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February 11, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Matt Meyer and Adrienne Vogt, CNN
Zelensky took his pitch to the EU this week. Here's what you need to know about the visit
From CNN Staff
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's trip to meet with European world leaders this week included deeply emotional appeals and careful statesmanship.
Zelensky campaigned for his nation's priorities, including securing more military firepower from allies and Ukraine's long-sought accession to the European Union.
Here are some of the major takeaways from the president's wartime trip abroad:
A focus on fighter jets: Now that Kyiv has secured pledges for more than 300 modern battle tanks, Zelensky is pushing for another potent addition to his arsenal: Western fighter jets.
That started with the Ukrainian leader's surprise visit to London, which came a day before his Thursday trip to Brussels to meet with the EU Council. Zelensky presented the speaker of the House of Commons with the helmet of a fighter pilot, signed with a message: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.”
Ukraine's allies have expressed varying levels of openness to delivering the aircraft, including Poland, which has pledged to send the planes if other countries do, too. France and the Netherlands are among the nations that have said they're considering the request.
Zelensky expressed optimism about the pitch, but behind closed doors, he is likely being warned that without a fully functioning air defense system, NATO’s expensive fighter jets could be easy prey for the Russians, and that any fighter jet commitment needs to be sequenced with better air defense.
A pitch to join the EU: Zelensky made a heartfelt appeal to lawmakers in Brussels to allow his country to become part of the European Union, insisting that Europe is Ukraine’s “home.”
During an address to the European Parliament, Zelensky said his country and the EU share the same values, and that the “European standard of life” and the “European rules of life” are “when the law rules.”
“This is our Europe, these are our rules, this is our way of life. And for Ukraine, it’s a way home, a way to its home,” Zelensky said, referencing Ukraine’s aim to join the EU.
Ukraine has been given candidate status – a significant step on the path to full EU membership – but the process of admission to the alliance takes about five years on average. Some eastern European countries have waited as long as 10 years.
Allies' reception: Zelensky received a standing ovation as he walked into the chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday.
"We have your back," European Parliament President Roberta Metsola told Zelensky as she introduced him for his address. "Freedom will prevail."
Other world leaders reiterated their support for the Ukrainian cause this week after holding bilateral meetings with Zelensky, from the Dutch prime minister to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The precise results of the president's diplomatic blitz remain to be seen.
Zelensky dismisses deputy commander of Ukraine's National Guard
From CNN's Mariya Knight
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed the deputy commander of the National Guard of Ukraine, Ruslan Dzyuba, on Saturday.
A decree was published on the president’s website without any further details.
Government turnover: The move is the latest leadership shakeup in Zelensky's government. While no cause for Dzyuba's dismissal was given, the turnover has overall been viewed as an attempt to root out corruption and improve the country's bid for admission to the European Union.
The president's deputy chief of staff, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, announced his resignation late last month.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, deputy prosecutor general, deputy ministers of regional development and deputy minister of social policy have all been asked to resign or have quit in recent weeks.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov is also facing rumors that he could be replaced, though the country's parliamentary leader has said that he would not be replaced this week.
See the latest map of control in Ukraine
From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London and Maria Kostenko and Tim Lister in Kyiv
Russia unleashed a barrage of strikes across Ukraine from Thursday into Friday, particularly targeting the southern city of Zaporizhzhia and the northeastern Kharkiv region, according to Ukrainian officials.
On Friday, Russian military propagandist and blogger Igor Girkin said in a Telegram post that a Russian "defeat near Vuhledar is already widely known" while criticizing military generals.
Intense battles continue for control of the strategic eastern town, which is southwest of the city of Donetsk. The Russians want to push the Ukrainians away from an important rail link that can be shelled from Vuhledar.
On Friday, the Russian-installed head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, claimed that Russian forces are evacuating residents of Vuhledar to Volnovakha. But the town itself is still held by Ukrainian forces, with Russian units in some settlements to the south.
Here's the most up-to-date map of control:
Ukraine military claims to destroy 20 Iranian drones during Russian attack
From Denis Lapin, Josh Pennington and CNN's Amy Cassidy
Ukrainian forces claim to have shot down 20 Iranian-made drones on Friday during a barrage of Russian attacks across the country, defense officials said Saturday.
The Air Force of Ukraine said in a statement that it destroyed 20 Iranian-made Shahed-136 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) launched by Russian forces from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov from 6 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. local time Friday.
Iran has given Russia hundreds of drones to use in its war in Ukraine, many of which have targeted Ukraine's power grid and energy facilities to devastating effect.
Russia also launched 106 missiles in “massive” waves of countrywide attacks on Friday, “particularly at civilian infrastructure,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement Saturday.
“During the attack, the enemy used 32 S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles and 74 air and sea-launched cruise missiles, 61 of which were destroyed by our defenders,” it continued, adding that Russian forces “also fired more than 90 times from multiple launch rocket systems.”
CNN is unable to independently verify these reports.
Moscow condemns call to ban Russian athletes from Olympics
From Darya Tarasova and Manveena Suri
Russia’s sports minister criticized Ukraine’s call to ban Russian athletes from the 2024 Paris Olympics, saying it is "unacceptable."
“An attempt to dictate the conditions for the participation of athletes in international competitions is absolutely unacceptable,” Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Saturday.
He added there had been a “direct intervention” by ministers in the activities of independent international sports organizations, naming the International Olympics Committee and international federations.
"Now we see an undisguised desire to destroy the unity of international sport and the international Olympic movement to make sport a means of pressure to resolve political issues,” Matytsin said, adding it was better to “do everything necessary so that sport is an ambassador of peace and builds bridges between nations.”
The International Olympic Committee outlined a multi-step plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at the upcoming games as neutrals. “No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC’s executive board said.
The IOC earlier this month said it would stand by sanctions imposed on both countries following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has decried what it called "defamatory" statements.
Russian and Belarusian athletes are currently banned by many sporting federations following a previous recommendation by the IOC.
What Ukraine says: Ukrainian government officials and star athletes like Ukrainian tennis star and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina have called for Russian athletes to be banned from qualifying for the upcoming Games.
Where other countries stand: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland have condemned efforts by the IOC to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international competition after banning them when Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.
The United Kingdom opposes Russian or Belarusian athletes competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesperson said on Wednesday, according to PA Media.
The White House does not object to allowing athletes from Russia or Belarus from taking part in the 2024 Summer Games and 2026 Winter Games — as long as it is "absolutely clear" that they are not representing their home countries, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said.
Power output of 2 Ukrainian nuclear plants reduced as a precaution after shelling, UN nuclear watchdog says
From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Lauren Kent
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it was informed by Ukraine's energy regulator on Friday that the power output at two nuclear power plants was reduced as a precaution after sustained Russian shelling.
The IAEA said in a statement that the power plants in Rivne and in southern Ukraine "had reduced power output as a precautionary measure due to renewed shelling of the country’s energy infrastructure."
The shelling of a third plant — the Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant in western Ukraine — caused one of the plant's reactor units to "shut down," continued the statement. The UN watchdog added that its own support and assistance missions present on the ground had confirmed that "all nuclear safety systems at Khmelnytskyi worked as expected."
Talks with Russia: IAEA chief Rafael Grossi held talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow this week. According to the IAEA, the talks were part of the lengthy efforts to "agree and implement a much-needed nuclear safety and security protection zone around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP)."
The UN watchdog said it has been unable to rotate its team of experts present in the plant in southern Ukraine due to "increased military activity."
After meeting on Thursday with the head of Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev, and an intergovernmental group of the Russian Federation, Grossi met representatives from the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday, according to the statement.
As the meetings wrapped, Grossi said he remained hopeful that the safety zone will be established while acknowledging it should've been done earlier. He also raised the idea of the zone during recent talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, according to the IAEA statement.
“The situation around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant remains volatile and unpredictable, as it is an active combat zone. The postponement of the planned rotation demonstrates all too clearly the need for urgent measures to protect the plant and the people working there,” Grossi stressed.
Biden to visit Poland near one-year anniversary of war in Ukraine
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
President Joe Biden will visit Poland this month to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, returning to the region as the war enters a volatile new phase without a clear path to peace.
The president is planning to visit Poland from February 20 to 22. The White House said he would meet Poland's President Duda and other leaders from the region. He'll deliver remarks ahead of the official anniversary on February 24.
Biden’s aides have been planning for several weeks how they will mark the anniversary of the invasion, including potentially a major address. They hope to emphasize the resilience of the Ukrainian people while stressing the importance of unity in the uncertain months ahead.
The US president hopes to reiterate American support for Ukraine on his upcoming trip to the region, a top White House official said, including making clear additional assistance would be forthcoming.
“He wants to talk about the importance of the international community's resolve and unity in supporting Ukraine for now going on a year,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.
Preparing for an offensive: Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky is currently preparing for an expected Russian offensive in the spring, appealing to Western governments for additional assistance and weaponry — including fighter jets and tanks — to help sustain the fight. He visited London, Paris and Brussels this week to deliver his requests in person, a rare trip outside his country that lent his appeals new urgency.
Some background: Polish President Andrzej Duda said allied relations are “stronger than ever” after the White House's announcement.
Biden last visited Poland, a key NATO ally, in April, traveling near the Ukraine border to visit with US and Polish troops. He also met with refugees fleeing Ukraine after the invasion.
In a speech delivered from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden said for the first time that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” edging toward calling for regime change in Moscow.
Ukrainian and Russian officials report series of explosions in Russian-occupied city of Melitopol
From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Lauren Kent
The Russian-occupied city of Melitopol was hit with a series of explosions on Friday night, according to both Ukrainian and pro-Russian officials.
Ukrainian forces have repeatedly struck Melitopol in the last several weeks in an effort to reclaim land in the south of the country and underline the importance of longer-range weaponry.
Vladimir Rogov, a member of the region's pro-Russian military-civilian administration, said on Telegram that "a series of explosions were heard in the city for the second time this evening," adding that the Russian Armed Forces air defense system was working to combat the attacks.
Rogov claimed the Armed Forces of Ukraine were striking the city with heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems. He said that "fragments of downed rockets" hit private residential houses.
"There is damage, and fire broke out at the site of the shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces of the residential area of the city. There are casualties," Rogov said. "Information on casualties and destruction is being clarified."
Meanwhile, Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, said in a Telegram post on Friday that the southern city was shuddering from powerful explosions.
"The power of incoming hits is such that the windows are shaking," he said.