February 24, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Rob Picheta, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:06 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022
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4:23 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Why some world leaders are considering removing Russia from a banking system known as SWIFT

From CNN's Charles Riley

European Union leaders have been considering what some are calling the "nuclear option" of removing Russia from SWIFT, a high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world, following the invasion of Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that removing Russia from SWIFT is not the direction the rest of Europe wants to go in at this moment, but noted that taking the nation out of the network is "always an option."

“The sanctions that we’ve proposed on all their banks are of equal consequence, maybe more consequence than SWIFT,” Biden said, referring to the latest round of sanctions he announced today.

The Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday urged the West to ban Russia from SWIFT in a tweet. Earlier on Thursday, CNN reported that the EU was undecided as to whether to cut Russia off from SWIFT and that EU nations were split over the decision.

But what is SWIFT, and what could it mean for Russia? The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication was founded in 1973 to replace the telex and is now used by over 11,000 financial institutions to send secure messages and payment orders. With no globally accepted alternative, it is essential plumbing for global finance.

Removing Russia from SWIFT would make it nearly impossible for financial institutions to send money in or out of the country, delivering a sudden shock to Russian companies and their foreign customers — especially buyers of oil and gas exports denominated in US dollars.

"The cutoff would terminate all international transactions, trigger currency volatility, and cause massive capital outflows," Maria Shagina, a visiting fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, wrote in a paper last year for Carnegie Moscow Center. Excluding Russia from SWIFT would cause its economy to shrink by 5%, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin estimated in 2014.

SWIFT is based in Belgium and governed by a board consisting of 25 people, including Eddie Astanin, chairman of the management board at Russia's Central Counterparty Clearing Centre. SWIFT, which describes itself as a "neutral utility," is incorporated under Belgian law and must comply with EU regulations.

What happens if Russia is removed? There is precedent for removing a country from SWIFT.

SWIFT unplugged Iranian banks in 2012 after they were sanctioned by the European Union over the country's nuclear program. Iran lost almost half of its oil export revenue and 30% of foreign trade following the disconnection, according to Shagina.

"SWIFT is a neutral global cooperative set up and operated for the collective benefit of its community," the organization said in a statement in January. "Any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators," it added.

It's not clear how much support there is among US allies for taking similar action against Russia. The United States and Germany have the most to lose if Russia is disconnected, because their banks are the most frequent SWIFT users to communicate with Russian banks, according to Shagina.

The European Central Bank has warned lenders with significant exposure to Russia to prepare for sanctions against Moscow, according to the Financial Times. ECB officials have also asked banks how they would respond to scenarios including a move to prevent Russian banks accessing SWIFT.

Read more about SWIFT here.

CNN's Kate Sullivan in Washington, DC, Niamh Kennedy in London and James Frater in Lviv contributed reporting to this post.

3:10 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Here's what the Russia sanctions Biden announced today will do — and who they will target

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that the newly announced sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine will take some time to have their full impacts felt by Russia and its economy. 

"This is gonna take time. And we have to show resolve, so he knows what's coming. And so the people of Russia know what he's brought on them. That's what this is all about," Biden said. 

He added, "He's not going to say, 'Oh my God, these sanctions are coming. I'm going to stand down.' He's going to test the resolve of the West to see if we stay together and we will. We will and it will impose significant costs on him."

The President also said that the sanctions are critical for sending a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"If we don't move against him now with these significant sanctions, he will be emboldened," Biden said. 

Here's a look at the unveiled sanctions and who they will target, according to the White House:  

  • Cut off Russia's largest financial institution, Sberbank, and 25 of its subsidiaries from the US financial system. Sberbank holds nearly one-third of the overall Russian banking sector's assets
  • "Full blocking sanctions" on VTB Bank, Russia second largest bank, and 20 of its subsidiaries. 
  • "Full blocking sanctions" on three other large Russia banks: Bank Otkritie, Sovcombank OJSC, and Novikombank. 
  • Cut off 13 major state-owned companies from raising money from the US market. The list include: Sberbank, AlfaBank, Credit Bank of Moscow, Gazprombank, Russian Agricultural Bank, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Transneft, Rostelecom, RusHydro, Alrosa, Sovcomflot, and Russian Railways.
  • Sanctions on Russian elites and family members. The list: Sergei Ivanov (and his son, Sergei), Andrey Patrushev (and his son Nikolai), Igor Sechin (and his son Ivan), Andrey Puchkov, Yuriy Solviev (and two real estate companies he owns), Galina Ulyutina, and Alexander Vedyakhin.
  • Sanctions on 24 Belarusian people and companies. This includes "two significant Belarusian state-owned banks, nine defense firms, and seven regime-connected official and elites," according to the White House. 
  • Sanctions on the Russian military.
  • Sanctions on certain technological imports into Russia.  
3:06 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Russian military transport aircraft crashes near Ukraine, Russian state news agency reports

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

A Russian Antonov-26 military transport aircraft crashed in the Voronezh region, near Ukraine, while transporting equipment, the Russian Western Military District said in a statement on Thursday, according to RIA, a Russian state news agency.

“The crew died," the statement read, without clarifying how many were on board and saying the cause of the crash was “equipment failure.”

3:01 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Canada suspends embassy and consulate operations in Ukraine temporarily 

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Tanika Gray 

The Canadian minister of foreign affairs announced Thursday that the country will temporarily suspend embassy and consulate operations in Ukraine. 

“The situation in Ukraine has rapidly deteriorated and poses serious challenges. As a result, we are temporarily suspending operations at both our embassy and our consulate in Ukraine. Canadian personnel are now safely in Poland,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said in a statement. 

Joly said operations at the embassy and consulate will resume when “the security situation in Ukraine allows us to ensure the adequate delivery of services.” 

Consular services will remain available to Canadians in Ukraine. 

“The safety and security of all Canadians is our highest priority,” Joly said. “Canadians should continue to avoid all travel to Ukraine. We urge those currently in Ukraine to shelter in place unless it is safe for them to leave the country.” 

2:54 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US expands no-fly zone near Ukraine

From CNN's Pete Muntean

The US government is expanding the area near Ukraine where American pilots cannot fly. 

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is publishing an expanded notice to pilots that will “now cover the entire country of Ukraine, the entire country of Belarus and a western portion of Russia.”

Prior to this announcement, the FAA prohibited operations only in an eastern region of Ukraine – though the Ukrainian airspace was already closed and no US airlines operate flights to or from Ukraine. 

The FAA says it is putting out its own bulletin to pilots instead of relying on one from the Ukrainian government “given the circumstances.” The restrictions do not apply to military operations.    

2:52 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine official says at least 57 killed and 169 injured following attacks by Russian forces

From CNN’s Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

There are 57 people who have died and 169 people have been injured – including both combat and non-combat injuries – following attacks by Russian forces, Ukraine’s Minister of Healthcare Viktor Lyashko said Thursday.

Speaking live on Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel, Lyashko said hospitals and medical workers had also come under fire on Thursday – including in Avdiivka and Vuhledar in Donetsk – with casualties reported among medical workers.

2:51 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US sanctions Belarusian defense minister and others for support of Russian invasion

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin is pictured during joint military drills between Belarus and Russia at the training ground in Belarus on February 19.
Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin is pictured during joint military drills between Belarus and Russia at the training ground in Belarus on February 19. (Evgeny Odinokov/Sputnik via AP)

The US Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions against 24 Belarusian individuals and entities, including the defense minister, due to their “support for, and facilitation of” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration had said that Minsk would face “swift and decisive” sanctions if it allowed Russia to launch an attack of Ukraine from its territory.

Among those targeted by Thursday’s sanctions are two Belarusian state-owned banks – Belinvestbank and Bank Dabrabyt – as well as Belarusian Minister of Defense Viktor Gennadievich Khrenin and State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aleksandr Grigorievich Volfovich. 

“Having already sacrificed its legitimacy to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people, the Lukashenka regime is now jeopardizing Belarus’s sovereignty by supporting Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

“Treasury continues to disrupt Belarus’s military and financial capabilities through targeted sanctions. Further, due to the interconnectedness between the two countries, the actions Treasury took against Russia today will also impose severe economic pain on the Lukashenka regime,” Yellen said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko spoke by phone on Thursday, according to Belarusian state news agency Belta.

CNN also witnessed, through a livestream video, troops atop a column of military vehicles entering Ukraine from a border crossing with Belarus Thursday.

3:00 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in pictures

Russian invaded Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation early Thursday. Russian forces surrounded Ukraine from three sides and have been attacking from land and sea.

Here are the visuals as the assault quickly spread across Ukraine. You can also visit CNN's photo gallery for more.

Ukrainian servicemen patrol in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on February 24.
Ukrainian servicemen patrol in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on February 24. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke rises from an air defense base after an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24. A CNN team in Mariupol has reported hearing a barrage of artillery.
Smoke rises from an air defense base after an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24. A CNN team in Mariupol has reported hearing a barrage of artillery. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

People shelter in a subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 24.
People shelter in a subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 24. (Brent Swails/CNN)

Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire after a reported strike in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuhuiv on February 24.
Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire after a reported strike in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuhuiv on February 24. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Sviatoslav Fursin, left, and Yarina Arieva, center, kneel during their wedding ceremony at St. Michael's cathedral in Kyiv on February 24. Arieva, a 21 year-old deputy on the Kyiv city council, and Fursin, a 24 year-old software engineer, had planned on getting married in May but moved it due to attacks by Russian forces on Thursday.
Sviatoslav Fursin, left, and Yarina Arieva, center, kneel during their wedding ceremony at St. Michael's cathedral in Kyiv on February 24. Arieva, a 21 year-old deputy on the Kyiv city council, and Fursin, a 24 year-old software engineer, had planned on getting married in May but moved it due to attacks by Russian forces on Thursday. (Christian Streib/CNN)

Police officers inspect the remains of a missile that landed in Kyiv on February 24.
Police officers inspect the remains of a missile that landed in Kyiv on February 24. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

People wait in line to buy train tickets at the central station in Kyiv on February 24.
People wait in line to buy train tickets at the central station in Kyiv on February 24. (Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN)

A long line of cars is seen exiting Kyiv on February 24. Heavy traffic appeared to be heading west, away from where explosions were heard early in the morning.
A long line of cars is seen exiting Kyiv on February 24. Heavy traffic appeared to be heading west, away from where explosions were heard early in the morning. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

People in Moscow watch a televised address by Russian President Vladimir Putin as he announces a military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 24.
People in Moscow watch a televised address by Russian President Vladimir Putin as he announces a military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 24. (Sergei Illnitsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

2:44 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US expels second-ranking Russian diplomat after expulsion of US deputy chief of mission from Moscow

From Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

The US expelled the No. 2 diplomat at the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, in response to Russia expelling the second-ranking US diplomat in Moscow earlier this year, a State Department official confirms.

The Russians were alerted of this yesterday, and the diplomat was given a few weeks to leave the US, the official said.

The US took this action as a direct response to what the Russians had done — nothing related to the Ukraine crisis. This instance follows years of diplomatic tit-for-tats exchanged between the two countries. 

The No. 2 person at the Russian embassy who will be leaving is the minister counselor.