February 16, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:53 a.m. ET, February 17, 2023
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6:00 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

US looking at weapons that Ukraine may need now and in the future, State Department official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland spoke during a virtual discussion held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland spoke during a virtual discussion held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

The United States is not only looking at the weapons it will provide to Ukraine for the battlefield right now, but also what they will need for continued deterrence whenever the war ends, a top State Department official said Thursday.

“We're looking at not just what Ukraine is going to need for this immediate fight, but we're also thinking about — with the Ukrainians — the Ukrainian military of the future,” said Victoria Nuland, the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

She would not speak to specific capabilities that the US might provide in the near future or longer term when asked by CNN if the US would provide jets or Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) anytime soon.

However, Nuland suggested that such types of equipment could be provided to be used for deterrence.

“Some of the things that you were talking about, if you think about a military that we'll need whenever this stops and however it stops, to be able to deter Russia from coming back again, they're going to have to have the sophisticated enduring air defense. They're going to have to have much stronger border defenses and the ability to ensure Russia can't invade again. They're going to have to have better radars and early warning,” she said.

Nuland said that the US is also thinking about ensuring that even if the conflict stops, there isn't a repeat, referencing Putin's invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

“We must never trust as long as Vladimir Putin is in power or somebody like him, that this is truly over,” she said. “So even if there is a just peace, there has to be a long-term plan and a building of the Ukrainian military of the future so that they can be deterring of any future appetite that Putin might have."

6:04 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Zelensky rules out conceding territory in potential future peace deal with Russia, he tells BBC News

From CNN's Allegra Goodwin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would not agree to give up any Ukrainian territory in a potential future peace deal with Russia, he said in an interview with BBC News, warning it could lead Russia to "keep coming back."

"Any territorial compromises would make us weaker as a state," Zelensky told BBC News. "It's not about compromise itself. Why would we fear that? There are millions of compromises in life. The question is with whom? Compromise with Putin? No. Because there's no trust."

Zelensky also told BBC News a spring offensive, warned of by Kyiv officials, had already begun.

"Russian attacks are already happening from several directions," Zelensky said.

He also responded to comments made at a Thursday news conference by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in which Lukashenko insisted he would not send troops into Ukraine unless Belarus itself is attacked.

 "I hope [Belarus] won't join [the war]," Zelensky told BBC News. "If it does, we will fight and we will survive."

Zelensky added it would be a "huge mistake" to allow Russia to use Belarus as a staging area for an attack.

5:33 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

World Health Organization Europe chief is amazed at the resilience of the Ukrainian health system

From CNN’s Amy Cassidy, Isa Soares and Laura Ford

Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's European director, hailed Ukraine’s health system Thursday for not succumbing to collapse and disease outbreak as predicted when Russia invaded the country one year ago.

Kluge recalled “a lot of pessimistic” projections last year, including that “the health system will collapse” and there would be “an explosion of Covid-19, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS”.

“All of that did not happen,” he said, speaking on his fifth visit to Ukraine over the past year.

He credits healthcare workers and international support for the reason why the system is so resilient and still standing.

The mental health toll of the war is huge, he said, and international efforts “need to be doubled” to facilitate community-based training of primary healthcare doctors to treat mental health at a local level.

Kluge’s visit to Ukraine was focused on delivering the health organization's “largest humanitarian donation in its history,” which included 59 immunization buses mobilized to deliver vaccinations to children. 

4:44 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

"The further liberation of our land is a priority," Zelensky says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv 

(Office of the Ukrainian President)
(Office of the Ukrainian President)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that a priority is moving forward with the liberation of Ukrainian land. 

"Holding the situation at the front and preparing for any escalation steps of the enemy is a priority for the near future," Zelensky said in his daily address where he detailed his meeting with the supreme commander-in-chief's staff and regional commanders.  "Moving forward with the further liberation of our land is a priority that we are carefully preparing," he added. 

Zelensky also thanked the Ukrainian Air Force, which he said downed half of the missiles and drones that Russia used in its attack on Thursday. 

4:38 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Wagner mercenary force members appeal to Russian defense ministry for more weaponry

From Uliana Pavlova and Lauren Kent. Translated by Olga Betko

Artillerymen from the private military contractor Wagner released a video on Thursday appealing to the Russian defense ministry for more ammunition to fight in Ukraine. 

"Every day we fulfill complex combat tasks and provide cover for our assault groups. At the moment we are completely cut off from ammunition supplies," one mercenary said in the video posted on Telegram, noting a shortage of howitzer ammunition, anti-tank gun ammunition, and mortars. 

The Telegram video and caption did not give any details about the location of the Wagner fighters.

"We are appealing to our colleagues and friends from the Ministry of Defense. We are sure that you’ve got ammunition somewhere in warehouses," the Wagner fighter said. "But we need them urgently."

"We would be hugely grateful if you provide assistance to us — if you help us and supply these types of ammunition,. A huge amount of people will survive and be able to continue taking part in the fighting, and this will have an impact on the whole course of the war," the fighter said. "We'll slave away this labor for you, we'll do the job. Help us with ammunition!"

The mercenary group has emerged as a key player in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been using the shadowy private company to supply thousands of Wagner forces — many recruited from prisons – to wage war in eastern Ukraine. 

In response to the video, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin called the artillerymen "wonderful fighters" and heroes and urged the defense ministry to deliver. 

"Pay attention to the fact that these wonderful fighters are heroes who die for our Motherland, they did not call anyone indecent words, and in no way discredited the Ministry of Defense," Prigozhin said, responding to questions from the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Grey Zone. "They simply asked their colleagues for ammunition and gave a detailed list of what was needed. I can say that it has already brought some results."

The defense ministry has not yet publicly responded to the demand. 

Prigozhin has routinely leveled scathing public criticism at Russian military officials in recent months for their failures in Ukraine. 

CNN's Mick Krever contributed to this report.

4:21 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

Israel will expand aid provided to Ukraine, foreign minister says

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and Lauren Kent in London

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that Israel "will expand the level of aid" provided to Ukraine and assist the country in "developing a smart early warning system," during his visit to Kyiv Thursday.

"I emphasized that Israel strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Cohen tweeted following his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "I assured him that Israel would expand the level of aid we provide and that we would be partners in the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war."

Cohen also held a briefing with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in which he said, "I was happy to update that we will assist in developing a smart early warning system for Ukraine."

Additionally, Cohen reopened the Israeli embassy in Kyiv for the first time since the beginning of the war.

"Israel has always been our important partner in the Middle East. This is the first visit of an Israeli representative since the beginning of the full-scale invasion," Zelensky said in a Telegram post on Thursday. "We discussed deepening bilateral cooperation in various areas. I invite Israel to join the implementation of our Peace Formula."

View Cohen's tweet:

2:56 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

British opposition leader Starmer visits Kyiv, pledging UK's support even if government changes

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Amy Cassidy in London

Zelensky welcomes Starmer on Thursday, February 16.
Zelensky welcomes Starmer on Thursday, February 16. (Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the UK’s opposition Labour party leader to Kyiv on Thursday.

“One of our priorities today is to further strengthen support for Ukraine from our partners and allies, among whom the United Kingdom is one of the key ones,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram. “That is why the visit of the leader of the Labour Party and the Official Opposition of the United Kingdom, Keir Starmer, is very important."

Starmer visited Bucha and Irpin, both on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Thursday.

“It is very important for me to be here in Ukraine, with the people of Ukraine, making clear that support for Ukraine in the United Kingdom is united — making it absolutely clear that, should there be an election next year and a change of government, the position on Ukraine will remain the same,” the opposition leader said. 

Britain's next general election is not scheduled until 2025. However, calls to hold an early ballot have sustained since the ruling Conservative party’s turmoil last year.  

2:49 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

White House previews Biden's trip to Poland to mark one year of Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN's Allie Malloy

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on February 16.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on February 16. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The White House said US President Joe Biden plans to send a message of solidarity when he visits Poland next week around the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shared details about the trip Thursday after being asked about public concerns among US citizens over how much aid is being spent on the war. Jean-Pierrex did not directly answer the question, instead previewing the trip to reporters.

“We’re going to show that unity. We’re going to show that support. We’re going to show that it is important to be there when a country is fighting for their democracy, fighting for their sovereignty," Jean-Pierre said. "And that’s what you’re going to see from the president.”

Asked whether Biden’s speech in Poland next week is intended for a global audience, or whether it is intended to boost American support for the war, Jean-Pierre answered only generally, saying: “any time the president speaks, he is speaking as well to the American people.” 

“Look this is going to be the one-year. He’s going there ahead of the one-year anniversary and sending a strong message of solidarity. And the president understands — to reaffirm our support for the Ukrainian people as they’re fighting back against a brutal war that Russia started almost a year ago,” Jean Pierre said.

“And the president believes it’s important to show that solidarity. Important to show our partnership and how — and that we are indeed supporting our NATO allies. And so, that’s what you’re going to see.”

2:17 p.m. ET, February 16, 2023

EU lawmakers urge leaders to seriously consider providing Ukraine with fighter jets

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels and Amy Cassidy in London

European leaders must “seriously consider” providing Kyiv with fighter jets, lawmakers in the European Union parliament said in a resolution adopted Thursday.

The resolution marked nearly one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“They reaffirm their support for providing military assistance to Ukraine for as long as is necessary and call for serious consideration to be given to delivering Western fighter jets and helicopters, appropriate missile systems and substantial increases in munitions delivery to Kyiv,” according to a satement. 

“Ukraine must not only be able to defend itself, but also to regain full control of its entire internationally recognised territory," it added.

The resolution, which is non-binding, also calls on the EU to implement a tenth package of sanctions against Moscow by the end of February and to tighten those already in place. Assets seized from Russian oligarchs should be used to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction, lawmakers said. 

The legislators also urged the European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — and national governments to begin talks with Ukraine this year on Ukraine's bid for EU membership.

Russian response: The Russian Mission to the EU slammed the parliament’s resolution as a “paragon of disinformation” unsupported by “data, facts or evidence,” in a statement posted on its website.

"Obviously, the resolution is aimed at deliberately misleading the European public and trying to justify the European Union's course to escalate the Ukrainian conflict and increase sanctions pressure on our country," the mission said.

Moscow has faced constant diplomatic pressure from the EU, including economic sanctions, since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine.

More background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took his plea for the supply of Western fighter jets directly to other European countries last week, including in a surprise visit to London and at a European Union summit.

Ukrainian pilots will start training on NATO jets in the United Kingdom soon, but it's unclear how soon allies could make a decision on whether to send the modern fighting planes.

NATO's secretary general said Tuesday that the question of sending modern fighter jets to Ukraine is "not the most urgent issue" right now, focusing instead on delivering the military support it has already committed to Ukraine.