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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10:40 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Ukraine accuses Belarus of trying to hack into the private email accounts of Ukrainian military personnel

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Hackers working for the Belarusian Ministry of Defense have sent a “mass” of phishing emails trying to compromise the private email accounts of Ukrainian military personnel and their associates, Ukrainian officials alleged Friday. 

It wasn’t immediately clear how successful the hacking attempts have been, but they could provide useful information to Belarusian intelligence services, and in turn Russian forces as they bear down on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. 

After breaching an email account, the hackers send additional malicious emails to the account’s contacts to propagate the hacking campaign, the Ukrainian government’s Computer Emergency Response Team said in a Facebook post.

Victor Zhora, a senior cybersecurity official at the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, told CNN that the aim of exposing the phishing campaign was to “prevent [it from having] a bigger impact.” Zhora said officials don’t know how successful the hacks have been yet. 

CNN has reached out to the Belarus’ Ministry of Defense for comment.

Belarus has played a key role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces crossed the Belarus-Ukraine border with support from Belarus, according to Ukrainian officials. The Biden administration has sanctioned nine Belarusian defense firms for their support of the invasion. 

The alleged Belarusian hacking group has had a long history of hack-and-leak operations targeting NATO members. An information operations group linked with the hackers planted a fake letter on the website of a Polish military academy that purported to denounce the presence of US troops in Poland, according to cybersecurity analysts. 

In November, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant linked the hacking group to the Belarusian government with “high confidence,” adding that the group has supported information operations in Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Germany.

10:41 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

CNN reporter's diary from the ground: Everything has changed in 48 hours

From CNN’s Sebastian Shukla and Olga Konovalova in Zaporizhzhia

As we left Mariupol for Zaporizhzhia, there were few people on the streets, no queues at ATMs and the last petrol station on the way out, wasn’t just running on fumes — it was out of gas completely.

We had used a hotel in Zaporizhzhia as a base for two weeks. So we stocked up there — put a hot meal in us — for our seven-hour drive to Kyiv.

The hotel staff where we had been staying were happy and chatty. They were people of sunny dispositions, doing honest jobs — even when the sky was lead grey.

But it was clear something had changed. One of the managers approached me and said, “Are you CNN?”

“Yes, is everything OK?” I replied.

“Yes, of course, we wanted to make sure you had a good stay. But also to tell you, did you hear about Chernobyl?” He went on to tell me that the Zaporizhzhia municipality has told him their water is already showing higher traces of radioactivity following the fighting and capture by Russian forces.

I said, we had heard, and I hoped the hotel has some water tanks in reserve — they do.

But at the front desk, a woman I had seen everyday didn’t greet me like she had done before. She was just looking at her computer with tears in her eyes.

But the most heart-wrenching moment came as our fixer, Olga Konovalova, said goodbye to her parents in the hotel lobby. They were hugging each other — her parents clearly loving and worried as she bravely covers what will undoubtedly be the defining moment in her life.

I felt bad for hovering and saying we need to leave. But I turned to her mother and said, "Everything will be OK."

I uttered the heroic Ukrainian phrase, “Slava Ukraini” [Glory to Ukraine]. Usually, you reply raucously, “Geroyam Slava” [glory to the heroes], which she did … but that rousing phrase had a different feeling when a top lip quivers and a tear hits a cheek.

It summarizes to me how much had changed — not just in Zaporizhzhia but the entire country in 48 hours.
10:27 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Ukraine retains control of key cities, according to UK defense intelligence update

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Russia has made “limited progress” in its attack on Ukraine Friday, according to the latest British defense intelligence update.

"Fighting continues in key locations. Russia has made limited progress so far today and Ukraine retains control of key cities. Ukranian MOD reports that Russian forces have arrived in the suburbs of Kyiv," the UK Ministry of Defence tweeted Friday.

"Russian strikes and exchange of artillery fire continued throughout the night and into the morning," it said, adding that they continue to see "no evidence of strikes in Lviv."

 

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

EU will sanction Putin and Lavrov, German foreign minister says

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin and Niamh Kennedy

Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, speaks to the media before the special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on February 25 in Brussels, Belgium.
Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, speaks to the media before the special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on February 25 in Brussels, Belgium. (Florian Gaertner/Photothek/Getty Images)

The European Union will sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Friday.

"We now also list the President of the Republic Mr. Putin and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Lavrov," Baerbock told reporters on her way into the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Friday. 

"They are responsible for the fact that innocent people die in Ukraine, they are responsible for the fact that the international system is trampled upon and we as Europeans do not accept that.”

On Thursday, the EU announced a raft of sanctions against Russia which European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen said would increase Russia’s borrowing costs, raise inflation and “gradually erode Russia’s industrial base.”

 

10:07 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

How Ukraine's military compares to Russia's force

From CNN's Angela Dewan

Heavily armed Russian troops are pushing rapidly toward Ukraine's capital of Kyiv, and US officials are warning the city could fall within days.

The military capabilities of these two nations are so imbalanced that Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky implored his Western allies overnight to do more than impose sanctions to get Russian troops off Ukrainian soil.

Here's how the two country's military capabilities stack up.

Defense spending

Just a look at the amount of money the two nations spend on defense gives an indication of the gap between the two. Ukraine spent $4.7 billion in 2021, just over a tenth of nuclear-armed Russia's $45.8 billion, according to "The Military Balance" report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), published last week.

While the Russian government launched a drive in 2008 to modernize its military, after a brief war with Georgia laid bare equipment shortfalls, Ukraine's weapons are still largely from the Soviet era. In its ambitions to join NATO, however, Ukraine has reorganized the structure of its armed forces, and has plans to re-equip its air force with Western combat aircraft by the mid-2030s. It also plans to improve its naval capability.

Manpower

Where Russia has 900,000 active personnel in its armed forces, and 2 million in reserve, Ukraine has 196,000 and 900,000 reservists. Ukraine on Wednesday began conscripting reservists aged 18-60, according to IISS.

In land forces alone, Russia has a twofold advantage, with 280,000 troops to Ukraine's 125,600. And its air force is nearly five times as strong, with 165,000 to Ukraine's 35,000.

But in terms of how many troops are in this particular operation, Yohann Michel, a research analyst who worked on the IISS report, said Russia had an estimated 200,000 personnel in and around Ukraine.

"That's including around 60 battle groups. The situation is evolving rapidly and that number could change, but it's very large, and that's important. It's one of the largest in eastern Europe that we've seen in years — in my lifetime," Michel told CNN.

"Ukrainian numbers are more difficult because everything they have is now mobilized and they have called in reservists."

Read more here.

9:56 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Heavy fighting reported on main route south into Kyiv

From CNN’s Tim Lister in Kyiv

There are reports of heavy fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces around the city of Chernihiv, some 105 kilometers (about 65 miles) north of the capital of Kyiv.

Video from the city showed the regional headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine on fire. A witness contacted by CNN said it was still burning late Friday.

The Russian defense ministry has acknowledged fighting in the area, saying Russian forces “have completed the blockade of the city of Chernihiv,” essentially cutting it off.

Ukraine says its forces inflicted heavy losses on Russian columns around Chernihiv, destroying more than thirty tanks.

Earlier Friday, the chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said the Ukrainian military had managed to hold the defense and repel the breakthrough of Russian troops in Chernihiv.

Chernihiv is on the main route from Belarus to Kyiv.

The Russian ground assault targeting the Ukrainian capital is developing from three directions.

Two are northern routes from Belarus, but the Ukrainians say they have slowed the Russian advance from the north-west after destroying a bridge at Ivankiv.  

Another group of Russian armor has attacked Sumy in the northeast, which is also on a main road to Kyiv.  

9:53 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

Russian troops are eyeing Kyiv. This map shows the major moves from both sides

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

Officials believe Russia has been facing stiffer resistance from Ukrainian forces than it anticipated, according to the sources. Ukrainian officials have vowed to resist any occupation.

Here are some of the major moments leading to this point:

9:52 a.m. ET, February 25, 2022

France will provide defensive equipment to Ukraine

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman, Camille Knight and Anaelle Jonah in Paris

France will provide defensive equipment to Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a written speech to the country’s two legislative bodies Friday. The speech did not detail what the equipment would be.

Macron wrote that France will provide Ukraine with a “additional budgetary assistance of 300 million euros” and “will provide the defensive material they need."

France has not previously provided arms to Ukraine but has provided humanitarian aid and budgetary support.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has appealed for citizens to take up arms against Russian troops and have been distributing guns and ammunition to reservists.

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.