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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6:29 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

We've wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more on Russia's invasion of Ukraine here.

6:19 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Blinken was "quite blunt" in warning against China's support for Russia during meeting with top diplomat

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the Biden administration's “deepening concern” over Beijing's support of Russia's war during his meeting Saturday with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, a senior State Department official told reporters.

“The secretary was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion,” the official said.

Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that China would be publishing a paper on how to find a political solution to the Ukraine war. While no formal proposal has been made public, the US official cast doubt on China leading this effort.

“It would appear to us that the Chinese are trying to have it both ways,” the official said. "On the one hand, claiming that they would like to contribute to peace and stability in Ukraine, and yet on the other hand, taking these concerning steps to support Russia's war of aggression there.”

Some background: US officials told CNN that the US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military. The officials said there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.

The officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen to suggest a recent shift in China’s posture, but they've been concerned enough that they have been sharing the intelligence with allies and partners at the Munich conference over the last several days, the officials said.

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

Moscow-backed leader claims Russia is making progress around embattled city of Bakhmut

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Kostan Nechyporenko

Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, claims there has been an "improvement of Russian positions" around the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut.

Pushilin repeated the Wagner mercenary group's claim that it has taken control of Paraskoviivka, a village on the north end of the city, for Russia.

“In the vicinity of Artemovsk (the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut) there is already information about the improvement of positions — Paraskoviivka has been liberated, which makes it possible to get closer to blocking the remainder of the road to Chasiv Yar," Pushilin said on his website Saturday.

That road is the only one that functions as a supply route for Ukrainian troops in the area, the DPR head claimed, and fully blocking the route would bring Russian control over Bakhmut "many times closer."

Pushilin said each position in the city "is being conquered through tough fighting."

CNN has not independently verified Pushilin's claims on troop movements.

Additionally, the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Pozyvnoy Brus claimed Saturday that after taking control of Paraskoviivka, Wagner units began to storm Berkhivka, a northwestern suburb of Bakhmut.

“Several roads that are important for supplying the Bakhmut group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine go through this settlement," the pro-Wagner channel said.

What Ukraine is saying: Despite claims by Pushilin and the Wagner Group about controlling Paraskoviivka, the Ukrainian military claimed it was still repelling Russian attacks on the settlement as of Saturday morning.

And a Ukrainian solider, identified as Yuri, told Ukrainian media that Kyiv's forces still had access to Bakhmut. He said the city was not encircled by Russia, despite Moscow's intensified assault and abundant ammunition. 

According to Yuri, the supply routes that “the enemy says they have under their ‘fire control’ are accessible,” and there are “no problems with the delivery of personnel, equipment or ammunition to the city of Bakhmut.” 
3:13 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

German defense minister says he expected more tank pledges after Germany's decision on Leopards

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18. (Sven Hoppe/picture alliance/Getty Images)

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told CNN he expected more countries to come forward with battle tanks for Ukraine after Germany pledged Leopard 2 tanks in late January, but he is buoyed by the total number pledged so far.

"I wasn’t really frustrated; I was a little bit disappointed, I would say, because the voices we heard before (the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein) were louder. And therefore I expected more afterwards, after our decision," Pistorius told CNN's Nic Robertson at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

But adding up the German tanks, the Abrams tanks from the US and the Challenger tanks from the UK, "it is a lot" that will be provided to assist Ukraine in its battles against Russia.

"We have a huge number, but still we are working on more (Leopards)," he said.

Germany expects to deliver the Leopard 2A6 tanks in the last week of March, Pistorius confirmed, with "sustainable delivery of tanks during the following month."

He added that the German and Polish defense industries will work together to produce ammunition and spare parts for the tanks, as well as repair mechanisms.

Addressing frustrations from countries like Lithuania about shoring up NATO's eastern flank, Pistorius said officials are "working on it," but it takes some time because "we have to reconstruct our forces," ramp up infrastructure and wait for NATO plans.

In addition, "the threat we have to face as the eastern flank is not only at one point; it might appear at any point," he said.

Pistorius said the unity he has witnessed at the Munich Security Conference gives him hope about the current situation.

"What I see is a very, very strong unity, the very strong commitment in joint commitment that we want, and we will support Ukraine as long as it takes. And this is very important, a very important signal for the Ukrainian people, which really fights a very, very admirable fight against Russian aggression," he told Robertson.

CNN's Cristiana Moisescu contributed to this report.

6:13 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

US warns allies at Munich conference that China may increase support for Russia

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

The US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military, US officials familiar with the intelligence tell CNN.

The officials said there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.

The officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen to suggest a recent shift in China’s posture, but they've been concerned enough that they have been sharing the intelligence with allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference over the last several days, the officials said.  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise the issue if he meets with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Saturday on the sidelines of the conference, officials said, though such a meeting is not yet confirmed.

Vice President Kamala Harris also alluded to China’s support for Russia during her speech in Munich. 

“We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began,” Harris said Saturday. “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."

Officials said the US is seeing China try to publicly present itself as a proponent of peace and maintain relationships with Europe, while at the same time quietly aiding Russia’s war effort and considering the provision of lethal aid.

Speaking at the conference Saturday, Yi said Beijing is prepared to present a peace proposition for Ukraine. Many European Union leaders in Munich share the US' wariness of Beijing’s intentions.

More background: The Biden administration last month raised concerns with China about evidence suggesting Chinese companies have sold non-lethal equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine, according to two US officials. 

That equipment has included items like flak jackets and helmets, multiple sources familiar with US and European intelligence told CNN.

China has stopped short of more robust military assistance, however, including lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia has requested such aid, but China has not wanted to be seen as a pariah on the world stage, officials said.

But there are signs now that Beijing could be considering it, the officials said, and the Biden administration is warning publicly and privately that the US is monitoring closely for any violations of Western sanctions prohibiting military support for Russia. 

China and Russia publicly declared a “friendship without limits” just before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and Wang Yi is set to visit Russia this month, CNN has reported.

1:34 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Russia's war in Ukraine emboldens North Korea, South Korean foreign minister says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin warned Saturday that Russia's attack on Ukraine has emboldened North Korea.

"Russia's armed attack on Ukraine and the global attention on the war in Europe are, as we witnessed, emboldening Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea through the precipitation of aggressive missile launches, including the (intercontinental ballistic missiles)," Park said during a discussion panel in Munich.

Park said North Korea has "resumed ballistic missile testing, probably an ICBM, after a break lasting almost 50 days, clearly signaling its intent to conduct additional provocations."

The US government also said North Korea had test-launched a presumed long-range ballistic missile Saturday, calling it “a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions."

On Friday, North Korea had warned of “continuous and unprecedented strong responses” if the US and South Korea go ahead with planned military exercises, according to a statement by North Korea’s foreign ministry.

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report from Seoul.

12:54 p.m. ET, February 18, 2023

Former US commander predicts Ukrainians will be able to push back Russian troops this summer

Gen. David Petraeus attends the Warsaw Security Forum in 2022.
Gen. David Petraeus attends the Warsaw Security Forum in 2022. (Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Gen. David Petraeus told CNN he believes Ukrainian troops will be able to push Russian forces further back this summer, contingent on arms supply and strategy.

It will take successful combined arms warfare — a complementary approach where multiple kinds of fighting units support one another — to succeed, Petraeus told CNN's Nic Robertson at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

"You can get the enemy to crumble and ideally collapse — and that is possible this summer, at least locally — and hopefully sufficient to cut that land bridge that Russia has established that enables them to connect into Crimea along the southeastern coast of Ukraine," said Petraeus, who was the US and coalition commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later served as director of the CIA.

"If you cut that, you can start the isolation of Crimea, you can reduce it as a logistical support hub, and then you can divide the Russian forces. And then if you can take down the Kerch Strait bridge, you've really isolated them," he added.

Petraeus said if that scenario plays out, combined with long-range weapons for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), there'd be a "very different dynamic" in the conflict.

If Russian losses continue to pile up, "at some point, the Kremlin has to recognize this war is unsustainable on the battlefield. And if you continue to tighten the economic, financial and export controls, you make it unsustainable (on) the homefront as well," he said.

He also said Ukrainians being trained on Western weapons seem to be doing so at remarkable speed.

"The reports (from Western colleagues) are that the Ukrainians are just blowing right through their training. They’re done within day one at noon, and you’re on day two, and they’re having to accelerate the training very significantly. And even when they go back to the barracks after a very long training day, they’re reading the manuals. They want to get back to the fight, back to protecting their families," he said.

Ukrainian troops are receiving training on Leopard 2 tanks in Poland, the UK government said earlier this month that it will begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, and the first group of Ukrainians completed training at a US base in Germany on Friday.

"I think they will be able to achieve the kind of combined arms effects that the Russians have not achieved," Petraeus reiterated.

CNN's Cristiana Moisescu contributed to this report.

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."