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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7:57 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US secretary of state is "convinced" Moscow will try to overthrow the Ukrainian government

From CNN's From Hansler and Kylie Atwood

(From ABC News)
(From ABC News)

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he is “convinced” Moscow is going to try to overthrow the Ukrainian government.

Blinken's comments came during a taped national TV interview in which he was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambitions.

“You don't need intelligence to tell you that that's exactly what President Putin wants. He has made clear he’d like to reconstitute the Soviet Empire, short of that he’d like to reassert a sphere of influence around the neighboring countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc,” said Blinken.

Blinken went on to promise that NATO would stand in the way of Putin's ultimate goals. 

“Now, when it comes to a threat beyond Ukraine’s borders. There's something very powerful standing in his way. That's article five of NATO, an attack on one is an attack on all,” the top diplomat said.

7:41 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

DHS to lead domestic response to Russia-related impacts to the US amid cyberattack concerns

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands

The Department of Homeland Security has been designated as the lead federal agency managing the domestic response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis in the wake of warnings about potential cyberattacks on the US and ongoing disinformation campaigns. 

As part of the effort, DHS has set up a group to monitor Russian activity and coordinate among federal agencies, according to DHS.

The new group, to be led by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency executive director, Brandon Wales, will work across the federal government to prepare for and respond to potential threats to the US.

“While there are no specific threats to the homeland at this time, DHS is taking appropriate steps to ensure Federal efforts are coordinated should the need arise,” the agency said in a statement.

DHS has previously set up similar groups in moments of crisis. Last year, for example, DHS established a so-called Unified Coordination Group following the evacuation out of Afghanistan.

Among the current concerns held by homeland security officials is potential cyberattacks.

On Thursday: President Biden said the US is "prepared to respond," if Russia pursues cyberattacks against US companies or critical infrastructure. 

For months, the US has been working closely with the private sector to "harden our cyber defenses" and "sharpen our ability to respond to Russian cyberattacks," Biden said. 

In a PBS interview earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, though there is no information to suggest a specific, credible cyber threat against the US homeland, "it is our responsibility to be prepared."

"[W]e've been disseminating information, providing resources to the private sector for over two months now, once the prospect of a Russian attack against Ukraine materialized," he said, when pressed on whether sanctions could trigger a cyberattack. 

Last month: CNN reported that Russia would consider conducting a cyberattack on the US homeland if Moscow perceived that a US or NATO response to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine "threatened [Russia's] long-term national security," according to a DHS intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN.

The Russian conflict could also have an impact on the spread of misinformation and disinformation in the US.

DHS intelligence chief John Cohen said that escalated tensions between Russia and Ukraine have the potential to exacerbate the threat environment in the US, particularly as it relates to Russian disinformation campaigns and "Active Measure techniques," referring to long-standing political warfare methods used by Russia. 

Russia has maintained a "sustained level of activity" related to disinformation campaigns and influence operations in the US, according to Cohen, who spoke earlier this month at a George Washington University Program on Extremism event. 

Previously, Russia's influence operations focused primarily on promoting narratives associated with Covid-19, the 2020 election and issues relating to immigration and race in the US.

As tension with Ukraine spiked, DHS observed an increase in the Russian promotion of narratives trying to lay the blame for the Ukraine crisis "at the feet of the US," he said.

6:58 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US Holocaust Museum condemns Putin's war pretext that Ukraine needs to be "denazified"

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's exploitation of Holocaust history as a pretext for war in Ukraine.

The museum said Thursday that in justifying Thursday's attack, "Vladimir Putin has misrepresented and misappropriated Holocaust history by claiming falsely that democratic Ukraine needs to be ‘denazified’.”

In a statement, the museum added that "equally groundless and egregious are his claims that Ukrainian authorities are committing ‘genocide’ as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine."

Putin, in an unscheduled televised address early on Thursday, made false claims about genocide perpetrated against ethnic Russians in eastern regions of Ukraine and declared an operation to "demilitarize and denazify Ukraine." 

"We strongly condemn this unprovoked attack and are greatly concerned about the loss of life. The Museum stands with the Ukrainian people, including the thousands of Holocaust survivors still living in the country," said Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, the museum's chairman.

“These survivors are remnants of one of Europe’s largest pre-war Jewish populations that was almost completely decimated by the Germans in World War II. Having suffered terribly as victims of both Nazism and Communism, Ukrainians today are seeking to fulfill their democratic aspirations,” Eizenstat added.

6:42 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Zelensky says 137 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russian invasion began

From CNN's Tim Lister and Oleksandra Ochman in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that according to preliminary figures, at least 137 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the Russian invasion began early on Thursday, and 316 soldiers have been wounded. 

In a video message posted on his Facebook account, Zelensky said other states were “afraid” to support Ukraine’s accession to NATO. 

Sounding somber and looking tired, Zelensky went on: “Who is ready to guarantee Ukraine's accession to NATO? Honestly, everyone is afraid.” 
“I asked all the partners of the state if they are with us. They are with us, but they are not ready to take us into an alliance with them,” he said. 

“No matter how many conversations I had with foreign leaders, I heard a few things. The first is that we are supported. I am grateful to each state that helps us concretely, not just in words. But there is a second — we are left alone to defend our state. Who is ready to fight with us? Honestly — I do not see," Zelensky said.

“Today I asked the 27 leaders of Europe whether Ukraine will be in NATO, I asked directly. Everyone is afraid, does not answer. And we are not afraid, we are not afraid of anything,” Zelensky said. 

6:58 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Former US President Jimmy Carter condemns "unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine"

From CNN's Josh Campbell

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/FILE)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images/FILE)

Former President Jimmy Carter has tweeted a statement on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it “threatens security in Europe and the entire world.”

“Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine using military and cyber weapons violates international law and the fundamental human rights of the Ukrainian people. I condemn this unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine that threatens security in Europe and the entire world, and I call on President Putin to halt all military action and restore peace. The United States and its allies must stand with the people of Ukraine in support of their right to peace, security, and self-determination," Carter said in the statement.

 

6:23 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US is ready to accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing invasion, White House says

From CNN's Allison Malloy

The US is ready to accept Ukrainian refugees and that the government is prepared to assist European countries neighboring Ukraine handle an increased inflow of refugees fleeing a Russian invasion, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

"We are," Psaki said when asked by CNN's MJ Lee whether the US was prepared to accept Ukrainian refugees, adding, "But we certainly expect that most if not the majority will want to go to Europe and neighboring countries. So, we are also working with European countries on what the needs are, where there is capacity. Poland, for example, where we are seeing an increasing flow of refugees over the last 24 hours."

She added, "We've been talking and engaging with Europeans about that for some time."

7:18 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine president says Russian sabotage groups have entered Kyiv

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he believes that Russian sabotage groups have entered the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

In a video statement late Thursday, Zelensky said:  "According to our information, the enemy marked me as target No. 1, my family, as target No. 2. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv."

He added: "I am staying in the government quarter together with others."

6:16 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukrainian males aged 18-60 are banned from leaving the country, Zelensky says in new declaration

From CNN's Tamara Qiblawi and Caroll Alvardo

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered a general military mobilization. 

In a declaration signed late Thursday, Zelensky said that "in order to ensure the defense of the state, maintaining combat and mobilization readiness of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations," a broad-based mobilization was ordered, including in the capital, Kyiv and all Ukraine's major cities.

"Mobilization shall be carried out within 90 days from the date of entry into force of this Decree," the announcement said.

The mobilization also instructed "the Security Service of Ukraine to take counterintelligence measures during the general mobilization."

It ordered the "conscription of conscripts, reservists for military service, their delivery to military units and institutions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" and other state security services.

At the same time, Ukraine has banned all-male citizens 18-60 years old from leaving the country, according to the State Border Guard Service.

The statement said that following the introduction of martial law in Ukraine, a temporary restriction had been imposed. 

"In particular, it is forbidden for men aged 18-60, Ukraine citizens, to leave the borders of Ukraine," the statement said. "This regulation will remain in effect for the period of the legal regime of martial law. We ask the citizens to take this information into consideration."

Some more context: At least 57 people have died and 169 injured since Moscow launched the invasion, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Healthcare, Viktor Lyashko. 

“We’re staying home. We don’t want to leave,” says 24-year-old Andrew who had just learned about the travel ban on Ukrainian men. He did not disclose his full name for security reasons.

“I can’t leave now because last update (was that) was that guys from 18 to 68 … cannot leave borders of Ukraine,” he says. “We will stay here till Russians go home because it’s important to us to stay in our homes,” he added. “We will stay with our government."

6:12 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

OSCE to evacuate all its staff from Ukraine

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said it will “temporarily evacuate” all its international mission members from Ukraine as soon as possible.

The updates came Thursday in a statement published by OSCE Secretary-General Helga Maria Schmid.

Schmid said the decision to withdraw OSCE staff from Ukraine was “due to the ongoing fighting and deteriorated security situation” in the country.

A spokesperson for the Secretariat confirmed to CNN that members of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) would be among the evacuees.

“The commitment and bravery of the OSCE staff is commendable," Schmid's statement read. "The OSCE promptly established the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in 2014 and the dedicated men and women of this mission have been our impartial eyes and ears on the ground throughout the country."

The secretary-general said the decision to evacuate “was not taken lightly and the relocation is meant to be temporary,” noting that, “we have a legacy to be proud of in the country. We look forward to resuming our missions when circumstances permit.”

Schmid's statement closed by saying that "the safety of the dedicated women and men who serve as impartial eyes and ears of the international community on the ground throughout the country is imperative."