February 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Amy Woodyatt, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 3:47 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022
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9:50 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Ukraine is "considering the proposal" to hold talks with Russian delegation, Zelensky adviser tells CNN

From CNN's Anna Chernova, Vasco Cotovio and Nathan Hodge in Moscow and Katharina Krebs in Kyiv

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia is ready to send a delegation to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for talks with Ukraine, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported, which Ukraine said it is "considering."

"As you know, today the President of Ukraine [Volodymyr] Zelensky announced his readiness to discuss the neutral status of Ukraine," Peskov said, according to RIA. "Initially, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the purpose of the operation was to help the LPR and the DPR [Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, separatist statelets in eastern Ukraine recently recognized by Russia as independent], including through the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. And this, in fact, is an integral component of neutral status." 

Putin has called for the "denazification" of Ukraine, language that has been roundly condemned internationally, especially considering that Zelensky is Jewish. 

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told CNN on Friday that the Ukrainian government is “considering the proposal” to hold talks with the Russian delegation in Minsk. 

In a separate video message issued soon after noon on Friday, Zelensky called for direct talks with Putin. 

This comes with Ukraine under significant pressure, as Russian forces appear to be closing in on Kyiv. They have entered the Obolon district in the north of the city, just a few miles from its center, according to the Ukrainian defense ministry.

Zelensky has not directly proposed neutral status but has signaled a willingness to discuss it, while insisting his country be provided security guarantees. 

In a video message Thursday, Zelensky said: "Today we heard from Moscow what they want to talk. They want to talk about Ukraine's neutral status. 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." 

"We are not afraid to talk with Russia, we are not afraid to talk about everything, about security guarantees for our country. We are not afraid to talk about neutral status," Zelensky added.

9:20 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Here's what the SWIFT banking system is and why some world leaders are considering removing Russia from it

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 SWIFTand 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.

9:50 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Turkey says it cannot stop the passage of warships through its straits following request from Ukraine

From Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul and Celine Alkhaldi in Abu Dhabi

Russian Navy's Project 22160 Patrol Vessel Dmitriy Rogachev 375 sails through the Bosphorus Strait on the way to the Black Sea on February 16.
Russian Navy's Project 22160 Patrol Vessel Dmitriy Rogachev 375 sails through the Bosphorus Strait on the way to the Black Sea on February 16. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey cannot stop the passage of warships through its straits leading to the Black Sea as Ukraine has requested, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper on Friday, referencing a clause in the Montreux Convention that allows vessels to return to their home base.

Ukraine appealed to Turkey to block Russian warships from passing through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits. Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey is limited in its ability to do so.

“In the case of a war where Turkey is not a party, there are measures that can be taken regarding the countries that are parties in the war,” he said.

“If there is a demand for the ships of the warring countries to return to their bases, then it must be allowed,” he added, referring to Russia. 

“Russia had its own clause put in [to the Montreux Convention]. Articles 19, 20 and 21 stipulate that if the ship of a country that is on the Black Sea wishes to pass with a request to return to its base, this is allowed,” Çavuşoğlu said.

More background: The Montreux Convention, signed in 1936, gives Turkey control over the passage of vessels through those two key straits. In peacetime, civilian vessels can pass freely, although there are certain restrictions on the passage of ships not belonging to Black Sea countries. 

Black Sea nations — which, along with Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine — also include Bulgaria, Georgia and Romania. 

Warships can navigate through the straits during peacetime, but under conditions that restrict aggregate tonnage depending on if they are or are not a Black Sea country and limits the duration of stay in the Black Sea for non-Black Sea nations. There are also limitations on the caliber of weapons they can carry, and Turkey needs to be notified of the request.

10:43 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

US Embassy in Kyiv again calls on Americans to leave immediately

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The US Embassy building in Kyiv remains empty on February 23 as the diplomatic staff were ordered to leave Ukraine.
The US Embassy building in Kyiv remains empty on February 23 as the diplomatic staff were ordered to leave Ukraine. (Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

In a security alert posted overnight, the US Embassy in Kyiv again called on US citizens in Ukraine to “depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” and said those who remain “should exercise increased caution due to the potential for active combat, crime, and civil unrest.”

“U.S. citizens remaining in Ukraine should carefully monitor government notices and local and international media outlets for information about changing security conditions and alerts to shelter in place,” the alert said.

It called the security situation in Ukraine “highly volatile,” warning that “conditions may deteriorate without warning,” and noted that “on February 24, Russia’s forces attacked major Ukrainian cities, and the Ukrainian government closed its airspace to commercial flights due to Russia’s military actions.”

“Know the location of your closest shelter or protected space. In the event of mortar and/or rocket fire, follow the instructions from local authorities and seek shelter immediately,” the alert said.

There is no longer a diplomatic presence inside Ukraine. The small group of diplomats who had remained have been relocated from Lviv to Poland.

8:37 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Ukraine's president urges resistance to invasion: "We are defending our country alone"

From CNN's Tim Lister and Josh Pennington 

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a new video message Friday morning, urging resistance to the Russian invasion and criticizing Ukraine's allies for the second time in just a few hours.

"This morning, we are defending our country alone. Just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world looked on from a distance," he said in a Facebook video, appearing to refer to the United States.

"Russia was hit with sanctions yesterday, but these are not enough to get these foreign troops off our soil. Only through solidarity and determination can this be achieved."

Zelensky added that the Ukrainian people are continuing to resist, "demonstrating real heroism. The enemy was stopped in most of the directions. There are fights going on ... We will not tire."

Zelensky opened his short address by saying it was the "second morning of the all-out war."

At 4 a.m., Russian forces continued to launch missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine. They say that they are only targeting military facilities, but these are lies. In fact, they do not distinguish in which areas they operate," Zelensky said.

"In the sky over Kyiv (this morning), there was bombing. There was a fire at a residential apartment building. Such attacks on our capital haven’t occurred since 1941."

Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a tweet Friday morning that three people were injured, one of whom is in critical condition “as a result of a wreckage from a rocket hitting residential building 7-A on Koshitsya Street.”

Ukrainians in the capital Kyiv huddled in air raid shelters Friday morning, as a battle for the city raged overhead and Ukrainian forces sought to hold back rapidly advancing Russian troops by blowing up a key bridge.

8:31 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

On the ground: Reservists pick up their rifles as they prepare to defend Kyiv

From CNN's Ivana Kottasova 

Last night, along with many others, Oleksiy Goncharenko went to Kyiv's police headquarters. He was there to pick up his rifle.

Goncharenko is not — and has never been — a military man. He is a member of Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, and one of the many civilians who responded to the call by Ukrainian authorities to get ready to defend the country from the Russian invasion.

“I'm not a professional soldier at all, but I can try and I can do my best and I will do it if Russian forces enter Kyiv,” he told CNN. 

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that 18,000 guns with ammunition have been distributed to reservists in the Kyiv region alone since the Russian invasion began early Thursday. 

Goncharenko is not a reservist or a member of the volunteer Territorial Defence Forces. In fact, as a member of the parliament, he is not allowed to join the defense forces, according to the Ukrainian law.

“That’s a law of peacetime. Now, this is a special situation,” he said, adding that a number of his fellow deputies have also picked up their rifles. 
Goncharenko with the rifle given to him by the Ukrainian authorities.
Goncharenko with the rifle given to him by the Ukrainian authorities. Courtesy Oleksiy Goncharenko

On Friday morning, Goncharenko packed a change of clothes, basic hygiene supplies, his documents, laptop and chargers and headed to the headquarters of his local defense battalion. He said volunteers as well as professional soldiers were assembling there. The professionals were in charge, making plans and telling them what to do. For now, the command is to stay put.

“We are probably the last reserves because, certainly, we are not very professional,” he said. “But part of our battalion, the most professional ones, they already engaged yesterday in the Hostomel Airport fightings,” he said. 

Goncharenko said he has two children — a 3-year-old and a 16-year-old son. His younger child has no idea about what is going on. The older one is, like everyone in this country right now, in shock. 

“It's hard for him. But he tries to be a man," he said.

11:07 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

A battle for Kyiv is underway as Russia's invasion intensifies. Here's what you need to know

A woman holds her daughter as they sit in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24.
A woman holds her daughter as they sit in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

The second day of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began with the sound of explosions in Kyiv, the country's capital.

It's now mid-afternoon in the city. Here's what you need to know.

A fight for Kyiv: CNN reporters heard blasts in the capital early Friday, after the Biden administration warned that Russian forces which entered Ukraine through the Belarus border are just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the city.

Residents huddled into air raid shelters, as a Ukrainian official said cruise or ballistic missiles hit the city. There were reports of troops blowing up a bridge to stop an advance of Russian forces.

US intelligence officials are concerned that Kyiv could fall under Russian control within days, according to two sources familiar with the latest intelligence.

Ukraine boosts military: Some 18,000 guns with ammunition have been distributed to reservists in the Kyiv region alone since the invasion began early Thursday, according to Ukrainian authorities. 

The country has banned all male citizens from 18 to 60-years-old leaving the country as it mobilizes to fight Russia, according to the State Border Guard Service.

Death toll rises: Late Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that according to preliminary figures, 137 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the Russian attack began, and another 316 soldiers have been wounded. CNN has not been able to independently verify these figures. Early Friday, a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet was shot down over Kyiv. 

Presidential target: Zelensky said late Thursday that Russian sabotage groups have entered Kyiv, that he is “target number 1” — and his family is "target number 2." He added he is staying in government quarters, and that Russia wanted to "destroy" the head of state.

Anti-war protests: Hundreds of people were arrested in cities across Russia for staging anti-war demonstrations on Thursday. Similar protests in support of Ukraine were held around the world, in New York, Paris, Berlin, London, and other international centers.

Sanctions: More financial measures have been unveiled across the West in response to Russia's invasion, including by the EU and President Joe Biden. Russia was also stripped of this year's Champions League final.

Here are the Ukrainian locations impacted by the Russian military assault
Here are the Ukrainian locations impacted by the Russian military assault CNN's Henrik Pettersson

8:22 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Moscow is ready to send representatives to talk with Kyiv in Minsk, Kremlin says via Russian state news agency

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Nathan Hodge in Moscow 

Moscow is ready to send representatives to the Belarusian capital of Minsk to talk with Kyiv, according to a readout from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. 

"Following Zelensky’s proposal to discuss the neutral status of Ukraine, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin can send representatives of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry and his administration to negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation," the readout said, according to RIA.

Minsk was chosen as a platform for the conversation, the readout added.

Remember: This comes with Ukraine under significant pressure, as Russian forces appear to be closing in on Kyiv. They have entered the Obolon district in the north of the city, just a few miles from its center, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

7:58 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Pope met Russian ambassador to express concerns over Ukraine

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome

Pope Francis met with Moscow’s ambassador to the Vatican at the Russian embassy on Friday to express his concerns about the invasion of Ukraine.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni told CNN the Pope went to express his “concern about the war” in Ukraine and met with the ambassador for over an hour and half.

The visit is considered to be an unusual occurrence and is not in keeping with normal protocols.