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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10:05 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko could be a key player in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Here's what to know.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting with Commonwealth of Independent States officials in Minsk on May 28.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a meeting with Commonwealth of Independent States officials in Minsk on May 28. (Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)

Belarus is emerging as a key player to watch in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian intelligence suggests Belarus is showing "readiness to maybe participate directly" in Russia's invasion, "in addition to allowing Russians to use their territory as well as letting them cross the border" into Ukraine, a Ukrainian government official told CNN.

Belarus and Russia have close military ties, and Russian troops recently deployed to Belarus for extensive military drills.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last week that Belarusian troops could join the invasion "if it becomes necessary."

Here's what you should know about Lukashenko, the man at the helm of this nation that lies between Russia and European Union member Poland:

Elected president in Belarus' first democratic election in 1994 after the fall of Soviet Union, he has ruled for more than a quarter of a century. But subsequent elections have been marred by allegations of strong-arm tactics and voting irregularities and were won by suspiciously wide margins.

Late 2020 was marred by months of protests and violence across the country after a disputed election as riot police fired warning shots into the air, used stun grenades and arrested more than 200 people to deter tens of thousands of Belarusians who marched through Minsk on Sunday to demand the veteran leader leave power.

He rejected the accusations that the vote was rigged and said he has no intention of quitting.

"Europe's last dictator": Called "Europe's last dictator," his iron grip on his country has become increasingly forceful. His public appearances are tightly controlled and he is generally surrounded by fawning countrymen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia, on February 18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia, on February 18. (Sergey Guneev/Sputnik/Reuters)

Lukashenko has increasingly strengthened his alliance with Putin, who has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid — Kremlin support that is likely to come with strings.

In an exclusive interview with CNN in 2021, Lukashenko told CNN what could happen if there's ever a provocation against the two countries:

"If we need to, Belarus will turn into one military base for Russia and Belarus in order to withstand your aggression, if you decide, or if any one country decides to attack. And you should be clear on this, I have never made any secret of it."

10:11 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Canada will send an additional $25 million in military aid to support Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Henderson

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly delivers a speech during a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly delivers a speech during a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada will being sending an additional $25 million in military aid to Ukraine, Mélanie Joly, minister of foreign affairs, and Anita Anand, minister of national defense, announced in a joint news release Monday.

Ukraine directly requested aid from Canada for further protective equipment for items like gas masks, body armor, night vision gear and helmets, the release states.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will also be providing two C-130J tactical airlift aircraft and a team of 40-50 personnel for at least two weeks to help NATO’s efforts in Europe.

“We are working with our allies to ensure Ukrainian military personnel are properly equipped and together with our partners in Poland, we are working to deliver necessary military materials without delay,” Joly said. “We will continue to provide support to the Ukrainian people as they fight to defend their nation and its freedom.”

11:41 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

IOC recommends Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from international sporting events

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London

Flag bearers Olga Fatkulina and Vadim Shipachyov of Team ROC carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 04 in Beijing, China.
Flag bearers Olga Fatkulina and Vadim Shipachyov of Team ROC carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 04 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Monday recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from competing in all international sporting events. 

“In order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants, the IOC EB recommends that International Sports Federations and sports event organisers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions,” read a statement.

“The IOC EB strongly urges International Sports Federations and organisers of sports events worldwide to do everything in their power to ensure that no athlete or sports official from Russia or Belarus be allowed to take part under the name of Russia or Belarus," the statement said.

“Russian or Belarusian nationals, be it as individuals or teams, should be accepted only as neutral athletes or neutral teams. No national symbols, colours, flags or anthems should be displayed,” the statement continued.

The IOC also announced that it had also withdrawn the Olympic Order from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin was awarded the highest award of the Olympic Movement in 2001.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko and Dmitry Kozak, deputy chief of staff of the presidential executive office, have also been stripped of their titles.

The IOC said the decision had been made as a result of “the extremely grave violation of the Olympic Truce and other violations of the Olympic Charter by the Russian government in the past.”

Russia’s Olympic Committee (ROC) said Monday it strongly disagreed with the IOC's decision to ban Russian athletes from competing in all international sporting events. 

A statement issued on the ROC’s website said the decision “contradicts both the regulatory documents of the IOC and the [Olympic] Charter […] and the spirit of the Olympic movement, which is designed to unite, not divide, especially when it comes to athletes and equality of participants in the Olympic movement.”

“For its part, the Russian Olympic Committee intends to consistently defend the rights and interests of Russian athletes and provide all necessary assistance to our national federations to challenge the discriminatory decisions of the respective international federations,” the statement added.

The ROC said it would contact individual international sporting federations for an official response to the IOC’s announcement as “it is international sports federations that have the authority to admit athletes to international competitions in the corresponding sport.”

9:37 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

US stocks fall as investors keep a wary eye on Russia and Ukraine

From CNN’s Paul R. La Monica

US stocks were broadly lower Monday morning. Wall Street is worried about the impact of more economic sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine and the fact that Russia has put nuclear weapons forces and other deterrents on high alert.

Defense stocks were among the few standouts, rallying after Germany announced plans to increase its military spending.

Here's how things looked when US markets opened:

  • The Dow fell 1.4%, or about 460 points, in early trading
  • The S&P 500 was down 1.2%.
  • The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.9%.

 

9:59 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Switzerland will forego "Swiss neutrality" and adopt same sanctions as EU against Russia

From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin and Sharon Braithwaite in London

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis delivers a speech at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Swiss President Ignazio Cassis delivers a speech at the opening of a session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 28, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Switzerland has announced that it will forego its commitment to “Swiss neutrality” in favor of adopting sanctions against Russia, Swiss Federal President Ignazio Cassis said Monday, adding that Switzerland’s sanctions will be in line with those already adopted by the European Union. 

“The Swiss Federal Council has decided today to fully adopt EU sanctions,” Cassis said during a news briefing. “It is an unparalleled action of Switzerland, who has always stayed neutral before.”

“Russia's attack is an attack on freedom, an attack on democracy, an attack on the civil population, and an attack on the institutions of a free country. This cannot be accepted regarding international law, this cannot be accepted politically, and this cannot be accepted morally,” Cassis added. 

Speaking after an extraordinary meeting of the Swiss Federal Council, Cassis stressed that “in these dark days,” Switzerland stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and hopes that sanctions will encourage the Kremlin to “change its mind.”

“To play into the hands of an aggressor is not neutral. Having signed the Geneva convention of human rights, we are bound to humanitarian order,” Cassis said. “Other democracies shall be able to rely on Switzerland; those standing for international law shall be able to rely on Switzerland; states that uphold human rights shall be able to rely on Switzerland."

Switzerland will freeze the assets of “listed persons” and will also bring into force an entry ban for those highlighted by the EU’s packet of sanctions, according to the Swiss Federal President.

Cassis said that Switzerland was closing its airspace to all flights from Russia, including private jets, with the exception of humanitarian flights, search flights and emergency situations. 

Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said entry ban will impact “oligarchs of Russian or Ukrainian nationality who are particularly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

“These are five persons with strong economic connections into Switzerland,” Keller-Sutter highlighted, but said because of privacy reasons, she was not naming those oligarchs.

3:01 p.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Snake Island defenders "alive and well," Ukrainian Navy says

From CNN's Seb Shukla in Kyiv

The defenders of Snake Island in the Black Sea, who were initially feared dead, are “alive and well,” according to the Ukrainian Navy. 

On Monday, a statement from the Navy said that the soldiers on the island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, repelled two attacks by Russian forces but in the end were forced to surrender “due to the lack of ammunition.”

The statement went on to say that Russian forces have completely destroyed the islands infrastructure: lighthouses, towers and antennas. 

Over the weekend, the Ukrainian Border Guard Service said they had received information that all 82 soldiers may be alive. 

Russian state media also showed the arrival of the Ukrainian soldiers in Sevastopol, Crimea, where they are being held. 

More background: Snake Island sits about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the southern tip of the Ukrainian mainland in the northwestern Black Sea. It's about 185 miles (300 kilometers) west of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia annexed in 2014.

Though it is only about 46 acres (18 hectares) in size, a report last year from the non-partisan Atlantic Council think tank called it "key to Ukraine's maritime territorial claims" in the Black Sea.

Here's a look at where the island is located:

9:21 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

UK prime minister will travel to Poland and Estonia on Tuesday 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Luke McGee in London

Boris Johnson met members of the Ukrainian community on February 27 at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair, London, England. 
Boris Johnson met members of the Ukrainian community on February 27 at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Mayfair, London, England.  (Jamie Lorriman/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Poland and Estonia, the prime minister's office said on Monday. 

A spokesperson for the prime minister told journalists during a lobby briefing that Johnson will travel to the two countries on Tuesday to speak with his Polish and Estonian counterparts. He is also set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, the spokesperson added.  

The prime minister will also speak with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and G7 leaders later Monday, according to the spokesperson.  

9:03 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Several European nations announce they will not play international football fixtures against Russia

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London

Several European football associations announced Monday that they will not play international fixtures against Russia until further notice.

Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Albania followed in the footsteps of England, Czech Republic, Sweden and Poland in refusing to face Russia at any level of international football.

The Swiss FA said in a statement that its decision would extend to the women’s national team’s opening group stage game of the 2022 UEFA Women’s Euros on July 9 against Russia.

The Scottish FA said that its president Rob Petrie had sent “a message of support, friendship, and unity” to his counterpart at the Ukrainian Association of Football.

The two nations are due to meet on March 24 in their 2022 FIFA World Cup play-off semifinal in Glasgow.

The Football Association of Ireland offered its “unequivocal support to Ukraine’s FA,” adding that Ireland’s national stadium – Aviva Stadium – will be lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag later Monday.

9:52 a.m. ET, February 28, 2022

Russian foreign minister cancels trip to UN in Geneva due to EU airspace ban

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with the officials on February 25, in Moscow, Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with the officials on February 25, in Moscow, Russia. (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled his visit to Geneva for the session of the UN Human Rights Council, because of the European Union's ban on Russian aircraft, the Russian Mission in Geneva said Monday. 

The EU confirmed its decision to shut down its airspace to Russia on Sunday. The ban is part of the measures in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane. And that includes the private jets of oligarchs too," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday.