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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11:07 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Biden is seriously weighing whether to support removing Russia from SWIFT

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Phil Mattingly, and Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting on February 22, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting on February 22, in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking.

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.

But US officials and their EU counterparts have continued to weigh options, including sanctions to remove individual banks and entities, instead of the entire Russian economy, from the network, officials say.

The move would be considered the nuclear option when it comes to responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden and his aides have highlighted how complicated blocking Russia from SWIFT would be, noting the US cannot move unilaterally. "That’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take," Biden told reporters Thursday.

But since Biden's press conference announcing new sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked attack, the administration appears to be moving closer to this position as other European allies have now given it their backing.

The administration has discussed the matter with the Federal Reserve, which would have a stake in any decision, according to an official. And US officials have been in talks with the European Union about a possible move. 

One administration official said additional sanctions were likely to come if Kyiv, the besieged Ukrainian capital, fell. But it wasn’t clear if that would include SWIFT, or whether removing Russia from SWIFT might happen before.

A White House official told CNN that "as the President and administration officials have made clear, we are focused on coordinating with allies and partners to impose further costs on Putin for his war of choice" but declined to comment further.  

On Saturday, Italy signaled that it would support taking measures to expel Russia from the SWIFT after Prime Minister Mario Draghi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that "Italy fully supports the European Union’s line on sanctions against Russia, including those regarding SWIFT, and shall continue to do so."

Draghi’s comments are particularly notable given the Italian economy’s exposure on energy, but the primary opposition to taking the action has come from Germany, officials say.

10:47 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Former Ukrainian president: I ask the world "don't believe Putin"

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN on Saturday.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks with CNN on Saturday. (CNN)

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the world should not trust information that Russian President Vladmir Putin and his office are relaying about negotiations with Ukraine after invading the country.

"I want to ask all the CNN viewers, all the people of the world, with one very simple request: Please don't trust Putin. Don't believe Putin. And, two, don't be afraid of Putin," Poroshenko said from Kyiv in an interview with CNN.

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

Speaking to CNN on Saturday, Poroshenko also brought up Malaysia Flight 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 by a surface-to-air missile, killing nearly 300 people. Western officials and a Dutch-led investigation said Putin bears responsibility for the incident, but Putin has denied it. 

Poroshenko was asked about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's refusal to accept an offer from the United States of evacuation from the capital city Kyiv, according to the Ukraine embassy in Britain.

"I think that now it's a decisive moment for my nation. And every single person make a decision for themselves," Poroshenko said about the current president's decision.

Poroshenko also said he is willing to die if necessary and is proud of his people and country.

"If I'm ready, unfortunately, yes. I hate the idea to be my country occupied and I think that we should do our best to protect the nation, to protect the nation against Russian aggressor, definitely bring the risk ... Everybody here," he said, pointing to defense troops behind him, "all the young and old people fully understand that we have this risk." 

"But many, the biggest part, make a decision to take the rifle and to protect the nation. I'm proud for these people. I'm proud of this country. And I'm proud to be Ukrainian," he said.

11:06 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

Kyiv will be under a strict curfew until Monday

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv

Empty streets are seen following curfew in Kyiv, early February 26.
Empty streets are seen following curfew in Kyiv, early February 26. (Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The mayor of Kyiv has extended a citywide curfew until Monday morning as Russian troops advance on the capital. 

The curfew will run from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. local time nightly "for more effective defense of the capital and the security of its inhabitants."

Mayor Vitali Klitschko had initially set the curfew to run until Sunday morning, "for more effective defense of the capital and the security of its inhabitants." 

In the latest order, citizens are prohibited from all movement of vehicles except for those with special passes. 

“We remind you that all civilians who will be on the street during the curfew will be considered as members of the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups," the order said. “In case of air alarm, follow to the nearest shelter. Metro stations operate in shelter mode. If necessary, the seals can be lowered at the stations.” 
10:36 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

4 more countries ban Russian airlines from their airspace

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Estonia, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia will ban Russian airlines from their airspace, the countries announced Saturday.

“We invite all EU countries to do the same. There is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies. #StandWithUkraine," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted Saturday.

"Unprovoked & unjustified Russia attack on Ukraine brings serious consequences," the Romanian delegation to NATO tweeted.  

Latvia made the decision to close its airspace such a decision in coordination with its neighbors Lithuania and Estonia, the government said Saturday in a statement.

"Lithuania is joining Latvia and Estonia in banning Russian aircraft from its airspace", Lithuanian Transport Minister Marius Skuodis said Saturday.

The UK, Poland, Moldova and the Czech Republic all previously closed their airspace to Russian airlines following its attack on Ukraine.

You can read more about how Russia's invasion of Ukraine is impacting travel here.

10:27 a.m. ET, February 26, 2022

US official: Putin has more than 50% "of his total assembled power" inside Ukraine

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Russian President Vladimir Putin has more than 50% "of his total assembled power now committed inside Ukraine,” a senior US defense official told reporters Saturday.

 The official said the 50% consists of “largely combat power.”

"Clearly he’s gonna have to sustain them," the official said. "I just don’t have a breakdown by company or by unit of what he’s got. The farthest we’re willing to go comfortably is that he’s got more than 50% of his total assembled power now committed inside Ukraine."
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.