February 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Maureen Chowdhury, Jason Kurtz, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 1, 2022
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9:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Norway's energy giant Equinor to exit its partnerships in Russia

From CNN's Pamela Boykoff

CEO of Equinor Anders Opedal at the headquarters of Equinor in Fornebu, Baerum, Norway on August 10, 2020.
CEO of Equinor Anders Opedal at the headquarters of Equinor in Fornebu, Baerum, Norway on August 10, 2020. (Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB/AFP/Getty Images)

Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor will stop all new investments in Russia and begin to exit its joint ventures there, the company said in a statement Monday.

“We are all deeply troubled by the invasion of Ukraine, which represents a terrible setback for the world," said Anders Opedal, president and CEO of Equinor.

The company said it had $1.2 billion in long-term investments in Russia at the end of 2021. It has operated in Russia for more than 30 years and has a cooperation agreement with Russia's state-owned oil company Rosneft. 

Why this matters: This is significant because the Norwegian government owns two-thirds of Equinor, according to the company's website. On Sunday, the Norwegian government also announced in a statement that it will ask its sovereign wealth fund to divest from Russia. The fund describes itself as one of the world’s largest, holding 1.5% of all shares in global listed companies.

8:42 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Putin faces stiffer than expected resistance in and out of Ukraine

From CNN's Luke McGee

Five days into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it seems things haven't gone exactly to plan for Vladimir Putin so far.

Western intelligence officials briefed repeatedly over the weekend that Russian forces have encountered "stiffer than expected" resistance from an outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian military.

Russia has thus far failed to take key cities across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv. On Sunday, Ukrainian forces successfully repelled a Russian advance on a strategic airfield near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which has been under near-constant attack.

In addition to a fierce fightback from Ukrainian forces and civilians, the Russian invasion has suffered logistical challenges, with soldiers on the front line running short of fuel, ammunition and food.

"They are having problems," a NATO official said of the Russian forces, pointing to the alliance's latest intelligence. "They lack diesel, they are proceeding way too slow and morale is obviously an issue."

But a senior US defense official told reporters on Sunday that Russia has only used two-thirds of the total combat power applied to the mission, leaving a significant amount of forces available to press the offensive.

And on Monday, a miles-long convoy of Russian military vehicles was bearing down on the Ukrainian capital, while Kyiv's intelligence also suggests Belarus is prepared to join the Russian invasion, according to a Ukrainian official.

Representatives from Ukraine and Russia were meeting Monday on the Belarusian border. In those talks, Ukraine will insist on an "immediate ceasefire" and the withdrawal of Russian troops — though, realistically, no one is expecting that to happen.

Putin, it seems, hasn't just misjudged Ukraine's ability to defend itself, but also just how hard a line the international community would take against Russia in the event of an invasion.

For years, the Russian president has faced very little pushback from the West over his illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, his brutal support for the Syrian regime and acts of aggression in other countries.

For all their strong words of condemnation for Putin and his regime, Western countries still bought gas from Russia, offered a safe haven to Russian oligarchs and retained relatively normal diplomatic relations with Moscow.

But this time around — despite a few early rocky patches which saw Western nations accused of not hitting Russia hard enough — Putin has faced an unusually united Western alliance.

Read more here.

8:39 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Russia closes airspace to 36 nations

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

The Russian Civil Aviation Authority has closed off its airspace to the carriers of 36 countries, it said in a statement on Monday

According to the agency, the decision was taken in response to the bans imposed by European states on carriers or flights registered in Russia.

Read more about the bans here.

9:45 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

More than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine amid Russia's ongoing invasion, UN Refugee Agency says

From CNN's Nada Bashir

A displaced Ukrainian with her children at a temporary shelter in Beregsurany, Hungary, on Monday, Feb. 28.
A displaced Ukrainian with her children at a temporary shelter in Beregsurany, Hungary, on Monday, Feb. 28. (Akos Stiller/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

More than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and military aggression, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Monday. 

“UNHCR is working with partners and local authorities to provide humanitarian aid and support those in need,” UNHCR added in a Tweet. 

In an earlier tweet, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said neighboring countries must urgently share this responsibility “in concrete ways.” 

The European Union has shown “unity and firm action” in a way “never seen before” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Monday while speaking from a mobile refugee camp at the Siret border point in Romania.

“I also see the need for the European Commission to step up when it comes to support in funding, in personnel and in other aspects," she said.

8:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

White House is watching Belarus closely and prepared to levy more sanctions, US official says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak 

The White House is watching actions taken by Belarus closely and is prepared to levy more sanctions on the country amid reports that Belarusian forces could join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, a senior administration official said.

"We’re watching those events very carefully," the official said when asked about reports of intelligence showing Belarus is prepared to join the Russian invasion.

"We’ve said to the extent Belarus continues to aid and abet Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, they will also face consequences," the official said. "We’ve already rolled out some of those measures. Those costs will continue to ratchet much higher."

8:16 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

On the ground: This Kyiv family is sheltering at their community synagogue

From CNN's Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv

Dan Horovyi and his family have beein staying at the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community synagogue.
Dan Horovyi and his family have beein staying at the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community synagogue. CNN's Gul Tuysuz

Dan Horovyi, a member of the orthodox Jewish Karlin Stolin community, has been staying in the basement of the community synagogue with his wife and two-year-old son.

“When all this started, we knew we had to do something, and thank God we had a place to hide— not just a place to stay alive but a place to live,” he told CNN. “We could stay here for a month with no problems."

He added that the family had everything they needed there.

“This place is open to our community, other Jewish communities in Kyiv, and we also have people who are not Jewish also staying with us,” he said.

Dan Horovyi's two-year-old son is also at the synagogue.
Dan Horovyi's two-year-old son is also at the synagogue. CNN's Gul Tuysuz
8:02 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Talks commence but fighting rages on. Here's what you need to know.

Battles have continued throughout Monday near several key Ukrainian cities, even as delegates from Ukraine and Russia sat down for talks.

It's early afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know if you're just joining us.

  • Talks underway: A meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus began just before 1 p.m. Kyiv time (6 a.m. ET) on Monday. Ukraine's delegation includes several high-ranking officials, but not President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukraine demanded an “immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops” in the lead-up to the meeting.
  • Ukraine beats back Russian forces: Russian forces have "slowed their offensive" but are "still trying" to take Ukrainian ground around the country, according to the Ukrainian military. The bulk of Russian ground forces are still more than more than 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) north of Kyiv, the UK's Ministry of Defense said Monday.
  • More civilians killed: The latest toll for civilian deaths in Ukraine stands at 102, with 304 people injured, but the true figure is feared to be “considerably higher,” the UN’s Michelle Bachelet said Monday. The death toll includes seven children, Bachelet said. Ukraine's interior ministry released higher figures on Sunday, at 352 civilians killed.
  • Belarus could join invasion, intel suggests: A Ukrainian government official told CNN that the country's intelligence indicates Belarusian "readiness to maybe participate directly" in the invasion of Ukraine. A second source close to the Ukrainian government said the Biden administration has conveyed similar warnings.
  • Russian economy stunned: Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a meeting Monday with his top economic advisers amid massive fallout from Western sanctions, the Kremlin said. Moscow's stock exchange will not open Monday, after the country's currency plummeted.
  • Ukraine asks to join the EU: Zelensky asked the European Union on Monday to "urgently admit Ukraine" to the bloc. "Our goal is to be with all Europeans, and to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible," he said in a televised message.
  • Nuclear threat: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to put Russia's deterrence forces, which includes nuclear arms, on high alert is part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and "manufactured threats" from the Kremlin.
8:49 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

In aggressive move, US will cut off Russia's central bank from US dollar transactions

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak

The US is taking immediate action on Monday to prohibit US dollar transactions with the Russian central bank and fully block the Russian direct investment fund, senior administration officials said, taking aim at some of Russia's most powerful means of mitigating the effect of sanctions.

The steps are meant to prevent Russia from accessing a "rainy day fund" that officials said Moscow had been expecting to rely upon during the invasion of Ukraine. Instead of using the reserves to buffer a plummeting Ruble, Russia will no longer be able to access the funds it keeps in US dollars.

The sweeping new sanctions, taken with Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Canada, European Union and others, come as Russia’s economy is already in freefall.

“No country is sanction proof,” a White House official said. “Putin’s war chest of $630 billion in reserves only matters if you can use it to defend his currency, specifically by selling those reserves in exchange for buying the ruble.”

“After today's actions that will no longer be possible, and fortress Russia will be exposed as a myth.” 

In a phone call with reporters Monday morning, a senior administration official said the move was “the culmination of months of planning and preparation across our respective governments across technical, diplomatic and political channels, including at the highest levels.”

“We were ready and that's what allowed us to act within days, not weeks or months of Putin escalation,” the official said. 

"Our strategy, to put it simply, is to make sure that the Russian economy goes backward as long as President Putin decides to go forward with his invasion of Ukraine," a second senior administration official said.

In a bid to mitigate the impact of the sanctions on US and European energy consumers, the Treasury Department will exempt most energy-related transactions from the sanctions, a significant carve-out in the sanctions.

One official called the ongoing sanctions a “vicious feedback loop that's triggered by Putin his own choices and accelerated by his own aggression.” 

The sanctions also fully block the Russian Direct Investment Fund and its CEO, Kirill Dmitriev. Officials said they were, “symbols of deep seated Russian corruption and influence peddling globally.” 

“Today's actions represent the most significant actions in the US Treasury is taken against an economy of this size and assets of this size,” another official said. “What also makes this asset significant is not just the amount of assets or the size of the country we're targeting, but the speed at which our partners and allies have worked with us to enact this response.”

Asked about potential additional sanctions on Belarus, which appears poised to elevate its role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an official said the US is watching events "very carefully" and that sanctions on Belarus would "continue to ratchet much higher."

8:01 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US embassy in Belarus suspends operations as Russia continues to attack Ukraine

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The US is suspending operations at the US embassy in Belarus and also allowing non-emergency employees and family members to depart the US embassy in Russia due to safety and security issues resulting from Russian aggression towards Ukraine, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a statement. 

“The U.S. Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (“authorized departure”) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia. We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Blinken said on Monday morning. 

Blinken cited the department’s highest priority being the safety and security of US citizens, including US government personnel worldwide.

Some background: CNN reported overnight that a Ukrainian government official said that Ukrainian intelligence indicates Belarusian "readiness to maybe participate directly" in the invasion of Ukraine. This "in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border" into Ukraine. A second source close to the Ukrainian government tells CNN that in addition to the Ukrainian intel, the Biden administration has also conveyed to the Ukrainian government that Belarus is preparing to invade. 

“The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation. We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world,” Blinken said.