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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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.

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

Biden condemns Putin and pledges support for Ukraine in speech in Poland. Here's the latest news

From CNN staff

US President Joe Biden stands amid children cheering with US, Polish and Ukrainian flags after he delivered a speech in front the Royal Warsaw Castle Gardens in Warsaw, Poland on February 21.
US President Joe Biden stands amid children cheering with US, Polish and Ukrainian flags after he delivered a speech in front the Royal Warsaw Castle Gardens in Warsaw, Poland on February 21. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that "Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia," as he addressed a large crowd in Warsaw, Poland, marking the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and you know, this has been an extraordinary year in every sense," Biden said. "Extraordinary brutality of Russian forces and mercenaries. They have committed depravities, crimes against humanity without shame or compunction." 

In pointed terms, the president accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of atrocities and said his attempt to subjugate a sovereign nation wouldn’t succeed.

“President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail,” he said, one of the 10 separate times he singled out the Russian leader by name in his address.

His remarks came a day after he made a surprise trip to the Ukrainian capital.

Here are the latest headlines:

  • Biden announces the US will host NATO 2024 summit: Biden announced Tuesday that the United States will host next year’s NATO Summit, a high-stakes gathering of world leaders that comes amid an uncertain, but likely violent, future for Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. 
  • Russia suspends participation in nuclear weapons treaty: Moscow is not withdrawing from the agreement, but is suspending its participation, Putin said in his state of the nation address. Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, but inspections have been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the New START agreement is still in force after a previous agreement between Moscow and Washington extended it through February 4, 2026. 
  • Wagner mercenary group leader Prigozhin accuses Russia's defense ministry of "treason": Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin accused the leadership of the Russian defense ministry of "treason" for an alleged attempt to destroy his private military company. "The Chief of the General Staff and the Minister of Defense are handing out commands right and left, that the Wagner PMC should not receive ammunition, they are also not helping with air transport,” Prigozhin claimed in an audio recording published Tuesday by his press service on Telegram.
  • Developing partnership with China is a priority, Kremlin official says: The secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, spoke with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi during Wang’s trip to Moscow on Tuesday, according to Russian state news agencies TASS and RIA Novosti. Patrushev said the deepening of Russian-Chinese coordination in the international arena was particularly important, according to RIA. The Russian official said developing a strategic partnership with China is an “unconditional priority” for Russian foreign policy. China has refused to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
12:32 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Biden named Putin 10 times in his speech in Poland

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on Tuesday in Warsaw.
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on Tuesday in Warsaw. (Evan Vucci/AP)

US President Joe Biden singled out Russian President Vladimir Putin by name 10 times in his speech from Warsaw, going after the Russian leader directly as he rallied the world behind Ukraine.

By contrast, Putin didn't name Biden once in his lengthy and belligerent address from Moscow earlier in the day.

Biden said Putin had unleashed a "murderous assault," ordered tanks into Ukraine and attempted to starve the world.

"President Putin's craven lust for land and power will fail, and the Ukrainians' love for their country will prevail," he said.

12:20 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

US assessment of Russia's nuclear program remains unchanged, officials say

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that Russia is suspending participation in the New START arms reduction treaty, the US assessment of Russia’s nuclear program remains unchanged, two senior administration officials told CNN.

There remains some uncertainty among US officials as to what Russia plans to do now that it has halted participation in the agreement, the officials said.

But officials in President Joe Biden's administration remain confident that the US will know if Russia begins to build out its nuclear program. 

“We're confident in our ability to monitor these very questions,” a senior administration official said when asked if the US would know if Russia began to build up its nuclear program beyond what it has now. “New START is an important tool, but it's not the only tool we have at our at our disposal.”

The official would not detail the tools the US has in its arsenal. Historically, the US has relied on intelligence gathering to monitor Russia’s nuclear program in addition to the information that is gathered as a part of New START. 

The Biden administration’s confidence in monitoring Russia’s nuclear program mirrors the comments from State Department spokesperson Ned Price earlier.

“We haven't seen any reason to change our nuclear posture, our strategic posture just yet, but this is something we monitor every day,” Price said on "CNN This Morning." 

About the nuclear arms treaty: The treaty limits each the US and Russia to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. It also requires on-site inspections as part of compliance checks. Russia has not been in compliance with the treaty for months, because it hasn't allowed inspections that are part of it. The inspections have now not occurred since 2020, because they were halted due to Covid-19 and never resumed. 

As Russia continues with its invasion of Ukraine, Putin is doubling down on his commitment to the war. US officials are wary to say that those efforts would handicap Russia’s ability to build its nuclear program, but some see it as unlikely that they would engage in those efforts while the war in ongoing. 

“I wouldn't want to offer an assessment as whether that has overstretched them to the point that they would be precluded from some way in some way from taking steps to develop their nuclear arsenal but ... they've got a lot of problems on their hands,” an official said. “I think they're going to be careful not to not to bite off more than they can chew.”

12:17 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Zelensky meets with US congressional delegation in Kyiv 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Mariya Knight 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with a delegation from the US House of Representatives led by Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Michael McCaul on Tuesday, Zelensky's office said in a statement. 

"This is a very powerful signal. Yesterday — President Biden's visit, today — a meeting with you. I believe this is very important evidence that the United States supports Ukraine," Zelensky said, according to the statement. 

Zelensky and the US delegation discussed the situation on the frontline and the "crimes committed by Russian invaders," his office said. "I have just been informed that Kherson was shelled once again. People died again. We need weapons to stop these crimes," he said. 

Zelensky also reiterated his gratitude for the strong support from both chambers and parties of Congress, the US President and the American people. 

"We are grateful for all the steps that have been taken, which have been endorsed by the President of the United States and the Congress. For the aid packages for our army, our military on the battlefield. And, of course, for the financial support to overcome all the challenges that have arisen as a result of Russian aggression," he said.

Earlier this month, McCaul spoke to CNN about bipartisan support for Ukraine and was asked if he believes the US is considering sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, McCaul replied, “I hope so,” and reiterated his concern over a drawn-out conflict between Russia and Ukraine while noting, “I think the momentum is building for this to happen.”

12:19 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Biden announces the US will host NATO 2024 summit

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Joe Biden holds a speech in Warsaw on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden holds a speech in Warsaw on Tuesday. (Michal Dyjuk/AP)

US President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the United States will host next year’s NATO Summit, a high-stakes gathering of world leaders that comes amid an uncertain, but likely violent, future for Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. 

“Next year, I will host every member of NATO for our 2024 summit in the United States. Together, we’ll celebrate the 75th anniversary of the strongest defensive alliance in the history of the world: NATO,” Biden said during remarks in Warsaw, Poland, commemorating the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. 

He reiterated US support for NATO and Article 5, the group’s founding principle that an attack on one member is an attack on all. 

“Let there be no doubt: commitment of the United States to our alliance and Article 5 is rock solid. And every member of NATO knows it and Russia knows it as well: an attack against one is an attack against all. It’s a sacred oath," he said.

He vowed that the US and its allies and partners “are going to continue to have Ukraine’s back as it defends itself.”

12:20 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Biden praises Poland for its warm reception of Ukrainian refugees since Russia's war began

US President Joe Biden stood in solidarity with millions of Ukrainians who fled the country at the start of Russia's invasion and lauded the efforts of Poland and Polish people for receiving them.

"We stand with the millions of refugees of this war who found a welcome in Europe and the United States, particularly here in Poland," he said in a speech in Warsaw. "Polish businesses, civil society, cultural leaders, including the first lady of Poland — who is here tonight — have led with the heart and determination, showcasing all that's good about the human spirit."

He recounted his visit to Poland last year to meet the refugees, saying he will never forget it.

"Seeing their faces, exhausted and afraid, holding their children so close, worrying they may never see their fathers or husbands or brothers or sisters again. In that darkest moment through their lives, you the people of Poland offered them safety and light. You embraced them, you literally embraced them."

12:13 p.m. ET, February 21, 2023

Polish president: Thanks to Ukrainian heroism and support of allies, Kyiv has not fallen

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Polish President Andrzej Duda holds a speech at the Royal Castle after meeting US President Joe Biden in Warsaw on Tuesday.
Polish President Andrzej Duda holds a speech at the Royal Castle after meeting US President Joe Biden in Warsaw on Tuesday. (Michal Dyjuk/AP)

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday gave thanks to US President Joe Biden, the United States and US Congress for supporting Ukraine in a speech outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

"As the full-scale Russian invasion started, everybody thought that Ukraine would fall within 72 hours, within three days," he said, thanking "the heroism of the defenders of Ukraine" and "the support given to Ukraine by the free world."

Duda was speaking to a large crowd after talks with Biden in the Polish capital, as the US leader continues his tour of the region ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

"We stand in solidarity with Ukraine, and we will stand in solidarity with Ukraine," he said.  

"Long live free Ukraine. Long live the alliance of the Republic of Poland with the United States, long live NATO, long live the free world, long live Poland. There is no freedom without solidarity," Duda added.