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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2:35 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

More than 100,000 people have moved within Ukraine, UN refugee agency estimates 

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

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)

More than 100,000 people have moved within Ukraine, “fleeing the violence for safety,” the United Nations refugee agency said in a statement Thursday. 

“There has been significant displacement inside the country – it seems that more than 100,000 people have moved within the borders fleeing the violence for safety. And there have been movements towards and across international borders. But the situation is still chaotic and evolving fast,” said Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson at the agency. 

Refugee resettlement organizations are mobilizing resources to assist displaced Ukrainians, advocates tell CNN. The scale and scope of refugee resettlement is likely to come into focus in the coming days and weeks. But refugee advocates are already warning of displacement — and meeting the needs of refugees — as Russia invades Ukraine. 

“Usually, these conflicts and exodus of refugees happens over time. You see a few people, then a few more people,” said Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of global public affairs at HIAS, a refugee resettlement organization. Nezer cautioned that it’s still unclear how long the conflict will last and if people will be able to return home.  

“We are working to quickly mobilize resources and connect with partners to establish a response that will provide life-saving support to civilians forced to flee their homes,” Lani Fortier, senior director of emergencies at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.  

HIAS’ partner in the region, Right to Protection, has been assisting displaced people in Ukraine for years. Since the invasion, staff have been seeking safety, Nezer said. 

“Yesterday we were doing work, literally we were out in the field in the east serving our clients, and today everyone is on the move,” she added. 

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned Wednesday at the UN General Assembly meeting as many as five million people could be displaced “by Russia’s war of choice.”

Some context: The United States has resettled thousands of Ukrainians in recent years. The process, though, can be long and cumbersome, meaning that an influx of refugees to the US is not expected imminently. 

“Because resettlement is not the first response in a conflict situation, we're not anticipating huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees through the US resettlement program specifically,” said Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, another resettlement agency.  

2:39 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

President Biden says the US is prepared to respond to Russian cyberattacks

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The United States is prepared to respond to cyberattacks by Russia, said President Joe Biden, adding that for months the US has been working with the private sector to bolster its security.

“If Russia pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond,” Biden said during remarks from the White House. “For months, we've been working closely with the private sector to harden their cyber defenses [and to] sharpen our ability to respond [to] the Russian cyberattacks as well.”

“America stands up to bullies; we stand up for freedom," Biden said. "This is who we are."

US officials remain on high alert for any cyber activity against key domestic targets including banks and critical infrastructure, an official recently told CNN. US officials told businesses to watch for potential ransomware attacks following sanctions issued against Russia earlier this week.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration has not yet attributed cyberattacks on some Ukrainian government websites, but noted that the attack is “consistent with [the] type of activity Russia would carry out in a bid to destabilize Ukraine.” 

Earlier Thursday, multiple Russian government websites appeared to go offline outside of Russia as the war in Ukraine continued to unfold — though the exact reasons for the outages were not immediately clear.

4:24 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US sanctions on Russia are robust but effectiveness is yet to be determined, CNN's Erin Burnett says

Analysis from CNN's Erin Burnett / Written by CNN's Aditi Sangal

US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia on Thursday and said they have been agreed upon by G7 and NATO members.

While "it will not feel like much" to Ukrainians, it's "fair" to describe these sanctions as robust, said CNN anchor Erin Burnett reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.

"Obviously, it's a disappointment that Europe would not get on board with bans to the SWIFT Banking system," she added.

SWIFT stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication which is used by over 11,000 financial institutions to send secure messages and payment orders.

Burnett explained the numbers that matter here in relation to the sanctions Biden announced:

First, $100 per barrel

"That is where Brent and crude oil are trading now. So denying Russia, and those companies that deal with that, the ability to benefit from that — that's pain," she said. "To the extent they can still sell it to China, which they can. China is still going to remain — unless there's a big development here — going to pretty much become the primary buyer of a lot of Russian things and the primary provider of those tech exports."

Second, 33%

"That's how much the Russian stock market finished down today, after initially losing half its value. So there's pain there. Putin said about an hour or two ago to the wealthy in that country that your patriotic duty is to now shoulder some of the downside here, making it very clear there will be pain."

Third, the unknown.

Biden mentioned the "elites and their families, the billionaires, the corrupt" in Russia will be sanctioned, Burnett said. "He didn't tell you how many and he didn't tell who they are. He said we're going to know in the coming days. That's crucial. So far they have only sanctioned five of them."

She added that the list of Russians sanctioned so far are not anywhere near the top 25, 35 or 45 wealthiest Russians. "This list is going to really matter" Burnett said.

"A lot will come down to who the individuals are, and are they really going to block them from access to the things they care about the most? The art galleries, yachts, women, and the glitz of the western world. That's what they want. If isn't blocked, then they will not be effective," she said.

More context: In his White House remarks today, Biden said his threat to directly sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not a bluff,” he told CNN.

Biden said the current sanctions “exceed anything that's ever been done,” but he didn’t answer when asked why he hasn’t directly sanctioned Putin yet.

Asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins what could stop Putin if sanctions can’t, the President responded, “I didn’t say sanctions couldn't stop him.”

“The threat of the sanctions and imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things,” Biden said. “He's going to begin to see the effect of the sanctions.” 

Pressed by Collins on if direct sanctions on Putin were a step he was prepared to take, Biden said the threat was “not a bluff, it’s on the table.” But asked why not sanction him now, the President didn’t respond.

CNN's Nikki Carvajal contributed reporting to this post.

Here's how CNN's Abby Phillip reacted to President Biden announcing the second round of sanctions against Russia:

2:38 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Russian government websites mysteriously go dark as invasion continues

From CNN's Brian Fung and Sean Lyngaas

Multiple Russian government websites appeared to go offline outside of Russia Thursday as the war in Ukraine continued to unfold — though the exact reasons for the outages were not immediately clear.

A website belonging to the Russian military became inaccessible to users outside of Russia early Thursday evening Eastern European Time, as did the domain for Russia's federal government (albeit briefly) and the English-language version of the Kremlin's website.

According to Doug Madory, an analyst at the internet monitoring firm Kentik, the disruptions are part of a broader pattern of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting Russia's government.

"It is a simultaneous flood of traffic from sources around the world on a specific port ... to a specific set of IP addresses," Madory told CNN. "That isn't a natural flow of internet traffic."

It is unclear who may be responsible for the flood of bogus internet traffic. Other cybersecurity experts expressed doubts that a major DDoS campaign was underway. At least some of the website outages may be the result of Russia's own moves to preempt potential DDoS attacks, three cybersecurity experts told CNN.

Deactivating the websites is a "defensive measure and a means of isolating a portion of the [Russian] Internet," said CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton.

James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Russia likely unplugged its own websites "to reduce risk."

"Nobody has taken credit [for the outages], and people aren't shy about doing that," Lewis said.

Brett Callow, a threat analyst at the information security firm Emsisoft, said it is a common practice for a domain owner to disconnect its own website in the midst of a crisis.

"US companies frequently do a similar thing during ransomware incidents, namely, block all connections from outside the US," Callow said.

2:43 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Video shows Russian military vehicles at Chernobyl nuclear accident site

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Josh Pennington

(from Telegram)
(from Telegram)

Russian military vehicles are at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site near Pripyat, Ukraine, according to videos uploaded to social media. 

Earlier on Thursday, the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management spokesperson, Yevgeniya Kuznetsovа, told CNN that the Russian military had taken control over the plant. 

"As you can see, we are surrounded by these tanks," an individual is heard saying on one of the videos posted to social media. 

In the three videos, three vehicles are seen; one of the vehicles is a Russian tank and is emblazoned with a white "v" on the front. 

Similar white markings have suddenly appeared on Russian military vehicles in recent days.

The vehicles are parked outside of one of the main buildings in the same complex as Chernobyl's damaged nuclear reactor. They are roughly 3,000 feet from the New Safe Confinement shield. 

"We were attacked," a man is heard saying in the video. "There is another man with us. They all just disappeared. The station is completely empty." 

The man moved around a room in the complex building as he filmed.

"Damn it," he said. "They've even left their helmets, there is not a single ensign anywhere."

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Twitter that Russian forces were attempting to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl [Nuclear Power Plant]. Our defenders are sacrificing their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Zelensky tweeted.

Here's a look at where the plant is located:

2:26 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Biden says he's not "prepared to comment" on whether China will help isolate Russia

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury and Beijing bureau 

(Alex Brandon/AP)
(Alex Brandon/AP)

US President Joe Biden declined to comment when asked about whether China would help isolate Russia.

Following his remarks on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a reporter asked the President, "Are you urging China to help isolate Russia?"

I'm not prepared to comment on that at the moment," Biden responded.

China's response to the invasion: China has refused to condemn Russia's attack on Ukraine Thursday, instead repeating calls for parties to "exercise restraint" and accusing the United States of "fueling fire" in the tensions.

In a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing that went on for more than 90 minutes, spokesperson and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying dodged more than 11 questions regarding Russia's actions in Ukraine. They included repeated inquiries on whether Beijing would consider Russia's acts an invasion and whether they violated Ukraine's territorial integrity. 

The China-Russia friendship: Beijing is navigating a complex position as it attempts to balance deepening ties with Moscow with its practiced foreign policy of staunchly defending state sovereignty.

Though not military allies, China and Russia have been presenting an increasingly united front in the face of what they view as Western interference into their respective affairs and regions.

2:32 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Biden: "Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold the global peace"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

(Alex Brandon/AP)
(Alex Brandon/AP)

President Biden spoke harshly about Russian President Vladimir Putin's military operation in Ukraine on Thursday.

"Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold the global peace. Now the entire world sees clearly what Putin and his Kremlin allies are really all about," Biden said during a live speech from the White House. "This was never about a genuine security concern on their part. It was always about naked aggression." 

Biden went on to note the aggressive tacts the Russian president has taken to expand his territory.

This invasion is "about Putin's desire for empire by any means necessary. By bullying Russia's neighbors through coercion and corruption. By changing borders by force, and ultimately by choosing a war without a cause," Biden said. "Putin's action betrays sinister vision for the future of our world, one where nations to take what they want by force."

President Biden spoke on the ways in which Putin's goals and agenda stand in direct contrast to the values of the US and others.

"It's a vision that the United States and freedom-loving nations everywhere will oppose with every tool of our considerable power. The United States and our allies and partners will emerge from this stronger, more united, more determined and more purposeful," said Biden.

President Biden also predicted that the current strategy by Putin will do his nation long-term harm.

"Putin's aggression against Ukraine will end up costing Russia dearly, economically and strategically. We will make sure of that. Putin will be a pariah on the international stage," Biden said.

"When the history of this area is written, Putin's choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger. Liberty, democracy, human dignity: these are the forces far more powerful than fear and oppression. They cannot be extinguished by tyrants like Putin and his armies. They cannot be erased from people's hearts and hopes by any amount of violence and intimidation. They endure," Biden added.

2:27 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

UN secretary-general says Russian attack is wrong but not irreversible

From CNN’s Richard Roth

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters the “decisions of the next few days will shape our world” after Russian invaded Ukraine.

Guterres reiterated his comments that the attack is wrong and a repudiation of the principles of the UN charter. He added that though the decision is not irreversible, Russia has given no sign of pulling back.

Guterres declined to take questions.

He said the UN is scaling up its humanitarian operations around Ukraine and is releasing $20 million from its humanitarian relief fund for the people of Ukraine.

Russian military operations are being seen “on a scale that Europe has not seen in decades,” he added.

There are “images of fear anguish and terror in every corner of Ukraine” he said, adding that the “protection of civilians must be priority number one.”

2:40 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Sanctions on Putin are still "on the table," Biden says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt and Kate Sullivan

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said direct sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin are still "on the table" while taking questions from reporters at the White House.

"It's not a bluff. It's on the table," he said, responding to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Watch CNN's Kaitlan Collins press Biden on sanctioning Putin:

He did not answer when she asked why he was not personally sanctioning Putin today.

Biden also said he has no plans to talk to Putin after outlining the steps the US is taking to retaliate against the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Biden said removing Russia from SWIFT is not the direction the rest of Europe wants to go in at this moment. 

Biden said removing the nation from SWIFT, a high security network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world, is “always an option,” but said, “right now, that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”

“The sanctions that we’ve proposed on all their banks are of equal consequence, maybe more consequence than SWIFT,” Biden said. 

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

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.