Kirby said.

The drone landed in water that may be nearly a mile deep, Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

“That's US property and, and we'll, we'll leave it that at this point, but it probably broke up. There's probably not a lot to recover, frankly,” he said.

9:01 p.m. ET, March 16, 2023

Ukrainian officials hold spate of talks with counterparts from China, US, UK and others

Ukrainian officials have held a number of discussions with leaders of other countries Thursday. Here's what they spoke about:

Separately, UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly made an official state visit to Moldova, where he said he believes the best way to protect the country from a Russian attack is not by sending it military support, but by protecting Ukraine.

12:49 p.m. ET, March 17, 2023

Analysis: Drone video highlights risks of a direct US-Russia confrontation

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

The stunning aerial video of a Russian jet buzzing and then apparently hitting a US drone over the Black Sea vividly shows how the war in Ukraine could spin out of control.

But if there is anything comforting to take away from the drama, it seems the two nuclear powers are determined to prevent that worst-case scenario of the conflict from happening.

Clearly, the showdown, which has resulted in angry rhetoric being flung between Washington and Moscow but nothing more, would have been far worse if the US Reaper drone that was downed had been a manned aircraft.

The fact a drone was involved has allowed both sides to calibrate their language to avoid an escalation. It has also shown the value of military to military contacts between Russia and the US. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin revealed on Wednesday that he had spoken to his counterpart in Moscow. And Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had similar contacts planned. In another theater of operations, the Pacific, where US and Chinese jets and ships often come in close contact, such military-to-military dialogue has been suspended at various points — a scenario the incident over Ukraine reveals as highly dangerous.

Tensions between Russia and the West that were worsened by the drone incident are likely to ramp up further with the news that Poland will send Ukraine four MiG jets that were once in the inventory of the former East Germany in the Cold War-era Warsaw pact. The move marks an important milestone in the West’s aid to Kyiv and answers a long-standing request by the government there. But it is not as inflammatory as a decision to send more advanced US-made F-16 planes at Ukraine’s request would have been. The US and its allies have so far not signed off on such a step.

Read the full analysis here.

8:39 p.m. ET, March 16, 2023

Poland becomes first to pledge fighter jets to Ukraine

From CNN's Antonia Mortensen, Duarte Mendonca, Luke McGee and Kevin Liptak

Poland on Thursday pledged it would send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first NATO member to do so, in a significant move in Kyiv’s battle to resist Russia’s onslaught.

President Andrzej Duda said the planes — from about a dozen that it had inherited from the former German Democratic Republic — would be handed over in the coming days after being serviced.

“When it comes to the MiG-29 aircraft, which are still operating in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been taken at the highest levels, we can say confidently that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” Duda said.

Warsaw has taken a lead among NATO allies in supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons. The announcement that Poland will send the Soviet-designed planes marks a step beyond the rest of the alliance’s commitments, and could put pressure on other member states to do the same. Other NATO nations have been reluctant to move far beyond a decision earlier this year to send tanks to Kyiv, and the US insisted Thursday that Poland’s move would not force Washington’s hand.

Read more here.