February 17, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Amy Woodyatt, Hannah Strange, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer, Tori B. Powell and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT) February 18, 2023
29 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
4:41 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

More than 30,000 Wagner fighters have been wounded or killed in Ukraine, US estimates

From CNN's Sam Fossum

The US government estimates the private military company Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, including roughly 9,000 fighters killed, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

About half of those 9,000 have been killed since mid-December, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. And about 90% of those killed in December were recruited from Russian prisons.

The group has relied heavily on convicts to fill out its ranks. "That doesn't show any signs of abating," Kirby said Friday, though Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed last week that he will no longer recruit from prisons.

"They're treating their recruits, largely convicts, as basically cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here, inhuman ways without a second thought," Kirby said. "Men that he just plucked out of prisons and threw on the battlefield with no training, no equipping, no organizational command, just throw them into the fight."

Recently, Wagner suffered heavy casualties in the intense fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Kirby said Russia made "incremental gains" in and around the city as the fighting intensified over the last several days. He said the US cannot predict whether Russia will break through.

Even if they do, Kirby said the city holds "no real strategic value," because the US believes Ukraine would maintain its strong defensive lines across the broader Donbas region.

6:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

Top US diplomat expresses deep concern about Russia plotting against Moldova

From CNN's Michael Conte 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a bilateral meeting with Moldovan President Maia Sandu during the Munich Security Conference on February 17.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a bilateral meeting with Moldovan President Maia Sandu during the Munich Security Conference on February 17. (Petr David Josek/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the US has “deep concern” about Russia's efforts to destabilize the government of Moldova.

This comes as Moldova President Maia Sandu said earlier this week that Russia was plotting a coup in Moldova.

“We have deep concern about some of the plotting that we’ve seen coming from Russia to try to destabilize the government,” Blinken said at a meeting with Sandu in Germany on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “We stand strongly with Moldova in support of its security, its independence, its territorial integrity, the very important reform efforts that the president and the government are making."

Sandu described 2022 as an “incredibly difficult year for Moldova” and thanked the US for its support with its myriad challenges, including with energy, the economy and security.

Why Moldova is important: Moldova, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was previously part of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a handful of “frozen conflict” zones in eastern Europe emerged, including a slither of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine known as Transnistria.

The territory declared itself a Soviet republic in 1990, opposing any attempt by Moldova to become an independent state or to merge with Romania. When Moldova became independent the following year, Russia quickly inserted itself as a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops in to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

This supposed “peacekeeping” presence, which has in practice seen the Kremlin prop up a puppet state that seeks to undermine Moldova’s sovereignty, has also mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

Alarm bells in Moldova and the West grew louder following familiar refrains from the Kremlin that the rights of ethnic Russians were being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, which contained two breakaway Russian-backed statelets.

In the context of the war today, the Russian-backed separatist enclave at the southwestern edge of the country could now present a potential bookend to any Russian assault westwards from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

2:13 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

Biden will meet with Polish president and other NATO leaders in Warsaw next week, White House says

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US P (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda during his trip next week to thank him for the military and humanitarian assistance Warsaw has provided to Ukraine, the White House said.

The president will also deliver remarks and meet with the Bucharest Nine, the group of Eastern flank NATO allies, John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said. 

 The trip "comes at an important moment" as Russia's invasion of Ukraine reaches the one-year mark, Kirby said.

Biden meets with Duda on Tuesday morning.  

"President Biden will thank President Duda and, in fact, the Polish people for the $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian assistance that they have provided to Ukraine over the past year. And for all the efforts that the Polish people have done to generously welcome more than one and a half million refugees from Ukraine," Kirby said.  

During his meeting with leaders of the Bucharest Nine on Wednesday, Biden will "reaffirm the United States' unwavering support," according to Kirby.

1:31 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

Pentagon says first group of Ukrainians completed training at US base in Germany

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The first group of Ukrainian soldiers completed training at a United States base in Germany, the Pentagon said. A second group is already underway in the five-week course that will teach the troops maneuver, medical and basic soldier training.

The first group of 635 Ukrainians wrapped up the course at Grafenwoehr Training Area, according to a statement from Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, where the US conducts its own combined arms and maneuver training. The Ukrainian battalion also trained on the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. 

More on the training: The training began in mid-January, part of an expanded US program to prepare Ukrainian forces to fight. Previously, the US had offered smaller-scale training on individual weapons systems, such as HIMARS rocket launchers. The transition to battalion-level training marked a significant expansion of the US effort to train and prepare Ukrainians for a long-term war.  

A second group of 710 Ukrainian forces has already begun training at Grafenwoehr, Ryder said. The troops will train on the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and the M109 Paladin, a self-propelled howitzer that the US recently announced it will send to Ukraine.

In addition, another 890 Ukrainian troops will begin training on Stryker fighting vehicles next week. 

1:15 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

US should give Ukrainians "everything they need to win this thing," House Foreign Affairs chair says

From CNN's Andrew Millman

Texas congressman Michael McCaul.
Texas congressman Michael McCaul. (CNN)

Republican Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who chairs the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Kaitlan Collins on CNN This Morning that the United States should give Ukrainians "everything they need to win this thing."

"We can’t wait," McCaul said while speaking from the Munich Security Conference in Germany. He reiterated Ukraine's call for Western fighter jets and more advanced weaponry ahead of a Russian offensive.

"Time only errs on the side of Putin. It’s his goal to delay this for as long as possible, for many reasons,” McCaul argued, cautioning that “the sooner we can bring this to a closing the better, as we look at the will of the American people and the Congress.”

When asked if he thought the new Russian offensive had begun yet, McCaul responded, “I do think it’s going to start soon. I know that the new general that Putin put in place is there to launch a major offensive,” continuing that “Putin does look at dates. I think February 24th, the one-year anniversary may be a target date. We just heard from the Supreme Allied Commander in a private briefing I had with him, that it could be as late as the springtime, late springtime, for this offensive.”

McCaul said he asked in the aforementioned meeting about more air-to-surface aircraft for Ukraine and US Army Gen. Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme allied commander, “agreed with that assessment, as well as longer range artillery to hit the Iranian drones in Crimea, which currently Ukraine does not have, but they desperately need."

When asked if he believes he could get another round of funding for Ukraine passed in this Congress, McCaul replied, “I believe so. It would have to be bipartisan” he said, because “there are fringes on the far-left and -right who disagree with this conflict and assisting and helping Ukraine win this fight for democracy and freedom, but the majority of the majority still support this effort."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to assure the audience at the conference that top Republicans currently in Washington are committed to US global leadership despite a mixed message that may have come from former President Donald Trump, who he didn’t cite by name.

The Kentucky Republican went on to pledge GOP support for NATO, Ukraine, and boosting military spending and argued Republicans are making a stronger rhetorical case day to day about those issues that President Joe Biden is. He also chided European allies and said they must “mirror” the commitment the US is making said they have not been “uniformly generous towards Ukraine.” He urged them to prepare to counter the robust threats coming China and Russia and to quickly admit Finland and Sweden into NATO. 

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed reporting to this post.

11:44 a.m. ET, February 17, 2023

US Vice President Harris and France's Macron pledge support for Ukraine at Munich Security Conference

From CNN's DJ Judd

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands as they meet during the Munich Security Conference on February 17.
US Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron shake hands as they meet during the Munich Security Conference on February 17. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

US Vice President Kamala Harris greeted French President Emanuel Macron ahead of a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference Friday.

The meeting is aimed at highlighting the two nations’ commitment to providing military aid to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion nearly one year ago.

“It is good to see you again, we have talked about so many issues of the moment and future, over the course of our visits,” Harris told the French president. “And to see you again here in Munich, and talk about, as a priority, our commitment, as a partner, to the people of Ukraine and many other issues. This is part of our continuing conversation that is the testament to the friendship and the partnership over many generations, including today.” 

For his part, Macron thanked Harris for her hospitality during his visit to Washington, DC, last year.

Neither Harris nor Macron responded to questions from the media on Russia or on the US Inflation Reduction Act, which France has criticized.

12:00 p.m. ET, February 17, 2023

German chancellor warns "to be prepared for a long war"

From CNN’s Duarte Mendonca in London and Claire Calzonetti in New York

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at Germany’s annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 17.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at Germany’s annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 17. (CNN)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday that it is “wise to be prepared for a long war” in Ukraine, adding that Kyiv's allies will remain together for the duration.

“I think it is wise to be prepared for a long war and it is wise to give Putin the message that we are ready to just stay all the time together with Ukraine, and that we will constantly support the country,” Scholz told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at Germany’s annual Munich Security Conference.

“The really important decision we should take all together is saying that we are willing to do it as long as necessary, and that we will do our best,” the chancellor said.

Scholz, while avoiding committing to an end target date for the war, said the unity among Ukrainian allies has surprised Putin.

“I'm absolutely sure that Putin never expected that there would be that united Europe, and that there would be that united world. He never thought that the transatlantic partnership would work that good,” he said.

Scholz singled out the United States for their continuous and vital support.

"We just do it together with our friends and partners, and especially with the United States,” Scholz said, adding that he really appreciates his government's “strong alliance” with the US.

On arming Ukraine: Amanpour asked Scholz about the deployment of more German-made Leopard 2 tanks on the ground in Ukraine.

Scholz said more would be deployed “very soon,” together with trained soldiers, but he warned that many of Ukraine’s partners aren’t able to deliver the most modern models of the fighting vehicles.

“I learned many are not able to deliver the most modern things ... but in the ones they are delivering we will give the support as well," Scholz said. "And as you know, there is also a big number of older tanks which we will deliver."

Confronted on concerns over dwindling ammunition stockpiles, Scholz stressed the need for a “permanent production of the most important weapons,” including ammunition.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius was also present at Friday's meetings, saying the Munich conference is "more important than ever," given the Russian invasion.

“From the beginning, the security conference has always been a place of understanding and dialogue. What is new is that this is now taking place at the same time as a war of aggression is being waged on European soil by Russia against Ukraine," Pistorius said. "That raises the stakes for the conference even higher."

CNN’s Inke Kappeler contributed to this report from Berlin.

10:47 a.m. ET, February 17, 2023

Bipartisan group of US lawmakers urges Biden to send fighter jets to Ukraine

From CNN's Lauren Fox

An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies by at the Nevada Test and Training Range September 14, 2007.
An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies by at the Nevada Test and Training Range September 14, 2007. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A group of five bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to US President Joe Biden, requesting his administration send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The effort by members likely won’t change anything or impact the administration’s decisions in what it sends to Ukraine, but it comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war’s start and President Joe Biden's trip to Poland.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine; Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Texas; Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado; Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania; and Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin. 

“It is in that spirit of leadership and support that we write to respectfully request that your Administration provide Ukraine with increased air superiority capability, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft requested by Kiev, or similar fourth-generation aircraft, as soon as possible. The provision of such aircraft is necessary to help Ukraine protect its airspace, particularly in light of renewed Russian offensives and considering the expected increase in large-scale combat operations,” the letter says.

Some background: Since securing pledges for hundreds of modern battle tanks from Western allies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has turned his attention to modern fighting planes.

It was a key element of his pitches during visits to London and a European Union summit last week.

Asked last month whether the US would be providing the US-made F-16 to Ukraine, Biden responded with a flat “no,” though he later said talks with Kyiv about weapon supplies are ongoing.

10:18 a.m. ET, February 17, 2023

Belarus ready to start production of Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft, Lukashenko says

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Belarus is ready to launch the production of Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft, which "have proved to be efficient in Ukraine," Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting Friday, according to Belarus state news agency BelTA.

“As I was informed by the government, they are ready for the production of the Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft that have proved to be efficient in Ukraine. We are even ready to produce them in Belarus if the Russian Federation provides a little bit of technological support,” Lukashenko told Putin, according to BelTA. 

“You once raised the question of cooperation in aircraft production in the Eurasian Economic Union," Lukashenko said, according to BelTA. "So I should tell you that the Belarusians are already producing up to a thousand component parts for the MC-21 [Russia's medium-range narrow-body passenger aircraft] and Sukhoi Superjet 100 [Russia's short-range narrow-body passenger aircraft]."

"We have three factories: two military and one civilian. They used to be repair shops. Today they produce component parts,” Lukashenko said, according to BelTA.

The two met Friday at Putin's official residence in Novo-Ogaryovo in the Moscow region, according to the Kremlin. 

Lukashenko claimed on Thursday there is “no way” his country would send troops into Ukraine unless it is attacked, and said Russia has “never asked” him to start a joint war in Ukraine.

Speaking at a small gathering of journalists from international media, including CNN, at Minsk’s Palace of Independence, Lukashenko ducked questions from international media about his country’s complicity in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead blamed the West for escalating the conflict by sending weapons to Ukraine. 

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen and Zahra Ullah contributed to this post.