February 21, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Jack Guy, Eve Brennan, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 1:33 a.m. ET, February 22, 2023
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5:45 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Zelensky says he has not seen any official peace plan from China

From CNN’s Philip Wang

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he has not seen any official peace plan from China. He said he is counting on international support for Ukraine’s own peace formula.

During a joint press conference with Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Zelensky said Ukraine is interested in all countries being involved in ending the war.

“We expect the UN to support our peace formula on February 23. I think it is essential to have one, single standpoint,” Zelensky said. “I have not seen any official document [from China].”

On Monday, China said it is willing to work with other countries to achieve an early ceasefire and lasting peace in Ukraine, the country's top diplomat Wang Yi told state news agency Xinhua. Wang arrived in Moscow on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wang shared with him key points of China’s peace plan, but Ukraine’s peace formula purposed by Zelensky remains the priority. 

“We look forward to receiving the text, as this is not a place where you can jump to conclusions just by hearing what the plan is about. We need to find out all the details. Once we receive the document, we will carefully study it and draw conclusions, ” Kuleba said. 

7:10 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

First lady Jill Biden says she found out about the president's trip to Ukraine "right before he left"

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

First Lady Jill Biden speaks as she hosts a conversation on women's empowerment at the US Ambassadors' house in Mexico City, on January 9.
First Lady Jill Biden speaks as she hosts a conversation on women's empowerment at the US Ambassadors' house in Mexico City, on January 9. (Rodrigo Oropeza/AFP/Getty Images)

First lady Jill Biden told reporters on Tuesday she found out about President Joe Biden’s visit to Ukraine “right before he left,” adding that she expressed some concerns about Monday’s covert trip. 

“He told me, like, right before he left and I said, ‘What? You're going where?’” the first lady said before boarding a plane to head off on a six-day trip to Namibia and Kenya. She reiterated that she found out “right before he left because it was, you know, covert.” 

Asked if she had concerns about him going to Ukraine, she said, "Of course I did!” Biden said she didn’t remember whether the president informed her about the Ukraine visit during their recent weekend dinner date in Washington. 

Biden also said she’s spoken to the president a few times during his ongoing trip to Ukraine and Poland.

“He felt it went well and he was glad that he went,” the first lady said, later adding that she hasn’t seen coverage of his recent speech in Warsaw because she was teaching.  

"I haven't seen any of the press because I was in the classroom the whole time. But I'm gonna go upstairs, you know, watch some of it. But I heard the speech in Poland was amazing,” she said.
5:21 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Ukrainian victories on battlefield are the only way to peace talks, source says 

From CNN’s Matthew Chance

The only path to "real peace talks" involves more Ukrainian victories on the battlefield, a source close to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN on Tuesday. 

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising address to his country on Tuesday, the source said Ukraine needs more military assistance to end the war.

“The faster Ukraine receives the weapons it needs, the sooner the war will be over,” the source said.

Some background: Putin's speech came on the same day United States President Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to Ukraine during an address in Poland Tuesday.

On Monday, during a surprise visit to Kyiv, Biden announced half-billion dollars in new assistance, saying the package would include more military equipment, such as artillery ammunition, more javelins and Howitzers. He also said new sanctions would be imposed on Moscow later this week.

4:03 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

China should steer clear of providing weapons to Russia, deputy mayor of Lviv says

China should steer clear of getting involved in the Ukraine war, said Serhiy Kiral, deputy mayor of Lviv, when asked about reports Beijing was weighing providing lethal weapons to Russia.

"My message to the Beijing would be to continue to be Beijing, to be China as it has been for thousands of years. China should stay and mind their own business and national interests and continue to promote peace and security throughout the world, at least the narrative they have been speaking out about for many years. They should be staying out of this potential support to Russia," Kiral said to CNN's Bianna Golodryga on Tuesday.

The US and Western allies have already made clear that "any escalation by supplying lethal weapons to Russia will lead to crossing the redlines and really unpredictable consequences for the Chinese economy and the Chinese future," he added.

Some context: Though China has claimed impartiality in the conflict and no advance knowledge of Russia’s intent to invade Ukraine, it has refused to condemn Moscow and parroted Kremlin lines blaming NATO for provoking the conflict. And while Beijing’s pro-Russian rhetoric appears to have softened in recent months, its support for Moscow – when measured by its annual trade, diplomatic engagements and schedule of joint military exercises – has bolstered over the past year.

3:29 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Poland to deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv in next few weeks, foreign ministry says

From CNN’s Isa Soares, Eleanor Pickston and Jorge Engels

Poland will deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in the “next two or three weeks” once the training of the Ukrainian troops is complete, the country’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

Łukasz Jasina, the spokesperson for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Warsaw supported sending fighter jets to Kyiv but that there was still some way to go in achieving a consensus among NATO countries.

“Exactly like it was with the tanks, we hope that this coalition will be big enough to support Ukrainians more and more. Jets are very useful in Ukrainian war,” Jasina said. “Still, I’m an optimist,” he added.

“But we are a member of NATO, and we want to reach agreement in all such issues to participate in this together because the alliance is stronger when we are together,” the spokesman said.

2:59 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Czech president-elect calls Biden visit to Ukraine and Poland an "extremely strong signal"

From CNN's Jorge Engels in London 

Czech President-elect Petr Pavel seen at his campaign headquarter in Prague, Czech Republic on January 28.
Czech President-elect Petr Pavel seen at his campaign headquarter in Prague, Czech Republic on January 28. (Tomas Tkacik/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Czech President-elect Petr Pavel on Tuesday called US President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv and Warsaw an “extremely strong signal” of Washington’s commitment to Ukraine and its European allies.

The former Czech army chief, who was elected as the country's new leader in January, warned against negotiating with Russia, saying eastern European countries that were part of the Soviet Union-era Warsaw Pact defense treaty were highly aware of Russia’s capabilities. 

“We have no idealistic ideas about where Russia is heading, about the possibility of negotiation with Russia. We all know that Russia understands power,” Pavel told CNN. “For us, power comes from unity. That’s why we are very clear on a united approach of all EU and NATO countries against Russian aggression."

He said the Russians had suffered several “fatal mistakes” in Ukraine but cautioned Moscow shouldn’t be underestimated.

Pavel gave a note of caution on the question of supplying Ukraine with military aircraft, given it takes at least half a year to train pilots and ground and support crews. “It’s much easier to train crews for tanks and artillery."

2:43 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Russia says it'll respect weapons caps under nuclear arms treaty, despite suspending participation 

From CNN's Radina Gigova

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Moscow will respect the nuclear weapons caps established under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty after President Vladimir Putin announced the country was suspending participation in it.

The ministry also said in a statement published on its website that the decision to suspend participation in the treaty is "reversible," just hours after Putin's announcement.  

"At the same time, in order to maintain a sufficient degree of predictability and stability in the nuclear missile sphere, Russia intends to adhere to a responsible approach and will continue to strictly comply with the quantitative restrictions on strategic offensive arms stipulated by it within the life cycle of the Treaty," according to the ministry.

"In addition, the Russian side will continue to participate in the exchange of notifications with the American side on launches of ICBMs and SLBMs on the basis of the relevant agreement between the USSR and the USA in 1988," it said. 

About the nuclear arms treaty: The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.

Under the treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, though inspections had been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

7:11 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Biden meets with Moldovan president after US expressed concerns about effects of Russia's war

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Paris, France, in November 2022.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Paris, France, in November 2022. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

US President Joe Biden met with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Warsaw Tuesday.

It comes a few days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US has “deep concern” about Russia's efforts to destabilize Moldova's government. Sandu also said last week that Russia was plotting a coup in Moldova.

During the meeting, Biden highlighted ongoing US assistance to “help Moldova strengthen its political and economic resilience, including its democratic reform agenda and energy security, and to address the effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine," according to the White House.

Some context: Moldova, situated between Ukraine and Romania, was previously 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 slither 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 itself as a so-called “peacekeeping force” in Transnistria, sending troops in to back pro-Moscow separatists there.

In the context of the war today, the Russian-backed separatist enclave at the southwestern edge of the country could now present a potential bookend to any Russian assault westwards from Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

2:35 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Analysis: Putin's speech was nothing new as he continues to dig in to war in Ukraine

Analysis from CNN's Nathan Hodge

In his state of the nation speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin recycled the same lines about his rationale for invading Ukraine nearly one year ago, and he outlined no vision of how the war he launched might end.

But Putin did offer at least one headline, announcing that Russia is suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Suspending the treaty in some ways continues an uneasy status quo. Under the agreement, the US and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites to verify compliance, but those inspections had been on hold since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Putin’s speech, then, was nothing new. In his rambling, one-hour-and-45-minute address, he offered some warmed-over options from a menu of complaints about the West and rehashed the same justifications for his full-scale war on Ukraine.

His address, in fact, was reminiscent of the television speech that aired on February 24, 2022, announcing the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s so-called “special military operation.” Putin repeated the same baseless claim that Moscow had no choice but to use force against Ukraine. And he doubled down on blaming the West for the conflict.

“I want to repeat: it was they who unleashed the war,” Putin said. “And we used and continue to use force to stop it.”

Such remarks seem intended for a domestic audience that in many ways has seen their sense of normalcy upended. So Putin also played the reassuring wartime leader, holding a moment of silence for soldiers killed in Ukraine, and promising that Russia will set up a special fund to offer assistance to families of veterans and soldiers killed in Ukraine and bolster social benefits for them.

The Russian president also indirectly addressed some of the discontent in the ranks that has filtered back to the Kremlin following a partial mobilization last fall. Mobilization has been beset by morale-sapping logistical difficulties, supply problems and general disorganization, causing major outrage in Russian society. Putin pledged that rotations in Ukraine would be more predictable, and that soldiers would be given much-needed leave.

“Service in the zone of the special military operation – everyone understands this very well – is associated with colossal physical and psychological stress, with everyday risks to health and life,” he said. “Therefore, I consider it necessary to establish for the mobilized, in general for all military personnel, for all participants of the special military operation, including volunteers, regular leave lasting at least 14 days and at least once every six months, excluding travel time, so that each soldier has the opportunity to visit families, to be close to relatives and friends.”

That statement can be interpreted another way: Russians need to settle in for a long war, so soldiers should expect some R&R.

Read more here.