February 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Rob Picheta, Leinz Vales, Eve Brennan, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:24 a.m. ET, February 21, 2023
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10:31 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Chief of Russia's Wagner mercenary group complains of issues with ammunition supply

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private military company Wagner, acknowledged Monday a "major problem" with ammunition supplies for his troops, amid a public spat with the leaders of Russia's defense establishment. 

“The issues that I raised about ammunition, unfortunately, remain unresolved," Prigozhin said in an emotional audio shared by his team on his official Telegram channel. "And this is a major problem.“

Prigozhin believes there is enough ammunition supply in Russia, as “the industry has reached the required levels” and can provide for the country’s needs but said he “can’t solve this problem despite all of my acquaintances and connections.”

Prigozhin claimed he has been told he needs to “go and apologize” to someone "high up" who he has a “difficult relationship with” to resolve the issue, but added he does not know who that is.

“Who should I apologize to? Who should I bow down to? 140 million Russians! Please tell me who I should bow down to so that my guys die two times less than they are [dying] today,” he said. “Today, twice as many fighters of PMC Wagner and other military units that we cannot cover die every day due to total shell hunger when we’re not allowed to use what there is in warehouses."

CNN cannot independently verify Prigozhin's claims of an ammunition shortage. The chief, who has no official position, has been unusually public in his criticism of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin's generals.  

More background: According to Prigozhin, Wagner did not experience such problems with ammunition when Gen. Sergei Surovikin commanded Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Surovikin was replaced by Gen. Valery Gerasimov in January.

“Those who prevent us from winning this war are directly working for the enemy,” he claimed.

In January, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced another reshuffle of the commanders leading the war in Ukraine, amid mounting criticism over its handling of the military operations in Ukraine.

Prigozhin has praised Gen. Surovikin for managing an orderly withdrawal of Russian forces in the southern Kherson region last year but has been critical of the larger handling by the Ministry of Defense and other top Russian generals of what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

10:34 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Biden and Zelensky talks focused intently on the next months of fighting, White House says 

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Ukrainian presidential palace on February 20, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Ukrainian presidential palace on February 20, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden was intently focused on discussing the coming months of fighting when he sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Monday, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Their talks come at what Sullivan called a "critical juncture" in the war, as Russia prepares for a spring offensive and as Ukraine hopes to retake territory seized over the past 12 months.

The US has hoped to help Ukraine consolidate its battlefield gains, sending steady shipments of arms and ammunition. But what lies ahead remains uncertain, as Russia appears to be regrouping.

As Biden flew from Washington to Europe, he was intent on strategizing on how to make the most of his conversation with Zelensky.

"The President was very focused on making sure that he made the most of his time on the ground, which he knew was going to be limited," Sullivan said. "So he was quite focused on how he was going to approach his conversation with President Zelensky and in part how the two of them were really going to look out over the course of 2023 and try to come to a common understanding of what the objectives are."

In their talks, the two leaders "spent time talking about the coming months in terms of the battlefield and what Ukraine need capabilities to be able to succeed on the battlefield," Sullivan said.

"They talked about Ukraine's needs in terms of energy, infrastructure, economic support humanitarian needs. And they also talked about the political side of this," he said.

Biden was “excited” as made his surprise trip to Ukraine on Monday, a journey Sullivan described as “filled with real anticipation that this was an important moment.”

Sullivan said Biden “wanted to do it, characteristically, by delving into the details by knowing the specifics and by being sure that he was going to make the most of every moment.”

Asked if Biden had to overrule anyone on his security team to make the trip, Sullivan declined to get into details of the discussions but said that “the president proceeded with the confidence that his security team was able to bring risk to a manageable level.”

White House officials also would not go into details about the logistics of the president’s trip, saying that more details would come once they “got the green light from the security folks.”

1:19 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny calls for restoration of 1991 borders and for Russia to pay reparations to Kyiv

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Radina Gigova

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on screens via a video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov during a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence in Moscow, Russia, on May 24, 2022.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on screens via a video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov during a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence in Moscow, Russia, on May 24, 2022. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and his team published a detailed statement on their website Monday outlining what Navalny called is his political platform, ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the platform, which he summarized in 15 points, Navalny calls for the restoration of national borders as defined in 1991 and for returning Crimea to Ukraine. Navalny also called for paying reparations to Ukraine.

“Let me re-emphasize that we will have to reimburse Ukraine for all the damage caused by Putin's aggression after the war,” Navalny said in the statement. 

“However, the restoration of normal economic relations with the civilized world and the return of economic growth will allow us to do so without interfering with the development of our country,” he said. 

According to Navalny, "Russia is suffering a military defeat" in Ukraine and "it was the realization of this fact that changed the rhetoric of the authorities from claims that 'Kyiv will fall in three days' to hysterical threats of using nuclear weapons should Russia lose," he claimed. 

"The lives of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been senselessly ruined," Navalny said.

"The final military defeat can be delayed at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands [of] additional reservists, but on the whole, it is inevitable," he said.

9:32 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

King Charles III meets Ukrainian troops training with British Army 

From CNN’s Max Foster and Allegra Goodwin in London

King Charles III meets with Ukrainian recruits being trained by British and international partner forces on February 20, in Wiltshire, England.
King Charles III meets with Ukrainian recruits being trained by British and international partner forces on February 20, in Wiltshire, England. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

King Charles III on Monday met with Ukrainian military recruits undertaking training by British and international forces in the South West of England. 

The five-week mission “delivers basic combat training over five weeks to Ukrainian recruits who will return to fight in Ukraine,” according to a statement from Buckingham Palace.

Accompanied by British Chief of General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders, King Charles also met with international military personnel “who have joined forces with the British Army,” to deliver training for Ukrainians in other areas of Britain, the statement said. 

9:13 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Some House Republicans attack Biden for Ukraine visit, undermining his message of bipartisan support

From CNN's Aaron Pellish

While top congressional leaders have yet to weigh in on the visit, some House Republicans are criticizing President Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine and his renewed support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion, undercutting Biden’s message of bipartisan support for Ukraine. 

In a surprise visit to Ukraine ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war between Ukraine and Russia, Biden met with Ukraine's President Zelensky and emphasized broad, bipartisan support from members of Congress for Ukraine’s war effort. 

"For all the disagreement we have in our Congress on some issues, there is significant agreement on support for Ukraine," Biden said. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene arrives for the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on February 1.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene arrives for the House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on February 1. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images)

But some House Republicans are subverting that bipartisanship in reactions to Biden’s trip on social media. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called Biden’s trip “incredibly insulting” and said his visit demonstrates an “America Last” policy. 

“This is incredibly insulting. Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war. I can not express how much Americans hate Joe Biden,” Greene said in a tweet

Greene was one of 11 House Republicans who co-sponsored a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution earlier this month. The resolution called for suspending military and financial aid to Ukraine. 

Other House Republicans used Biden’s trip to criticize Biden for prioritizing Ukraine’s defense over domestic policy issues like immigration. 

“Breathtaking that President Biden can show up in Ukraine to ensure their border is secure, but can’t do the same for America,” Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry said in a tweet

“So it takes two years for Joe Biden @POTUS to visit the war zone he created at our southern border, but then he goes to see another war zone he created in Ukraine,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Greg Murphy said in a tweet

Despite the criticism from some House Republicans, others have urged President Biden to increase support for Ukraine. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Mike McCaul said on CNN’s State of the Union in an interview that aired Sunday that bipartisan support for Ukraine is “still very strong” and called on the Biden administration to increase support to avoid a “long, protracted war.” 

Upon arriving in Ukraine, Biden announced $500 million of additional assistance to Ukraine.

8:48 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Biden’s visit shows "clear sign" of US commitment to Ukraine, Polish presidential adviser says

From CNN’s Kaitlin Collins and Amy Cassidy

The visit of US President Joe Biden to Ukraine Monday is a “clear sign” of American commitment to supporting Ukraine, Marchin Przydacz, a top advisor to Polish President Andrzej Duda, told CNN on Monday. 

“We welcome very much his brave decision to go to Ukraine as a clear sign of US commitment and his personal engagement in the situation, sending a clear signal that the US is with its allies, its partners, and that there is a belief that Ukraine can be victorious in this difficult situation,” told CNN’s Kaitlin Collins. 

Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine came just ahead of his scheduled visit to Poland later on Monday. Przydacz said he is “looking forward to see him on Polish land."

8:44 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Biden had range of options for Ukraine visit and chose to go to Kyiv, source says

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

US President Joe Biden was presented with a range of options for a visit to Ukraine, but decided that a trip to Kyiv made the most sense, a source familiar with the matter said.

The president never seriously considered any other options other than the capital for his visit to Ukraine, the source said. If he was going to go to Ukraine, he wanted to go to the capital.

Biden was presented with other options for a visit elsewhere in Ukraine over the course of months of meticulous planning, but this source said that Biden ultimately determined that a visit to Kyiv made the most sense from a risk-reward standpoint.

As Biden was briefed over several months on the planning for a potential visit, the source said Biden only once expressed concern about the risk of a visit to Ukraine — but that was about the extent to which his visit could endanger others, rather than about his own safety. Other officials were obviously extremely concerned about Biden's safety and prepared a series of security contingency plans.

In response to a question from CNN, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan declined to say whether Biden had to overrule Secret Service or military officials in order to proceed with a trip to Kyiv.

"He got a full presentation of a very good and very effective operational security plan. He heard that presentation, he was satisfied that the risk was manageable and he ultimately made a determination (to go)," Sullivan said.

8:55 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Pro-Russian military bloggers criticize Moscow over Biden visit to Kyiv

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyv and Vasco Cotovio in London

US President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Olena Zelenska at Mariinsky Palace during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 20.
US President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Olena Zelenska at Mariinsky Palace during an unannounced visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 20. (Evan Vucci/Reuters)

Pro-Russian military bloggers and journalists have criticized the Kremlin for not being able to prevent US President Joe Biden from visiting the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

Russian army veteran and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin said Biden could be taken all the way to Bakhmut and nothing would happen to him. 

“Wouldn't be surprised if the grandfather (he is not good for anything but simple provocations anyway) is brought to Bakhmut as well... AND NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO HIM,” Girkin noted, ironically. 

Girkin has been critical of the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense for what he considers a “soft” approach toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Russian Journalist Sergey Mardan struck a stronger tone, calling Biden’s visit a “Demonstrative humiliation of Russa.”

“Biden in Kiev (Russian spelling). Demonstrative humiliation of Russia,” Russian journalist Sergey Mardan wrote on his telegram channel. “Tales of miraculous hypersonics may be left for children. Just like spells about the holy war we are waging with the entire West.” 

“I guess there are lunch breaks in a holy war,” he added. 

A Telegram account managed by the Russian army and naval service members, Zapiski michmana Ptichkina, noted ironically that Biden had reached Kyiv before Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Almost a year after the beginning of the Special military operation, we are waiting in the Russian city of Kiev for the president of the Russian Federation, but not for the [President of the] United States."

There were others who were less critical.

Russia Military correspondent Yuri Kotenok claimed the air raid siren that rang out while Zelensky and Biden exited St. Michael's Cathedral was a “sham,” while Boris Rozhin from the Center for Military-Political Journalism said Biden only visited because he was given assurances no one would shoot at him. 

“It is worth recalling that US presidents visited their puppets in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We know how it ended for the United States,” Rozhin added. 

8:24 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Biden made final decision to travel to Kyiv after Oval Office huddle on Friday

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden only decided on Friday to go ahead with a high-stakes, high-risk visit to Kyiv after huddling with top members of his national security team in the Oval Office.

A few hours before he departed, the United States informed Russia of the plans to visit the Ukrainian capital for "deconfliction purposes," according to Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The Friday session in the Oval Office was the culmination of months of work by a tiny handful of Biden's top aides to plan the trip around the anniversary of the start of the war.

The planning included the chief of staff's office, the National Security Council and the White House Military Office, with input from a small number of officials at the US Secret Service, the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community, according to deputy national security adviser Jon Finer.

Biden was regularly briefed on the plans for the trip, including threat assessments, as the visit came together. 

Discussions between the White House and the "highest levels of the Ukrainian government" helped bring the trip over the finish line.

"He was satisfied the risk was manageable," Sullivan said.

"This was risk that Joe Biden wanted to take," said communications director Kate Bedingfield. "It's important to him to show up, even when it's hard, and he directed his team to make it happen no matter how challenging the logistics."