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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12:41 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Putin tells business leaders there will be "restrictions" on Russian economy

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the country's business leaders that he expected "restrictions" on Russia's economy, but said Russia had taken a "necessary measure" by launching a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine. 

In remarks aired Thursday on state television, Putin said:

"What I wanted to say first – the most important thing, so you all understand – what is going on was a necessary measure. They didn’t leave us any chance to act otherwise. They created such risks in the sphere of security that it was impossible to react in a different way. All our efforts came out to zero. […] They created such risks that it’s difficult to comprehend how our country could have continued to exist."

US and Western leaders have pledged harsh sanctions, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urging the West to ban Russia from the SWIFT international payments system. Putin noted that Russia remained part of the global economic system, but warned of further "restrictions" to the Russian economy and called for business to work "in solidarity" with the government.

“It seems to me that our partners should understand this and not set themselves the task of pushing us out of this system," Putin said. "Nevertheless, for political reasons, these restrictions will happen."

US President Joe Biden is set to announce further sanctions on Russia in the next hour.

12:37 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

US agriculture secretary: It's "a little early" to predict how attack on Ukraine will impact wheat prices

From CNN's Liz Stark

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday it is “a little early” to predict what impact Russia’s attack on Ukraine will have on the agricultural industry and food prices for American consumers. 

“I think it's a little early to make projections and to hypothesize about circumstances,” he said.

“If I were a commissioner or an [agriculture] secretary in a European country, I would probably have a much different feeling about this,” he added. “I think we in the US are fortunate. We have tremendous capacity; we have tremendous production capacity.”

He later noted that while it’s still “too early” to predict the impact on Europe, “I don't foresee a circumstance where American consumers on the food side are necessarily going to … see the kind of impact and effect” that European consumers might experience.

His comments comes as concerns have grown about what a Russian invasion of Ukraine could mean for agricultural products worldwide.

Russia is the world's top exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is also a significant exporter of both wheat and corn.

Vilsack said Thursday “it will take some time” for the potential impact on various agricultural products to be felt and urged companies not to take “unfair advantage” of the situation.

“I sincerely hope that no company out there — whether it's fertilizer or any other supply that may be impacted by this — will take unfair advantage of this circumstance and situation,” Vilsack said.  

Vilsack further pledged to “do everything we possibly can to provide the level of assistance and help that will enable folks who may be negatively impacted by this to be able to get through as best as possible.”

Follow live coverage of how global markets are reacting to the attack here.

12:21 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Russian markets finish the day 33% lower

From CNN’s Julia Horowitz and Chris Liakos

Russia’s main MOEX index ended Thursday’s session 33% lower following Russia’s military action in Ukraine. It crashed as much as 45% earlier today.

Big Russian energy companies and banks were hit the hardest amid expectations the West would announce tougher sanctions. Gazprom plunged 38% and Rosneft fell 40%, while banks VTB and Sberbank also dropped more than 40%.

The Russian ruble remains at record lows, down 7% against the US dollar.

You can follow live coverage of how global markets are reacting here.

12:13 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine's president says Russian forces are attempting to seize control of Chernobyl nuclear power plant

From CNN’s Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that Russian forces are 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. 

“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” he added. 

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry echoed Zelensky's warning, tweeting that a Russian attack on Ukraine could “cause another ecological disaster.”

“In 1986, the world saw the biggest technological disaster in Chernobyl,” the ministry tweeted. “If Russia continues the war, Chernobyl can happen again in 2022.”

Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, echoed Zelensky's earlier remarks that Russian forces had attempted to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, adding that the Ukrainian National Guard is working to protect the nuclear plant from attack.

“They made an attempt to seize the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and the fight is going right there with the Ukrainian National Guard protecting the Chernobyl station from the attack,” Markarova said during a press briefing. 

“For the first time since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — after which Ukraine has been protecting, together with our European and American friends and allies, the world from another nuclear disaster — we have to defend it again from the Russian forces,” she added. 

 

12:08 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

European Union wants to target Moscow leadership with further sanctions

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London and James Frater in Lviv

The European Union wants to "hit" the Moscow leadership with its package of further sanctions regardless of whether SWIFT is included, according to a senior EU diplomat. 

Earlier on Thursday, CNN reported that the bloc was undecided as to whether to cut Russia off from SWIFT, a high-security payment network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world.

The diplomat told journalists in a briefing that the combination of Tuesday's package alongside the fresh package due to come into effect from Friday, will be "really concentrated to hit the leadership in Moscow and those around Mr. Putin and profiting from this war.”

EU leaders are expected to discuss these sanctions during an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday evening. 

The diplomat told CNN that they expected "leaders to focus on sharing their thoughts and political positions on the big things and not on discussing in details certain measures.”

"We want the biggest possible package targeting industrial sectors, export controls, financials, maybe a visa policy. SWIFT is one element, but it's not the focus of attention," the diplomat told reporters.  

The diplomat stressed that SWIFT is “on the table" and will still be considered regardless of whether it's included in the new package.  

"The first priority is now this very maximalist EU sanction package," they said. 

SWIFT may be needed "for things which are very relevant for some EU member states," the diplomat said, adding that it doesn't necessarily "mean it's excluded."

Earlier today, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania called for Russia to be cut off from SWIFT.

“We want this war to stop here and now. And we are not going to close front doors and back doors, which make it difficult to stop this war started by Mr. Putin as soon as possible," the diplomat cautioned.

The diplomat stressed the need to keep "some doors open" enabling the dialogue required "to stop a war."

Despite being asked several times, the diplomat did not address why Russian President Vladimir Putin is not being directly targeted by the sanctions.

EU member states that are "closest to Ukraine" also deserve empathy, the diplomat said, remarking that they are "now faced, in the 21st century, with something we thought we had left behind in the previous century."

12:29 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs reports nearly 400 instances of shelling by Russian forces

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London 

Police officers inspect the remains of a shell that landed in Kyiv on February 24.
Police officers inspect the remains of a shell that landed in Kyiv on February 24. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs says it has reported 392 instances of shelling by Russian forces in Ukraine, a spokesperson for the ministry said Thursday. 

“Battles continue practically along the entire territory of southeastern and central Ukraine,” the spokesperson said, noting that six bridges were also destroyed in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Donetsk and Kherson regions. 

“Our fighters of Ukraine's military forces and National Guard, our Border Force, our reservists continue to defend our country. Victory will be ours,” the spokesperson added.

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

On the ground: Moscow wakes up to war

From CNN's Nic Robertson in Moscow

In the hours after Russia began invading Ukraine, the scenes in Moscow were subdued. People who spoke to CNN about the conflict seemed surprised and concerned, as many of them had just started tuning in.

Russia's massive propaganda machine has not given the crisis between Kyiv and the Kremlin the same sort of billing as has the international media. State television, the main source of information for older Russians, has been echoing the message of Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has framed the conflict as a mission to protect Russian speakers in the Donbas region from genocide — an accusation the Russian president has repeatedly leveled without proof. Russian state media is also parroting the Kremlin's other unsubstantiated claims — that the Ukrainian government is attempting to obtain nuclear weapons and "nazify" the country, despite the fact that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish.

News reports have also, for the most part, failed to mention the Russian military's decision to strike targets in places far from east Ukraine, like the capital of Kyiv and the southern port city of Odessa.

That doesn't mean all Russians are being spoon-fed Putin's narrative. Russia is not North Korea. People who want to get independent information from foreign-language media outlets can do so.

So far, there has not been the surge of patriotic fervor that accompanied Russia's largely bloodless annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. There are likely many Russians who would prefer to see Putin tackle Russia's economic problems at home.

But gauging public opinion in Russia — especially opposition to the Kremlin — has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Putin has increasingly cracked down on independent mediahollowed out its civil society and all but banished peaceful dissent. Even tweeting about planned protests can potentially land someone in jail. 

If would-be protesters weren't already spooked, Russian authorities on Thursday warned citizens that participating in anti-war protests could lead to prosecution and criminal charges.

11:51 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

Flight-tracking sites show empty airspace over Ukraine and its border with Russia

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Pete Muntean

(from ADSBexchange)
(from ADSBexchange)

The airspace over Ukraine and its border with Russia is empty, according to flight-tracking websites, with heavy air traffic apparently avoiding the region as evening sets in on the region Thursday.

Images from ADS-B Exchange show no aircraft over Ukraine, though the open-source site cannot display tracking data from aircraft operating in the area with the location broadcasting intentionally switched off.

Civilian flights over Ukraine, as well as Moldova to the south and parts of Russia, are currently restricted. 

One notice to pilots reads: “Air space of Ukraine closed for civil aviation flights due to military invasion of Russian Federation.”   

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency warned Thursday that “the presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”

There are risks to flying over conflict zones – as illustrated by the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine by a missile, killing 298 people. Western officials and a Dutch-led investigation said Russian President Vladimir Putin bears responsibility for the incident; Putin has denied it.  

11:37 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022

The world hasn't witnessed a move like this "since World War II," senior US defense official says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Oren Liebermann

A woman walks past debris in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24.
A woman walks past debris in Mariupol, Ukraine, on February 24. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

The world has not seen a “move like this, nation state-to-nation state, since World War II,” a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday about Russia's attack on Ukraine — “certainly nothing on this size and scope and scale.”

The official warned that if this conflict “unfolds the way that hereto we have come to believe it will,” it has “every potential to be very bloody, very costly and very impactful on European security writ large.”

“This is 100% a war of choice that [Russian President] Putin has decided to wage for reasons that are not justified,” the official added.