February 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Adrienne Vogt, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Jeevan Ravindran, Peter Wilkinson, Jessie Yeung, Brad Lendon, Steve George, Meg Wagner, Amir Vera and Helen Regan, CNN

Updated 10:27 a.m. ET, March 6, 2022
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2:40 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Russia is spinning slow advance as pause for negotiations, NATO official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

A NATO military official claims that Russia is spinning its slow advance in the invasion of Ukraine as having stopped to allow time for negotiations. 

“They are having problems,” the official explained, pointing to the alliance’s latest intelligence. “They lack diesel, they are proceeding way to slow and morale is obviously an issue.”

On Saturday, the Russian defense ministry said its troops have been ordered to resume their offensive “in all directions,” after a suspension was ordered for negotiations with the Ukrainian government. The ministry said the offensive was ordered to continue after Ukraine abandoned the consultations. 

A Ukrainian presidential adviser denied in the early hours Saturday that Ukraine had refused to negotiate.

Asked whether Russians are likely to intensify their efforts, the official said, “They have to, they are way behind schedule. This is getting out of hand for them, every additional day is very painful.”

3:13 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Russian billionaire gives up "stewardship and care" of Chelsea club

From CNN's Homero DeLaFuente

Chelsea club owner Roman Abramovich announced on Saturday he will be giving the “stewardship” of the club over to trustees of Chelsea’s charitable foundation. 

“During my nearly 20-year ownership of Chelsea FC, I have always viewed my role as a custodian of the Club, whose job it is ensuring that we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future, while also playing a positive role in our communities. I have always taken decisions with the Club’s best interest at heart. I remain committed to these values. That is why I am today giving trustees of Chelsea’s charitable Foundation the stewardship and care of Chelsea FC,” Abramovich wrote in a statement

“I believe that currently they are in the best position to look after the interests of the Club, players, staff, and fans,” he said.

Abramovich, who was born in Russia, made the announcement after calls he should be barred from owning the English Premier League side due to his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime

In 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) called on US President Joe Biden to sanction at least eight high-profile Russian figures it said was close to Putin.

In a copy of the letter obtained by CNN, Abramovich is named on the "priority shortlist," for what FBK describes as being a key enabler and an alleged beneficiary of "Kremlin kleptocracy." 

A spokesperson for Abramovich said in an email statement to CNN that "there is no basis for such claims which are entirely without foundation."

Navalny was detained on Jan. 17, 2021, moments after arriving in Moscow following months of treatment in Germany after being poisoned in August 2020 with nerve agent Novichok.

2:08 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

US firms should be wary of destructive malware unleashed on Ukraine, FBI and CISA warn

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

US critical infrastructure firms should reinforce their defenses and increase their vigilance following data-destroying cyberattacks in Ukraine prior to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the FBI and US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said Saturday. 

“Destructive malware can present a direct threat to an organization’s daily operations, impacting the availability of critical assets and data,” the US agencies said in a public advisory. “Further disruptive cyberattacks against organizations in Ukraine are likely to occur and may unintentionally spill over to organizations in other countries.”

The advisory includes several technical recommendations for organizations to keep malicious software from spreading on their systems. 

US officials continue to say there are “no specific, credible” threats to the US homeland tied the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but Saturday’s advisory is the latest warning from officials that what happens in cyberspace in Ukraine may not stay there. 

Just hours before Russian forces began to attack Ukraine early Thursday, cybersecurity researchers said they had found a data-wiping hacking tool on hundreds of computers at Ukrainian government and financial organizations. The malicious code is designed to delete data from computers and render them inoperable — which has the potential to hobble organizations trying to stay online during a war. 

Jean-Ian Boutin, head of threat research at anti-virus firm ESET, which responded to some of the destructive hacks, told CNN that he assumed that the malware was successfully deployed and the "affected machines were wiped." 

Two Ukrainian government contractors — one with a presence in Latvia and another with a presence in Lithuania, both NATO members — were hit with the malware, according to Broadcom’s cybersecurity unit Symantec. While the hack was targeted at Ukrainian assets, the potential for collateral damage in cyberspace during the war in Ukraine has been high on Western officials’ minds. 

It’s unclear who was responsible for deploying the destructive malware. It was the second such destructive hack in as many months. A similar piece of malicious code appeared on the systems of some Ukrainian government agencies and nonprofit and technology organizations in January.

The White House has blamed Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency for a separate cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites on Feb. 15 that temporarily knocked the websites offline. Russia has denied the allegation. 

In a statement Saturday, CISA Director Jen Easterly said her agency has been working “with our partners to identify and rapidly share information about malware that could threaten the operations of critical infrastructure here in the U.S.”

3:18 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Czech Republic, Netherlands and Portugal will send reinforcements to assist Ukraine

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Josh Pennington and Duarte Mendonça

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, center, flanked by Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho, left, and the Chief of Armed Forces General Staff Admiral António da Silva Ribeiro as he speaks to the media after attending the NATO Extraordinary Virtual Summit of Heads of State and Government meeting to discuss Russian military invasion to Ukrainian on Friday, February 25, 2022, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, center, flanked by Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho, left, and the Chief of Armed Forces General Staff Admiral António da Silva Ribeiro as he speaks to the media after attending the NATO Extraordinary Virtual Summit of Heads of State and Government meeting to discuss Russian military invasion to Ukrainian on Friday, February 25, 2022, in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos/Corbis/Getty Images)

Three NATO members have announced they would send reinforcements to assist Ukraine in its battle against Russia.

The Czech Republic committed on Saturday to send a “shipment of weapons to Ukraine” worth over $8.5 million to a “place of Ukrainians choice."

“The government has approved a shipment of weapons to Ukraine. We are sending machine guns, submachine guns, sniper rifles and pistols and their corresponding ammunition valued at CZK 188 million,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala tweeted.

“We are doing everything we can to help Ukraine,” Fiala added.

The Netherlands on Saturday also said it would be providing Ukraine with more firepower.

“The Netherlands will supply Ukraine 200 anti-aircraft Stinger missiles. Other defence material already on its way,” the prime minister's foreign affairs and defense adviser, Geoffrey van Leeuwen, tweeted.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Friday that the country would be sending reinforcements to join Ukrainian soldiers on the ground to help secure their borders as this “is a war against the freedom of self-determination of a democratic country and therefore it is also a war against the freedom of self-determination and against democracy."

Speaking at a televised news conference, the Portuguese prime minister went on to say, “there was an unanimity of all states, in view of the need to strengthen the NATO presence on the borders of Ukraine and in all the alliance countries that are close to the Ukraine region."

“Portugal, in this sense, in addition to the forces that this year has assigned to the European command of NATO, decided to anticipate, from the second half to the first half, the mobilization and commitment of an infantry company that will act in Romania and that will be projected in the coming weeks," Costa said. 

"Several other countries at the moment are either anticipating or reinforcing or deciding to reinforce their participation with these countries [bordering Ukraine] in order to have a clear manifestation of unity and deterrence regarding Russia's actions," Costa added.

When asked for a specific number of that would be sent to support Ukraine, Costa said the infantry company would include 175 troopers. 

1:39 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Germany will deliver anti-tank weapons and missiles to Ukraine

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

Germany will deliver weapons to Ukraine in a major policy shift after resisting Kyiv's previous calls for defensive weaponry. 

In its coalition agreement, the German government had agreed on a restrictive arms export policy that does not allow any weapons deliveries to crisis regions. The delivery of such weapons also has historical connotations post-World War II.  

"The Russian attack marks a change in times. It is our duty to support Ukraine as much as we can defending themselves against Putin's invasion army. Therefore we will deliver 1,000 antitank weapons and 500 stinger missiles to our friends in Ukraine," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Saturday after a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda.

 

1:57 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky hints that there is consensus on SWIFT restrictions for Russia

From CNN’s Sebastian Shukla in Kyiv

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen during a released statement on February 26.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen during a released statement on February 26. (From President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has hinted that there is consensus on SWIFT restrictions for Russia. 

In a statement on Saturday evening, the Ukrainian leader said “we feel Ukraine has got the support of the whole civilized world. The practical result? SWIFT.”

He hailed this as an “important victory” and “means billions and billions of losses for Russia. It is a price for a sneaky invasion into our country.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the “technical preparations” for Russia’s ban from the SWIFT system have begun. 

“Official decision hasn’t been processed yet, but technical preparations for making and implementing that decision have begun,” Kuleba said in a statement posted on his official Facebook page.  

Banning Russia from the SWIFT high-security network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world would cut Russia’s banks off the global financial system. The move is considered the “nuclear option” of sanctions, because while it would be very damaging to the Russian economy, it would hurt other countries, too.

A number of European countries said on Friday and Saturday that they would support cutting Russia off from SWIFT. The UK, France, Italy, Hungary, Cyprus, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Germany already indicated they would not block the sanction.

US President Joe Biden is seriously weighing whether to remove Russia from SWIFT, the high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world, but has yet to make a final decision, multiple people familiar with his thinking say.

1:24 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Biden says Putin's invasion is bringing Europe and NATO closer together

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US President Joe Biden, in a taped interview that aired on Saturday, said one of his major strategic goals as Russia invades Ukraine is to keep NATO and the European Union united. 

"My goal from the very beginning was to make sure that I kept all of NATO and the European Union on the same page. Because the one thing I think Putin thought he could do was split NATO, creating a great aperture for him to be able to walk through. And that hasn't happened," Biden told podcaster and commentator Brian Tyler Cohen.  

Biden also predicted that Russia would pay a heavy price in both the long and short term for its invasion of Ukraine, adding that the conflict is bringing Europe and NATO closer together.

"He's producing the exact opposite effect that he intended," Biden said of Putin. 

When asked about sanctions, Biden argued that he believes it's one of the only ways to penalize Russia without risking war on a global scale. 

"You have two options. Start a third world war, go to war with Russia, physically. Or two, make sure that a country that acts so contrary to international law pays a price for having done it," Biden said.

He also pointed to the defense weaponry and economic assistance the US is providing Ukraine as the country continues to fend off the Russian advance. 

1:12 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Germany supports SWIFT sanctions against Russia in some form

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

Germany has said it will support restricting Russia from SWIFT after days of debate among European Union members as to whether to include the global interbank payment system in its next round of sanctions.  

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and German Economics Minister Robert Habeck in a joint tweet on Saturday said they are “under high pressure to avoid collateral damage when decoupling (Russia) from SWIFT so it will hit the right people. What we need is a targeted and functional constraint of SWIFT.”

More background: US President Joe Biden is seriously weighing whether to publicly support expelling Russia from SWIFT, but has yet to make a final decision, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking say.

The decision to trigger the action has always been contingent on sign-off by the European Union, which has been split in a contentious debate for weeks over the action, ultimately choosing not to go forward this week.

Ukraine appealed for Russia to be removed from SWIFT after President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion on Thursday. The call from Kyiv was backed by numerous countries, including Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the United Kingdom.

Hungary will not block sanctions against Russia, including on SWIFT, according to its foreign minister. Italy has also signaled that it would support taking measures to expel Russia from the SWIFT global payment system as part of further EU sanctions. 

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Phil Mattingly, and Kevin Liptak contributed reporting to this post.

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

Russian thermobaric "vacuum bombs" launcher seen by CNN team in Ukraine

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen, Ivana Kottasová and Tim Lister

(CNN)
(CNN)

A Russian thermobaric multiple rockets launcher has been spotted by CNN team south of Belgorod, Russia, near the Ukrainian border early Saturday afternoon. 

The TOS-1 or TOS-1A Multiple Rocket Launcher seen by CNN is capable of launching rockets with thermobaric warheads.

There is no evidence that thermobaric weapons have been used in the conflict in Ukraine.

These types of weapons do not use conventional ammunition. Instead, they are filled with high-temperature, high-pressure explosive. They are sometimes called “vacuum bombs” because they suck in the oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a powerful explosion and a large pressure wave that can have enormous destructive effects. 

Thermobaric weapons have been used in Chechnya, with horrifying consequences, according to Human Rights Watch. Their use has been condemned by number of non-governmental organizations.