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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10:19 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Anonymous claims responsibility for "ongoing" hacking of Russian government sites

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Mia Alberti

Some Russian government websites continued to be down on Saturday, as the country's invasion of Ukraine is in its third day. 

The websites that are dark notably include the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defence. 

The exact reasons for the outages are not immediately clear, but the international hacking group Anonymous has claimed that it is attacking the sites. 

"Anonymous has ongoing operations to keep .ru government websites offline, and to push information to the Russian people so they can be free of Putin's state censorship machine," the group said in a tweet.

On Friday, the same Russian websites appeared offline for a while, but the Kremlin denied it was being attacked by Anonymous, according to state media. It’s the third day in a row Russian websites have been inaccessible, at least for some period of time.

Anonymous said it is also working "to keep the Ukrainian people online as best we can."

9:59 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

UK cancels visas of Belarus basketball team over Minsk's involvement in Ukraine invasion

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

The United Kingdom has canceled the visas of a Belarusian basketball team due to Minsk’s backing of Moscow in invading Ukraine.

The team was scheduled to play in Newcastle in northern England on Sunday. 

“The UK will not welcome the national sports teams of those countries who are complicit in Putin’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of #Ukraine,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted Saturday.

More on this: A number of sporting groups have spoken out over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Poland has refused to play in next month’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Russia over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the President of the Polish Football Association Cezary Kulesza said on Saturday. The football associations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic also issued a joint statement Thursday calling for the World Cup qualifiers not to be played in Russia.

Following his semifinal win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday, Russian professional tennis player Andrey Rublev wrote "no war please" on a camera lens.

The NBA's lone Ukrainian players, Alex Len and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, issued a joint statement condemning the war on Thursday as well.

CNN's Jacob Lev, David Close and Aleks Klosok contributed reporting to this post.

9:34 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

UK forces have arrived in eastern Europe to reinforce NATO's eastern front, Ministry of Defence says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

Royal Navy ships, British Army troops and Royal Air Force fighters have been deployed in eastern Europe to bolster NATO’s eastern front, according to a statement from the UK’s Ministry of Defence on Saturday.

“HMS Trent is in the eastern Mediterranean, conducting NATO exercises with Merlin Helicopters and RAF P8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft,” the statement said. HMS Diamond, a destroyer, will join from Portsmouth.

Tanks and armored vehicles “have arrived in Estonia from Germany, with further equipment and around 1000 troops arriving over the coming days,” the ministry added.

The statement added that Typhoon fighter jets “flying from bases in Cyprus and the UK are now patrolling NATO airspace over Romania and Poland alongside NATO allies with Voyager air-to-air refueling aircraft in support.” 

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Our armed forces are once again being called upon in the service of our Nation and I salute the bravery and sense of duty shared by all our personnel who have been deployed to support NATO."

“Alongside our NATO Allies, these deployments constitute a credible deterrent to stop Russian aggression threatening the territorial sovereignty of member states,” Wallace added.

9:32 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

$350 million in US military assistance will include "anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems," official says

From CNN's Arlette Saenz 

A official from US President Joe Biden's administration says the newly authorized military assistance of up to $350 million from US Department of Defense supplies will include “anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems, small arms and various caliber munitions, body armor, and related equipment in support of Ukraine’s front-line defenders facing down Russia’s unprovoked attack.”

“The United States and its Allies and partners are standing together to expedite security assistance to Ukraine,” the official said. “We are employing all available security cooperation tools in support of the Ukrainian people in their hour of need as they defend themselves against Russian aggression.”

More background: As CNN has reported, President Biden instructed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to release up to $350 million in immediate support to Ukraine's defense, according to a memo released by the White House Friday. 

This is the third drawdown of money. Previous drawdowns have been for $60 million and $250 million, putting the total over the last year at more than a billion dollars, according to an administration official. 

9:25 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

US lobbyists rush to cut ties with lucrative Russian contracts

From CNN's Casey Tolan, Curt Devine and Daniel A. Medina

In the years leading up to Russia's attack on Ukraine, US lobbyists have raked in millions of dollars from Russian banks and financial firms paying to push their interests in Washington.

Now, in the wake of the Russian invasion and new sanctions announced by President Joe Biden, many of those lobbying firms are rushing to cut ties and drop their lucrative contracts.

At least six lobbying firms that previously represented now-sanctioned Russian banks and companies tied to a Russian natural gas pipeline terminated their contracts or representation this week, according to statements and federal lobbying disclosures.

The exodus marks the rupture of a Moscow-to-K-Street conduit that has long employed former federal officials and members of Congress of both parties, experts said.

"For anybody that's representing a Russian entity in Washington, DC, it's an uphill climb ... that has just gotten a lot steeper," said Benjamin Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a foreign policy think tank, who has written a book on foreign influence. "It's going to be hard to find a sympathetic ear for any of these Russian clients on the Hill right now."

Some of the banks Biden targeted with sanctions, including VTB, Russia's second-largest, were put under "full blocking" sanctions, which freeze organizations' US assets and prohibit them from doing business in the country. That means it would be illegal for lobbyists to work for them unless they receive a license from the Treasury Department, according to legal experts.

Dropping contracts with fully blocked banks "is not a gesture in solidarity with Ukraine, this is a requirement under US law," said Erich Ferrari, an attorney who specializes in US economic sanctions. Lobbyists could face prosecution for running afoul of sanctions laws, he said.

But even for lobbyists representing firms that aren't fully blocked, it would be a "real reputational risk for these firms to keep representing these sanctioned entities," said Freeman, who called ties to Russia a "scarlet letter" in DC.

Read the full story here.

9:28 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Landmarks around the world glow blue and yellow in support of Ukraine

As Russia's assault on Ukraine continues, a number of the world's most iconic landmarks were lit up in blue and yellow — the colors of the Ukrainian flag — to show support for the country.

Here's a look at some of them:

The Empire State Building in New York City

The Empire State Building is lit in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in New York City, on February 25.
The Empire State Building is lit in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in New York City, on February 25. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

The London Eye

The London Eye joins landmarks around the world in lighting in unity with the people of the Ukraine, on February 25.
The London Eye joins landmarks around the world in lighting in unity with the people of the Ukraine, on February 25. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

The flag of Ukraine is projected on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on February 23.
The flag of Ukraine is projected on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on February 23. (Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Paris, on February 26.
The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Paris, on February 26. (Raphael Krawzyk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

8:52 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Kremlin says Putin ordered halt to Russian attack due to talk of negotiations, but operations have resumed

From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a halt Friday to the Russian military's advance in Ukraine pending negotiations, but operations resumed after the government in Kyiv allegedly refused talks, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Saturday.

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

“Yesterday, in the light of pending talks with the Ukrainian leadership, the commander-in-chief, the president of Russia, ordered a suspension of the advance of the main group of Russian armed forces in Ukraine,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

He continued:

“But in essence, as the Ukrainian side refused negotiations, the Russian military operation resumed today in accordance with the plan.”
8:52 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

UAE foreign ministry calls for de-escalation in first official statement on Ukraine

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for an “immediate de-escalation and the cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine, according to a statement on Saturday. 

This is the first official statement by the Gulf nation and close US ally, and it comes hours after the UAE, along with China and India, chose to abstain on a vote on a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In a statement published by the UAE’s Permanent Mission at the UN and titled “UAE explanation of vote at the UN Security Council,” the Emirati permanent representative Amb. Lana Nusseibeh said that the UAE supports the de-escalation of violence, the resumption of dialogue and the sending of humanitarian aid. 

The foreign ministry did not mention Russia in the statement, instead calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law, and focused on emphasizing the need to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance. 

“Being from the Middle East, we are intimately aware of the critical importance of a stable regional security environment, and of de-escalation, diplomacy, and dialogue. Similarly, we understand from experience the need for inclusive and consultative processes,” Nusseibeh told the Security Council on Friday, according to the Foreign Ministry statement. 

The UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed will be meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a visit to Moscow on Monday, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, according to a tweet by the Russian MFA.

The Emirati top diplomat also received a call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prior to the Security Council vote, where Blinken spoke about the “importance of building a strong international response to support Ukrainian sovereignty through the UN Security Council.” The Emirati readout of the call was issued after the vote and did not include Blinken’s statement.

8:46 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Italy backs SWIFT sanctions against Russia as part of EU measures

From Hada Messia in Rome and Sharon Braithwaite and Lindsay Isaac in London

Italy has signaled that it would support taking measures to expel Russia from the SWIFT global payment system as part of further European Union sanctions against Moscow for invading Ukraine, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's press office said on Saturday.

During a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Draghi said that "Italy fully supports the European Union’s line on sanctions against Russia, including those regarding SWIFT, and shall continue to do so," the prime minister’s press office said.

Draghi expressed to Zelensky Italy’s solidarity and support for him and the Ukrainian population "in the face of the attack by the Russian Federation."

The Ukrainian president hailed the declaration, tweeting: “This is the beginning of a new page in the history of our states Ukraine and Italy. #MarioDraghi in a phone conversation supported Russia's disconnection from SWIFT, the provision of defense assistance. Ukraine must become part of the #EU.”

Draghi also said Italy will provide Ukraine with assistance to defend itself, according to his office, and the two leaders agreed to remain in close contact in the immediate future.

More background: The bloc has been divided over the issue of banning Russia from SWIFT as part of the two packages of sanctions it has agreed since the invasion of Ukraine began. However, the opposition has been dropping off with France also saying it would “support” the idea of SWIFT restrictions, according to the Élysée, following a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and Zelensky. On Friday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that France is not among the countries that has reservations regarding SWIFT sanctions.