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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1:26 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

German arms maker expects ammunition for anti-aircraft tanks to be delivered to Ukraine by July, CEO says

From CNN's Inke Kappeler

Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger, left, and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius speak to reporters on Monday.
Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger, left, and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius speak to reporters on Monday. (Philipp Schulze/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany’s largest arms manufacturer Rheinmetall expects the first batch of ammunition for anti-aircraft Gepard systems will be delivered to Ukraine by July, CEO Armin Papperger said on Monday.  

Papperger made the commitment while speaking to journalists with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius after the two visited the manufacturing site of the tanks in Unterluess, in western Germany.  

The influential Rheinmetall CEO also announced that twenty Marder fighting vehicles will be ready to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of March.  

In response to Pistorius' appeal to arms manufacturers to fire up ammunition production, Papperger said his company had “doubled capacities, in some sectors even tripled them.“ 

“In weapons production, the warehouse is full, we are running at full steam here and we can still increase capacity with one shift,“ if contracts were made, he said.  

Pistorius said the German government was working with the industry to deliver whatever was possible.  

“We can deliver what we have and we can deliver what will be produced in the next months,“ he added. 

The German defense minister on Monday also visited members of the Ukrainian military learning to operate Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles in Germany’s Munster.  

The production of a modern battle tank takes “about two to two and a half years” from the time it is ordered, Pistorius said during the visit.  

“Everything we are handing over now (to Ukraine) will only be available for replacement in two or two-and-a-half years,“ he added.

11:40 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

What Russian pundits are saying about Biden's trip

From CNN's Rob Picheta, Olga Voitovych, Vasco Cotovio and Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 20.
President Joe Biden walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 20. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine sparked anger and embarrassment among many of Russia’s hawkish military pundits on Monday, increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader prepares to justify his stuttering invasion in a national address.

Biden’s historic visit came days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, providing a symbolic boost to Kyiv at a crucial juncture in the conflict.

But the visit caused fury in Russian pro-military and ultranationalist circles, as it upstages Putin on the eve of a major address in which the Russian president is expected to tout the supposed achievements of what he euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”

Here's what the Russian pundits are saying about Biden's trip:

  • Russian journalist Sergey Mardan wrote in a snarky response on his Telegram channel: “Biden in [Kyiv]. Demonstrative humiliation of Russia ... Tales of miraculous hypersonics may be left for children. Just like spells about the holy war we are waging with the entire West.” He added, “I guess there are lunch breaks in a holy war."
  • Russian army veteran and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin meanwhile suggested that Biden could have visited the frontlines in eastern Ukraine and escaped unharmed. “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 said. Girkin is among a number of hardline military bloggers who have repeatedly criticized what they consider a “soft” approach on the battlefield by Putin’s generals.
  • A Telegram account managed by Russian army and naval servicemembers, 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 [Kyiv] for the president of the Russian Federation, but not for the [President of the] United States,” it said.

Read more about this here

11:26 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Kyiv will be ready to respond to provocative actions by Russia around war anniversary, Ukrainian Air Force says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Radina Gigova

Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat holds a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 14.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat holds a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 14. (Ukrinform/Shutterstock)

The Ukrainian military will be "ready" to respond to any possible "provocative actions" by Russia around the anniversary of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force Command, told CNN on Monday.

The official didn't elaborate on any possible specific threats, but said if the Russians engage in some sort of "provocative actions" on February 23, 24 or 25, the Ukrainian Air Force is "on stand-by 24/7, our job is to be ready at all times."

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. February 23 is celebrated in Russia as Defender of the Fatherland Day.

11:17 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Lithuanian president urges West to cross "red lines" to send military aid Ukraine needs 

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel in London 

Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania's prime minister, speaks to members of the media in Brussels, Belgium, on February 17, 2022.
Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania's prime minister, speaks to members of the media in Brussels, Belgium, on February 17, 2022. (Dursun Aydemir/Pool/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on Monday urged the West to cross "red lines" to deliver the military aid Ukraine needs. 

“This is very important that we cross these red lines, which are in our minds and do not reality really exist. Maybe sometimes Russia tries to set up those red lines instead of us,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Julia Chatterley. 

“My message is: Not waste the time. Be decisive, be united and take decisions as quick as possible,” Nauseda added.  

He said that US President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv on Monday shows Ukraine won’t be abandoned and sends a very strong message of unity among Ukraine's allies.  

When asked what message he will take to Biden during their upcoming meeting in Warsaw, the Lithuanian leader said that he would discuss with the US leader about Lithuania’s security and “especially the security of eastern flank."

The president added that Baltic nations are exposed to “direct threats” from Russia and Belarus. “This is the reason we expect some positive signals regarding our security,” he said.  

Biden, during his visit to Poland this week, is expected to meet with leaders of the “Bucharest Nine,” the group of Eastern flank NATO allies – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

When asked about his response to the Chinese foreign minister recently saying Beijing is ready to present its peace proposition for Ukraine, Nauseda said that China should not interfere in the war.  

More on China-Russia relations: As Biden touched down in Ukraine to meet with his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, China’s top diplomat was traveling to Russia. The trip came as the US has recently begun seeing “disturbing” trendlines in China’s support for Russia’s military and there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught, US officials familiar with the intelligence told CNN.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.

2:30 p.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Donetsk region under constant enemy shelling, official says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv and Radina Gigova in London

Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region has been under "constant" shelling by Russian forces, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a telegram post on Monday. 

One person was killed and two others were injured due to Russian shelling in the village of Ivanopillia near the town of Kostiantynivka, he said. 

Russian forces struck other villages in the region with rockets and artillery, he said. CNN has not been able to independently verify those claims. 

Residential buildings, a school, cars, shops, cafes and industrial facilities were destroyed or damaged, Kyrylenko said. 

The Donetsk region has seen some of the most intense fighting in recent days and weeks.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation in the eastern city of Bakhmut is "the most difficult out of all" areas in Ukraine. 

Here's where things stand on the ground:

11:04 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

National Security Council official says surprise Kyiv trip was a calculated risk Biden was prepared to take

From CNN's Andrew Millman

Amanda Sloat, the senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that US President Joe Biden felt “it was symbolically important for him to make the trip to Ukraine, to stand side-by-side with President Zelenskyy and present US support” for Kyiv, especially ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. 

Sloat said that “the top concern is security," and that Biden "has been very clear that he’s long wanted to go to Ukraine. Ukraine’s had a very special place in his heart, including from back when he was Vice President.”

“The team, obviously, was taking a very close look at all of the security risks involved and the President ultimately decided it was a calculated risk and one that he was prepared to take,” Sloat explained.

When asked about proposals to have the allied countries train Ukrainians on F-16 fighter jets ahead of potential future transfers, Sloat said that NSC has been "focused on providing the near-term capabilities that the Ukrainians need in terms of their ground offensive.” 

Sloat also said both presidents "had the opportunity to exchange perspectives on security assistance,” which she called a “good discussion.”

She also acknowledged that Russia was notified of Biden's arrival in Ukraine, saying that a notification to the Russians was sent "several hours before the president left, primarily for deconfliction purposes."

“I’m not going to try to get into the mind of President Putin,” Sloat said when asked if she anticipates Biden’s surprise Kyiv trip will alter Putin’s planned speech to mark the year anniversary. She said she believes Biden’s speech in Poland “will also be historic.”

Sloat characterized US-Poland relations as “extremely strong” and said “Poland has really stepped up” in supporting Ukraine over the past year.

10:43 a.m. ET, February 20, 2023

Former Russian President Medvedev dismisses Biden's visit to Kyiv

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Anna Chernova 

Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends a military parade on Victory Day in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, on May 9.
Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends a military parade on Victory Day in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, on May 9. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed US President Joe Biden's visit to Kyiv Monday, accusing the US of warmongering support for Ukraine.

"Biden, having received security guarantees in advance, finally went to Kyiv," Medvedev said in a statement on Telegram. "And of course, there were mutual incantations about the victory that would come with new weapons and a courageous people. And here it is important to note that the West already delivers weapons and money to Kyiv quite regularly. In huge quantities, allowing the military-industrial complex of NATO countries to earn money and steal weapons to sell to terrorists around the world."

More on the former president: Medvedev, who currently serves as deputy head of Russia's Security Council, is known for making belligerent pronouncements in an apparent bid to shore up his nationalist credentials. 

While Biden's public schedule didn't reflect his trip to Ukraine Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington informed Moscow of Biden's plans to visit the Ukrainian capital for "deconfliction purposes" a few hours prior to his departure. 

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.”