February 2, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Eliza Mackintosh, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:11 a.m. ET, February 3, 2023
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9:03 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Former Russian fighter: Most troops in Ukraine know war is wrong and don't believe "Putin's fables"

Konstantin Yefremov speaks with CNN's Erin Burnett.
Konstantin Yefremov speaks with CNN's Erin Burnett. (CNN)

The circumstances for Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are dire with many unprepared for what awaits them on the battlefield, a former lieutenant told CNN.

"They have not been trained and they are not even aware of what kind of horror is awaiting them there," said Konstantin Yefremov, describing the soldiers are handymen, not servicemen. 

President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization in late September after Russia suffered a series of major setbacks on the battlefields. Officials said the draft’s target of recruiting 300,000 personnel was met in November.

Yefremov said that "nearly everyone" in the Russian forces knows the mission is wrong. "They truly do not believe Putin's fables about Ukraine's threat of invasion," he said.

Instead, they are in Ukraine because they have no choice. "It's either their family and children end up on the streets or they have to be in the trenches," Yefremov told CNN's Erin Burnett.

And because the troops were drafted, many cannot resign or they will face imprisonment, he said. "So, basically, there is no choice. They either have to remain there or find ways to flee. So, like I have already said, the circumstances are dire," he said.

Sexual violence: Yefremov also told CNN he witnessed a deputy commander torturing and threatening sexual violence on prisoners of war –, but no one dared to speak out against him for fear he would attack them too.

"Just like he shot that Ukrainian prisoner of war, he could have easily shot me or anyone else who said that they didn't agree with this," he said.

Yefremov fled Russia in January and he is hoping for asylum in the United States.

6:23 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

CIA director says the next 6 months will be critical for the outcome of the war in Ukraine

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

CIA director Bill Burns listens to testimony during a House committee hearing March 8, 2022, in Washington, DC.
CIA director Bill Burns listens to testimony during a House committee hearing March 8, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/AP)

The CIA assesses that the next six months will be “absolutely crucial” in determining the final outcome of the war in Ukraine, agency Director Bill Burns said Thursday. 

“I think what’s going to be the key — because we do not assess that (Russian President Vladimir Putin) is serious about negotiations — the key is going to be on the battlefield in the next six months, it seems to us,” Burns said, addressing an audience at Georgetown University. That includes “puncturing Putin’s hubris, making clear that he’s not only not going to be able to advance further in Ukraine, but as every month goes by, he runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory he’s illegally seized so far.”

The Russian leader, Burns said, is “betting that he can make time work for him.” Putin believes that he can “grind down” Ukraine, while political fatigue will grip Europe and the United States will become distracted, Burns said.

But Burns said he told one of his Russian counterparts, Sergey Naryshkin, in November that “that Russian calculation is as deeply flawed as the original decision to go to war last Feb. 24 was.”

5:29 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Ukraine forming assault brigades to liberate territory, minister of internal affairs says

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Ukraine has started putting together assault brigades with the goal of liberating territory taken by Russia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine said in a statement.

"The decision to create assault brigades was made by our workers who have enough fury to beat the enemy. Many of our servicemen, who defended and defend our country, took the initiative to recruit people into such units. Therefore, it was decided that all those who have the desire, who are patriots, who lost their homes or relatives due to the war, should be united in such brigades. We have already begun to form units aimed at liberating our territories," Ihor Klymenko, acting Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said in the statement Thursday.

According to Klymenko, the units will consist of "active policemen, border guards, and national guardsmen." 

"The units will consist exclusively of volunteers who are motivated by patriotism and there are a lot of such people in our country," he added. The candidate must pass a military medical board and psychological and physical test, the statement said, and the training will last several months. 

"At first it will be individual, later — as part of a unit. When the commander sees that the unit is ready, they will proceed to combat missions," the statement added. 

5:27 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Poland and Baltic states condemn efforts by IOC to allow Russian and Belarus athletes to compete

From CNN's Victoria Butenko and Lindsay Isaac 

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland have condemned efforts by the International Olympic Committee to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international competition after banning them when Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.

In a joint statement Thursday, the sports of ministers of the four nations accused the IOC of precipitating special exemptions to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in “international sports competitions including the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, allowing sport to be used to legitimize and distract attention from Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Efforts to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sports competitions under the veil of neutrality legitimize political decisions and widespread propaganda of these countries also through the use of sport as a distraction from the illegal aggression against Ukraine,” it added. 

The ministers are calling on international sporting bodies to follow their lead. “We highly appreciate all international sport organizations and federations that have removed athletes and representatives of Russia and Belarus from international competitions and organizations and we urge them not to change their position until Russia and Belarus stop their aggression against Ukraine.”

UN experts however have commended the IOC for considering allowing individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in international sports competitions as “neutral athletes.”

“We urge the IOC to adopt a decision in that direction, and to go further, ensuring the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality,” the office of the high commission of Human Rights said in a statement.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US administration does not object to allowing athletes from Russia or Belarus from taking part in the 2024 Summer Games and 2026 Winter Games — as long as it is "absolutely clear" that they are not representing their home countries,

She reiterated that current sanctions against Russia and Belarus must remain in place. 

5:18 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Senators call on Biden to delay F-16 jet sale to Turkey until Finland and Sweden allowed into NATO

From CNN's Haley Britzky

A United States Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on February 16, 2022.
A United States Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on February 16, 2022. (Larry MacDougal/MCDOL/AP)

A bipartisan group of senators urged President Joe Biden to delay the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Ankara agrees to allow Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Sweden and Finland are waiting for Turkey to approve their admission to NATO, of which Turkey is a member. Congressional sources previously told CNN that the Biden administration was preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the sale of F-16s to Turkey, which would be among the largest arms sales in years.

The group of 27 senators wrote in their letter on Thursday, however, that Congress "cannot consider future support for [Turkey]," including the sale of the F-16 jets, until Turkey "completes ratification of the accession protocols." 

"Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance's unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine," the letter says. "A productive and mutually beneficial bilateral security relationship with [Turkey] is in the interest of the United States, and we are awaiting the government's ratification of the NATO accession protocols for Sweden and Finland."

Some background: Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO last summer, just months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the time that he would reject the effort, accusing the two countries of being "like guesthouses for terror organizations."

Those tensions have continued. Just last week, Turkey called for a meeting between the three countries to be postponed after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the Swedish government was complicit in the burning of the Quran during a protest in Stockholm. A Turkish state news agency reported that the meeting was canceled due to an "unhealthy political environment."

4:51 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Zelensky says Ukraine deserves to start EU integration talks this year

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with President of the European Commission during her visit in Kyiv on February 2.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with President of the European Commission during her visit in Kyiv on February 2. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he reached "important mutual understandings" with the president of the European Commission regarding Ukraine’s bid for accession into the European Union.

Zelensky said he had productive talks with the commission leader, Ursula von der Leyen, and members of the College of the European Commission Thursday. 

The talks showed that all parties understood "the fact that Ukraine needs constant and full support in defense against Russia," the Ukrainian president said in his evening address Thursday.

"And about the fact that our further integration should give energy and motivation to our people to fight despite any obstacles and threats. I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership already this year," he added.

Zelensky thanked von der Leyen and her colleagues in the EU for the military, financial and social support of Ukraine "on the path of integration."

Kyiv will host the 24th EU-Ukraine summit Friday. European leaders plan to discuss financial and military support for the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression.

More background: The European Commission is the EU's executive arm, made up of one leader from each member state, which is responsible for proposing and enforcing legislation.

Leaders of the 27 EU member states have given Ukraine candidate status, starting the process for formally considering granting the country membership.

It is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from all the member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip. The average time it takes to join the EU is just under five years, according to the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. However, some member states in eastern Europe have had to wait as long as 10 years. 

Zelensky has said his government is working on new reforms that will make Ukraine “more human, transparent and effective” as he prepares for further talks on the country’s possible addition to the bloc. That includes a push to tackle corruption.

A spokesperson for the commission said last month that anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process."

CNN's Luke McGee contributed reporting to this post.

4:53 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

US expected to include longer-range missiles in new $2.2 billion Ukraine aid package, sources say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Kevin Liptak

The US is expected to include longer-range missiles in a new Ukraine security package worth approximately $2.2 billion, according to a senior administration official and multiple US officials.

The package will include a commitment to provide Ukraine with the Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, a guided missile with a range of 90 miles, two officials said.

Though the missiles will effectively double the range of Ukrainian weaponry, the package won’t include the long sought-after ATACMS missile with a range in excess of 200 miles. The US has constantly rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for that system over concerns they may be used to hit targets deep inside Russia.

This is the first security package since the US committed to providing Ukraine with advanced M-1 Abrams tanks in January — a decision made in concert with European countries providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks.   

The package, which could be announced as early as Friday, will be split between $500 million in weapons and equipment pulled directly from US inventories and approximately $1.7 billion in supplies purchased from military contractors, known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).

Details of the package were first reported by Reuters.

On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said there would be another announcement of security assistance to Ukraine “soon” without providing further details.

Some background: The Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, which is fired from a HIMARS rocket launcher, has an effective range of some 90 miles, according to Saab, the company that developed the weapon in conjunction with Boeing.

That’s more than twice the range of the GMLRS munitions that Ukraine currently launches from the HIMARS rocket launchers. The long-range missile then unfolds small wings and uses a rocket engine to fly toward its target. 

But the new weapon will not arrive in Ukraine immediately, since it will not come directly out of US inventories. Instead, the US will contract with the weapons manufacturers to provide the long-range missile to Ukraine, a process which could take weeks or months.

The package also includes ammunition for artillery and HIMARS, as well as support systems and equipment for the Patriot missile system, one official said. Ukrainian forces have not completed training on the Patriot system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma – but the US is making sure the logistics and maintenance are in place well before the first Patriot battery is operational in Ukraine, the official said.

Within the last month, the US has announced three of the largest aid packages to Ukraine in a sign of ongoing support as the war nears its one-year mark. 

3:50 p.m. ET, February 2, 2023

Number of people wounded in latest attack on Kramatorsk rises to 7

From CNN's Tim Lister, Fred Pleitgen and Sana Noor Haq

At least seven people were wounded in Thursday's attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration.

That included one person who was critically injured and is currently undergoing surgery, the leader said in an evening update. Officials hope to soon move him to the nearest safe hospital outside the region.

Most residents of the buildings that were hit by missiles in the city center had already left to seek temporary accommodation in safer areas, Kyrylenko added.

“Such a relatively small number of victims indicates that only 15% of those who lived in these buildings before stayed there (at the moment of the strike). That is, most of the residents had left," he said.

Kyrylenko urged those remaining in the city to evacuate.

Officials said earlier Thursday that the latest barrage of missiles damaged 13 two-story buildings, three four-story buildings, a children's clinic and school, garages and cars.

A CNN team had just arrived at the scene and heard the first incoming strike on Kramatorsk. CNN saw the second attack, with two impacts about one minute apart.

Thursday's assault followed a pair of missile strikes that killed at least three people in the city Wednesday night. Rescue operations had still been underway when the latest bombardment rocked Kramatorsk.