March 3, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

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

Updated 10:06 p.m. ET, March 3, 2023
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1:43 p.m. ET, March 3, 2023

Mandatory evacuation in place for vulnerable residents in eastern Ukrainian city due to Russian shelling

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Maria Kostenko 

Ukrainian authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation for vulnerable residents of the eastern city of Kupyansk, located in the Kharkiv region, due to "constant" Russian shelling. 

"Evacuation of people with limited mobility, people with disabilities and children with their parents is underway," the Kupyansk city military administration said in a Facebook post Friday. "Unfortunately, due to constant shelling of the Kupyansk community" by Russian forces "there is major destruction of critical infrastructure."

The city administration said utilities "are operating as usual" and that online classes are being organized for students. 

"The educational process continues in the Kupyansk community. According to the head of the education department, 480 students have already joined the online education program. Classes are being formed," the administration said. 

The Kharkiv region military administration announced the start of the mandatory evacuation on Thursday, saying the decision was made "due to constant shelling of the Kupyansk community by Russian troops." 

As of Thursday, there were 812 children and 724 people with disabilities, including 140 of low mobility, in the city, according to the regional military administration. 

Russian forces occupied the city in the early days of the invasion but Ukraine was able to recapture it in September 2022

The city remains close to the hotly contested frontline east of the city, and as close as some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from areas under Russian control, according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the city of Kupyansk is located in southern Ukraine. It is located in eastern Ukraine.

11:31 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

US imposes sanctions on Russians tied to arbitrary detention of human rights advocate and Kremlin critic

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza sits on a bench inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Basmanny court in Moscow, Russia, on October 10.
Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza sits on a bench inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at the Basmanny court in Moscow, Russia, on October 10. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

The Biden administration on Friday sanctioned a number of Russian individuals connected to the arbitrary detention of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent human rights advocate and Kremlin critic who has been jailed in Moscow for nearly a year after speaking out against the war in Ukraine in an interview with CNN.

The United States has called for Kara-Murza’s “immediate and unconditional release,” but Friday’s actions represent a long-awaited decision on imposing sanctions against Russia for his imprisonment.

Kara-Murza, who has survived two poisonings, has been incredibly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine, and he continues to speak out even as he is detained. 

In March 2022, Kara-Murza spoke before the Arizona House of Representatives and spoke out against the war. In an April 2022 interview with CNN, he called Putin’s government “a regime of murderers.” He was arrested shortly thereafter for “failing to obey the orders of law enforcement,” according to his wife.

The Russian "Government later brought additional politically motivated charges against him, and Kara-Murza currently faces the prospect of more than 30 years in prison,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday.

The Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions under an expansion of the Global Magnitsky Act, which targets serious human rights abusers, more than five months after the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the Biden administration to take action under that law. 

The sanctions target Elena Anatolievna Lenskaya, Andrei Andreevich Zadachin, and Danila Yurievich Mikheev.

11:22 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

Moscow may run out of money next year, Russian oligarch says

From CNN's Olesya Dmitracova

Oleg Deripaska attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17.
Oleg Deripaska attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russia could find itself with no money as soon as next year and needs foreign investment, outspoken Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has said.

“There will be no money already next year, we need foreign investors,” he said at an economic conference in Siberia Thursday, according to comments reported by TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency.

The remarks from the billionaire — who called for an end to Moscow’s war in Ukraine in the early days of the conflict last year — contrast with a more upbeat assessment of Russia’s economic fortunes by President Vladimir Putin last week. Putin praised the resilience of the country’s economy in the face of unprecedented Western sanctions imposed in the past year.

More background: Russia’s economic output shrank 2.1% last year, according to a preliminary estimate from the government. The contraction was more limited than many economists initially predicted.

But cracks are starting to show — Russia is cutting oil production this month — and Western sanctions could escalate further. Ultimately, Russia’s economic prospects are contingent on what happens in Ukraine.

Foreign investors, especially from “friendly” countries, also have a big role to play, Deripaska said. Whether they will come depends on whether Russia can create the right conditions and make its markets attractive, he was quoted as saying.

In a bid to starve Russia of funds for its aggression, Western countries have announced more than 11,300 sanctions since the February 2022 invasion, and frozen some $300 billion of Russia’s foreign reserves.

But China has thrown the Kremlin an economic lifeline by buying Russian energy, replacing Western suppliers of machinery and base metals among other products, and providing an alternative to the US dollar.

Read more here.

1:36 p.m. ET, March 3, 2023

New Ukraine aid package expected to total approximately $400 million dollars, US officials say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 2, in Washington, DC.
John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 2, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A Ukraine security aid package worth approximately $400 million is expected to be announced Friday around the visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the White House, according to two US officials.

The package will include ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers and different artillery systems such as 155mm and 105mm. It will also include Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges for the first time, a system used to launch bridges to cross trenches and narrow water obstacles, the officials said. 

On Thursday, John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, said the US will announce another round of assistance to Ukraine, including ammunition for HIMARS and artillery, but he did not specify how much.

This security assistance will be drawn directly from US inventories under Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA), meaning the weapons and equipment can arrive in Ukraine quickly. Last week, the US announced $2 billion in aid under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which contracts with the industry to procure the supplies and takes more time.

Ukrainian officials have also been pushing to obtain US F-16 fighter jets, which President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have opposed so far. 

With the package expected Friday, the US will have committed more than $32 billion to Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion more than one year ago.

10:42 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

Ukraine's air force claims to have shot down Russian fighter jet in Donetsk region 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Vasco Cotovio 

The Ukrainian Air Force said Friday it has shot down a Russian fighter jet in the eastern Donetsk region. Russian state media is also reporting the incident, without specifying the model or ownership of the plane.

The Ukrainian Air Force claimed in a post published on its official Telegram channel that a Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber was shot down near the town of Yenakiieve, in the Donetsk Region. Yenakiieve is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city of Donetsk, inside territory controlled by Russian forces.

CNN is unable to verify the Ukrainian Air Force's claims about the model or ownership of the jet.  

"A plane has been shot down over the city. Everyone should leave the streets. We are investigating the situation," the mayor of Yenakiieve, Roman Khramenkov, said Friday on his official Telegram channel. 

A photo posted by the mayor shows black smoke rising in the sky not too far from several buildings in the city and the city's streets. 

Later, Khramenkov said he had visited the site of the plane crash, together with representatives from the police and emergency services. He said the current thaw is preventing access to the crashed plane, according to RIA Novosti. 

"The plane has crashed, there is smoke, it is on fire. We could see two pilots who ejected on parachutes," the mayor told Russian television, according to RIA Novosti. 

“No one is hurt on the ground because the crash site is a farm. Its owner says the plane is in the fields, in woodland. We are relying on his information. No one in the village or in the city has been affected," Khramenkov said.

9:38 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

Russia deploying most experienced units to Bakhmut amid intense fighting "in and around" city, Ukraine says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Vasco Cotovio in London

The Ukrainian military said “intense fighting is taking place in and around the city” of Bakhmut in the east, with Russian forces deploying their more experienced units.

“The Russian occupiers have sent the most trained units of the PMC Wagner and other regular units of the Russian army to capture the city. Intense fighting is taking place in and around the city,” the Ukrainian Army Land Forces said in a post highlighting the visit to the front line by the commander of the Eastern Group of Forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi. 

“In Bakhmut, the commander listened to the reports of the commanders on the situation in their subordinate units, and was informed about the problematic issues of improving the defense capability of our units on the front line,” the post read. 

According to the Ukrainian military, Russia continues to press in the hopes of “capturing Bakhmut and continues to accumulate forces to occupy the city.”

Earlier Friday: CNN reported that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia's mercenary group Wagner said that Bakhmut was "surrounded," and called on President Volodymyr Zelensky to order his forces to withdraw. Ukraine dismissed Prigozhin's remarks, calling it a "disinformation campaign."

8:59 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

What you need to know about the battle for Bakhmut as Russian fighters edge into the eastern city

From CNN's Rob Picheta

A view across the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on October 15.
A view across the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on October 15. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian forces are edging closer and closer to capturing the city of Bakhmut, after weeks of bloody fighting gradually wore down a resolute Ukrainian resistance. Here’s what you need to know about the battle for Bakhmut:

Why is Bakhmut in focus?

Bakhmut is not the sort of city Moscow had hoped to be fighting for in the second year of its invasion – it is a relatively small location in eastern Donetsk, which has remained out of reach of Russia’s sluggish ground campaign for many months.

Russian forces have been making incremental gains around the city, but Ukrainian forces are yet to retreat, creating a standoff that recalls drawn-out battles for other eastern cities such as Severodonetsk over the past year.

Bakhmut's capture would represent some military progress for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and give his forces the opportunity to launch aerial attacks on more urban areas further west.

What’s happening on the ground?

There are still around 4,500 civilians in Bakhmut, including 48 children, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Donetsk regional military administration Tetiana Ignatchenko told CNN on Wednesday. She called on people to evacuate the city due to the danger.

But Ukrainian troops have acknowledged that it is becoming harder to hold onto the city as the routes in from the west are squeezed by Russian forces, who have advanced both to the north and south of Bakhmut.

The Ukrainian military has also confirmed that Russian forces are employing more experienced fighters from the ranks of the Russian private military company Wagner as they attempt to capture the town.

What does Bakhmut mean for the war?

The city's capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow’s forces – and bring some limited strategic value. It has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka.

If the Russians can take the high ground to the west of the city, nearby industrial towns Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk would be at the mercy of their artillery and even longer range mortars. And it is unclear where exactly Ukrainian forces would fall back to should they retreat from the city.

It also matters to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been keen to show his men can deliver with the seizure of Soledar and now Bakhmut.

But experts say capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine, where little territory has changed hands in 2023.

CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych, Jessie Gretener, Eleanor Pickston, and Laura Ford contributed reporting

8:26 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

Founder of Wagner mercenary group calls on Ukraine's Zelensky to order Bakhmut withdrawal

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych, Allegra Goodwin and Gianluca Mezzofiore.

The founder of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin delivers a video message outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on March 3.
The founder of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin delivers a video message outside of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on March 3. (Telegram)

The founder and financier of the Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin says his forces have all but surrounded Bakhmut, and is calling on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to order a withdrawal from the Donetsk city.

"The PMC Wagner units have almost surrounded Bakhmut, there is only one road left," he said to Zelensky in a video filmed on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut and posted on his social media channels. "The pincers are tightening."

They [Ukrainian soldiers] are fighting, but their lives near Bakhmut are short - a day or two. Give them a chance to leave the city. The city is in fact surrounded," Prigozhin concluded.

Russian attempts at encircling the city seemed to have eased Thursday into Friday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, with focus shifting toward pushing Ukrainian forces to withdraw from the city.

What Kyiv is saying: Ukraine dismissed the video, with Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communication saying on Friday that "this is part of a disinformation campaign against the population of Ukraine to spread panic and provoke the top military and political leadership."

The organization highlighted that Prighozin’s video was filmed on the outskirts of Bakhmut and not inside the city – matching CNN’s geolocation and analysis.

“The Russian command avoids visiting the front line, and it is not the first time that Prigozhin has imitated being on the front line while actually being in the rear,” the center added.

8:14 a.m. ET, March 3, 2023

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet Biden on Friday after transformative year

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends press conference at an international conference of experts for reconstruction in Ukraine on October 25, in Berlin, Germany.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends press conference at an international conference of experts for reconstruction in Ukraine on October 25, in Berlin, Germany. (Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

A year ago, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last visited Washington, Russian forces hadn't yet crossed the border into Ukraine, and dire warnings from the White House about an imminent invasion were met with skepticism.

Scholz returns Friday for meetings with President Joe Biden after a transformative 12 months that required Europe to dramatically rethink its own security and Germany to undergo its most significant shift in military and energy policy in decades.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned Scholz — who took office two months before Russia’s invasion — into a crisis leader, overseeing Europe’s largest economy and most powerful democracy during the worst violence on the continent since World War II.

And it has thrust him and Biden into one of the world’s most consequential relationships, sustained by shared opposition to Russia’s invasion but strained at moments over how to respond.

White House officials say over the past year, Biden has developed a solid relationship with Scholz, who succeeded longtime chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of 2021. They spoke by phone three times in January alone, and during Friday’s session at the White House they are expected to speak extensively one-on-one in the Oval Office.

The overwhelming topic of discussion will be Ukraine, according to senior administration officials, including discussions the two men have each held recently with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is pressuring the West for more powerful weapons as he prepares for a spring counteroffensive against Russia.

They could also touch on recent intelligence suggesting China is considering providing Russia with lethal aid, a step US officials fear could prolong the conflict, though China won’t be a “driving focus” of the talks.