March 5, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Laura Smith-Spark, Angela Dewan, Adrienne Vogt, Joe Ruiz and Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 6, 2022
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1:11 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Elon Musk declines to block Russian propaganda from Starlink

From CNN's Melissa Alonso

In a tweet Friday night, Elon Musk claimed foreign government officials had asked his satellite internet company Starlink "to block Russian news sources" following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

"We will not do so unless at gunpoint," Musk said in the tweet. "Sorry to be a free speech absolutist."

It's unclear which governments Musk is referring to in the tweet, though he added it was not Ukraine. 

Amplifying propaganda: Russian news sources, such as RT, serve as Russian President Vladimir Putin's global megaphone, misleading audiences and deflecting from the issues at hand. On Friday, Putin signed a censorship bill into law making it impossible for news organizations to accurately report the news in or from Russia.

Delivery to Ukraine: Musk sent a truckload of Starlink antennas — which can be used to connect to the company's satellite-based internet service — to Ukraine this week, responding to a plea from the country's vice prime minister amid fears that Ukrainians could lose internet access if Russia continues its attacks on communication infrastructure.

1:05 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Zelensky refutes allegations he has fled Ukraine, says he is still in Kyiv

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Instagram)
(Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Instagram)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video on his official Instagram account on Friday, saying he is still in the capital Kyiv and has not fled the country. 

"Every two days information comes out that I have fled somewhere — fled from Ukraine, from Kyiv, from my office. As you can see, I am here in my place, Andriy Borisovich (Yermak) is here. Nobody has fled anywhere. Here, we are working," Zelensky said. 

"We like jogging, but now we don't have time for that, for various cardio exercises," he joked. "Working. Glory to Ukraine."

8:47 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Turn down the heat to stop Putin? Europe wrestles with its Russian gas addiction

From CNN's Angela Dewan

When you turn on the heating in your home, you may not think much about where your energy comes from, let alone where the money you pay for it goes. For millions of people living in Europe, there's a good chance that money is flowing to the Russian state — much of it into President Vladimir Putin's war chest.

Russia has been building a network of natural gas pipelines throughout Europe since the 1960s. Washington has been warning its Western allies ever since that more Russian gas will only make Europeans more vulnerable to Moscow.ere are fears now that the Kremlin may turn off the supply of natural gas to the European Union, in retaliation for its support for Ukraine — Europe, among other allies, has been sending weapons and aid to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russia's invasion.

It's only been just over a week, but so far, Russia has let the gas flow. But that presents another problem.

Money into the war chest: Russia is earning hundreds of millions of dollars a day from its oil and gas exports, undermining the financial sanctions Western powers have introduced to choke off financing for Putin's war effort.

The European Union, Russia's biggest gas customer, is now grappling with the reality that its energy spending has helped empower Putin to carry out a bloody war on its borders.

According to the European think thank Bruegel, with prices at record highs, the value of Russian natural gas exports to the European Union has soared to about €500 million ($545 million) every day. That's up from about €200 million ($220 million) in February. Before the invasion, Russia was also exporting oil worth hundreds of millions a day to Europe.

Read the full story.

1:27 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

As the war in Ukraine drags into its second week, a Western intelligence official has warned Russia could be looking to "bombard cities into submission," potentially leading to high numbers of civilian casualties. Here's the latest:

Alarm at nuclear plant: The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Friday, where a top UN official called for cooperation with the UN’s nuclear watchdog and for safe passage in Ukraine.

This comes after a fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, caused by Russian shelling sparking fears of a potential nuclear incident. Firefighters were able to put out the blaze, despite being initially blocked by Russian troops. And radiation levels appear normal, Ukrainian and US officials say. Operations are now continuing at the plant, but it was "occupied" by Russian forces early Friday, said Ukrainian authorities.

Tensions at the UN: At the emergency meeting, the Russian ambassador to the UN claimed there were “lies about how Russian troops attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”

The Ukrainian ambassador pushed back, calling his Russian counterpart "a liar," and said the plant sustained damage.

The US ambassador to the UN said the world had “narrowly averted” nuclear catastrophe on Friday, but warned that Russian troops are approaching Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility.

Airspace dispute: Despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's pleas for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, US Secretary of State Blinken and NATO's chief Stoltenberg turned down the request.

They warned that the only way to implement a no-fly zone would be to "send NATO planes into Ukrainian airspace and to shoot down Russian planes, and that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe."

Zelensky condemned NATO's decision, saying it gave Russia the “green light” for further attacks of Ukrainian towns.

Military attacks on civilian areas: Videos show the extent of destruction in key Ukrainian cities after Russian military strikes. An apartment complex was hit in the northern city of Chernihiv, with walls blown apart and rubble everywhere.

Russian troops continue laying siege to Mariupol, a strategically important city on the southern coast, and Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city in the northeast. A standoff is ongoing in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

Rising toll: The war has killed at least 331 civilians, the UN estimates, though the real toll could be far higher. More than 1.2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24, with more than half entering Poland.  

8:46 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Ukraine officials release new video from inside Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after attack

From CNN's From Tim Lister

Ukrainian authorities have released video from inside the control room at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which was taken over by Russian forces late Thursday. 

The video shows the inside of the control room as an announcement rings out on a PA system aimed at the Russian forces outside.

Here is what the announcement said:

"Stop shooting at a nuclear dangerous facility. Stop shooting immediately! You threaten the security of the whole world!"
"The work of the vital organs of the Zaporizhzhia station may be disrupted. It will be impossible for us to restore it."
"You are endangering the security of the entire world. Attention! Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility. Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility!"
"Stop shooting at a nuclear hazardous facility! Attention! Stop it!”

More context: In a statement Friday morning local time, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRI) confirmed the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was occupied by Russian military forces, but said officials remained in contact with plant management.

The power plant's six reactors remained intact, though the compartment auxiliary buildings for reactor unit 1 had been damaged, the SNRI said in its statement. Four of the remaining units were being cooled down while one unit is providing power, the statement said.

Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine's nuclear power operator Energoatom, later reported that management were operating at "gunpoint." He said on Telegram that Russian forces "entered the territory of the nuclear power plant, took control of the personnel and management of the nuclear power plant."

Kotin warned that although the reactors are safe, further attacks could lead to "disaster."


8:46 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

More than 1.2 million refugees have left Ukraine, United Nations says

As of Thursday, more than 1.2 million refugees have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Of the 1,209,976 refugees who have fled, more than half crossed into Poland.

Others went to other neighboring countries including Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.

More than a million left within just the first week, and many more are “on the move both inside and outside the country,” with many internally displaced families, according to UNHCR.

11:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

Russia to deploy up to 1,000 mercenaries to Ukraine as official warns Moscow could “bombard cities into submission”

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr

Russia is poised to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, as a senior Western intelligence official warned Moscow could "bombard cities into submission," an escalation that could lead to significant civilian casualties.

The US has already seen "some indications" that Russian mercenaries may be involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine "in some places," a senior defense official said earlier this week, but it wasn't clear exactly where or in what numbers.

"We've seen some indications that they're being employed," the official said.

Now, a US official tells CNN that Russia is planning to deploy up to 1,000 more mercenaries in the near future.

Stalled forces:��Some Russian forces have struggled with morale issues and setbacks on the battlefield, including a massive convoy north of Kyiv that has remained largely stalled for the past several days.

The mercenary forces would fortify the flagging units, the official said, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend.

The official added that the US believes the mercenaries already in Ukraine have "performed poorly when facing the stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Ukrainians," and that as many as 200 such mercenaries have already been killed in the war as of late February.

Meanwhile, US and Western officials expect Russia to increase the pace and strength of its strikes on key Ukrainian population centers, including the capital Kyiv.

An intensifying assault: Russia now seems prepared to “bombard cities into submission,” one senior western intelligence official said on Friday, which could include a significant increase in the number of civilian casualties. 

“It’s a very crude approach,” the official said. “The heavier weapons are not just heavier in the weight, they’re also heavier in terms of the damage that they can inflict. And they’re far less discriminant.”

Other officials have noticed a shift in Russian strategy from military targets to civilians, with more attacks becoming focused on population centers.

"The days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction, as the Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment during a press conference in Brussels Friday where he is meeting with European allies.

“The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there. Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure,” Blinken said.
11:59 p.m. ET, March 4, 2022

The US flew B-52 bombers over NATO's eastern flank on Friday

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The United States flew B-52 Stratofortress bombers over NATO’s eastern flank on Friday, exercising with the German and Romanian militaries in a sign of unity as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second weekend. 

The largest strategic bombers in the US Air Force took off from RAF Fairford, a Royal Air Force station in England, and conducted close air support and integration mission training, according to a statement from US Air Forces in Europe.

The B-52s then flew to Romania, where they conducted more close air support training as part of the bomber task force (BTF) missions.

The flight over Romanian airspace put the bombers right on the edge of NATO countries, adjacent to Ukrainian air space, where the Russian air force is trying to establish air supremacy.

“BTF rotations give us a critical opportunity to integrate and train with our allies and partners, especially during this difficult time,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa, and NATO’s Allied Air Command.

“Training together ensures the defensive power of NATO remains unmatched,” he said.
8:44 a.m. ET, March 5, 2022

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine's second-largest nuclear facility, US ambassador to the UN says

From CNN's Masha Angelova and Hira Humayun

Russian forces are approaching Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at the UN on Friday.

“Russian forces are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility,” she said without naming the plant.

According to Energoatom, the overseeing body of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear facility — in terms of power generation capacity — is Yuzhnoukrainsk Nuclear Power Station in the Mykolaiv Oblast, in southern Ukraine.

“President Putin must stop this humanitarian catastrophe by ending this war and ceasing these unconscionable attacks against the people of Ukraine,” the ambassador added.

Fire at nuclear plant: Thomas-Greenfield said the imminent danger continues after a disaster was “narrowly avoided” last night, referring to the fire that broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday local time in Ukraine as a result of Russian forces shelling the facility.

“The international community must be unanimous in demanding Russia’s forces stop their dangerous assault. And as I’ve said before, the people of Ukraine are counting on us and we must not let them down,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of "nuclear terror" after Russian troops attacked the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.