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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6:15 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

White House, EU announce expulsion of certain Russian banks from SWIFT

From CNN’s DJ Judd

The headquarters of Swift, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is seen in La Hulpe, Belgium, on February 25.
The headquarters of Swift, Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication is seen in La Hulpe, Belgium, on February 25. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

In an announcement late Saturday afternoon, the White House said, in concert with of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada, the US is backing the expulsion of certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world, and pledged efforts to “collectively ensure that this war is a strategic failure for Putin.”

“This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” they wrote in a joint statement, also pledging “restrictive measures that will prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves in ways that undermine the impact of our sanctions,” and restricting the sale of “golden passports” that allow Russian oligarchs to avoid the brunt of sanctions already levied.

Earlier Saturday, CNN reported Biden was considering expelling Russia from SWIFT, but had yet to make a final decision. Fully expelling Russia from SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has been presented as a financial “nuclear option," with the president and aides highlighting how complicated the move would be. They also noted the US cannot move unilaterally to expel Russia.

“That’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take,” Biden told reporters Thursday.

In addition, the nations announced the launch, later this week, of a “transatlantic task force” to “ensure the effective implementation of our financial sanctions by identifying and freezing the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies that exist within our jurisdictions.”

As part of Saturday’s announcement, they also promised to step up efforts to combat misinformation.

We stand with the Ukrainian people in this dark hour. Even beyond the measures we are announcing today, we are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine.”

5:19 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Russian invasion runs into stiff resistance, supply lines 'definite vulnerability,' US officials say

From Jim Sciutto and Oren Liebermann

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is encountering "stiffer than expected" resistance from the Ukrainian military as well as unexpected difficulties supplying its forces, two senior US officials with direct knowledge tell CNN. 

On the battlefield, Russia is suffering heavier losses in personnel, armor and aircraft than expected. This is due, in part, to the fact Ukrainian air defenses have performed better than anticipated in pre-invasion US intelligence assessments. In addition, Russia has yet to establish air supremacy over Ukraine, a senior defense official said, as the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense systems fight for control of the airspace. 

Ukrainian air defenses, including aircraft, do continue to be operable and continue to engage and deny access to Russian aircraft in places over the country,” the official said.

Without uncontested control of the skies, it becomes more difficult for an army on the move to see and strike targets from the air.

Officials caution this picture of the battlefield is just a moment in time, and the situation on the ground could change very quickly as Russian forces keep up their assault.

The Ukrainian military has a number of different anti-aircraft weapons, including radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles, as well as anti-aircraft guns, according to IHS Janes. The US has also provided Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in recent weeks, as have other NATO allies.

As of Saturday evening, the US had not seen any indication the Russian military has taken control over any Ukrainian cities, the official said, even as Russian forces have moved to surround some population centers, including the capital of Kyiv.

Keeping Russia's large invasion force supplied with fuel and ammunition has also proven difficult. As one senior US official explained, Russia anticipated a fast victory and may have neglected to plan for sufficient resupply. Supply lines, this official explained, are a "definite vulnerability."

What we assess now is that [Russia] had to commit a bit more logistics and sustainment, in fuel specifically, than what we believe they had planned to do this early in the operation,” said one of the officials.��

Together, these challenges have thus far prevented the quick overthrow of major Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, which US officials were concerned could play out in a matter of days. The city of Kharkiv near Ukraine’s border with Russia also has not fallen to invading forces, which officials worried could happen on the invasion's first night.

These officials caution, however, Russian forces still greatly outnumber Ukrainian forces and Russia continues to maneuver these forces into position around major urban centers. It’s also unclear how much of the slower movement can be attributed to the logistical challenge of moving such a large force.

Russia has spun its slow advance in Ukraine as a stop to allow time for negotiations, not a military setback.

On Saturday, the Russian Ministry of Defense 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.

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

Asked whether Russians are likely to intensify their efforts, the official said they have no choice.

“They are way behind schedule,” he said. “This is getting out of hand for them, every additional day is very painful.”
5:18 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine vows to punish Russia for war crimes in military tribunal after targeting of civilians

From CNN's Mia Alberti and Olena Mankovska.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has accused Russia of war crimes after targeting civilian targets and said Moscow will have to face a "military tribunal."

During a Saturday news conference, Shmyhal said Russia shelled kindergartens, residential blocks and "buses with children."

For these crimes, the Russian command will surely see military tribunal. The enemy will surely be punished for killing Ukrainian children. Ukraine will not forgive them for this," Shmyhal said.

The prime minister said Russia was deliberately attacking civilian infrastructure because it is "failing" in its offensive.

"The Russian government doesn't understand they are not fighting only with the government. In fact, they are fighting against the entire Ukrainian people," he said.

Russia said its forces are only targeting military installations and are not striking residential areas. 

After a Saturday government meeting, Shmyhal announced Ukraine is temporarily closing its borders with Belarus and Russia except for Ukrainian citizens abroad, whom he urged to join the fight.

"Please do come back and do prove you are on the side of the light. And I'm addressing all civilized countries: On whose side are you on?" Shmyhal asked. "Are you on the side of the killers of children, or are you on the side of the great European people who are defending their country and they're defending their freedom from the aggression?"
4:22 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine closes borders to Russia and Belarus

From CNN’s Sebastian Shukla in Kyiv

Ukraine is closing its borders to Russia and Belarus, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced Saturday evening. 

In a video statement posted on Telegram, Shmyhal said beginning Monday, February 28, only Ukrainian citizens will be allowed to cross from Russia and Belarus into Ukraine.

7:48 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Ukraine prompts UN Secretary-General to cancel his Geneva trip

From CNN's Roth Richards

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks on February 23 in New York City.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks on February 23 in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, released a statement Saturday, saying the situation in Ukraine has prompted Guterres to cancel a trip to Geneva for a Monday meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council.

Full statement below:

Due to the aggravating situation in Ukraine, the Secretary-General will remain in New York and not travel to Geneva as planned. He will send a video message to Monday’s meeting of the Human Rights Council.

5:06 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Meta bars Russian state media from monetizing on its platforms

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Meta's logo is seen on a sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on October 28, 2021. 
Meta's logo is seen on a sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on October 28, 2021.  (Tony Avelar/AP/File)

Russian state media outlets will no longer be allowed to run advertising or otherwise monetize their content on any platform owned by Meta, the parent of Facebook and Instagram, the company said Friday evening. 

Devon Kearns, a Meta spokesperson, clarified to CNN that the policy applies not just to Facebook but to Instagram as well.

On Saturday, Meta published a blog post outlining the steps it has taken to keep Ukrainians safe. The company said it has enabled the ability for Ukrainian users to “lock” their Facebook profiles, preventing strangers from being able to download a person’s profile photo or see the person’s posts. The company also said it is restricting the ability to search through a user’s friends list. 

On Instagram, Ukrainian users are being shown notifications reminding them they can make their profiles private, and some users are being reminded about the ability to enable two-factor authentication and other security measures.

Meta added that it has expanded its regional independent fact-checking efforts and is "working to provide additional financial support to Ukrainian fact-checking partners.”

4:01 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Pope expresses "his deepest sorrow" in phone call with Zelensky

From CNN's Nicola Ruotolo and Duarte Mendonça 

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis expressed “his deepest sorrow” over the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday, Ukraine's embassy to the Holy See (Vatican) tweeted

“Today Pope Francis had a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Holy Father expressed his deepest sorrow for the tragic events that are taking place in our country,” according to the embassy. 

In a tweet, Zelensky said that he had thanked the Pope for his prayers, adding that “the Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness.”

“Thanked Pope Francis for praying for peace in Ukraine and a ceasefire. The Ukrainian people feel the spiritual support of His Holiness,” Zelensky tweeted.

3:36 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Pentagon denies Russia's claim that it's "highly likely" US used surveillance drones to help Ukrainian navy

From CNN’s Nathan Hodge and Vasco Cotovio in Moscow and Oren Lieberman at the Pentagon

The Pentagon has denied a claim from the Russian Ministry of Defence saying it is "highly likely" that the United States used some of its surveillance drones flying over the Black Sea to help the Ukrainian Navy attack its vessels.

“On the evening of February 25, during the evacuation of 82 Ukrainian servicemen who voluntarily laid down their arms from Zmeiny [Zmiiny] Island, 16 boats of the Ukrainian Navy, using the 'swarm tactics,' tried to attack the ships of the Black Sea Fleet,” Russian defense ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Saturday. “During the attack by Ukrainian boats over the provocation area, US strategic unmanned aerial vehicles RQ-4 'Global Hawk' and MQ-9A 'Reaper' were overhead.”

“It is highly likely that it was American UAVs that directed Ukrainian boats at the ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” Konashenkov said.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby denied the claims:

“Russian claims that the United States was involved in any way with Ukrainian naval operations near the Zmiiny Island are false. We did not provide ISR or any other support. Chalk this up to just one more lie by the Russian Ministry of Defense,” he told CNN.

Konashenkov also said that six boats of the Ukrainian navy were destroyed but that none of the 82 Ukrainian servicemen from the island, also known as Snake Island, were injured.

All 13 Ukrainian defenders were killed in a Russian bombardment on the island Thursday, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

According to a purported, widely shared audio exchange, as the Russians approached the island, the Russian officer said, "This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed."

A Ukrainian soldier responded, "Russian warship, go f*** yourself."

Those were the final known words heard from the island.

3:23 p.m. ET, February 26, 2022

YouTube blocks RT in Ukraine and prohibits it from monetizing its channels on the platform globally

From CNN’s Brian Fung

YouTube has blocked Russian state media outlet RT from Ukraine and suspended its ability to monetize its content on the platform globally, the video giant said Saturday. 

The move to restrict RT and several other Russian channels comes after the Ukrainian government asked YouTube to cut off access from within the country, YouTube told CNN.

In a statement, YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi cited “extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine” for the company’s steps. 

"In light of extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine, we’re taking a number of actions,” Choi said. "We’re pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions. We will be significantly limiting recommendations to these channels. And in response to a government request, we’ve restricted access to RT and a number of other channels in Ukraine. We will continue to monitor new developments and may take further actions.” 

YouTube also said that in recent days, it has removed hundreds of channels and thousands of videos that violated its policies, among them a number of channels that the company said were engaging in coordinated deception. 

YouTube’s decision follows widespread criticism as journalists, activists and even a member of Congress noticed that the platform was running ads against content from RT. 

A letter to YouTube’s parent Alphabet on Friday by Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said his staff was able to find instances of RT’s monetization on YouTube, and that he had alerted the Departments of Justice and Treasury to a report about YouTube allowing sanctioned entities to monetize on YouTube as well.