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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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.

8:34 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

US vice president commits to supporting Ukraine "for as long as it takes" during speech in Munich

From CNN’s Jasmine Wright

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, February 18.
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, February 18. (Sven Hoppe/dpa/AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris pledged the United States' enduring support to Ukraine during a speech Saturday in Munich, Germany.

“The United States will continue to strongly support Ukraine and we will do so for as long as it takes,” the vice president said during the Munich Security Conference.

Harris, whose trip precedes the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, praised the Ukrainian people’s resolve and resilience.

“There will be more dark days in Ukraine. The daily agony of war will persist,” she said. “But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he's badly mistaken. Time is not on his side.”

As questions continue to swirl about how much more funding the US will provide to Ukraine’s war effort, now that Republicans are in charge of the House of Representatives and have promised no “blank checks,” Harris noted how many congressional leaders were at the conference. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was spotted on camera, while GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Republicans were also in attendance.

“They are here together because they understand the stakes. The leadership of these members has been vital to America's support of Ukraine, and President Biden and I know that their support for Ukraine will continue,” Harris said. 

In conversation with Germany's Amb. Christoph Heusgen, the chairman of the conference, Harris reassured the crowd that funding will continue to flow from the US to support the war effort.

“You only have to look at where we were a year ago and where we are today,” she said, referring to weapons that the US has provided to Ukraine — including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Abrams tanks, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and Javelin missiles.

Harris said “the largest delegation, bipartisan and bicameral, of the United States Congress” was with her in Germany.

“Our priority is to ensure Ukraine's strength on the battlefield. And that is our commitment,” she said.

Earlier in the conference: Harris announced that the US government has officially declared Russia committed crimes against humanity during its war in Ukraine.

7:59 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Russia launches cruise missiles at Ukraine from the Black Sea, Kyiv says

From CNN's Sophie Jeong, Maria Kostenko and Duarte Mendonca

Russia has launched four cruise missiles at Ukraine from the Black Sea on Saturday, the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian Armed forces said Saturday on Telegram.

“On February 18 Russian occupation forces launched four Kalibr-type cruise missiles at Ukraine from the Black Sea area,” it said. “Two missiles were intercepted by the air defense.”

Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia “is using strategic aircraft, in the airspace over the occupied territories in particular, launching missiles.”

Two explosions were reported in the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi on Saturday, Serhiy Hamaliy, the head of the region's military administration, said in a post on Telegram.

One strike hit a military facility and the other hit near a public transport stop, the head of the regional military administration said in a Telegram post.

“The shock wave damaged civilian buildings, three educational facilities, hundreds of windows were shattered, and 11 cars were damaged,” said Serhiy Hamaliy, the head of the Khmelnytskyi region military administration.

“Two civilians have asked for medical help, a man and a woman. The man who received a shrapnel wound was inside the bus at the time. They both are in stable condition, and received necessary medical assistance,” Hamaliy’s post added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also addressed the attack in a Telegram post on Saturday, saying, "The terrorist state does not stop trying to intimidate the civilian population."

He added that 10 regions of Ukraine have been shelled by Russian forces within the last day. 

"Fair punishment will be for anyone who perpetrates this continued terror. You will definitely have to answer. For every destroyed life. For every missile fired at Ukraine. For all the evil and suffering that Russia brought to our land," Zelensky added.

8:35 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Vice President Harris says the US is "troubled" by China's support of Russia

From CNN’s Jasmine Wright

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, February 18.
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, February 18. (Sven Hoppe/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris said the US was “troubled” by China’s continued support of Russia since the war in Ukraine began, as the US continues to warn Beijing about its support for Moscow.

CNN has previously reported that China’s top diplomat will visit Russia this month, according to its Foreign Ministry, in the first visit to the country from a Chinese official in that role since Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Of course, we have also seen nations like North Korea and Iran send weapons in support of Russia's brutal war. We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” Harris said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
“Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing, and further undermine a rules based order,” she said.

Harris spoke of “strategic interests,” saying no nation is safe if one country can violate the sovereignty of another, a nod to China.

Reciting international rules and norms, Harris said the Western alliance’s response to Russia’s war is a reflection of how they have been upheld.

“Indeed, this moment, has tested our willingness to defend and uphold these rules and norms,” Harris said.
“Other nations could feel emboldened to follow is violence example, other nations could feel emboldened to follow is violence example. Other authoritarian powers could seek to bend the world to their will, through coercion, disinformation, and even brute force. The international order, upon which we all rely, could be at risk,” Harris said.

The US faces diplomatic and national security tensions with China, which were heightened after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon in recent weeks.

8:56 a.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Ukrainian soldier says military in need of ammunition: "There are situations when there are not enough shells"

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Duarte Mendonca

Ukraine is in need of more ammunition to fight the war against Russia, a member of the country's 109th territorial defense brigade, Yehor Firsov, said on Friday night. 

“Of course, we need shells, shells, and, once again, shells. Because, frankly speaking, there are situations when there are not enough shells. Weapons are the first thing we need at the frontline,” Firsov told a Ukrainian national telethon.

Firsov, a former member of parliament who is now serving on the front lines, said there have been logistical improvements since the early days of Russia's invasion, but they could always use more hardware.

“Of course, we would all like more hardware because it covers infantrymen. Don't get me wrong -- if there is no artillery or tanks are not working and they are not covering the infantry, it is very, very difficult for the infantry. So the more hardware we have, the better,” Firsov said.

On Saturday at the Munich Security Council, the leaders of various allies of Ukraine, including the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, urged others to ramp up support for Ukraine, including ammunition production.

Firsov also addressed the impact of fatigue on the front lines. 

Asked about his assessment of the current state of the way, Firsov described it as “always tense,” saying that the momentum seems to change in waves.

“In recent months, there has been an enemy offensive here. It happens in waves. In some places, the enemy is making significant aggressive actions and infantry attacks. In some places, they ease their pressure a little. But there are constant enemy attacks using everything possible -- MLRS, tanks, mortars. All this is constant. Every day, sometimes even every hour,” he said, adding that such occurrences take a psychological toll on his fellow soldiers.

“Many fighters have some psychological fatigue. It is unavoidable -- you perform your function 24/7. Fatigue accumulates,” the soldier said.