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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6:12 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

"No change" in Sweden and Finland's desire to join NATO "simultaneously," Finnish PM tells CNN

From CNN's Arnaud Siad and Ben Kirby

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks during a joint press conference with Austria's Chancellor in Vienna on February 17.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks during a joint press conference with Austria's Chancellor in Vienna on February 17. (Georg Hochmuth/AFP/Getty Images)

There is “no change” in Finland and Sweden’s desire to join NATO “simultaneously,” Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin told CNN on Saturday.

“We’ve sent a very clear message: we want to join together with Sweden. At the same time, it’s not only because we are good neighbors and good partners. It’s also to do with very concrete matters," Marin told CNN's Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour while participating at a panel at the Munich Security Conference.

"The security planning of NATO in the whole north, it’s in the interest of us, but it’s also in the interest of NATO that Finland and Sweden will join simultaneously,”

“And we have sent very clear signal and a very clear message to Turkey and also Hungary, that hasn’t ratified yet, that we want to enter NATO together, and this is in the interest of everyone,” she added.

The Finnish PM was pressed to clarify whether there had been a change in Helsinki’s approach in light of NATO member Turkey’s current opposition to Sweden joining the defense alliance.

“No change. Of course we cannot influence and affect how some countries would ratify, it’s their decision. But our message is that we are willing to join and we prefer and want to join together,” she said.

On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg suggested Finland and Sweden could join separately.

“So the main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible,” he said.

Some context: Sweden and Finland are relying on Turkey to support its bid for membership of NATO, in the light of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Tensions between Sweden and Turkey have grown recently however, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reportedly accusing the Swedish government of being complicit in the burning of the Quran at a protest in Stockholm last month.

Turkey has previously said Sweden must take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt, before Ankara approves its bid to join NATO.

9:21 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Scholz warns it's "wise" to prepare for long war at Munich Security Conference

From CNN's Nic Robertson

World leaders are focusing on strategy and unity in the face of Russian aggression at the three-day Munich Security Conference in Germany, which kicked off on Friday. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who made a speech via video link on Friday, continued to urge his Western allies to make speedy weapons deliveries. 

Zelensky also said he intends to attend the Munich security conference in person next year, predicting the war would be over by then. Unfortunately, if he had read the room, it would have told him they thought that statement was ambitious, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warning on Friday it would be "wise to prepare for a long war." 

US Vice President Kamala Harris joined world leaders at the conference, where the war in Ukraine is top of the agenda. 

Harris, in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday, welcomed Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The leaders discussed how best to work together – particularly regarding how to uphold the values of democracy globally in the face of threats from China. 

The conference comes just ahead of the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell are among other top officials in attendance.

6:15 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Seven voices reflect on one year of Putin’s war

From CNN Opinion

Ukrainian service members patrol an area in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on June 20, 2022.
Ukrainian service members patrol an area in the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, on June 20, 2022. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

It’s the evening of February 23, 2022. In Kyiv, the boss of a news site relaxes with a bath and candles.

In Zaporizhzhia, a young woman goes to bed planning to celebrate her husband’s birthday in the morning.

In Moscow, a journalist happens to postpone his travel plans to Kyiv.

Within hours, their lives are all dramatically and radically transformed. The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin launches his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In the space of a year, the war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions more. It has unleashed unfathomable atrocities, decimated cities, driven a global food and energy crisis and tested the resolve of western alliances.

We asked seven people close to the conflict – from “fixers” in Ukraine, to commentators in Moscow – to reflect on the first anniversary of the invasion.

Read the full story here.

6:56 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Outgunned Ukrainian pilots are taking the fight to Russia in ancient Soviet-era helicopters

From CNN's Sam Kiley and Olha Konovalova

Among Ukraine’s helicopter fleet, is the Soviet-built armored Mi-24.
Among Ukraine’s helicopter fleet, is the Soviet-built armored Mi-24. (Sarah Dean/CNN)

Somewhere in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, Russian soldiers are being torn apart, and burned, as the ground itself erupts when the rockets find their target. There’s no time to reflect – the effect of the rockets will get passed back to the pilots later. Their task now is to stay alive.

Ukraine’s losses are a national secret. But pilots and air crew in the Sikorsky Brigade have all lost close friends to Russian SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles).

Often shoulder launched, the man-portable missiles can send a helicopter into a ball of flame in seconds.

They’re hunted. Whether airborne or not. Ukraine’s air force and army aviators along with their planes and helicopters are priority prey for Russia’s missiles. They’re likely top of the Kremlin’s list.

CNN spent time embedded with the Sikorsky Brigade in eastern Ukraine operating from a secret base.

Read the full story here.

6:38 a.m. ET, February 18, 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 meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Munich Security Conference on February 17.
US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Munich Security Conference on February 17. (Michael Probst/Pool/Reuters)

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.

6:06 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

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

From CNN's Sam Fossum

President Biden (Left) will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda (Right) during his trip next week in Poland.
President Biden (Left) will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda (Right) during his trip next week in Poland. (Getty Images)

US 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.

3:53 a.m. ET, February 18, 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.