February 23, 2023 - Town hall on Russia's war in Ukraine

By Kathleen Magramo, Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury, Tori B. Powell and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 24, 2023
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10:13 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

"Russia has already lost this war": National security adviser says Russia has failed to complete its war objectives

While National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitted he "cannot predict the future," he did assert that "Russia has already lost this war" against Ukraine.

"Russia's aims in this war were to wipe Ukraine off the map, to take the capital and to eliminate Ukraine, to absorb it into Russia," Sullivan said. "They failed at doing that and they are in no position to be able to do that as we go forward."
10:26 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

"We have your backs ... in trying to help you feel safe," USAID head says to 14-year-old Ukrainian girl 

USAID Administrator Samantha Powers reassures Lera, 14, that the US has Ukraine's best interest and will try to make teens like her feel safe.
USAID Administrator Samantha Powers reassures Lera, 14, that the US has Ukraine's best interest and will try to make teens like her feel safe. (CNN)

During Thursday's town hall, Lera, a 14-year-old Ukrainian girl, asked if she could rely on Americans to feel safe in her country.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power reassured her the United States is committed to making Ukrainians feel as safe as possible despite living in a time of war.

Power listed ways in how there are precautions taken like bomb shelters and metal detectors to help everyday Ukrainians feel safe.

"We have your backs, we stand with you, not just here on the battle front but in trying to help you feel as much safety as you can when one man and his wicked vision has tried to take that away," Power said.
"We all long for the day where you can walk freely with your classmates, not worry about having to scamper to a bomb shelter, not have to worry about your loved ones or yourselves. When your neighbors and your friends and your family members are not off in some distant country where they became refugees, but they're back home reunited with you and as the president has said, we are with you till the end. We will stand with you," she said.
10:04 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

US is keeping a close eye on relations between China and Russia, national security adviser says

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US has been keeping a close eye on China and Russia's relationship "since early last February" when Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to China for the Olympics.

He said the idea the two countries becoming "unbreakable allies" is disproven because China "abstained on a UN general assembly resolution."

"They didn't vote with Russia," Sullivan said. "They have been very careful in how they posture themselves publicly and their comments. They have tried to pitch themselves as somehow not standing fully in Russia's camp when it comes to the war in Ukraine."

For context: US officials have said China could be preparing to provide lethal military aid to Russia. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had not yet seen China do so, but that China "hasn't taken that off the table for sure."

10:27 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

Americans are united in their support for Ukraine, USAID administrator says

Despite divisions within the country, Americans are united behind Ukrainians, USAID Administrator Samantha Powers said when asked by a Ukrainian mother about the commonality between the citizens of both countries.

"The reflection, I think, of how much commonality Americans do feel with Ukrainians is the flow of support that has been sustained over the course of this last year. It is the bipartisanship in a town that isn't famous for it anymore, but Ukraine has been not only a galvanizing issue, but a uniting issue for our own country, which has been very divided in recent years," she said during CNN's town hall.

Ukrainian mother Lesya Karnauh also had a message for Americans – that she does not want them to believe misinformation about the Ukrainian people.

"I would like to know if Americans see how similar they are to Ukrainians and do Americans understand that we share the same values and we are just like you, we love our families, we love our children. We want to progress and we want to see our children happy and safe. I would like you to know we do not have hate in our hearts and we do not want to take peace from anyone in this world, even though the war has come to us. Please don't believe misinformation about us," Karnauh said.
9:58 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

F-16 fighter jets "are not the key capability" that Ukraine needs right now, national security adviser says

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that F-16 fighter jets – which have been requested by Ukraine – "are not the key capability" for the country's current needs, which is a counteroffensive against Russian forces.

"F-16s are not a question for the short-term fight. F-16s are a question for the longterm defense of Ukraine and that's a conversation that President Biden and President Zelensky had," Sullivan said.

Some background: The most glaring difference between Biden and Zelensky lies in the kind of weapons the US president is willing to provide. The government in Kyiv is ratcheting up its campaign for the West to send F-16 jets and is now getting increasing buy-in from some influential bipartisan members of Congress.

Biden has so far declined to agree to the request, which gets to the heart of a dilemma that defines his war strategy: How far to go to help Kyiv win while avoiding a direct clash between the West and Russia.

10:02 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

USAID administrator says there's no evidence of misuse in US assistance so far

USAID Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a CNN town hall on Thursday, February 23, 2023.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power speaks during a CNN town hall on Thursday, February 23, 2023. (CNN)

Samantha Power, US Agency for International Development administrator, assured that US assistance is properly being used to support Ukraine in the war.

"Up until this point, we don't have any evidence that US assistance is being misused or misspent but, again, the key is not resting on anybody's good will or virtue," she said. "It's checks and balances, the rule of law, the integrity of officials."

For context: Power's comments come as the Republican Party finds itself bitterly divided on Capitol Hill over whether the US should continue aiding Ukraine.

The topic of Ukraine funding will be front and center when both spending fights and presidential politics heat up later this year. Republicans are seeking to rein in spending across the federal government now that they control the House and will have leverage in negotiations to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, while conservatives on the campaign trail are looking to contrast their priorities against Biden’s in the prelude to the 2024 election cycle.

CNN's Lauren Fox and Melanie Zanona contributed reporting.

10:26 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

"There should be more options," Sullivan says on Elon Musk's Starlink providing satellites in Ukraine

It's a good thing there is a company that was able to set up a resilient internet communication and telephone communication in a war zone and that should be praised — but "there should be more options," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Elon Musk's Starlink company.

"But, of course, there should be more options. There should be more availability of the internet, more competition and we'd like to see more companies enter the picture to be able to offer a range of choices," Sullivan said in response to CNN's Fareed Zakaria asking if the US government should take more of a lead of the satellite situation in Ukraine instead of Musk.
He added that distribution of internet services by the US government is not how its designed to work because "we have relied upon the private sector for it, but there are steps the US government can take working with other governments to stimulate and support more of these types of companies being able to deliver more internet to more people in Ukraine but, yes, also here in the United States and elsewhere around the world."
9:38 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

National security adviser vows to ramp up ammunition for Ukraine

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a CNN town hall on Thursday, February 23, 2023.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a CNN town hall on Thursday, February 23, 2023. (CNN)

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan vowed to do "everything in our power to get you the equipment and the ammunition" that Ukraine needs. That includes 155-millimeter artillery shells, 120-millimeter tank shells among other tools like HIMARS missiles.

"One of the things that we are working hard at— at President Biden's direction — is to increase the production of all of these types of ammunition," Sullivan told a Ukrainian soldier named Yegor Thursday night.

He said the increase of ammunition isn't just a goal for the United States, but for all NATO countries as well "so that the total supply of each of these different forms of ammunition grows month by month and we can continue to move to the front lines."

He said countries are putting in "immense effort and resources" into ramping up ammunition, but noted that "this is not something we can do with the snap of a finger."

9:35 p.m. ET, February 23, 2023

US sees no change in Russia's nuclear posture, national security adviser says

The US sees no change in Russia's nuclear posture, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said when asked by CNN's Fareed Zakaria on whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is bluffing about the risk of escalation of using nuclear weapons.

"We do not see any change in Russia's nuclear posture and we've made no changes in our nuclear posture. So we are constantly vigilant and we also maintain regular channels to the Russian government to be able to talk to them about the risk of this escalation and also communicate the severity of the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons," Sullivan said during Thursday's CNN town hall.
"Sitting here today we do not see movements in Russia's nuclear forces that lead us to believe that something fundamentally has changed from how things have been over the course of the past year," he added.