February 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2330 GMT (0730 HKT) February 18, 2023
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2:24 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Blinken says US wants to ensure lasting peace in Ukraine by guarding against future Russian aggression

From CNN's Duarte Mendonca

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that his government has a “profound stake” in a “just and durable” peace in Ukraine. 

“Any peace has to be consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter," Blinken said during a discussion panel at the Munich Security Conference.

And, the top US diplomat said, it's in the best interest of countries around the world to make sure the outcome doesn't somehow validate Russia's move to seize territory by force.

"If we do that, we will open a Pandora's box around the world, and every would-be aggressor will conclude that, 'If Russia got away with it, we can get away with it,'" Blinken said. "And that's not in anyone's interest, because it's a recipe for a world of conflict."

Joined in a debate panel by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken went on to assert that a durable peace means Ukraine will have the tools to stop aggression before it escalates in the future. 

“We have to do everything in our power to make sure that Russia won't simply repeat the exercise a year, five years later,” Blinken said. 

“So even as we're doing everything we can to provide Ukraine with the assistance it needs now to deal with the Russian aggression, we have to be thinking — and we are — about what the post-war future looks like to ensure that we have security and stability for Ukrainians, and security and stability in Europe,” he added. 

Later during the discussion, the US Secretary of State reiterated his country’s commitment to helping Ukraine during the war against Russia, noting "the unprecedented assistance" that's been provided and "an enduring commitment" to help Ukraine's defense long term.

Blinken added that the US has "no doubt at all about Ukraine's victory and success."

"And there's a simple, powerful reason for that — irrespective of anything else, including the support that we're providing," he said. "The biggest single difference is that Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, for their future, for their land. The Russians are not, and that will be the biggest thing." 

11:15 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

CIA director says intelligence sharing on Russia has been "essential" in coalition to support Ukraine

From CNN’s DJ Judd

CIA Director Bill Burns said intelligence sharing with NATO allies has been critical to holding together a coalition in support of Ukraine over the past year.

“I think the intelligence sharing that we engage in — and it's a two-way street; we've learned a lot from our NATO partners, we learn a lot from the Ukrainians as well — I think has been the kind of essential cement in the coalition that (US President Joe Biden) has organized,” Burns said during a panel at a Saturday session of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“It's a constant day-by-day challenge, to be able to work as hard as we can across the US intelligence community with (NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Christopher Cavoli) and our partners in Europe to make sure that we have the clearest picture possible across the alliance," the CIA director said.

The US puts a premium on sharing with its partners "in a very quick and systematic way,” Burns added. 

Republican Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also offered praise for Burns and the intelligence community for ensuring intel on Russia is up to date.

“I just want to give ... Director Burns credit for the fact that we had sort of taken our eye off the ball with respect to Russia, we had sort of moved on, and we didn't have as much resources directed toward Russia as the Ukraine issue was unfolding,” Turner said. “And Director Burns, along with the Department of Defense and the director of National Intelligence had to really pull together, including our allies, new information and new critical analytical scrutiny of what we could find."

11:07 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Ukrainian authorities report more Russian attacks in Luhansk and Kharkiv regions

From Maria Kostenko and Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

The eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Kharkiv faced more attacks from Russian forces Saturday, as newly drafted Russian soldiers appear to be replacing Wagner fighters, local military leaders said.

“The number of the Wagners has significantly decreased nowadays compared to what we saw a few months ago. Most likely they were killed in the Bakhmut and Soledar sectors,” Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, wrote on Telegram.

“We are seeing new units of mobilized personnel who are coming in after several months of training. They are the ones who are going on the offensive now,” he said. 

Hayday added that the eastern city of Kreminna is one of the areas seeing the most fighting, saying that "the overall situation is difficult but fully controlled. The number of attacks and shelling of our positions has indeed increased."

Russian forces are jamming Ukrainian drone signals while also deploying suicide squads to detect Ukrainian forces’ positions, according to Hayday.

In Kharkiv: Towns in the Kharkiv region, northwest of Luhansk, were also shelled by Russian forces on Saturday, killing one civilian and injuring two, according to Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.

1:08 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

British prime minister and US vice president agree Putin's war in Ukraine is global, UK spokesperson says

From CNN's Lauren Kent

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris meet at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris meet at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Ben Stansall/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris concurred during their meeting at the Munich Security Conference the war in Ukraine is global in scale.

“They agreed that Putin’s war in Ukraine is a global war, both in terms of its impact on food and energy security and in terms of its implications for internationally accepted norms like sovereignty. The prime minister and Vice President Harris condemned those countries who have supported Putin’s efforts politically and militarily," according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

"They paid tribute to the enduring strength of the UK-US relationship, which protects our people and makes the world a more secure place. They agreed there is no clearer evidence of that than in Ukraine, where we are the country’s two closest international partners," the UK government spokesperson continued. 

Downing Street added that the two also discussed how to increase international action on Ukraine to secure peace for the future.

"They agreed on the importance of thinking beyond Ukraine’s immediate needs to how the international community can ensure Ukraine never faces the same threats again," the spokesperson said.

10:46 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Moscow signals displeasure with Moldova's moves to align more with EU, Russian state media reports

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Moscow is displeased that Moldova appears to be moving closer to the European Union, Russian state media reports, amid growing US concerns that Russia could attempt to destabilize the small eastern European country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Saturday that Moscow remains open to "constructive and pragmatic" dialogue with the Moldovan government in Chișinău, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

“Unfortunately, Chișinău's course toward Russia is unlikely to change," she continued. 

Moldova’s parliament this week approved a pro-Western government.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu has accused Russia of plotting to destabilize the country, which Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed as “completely unfounded and unsubstantiated.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced "deep concern" this week about the prospect of further Russian meddling with Moldova.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola also expressed the body's "unwavering solidarity" with Moldova in an open letter on Tuesday. "The place of the Republic of Moldova is with us, in the European family," he said.

Why Moldova is important: The small country, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was 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 sliver 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 a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

This supposed “peacekeeping” presence has mirrored Moscow’s pretext for invasions in Georgia and Ukraine.

Alarm bells in Moldova and the West grew louder when the Kremlin began to claim the rights of ethnic Russians are being violated in Transnistria – another argument used by Putin to justify his February 2022 invasion of Luhansk and Donetsk regions 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 Moldova could now present a bookend to any westward Russian assault from eastern Ukraine.

CNN's Elise Hammond and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

1:03 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

EU chief urges allies to speed up production lines to help Ukraine stop Putin’s “imperialistic plans”

From CNN's Nic Robertson in Munich and Duarte Mendonca

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. 
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.  (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said allies need to “double down” on military support for Ukraine in order for Russian President Vladimir Putin's goals in Ukraine to fail.  

"We absolutely have to double down and we have to continue the really massive support that is necessary (so) that these imperialistic plans of Putin will completely fail — this is one goal — and that Ukraine is able to win," von der Leyen said in a panel discussion with CNN's Christiane Amanpour at the Munich Security Conference Saturday. 

The EU chief appealed to allies to work together and speed up production of items that Ukraine has said it needs, such as ammunition.

"It cannot be that we have to wait months and years til we are able to replenish, until we are able to deliver that to Ukraine," von der Leyen said.

The European Commission president suggested using production approaches similar to those seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when governments worked with pharmaceutical companies to scale up supply.

“We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that gives the defense industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver,” von der Leyen said. 

12:58 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Foreign minister expresses confidence that Ukraine will receive planes from allies

From CNN's Duarte Mendonca

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a meeting at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba attends a meeting at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. (Petr David Josek/Reuters)

Ukraine’s foreign minister said Saturday that he was certain the country's allies would eventually supply fighter jets to help it fend off the Russian invasion.

"I will take a risk of saying that Ukraine will receive planes, it's a matter of time and procedure," Dmytro Kuleba said during a press conference at the Munich Security Conference.

"It will take more time than tanks. We understand that, but the very kind of logic, the basic sense of how the situation evolves, will take all of us to the decision on planes,” the Ukrainian foreign minister said.

Kuleba asked allies that may potentially send fighter jets to first prioritize pilot training.

“First, the decision was made to provide Ukraine with certain weapons and then training began, which led us to what? A waste of time. So we propose to kind of turn the tables and begin with training," he said. "This is our request to all our friends who can potentially share planes with us, begin training as soon as possible without undertaking at this very moment any additional commitments."

Near the end of his press conference, Kuleba asked those in the room to show more faith in Ukraine when talking about its lack of resources. 

"A year ago, people here in Munich were telling me that we are not going to stand for more than 24, 48 hours — that we know you are not going to make it, you're not going to survive. You have to be rational. We've been there. We've seen it. Have trust in us, be with us, and we will win," Kuleba said. "Impossible is nothing. We proved it so many times over the last year of the year." 

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.

The United Kingdom will soon begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, though the country's defense secretary has cautioned that any move to send British jets to Ukraine is likely years away.

Other Kyiv allies, while signaling openness to discussing the possibility, have also cautioned a decision to supply the military planes would not come quickly.

10:23 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Top US diplomat says "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilians led to Russia crimes declaration

From CNN’s Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.  (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

In a statement Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed comments from Vice President Kamala Harris in declaring Russia has committed crimes against humanity in its war against Ukraine.

The determination was “based on a careful analysis of the law and available facts," Blinken said in the statement released by the US State Department.

“Members of Russia’s forces have committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women, and children; torture of civilians in detention through beatings, electrocution, and mock executions; rape; and, alongside other Russian officials, have deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families," Blinken said. "These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine's civilian population.”

Earlier Saturday, Harris announced the US declaration on Russia at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, which Blinken is also attending.

“We reserve crimes against humanity determinations for the most egregious crimes,” Blinken said. “There can be no impunity for these crimes. All those responsible must be held accountable.”

2:47 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

China says it will propose peace plan for Ukraine, as chief diplomat refers to conflict as "warfare"

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu and Cristiana Moisescu

Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

Beijing is ready to present its peace proposition for Ukraine, its top diplomat announced Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, in a rare remark that referred to the Ukraine conflict as a war.

“This warfare cannot continue to rage on,” said Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Territorial and sovereignty integrity of all countries will be respected in China’s proposal, Wang said, adding that Beijing will continue to work for peace.

"We can of course continue to shout out our positions at international conferences like this one, but I suggest that we should also begin to think calmly, especially for my friends in Europe," he said.
"We need to think about what efforts we can make to bring this warfare to an end," Wang added.

Some key context: Many European Union leaders in Munich remain wary of Beijing’s intentions, as Wang called on European countries to change their approach to the war.

US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday said the US was “troubled” by China’s continued support of Russia since the war in Ukraine began.

And European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen told CNN on Saturday: "We need more proof that China isn't working with Russia, and we aren’t seeing that now."

China has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia's aggression in Ukraine. In late 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that their partnership was more important than ever in the face of “unprecedented pressure” from the West. Xi echoed Putin’s message of unity, saying that the two countries should “strengthen strategic coordination” and “inject more stability into the world,” according to Chinese state media Xinhua.

In September 2022, Putin conceded Beijing had “questions and concerns” over the invasion, in what appeared to be a veiled admission of diverging views on the war.

China’s top diplomat will also visit Russia this month, according to its foreign ministry, in the first visit to the country from a Chinese official in that role since the war began.