Ukraine war live updates: Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of plots and provocations ahead of war anniversary

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By Amit

Two ships leave Ukrainian ports under Black Sea Grain Initiative

A team inspects the produce in the ship carrying wheat from Ukraine to Afghanistan after inspection in the open sea around Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul, Turkiye on January 24, 2023.

TUR Ministry of National Defence | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Two vessels carrying about 96,895 metric tons of grain and other food products have left Ukrainian ports, the organization overseeing the export of agriculture from the country said.

The ships are destined for Italy and Portugal and are carrying corn.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered in July among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw three key Ukrainian ports reopen.

So far, more than 700 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian Railways CEO shares the story behind ‘Rail Force One,’ the train that ferried Biden to Kyiv

US President Joe Biden sits on a train with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan after a surprise visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Kyiv on February 20, 2023. (Photo by Evan Vucci / POOL / AFP) (Photo by EVAN VUCCI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Evan Vucci | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian Railways CEO Alexander Kamyshin shared the story behind U.S. President Joe Biden’s secret trip to Kyiv.

In a Twitter thread, Kamyshin described the project as “complicated” but added that it “was an honor and a privilege for me and the whole Iron Team to deal with this visit.”

Kamyshin also dubbed the train that Biden traveled in “Rail Force One” to play off of the transportation typically used by U.S. presidents.

— Amanda Macias

Western Europe should supply weapons to Ukraine faster, Polish PM says

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, along with leaders from Belgium, Italy and Greece, will propose a plan for a ‘gas price corridor’ across Europe in an attempt to bring down soaring prices.

Thierry Monasse / Contributor / Getty Images

Western European countries should be faster and more generous in supplying Ukraine with weapons, Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said in Copenhagen after meeting Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen.

“I would like them to be exactly like Denmark and Poland. A longer version is to be more generous in terms of weapon delivery and more quick,” Morawiecki told reporters.

— Reuters

Protestors paint giant Ukrainian flag outside Russian embassy in London

Activists from political campaign group Led By Donkeys poured paint onto the road to create a giant Ukrainian flag outside the Russian Embassy on February 23, 2023 in London, England. The group created the flag using washable paint poured onto the road and then driven through by passing vehicles.

Handout | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Demonstrators have painted the Ukrainian flag on the road outside the Russian embassy in London on Thursday ahead of the first anniversary of the war Friday.

The protest was purportedly carried out by campaign group Led By Donkeys, which said on Twitter Thursday:

“Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Putin’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine, an independent state and a people with every right to self-determination. The existence of a massive Ukrainian flag outside his embassy in London will serve to remind him of that.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Hungary to start debating NATO accession of Sweden, Finland next week

The flooded Danube river is seen in front of the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007. The river is expected to reach its peak level in the Hungarian capital Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

Photo: AP

The Hungarian parliament will begin debating the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland next week, according to its provisional schedule.

It shows that Hungary’s parliament could vote on the issue during the week of Mar. 6. Hungary and Turkey are the only two NATO members that have so far withheld their approvals to integrate the Nordic countries into the military alliance.

Finland and Sweden jointly applied to enter the coalition in May, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced a departure from their long-standing policy of military non-alignment. Ankara objects in particular to the bid of Sweden, whom it accuses of harboring alleged members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which both countries designate as a terrorist organization.

Ongoing delays have raised questions over whether Sweden and Finland’s application processes will be delinked. But Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told CNBC earlier this week that Stockholm and Helsinki’s admission into NATO was “just a matter of time.”

Ruxandra Iordache

‘Russia has chosen the path of the murderer,’ Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks via video link to the 2023 Munich Security Conference (MSC) on February 17, 2023 in Munich, Germany.

Johannes Simon | Getty Images

On the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has condemned Russia’s ongoing aggression.

“Russia has chosen the path of the murderer. The path of the terrorist. The path of the torturer. The path of the looter. This is the state choice of Russia, and there will be state responsibility for the terror committed,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram in a post accompanied with images of the war.

“Dozens, hundreds of thousands of photos that leave deep scars in your heart and soul. They remind us of the path we have gone from February to February. It must be in our DNA,” the president added.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine would prevail and would “hold to account all those who brought this evil, this war to our land.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing multiple war crimes, from launching missile strikes on civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, to the use of torture on prisoners of war and civilians. Russia has denied targeting civilians during the war, despite multiple instances of civilian infrastructure, including residential buildings, being struck by Russian missiles, and has also accused Ukraine of committing war crimes, including the execution of prisoners of war, which Ukraine denies.

UN-appointed independent human rights investigators said that war crimes have indeed been committed in the conflict. It said last September, after an initial inquiry, that while Ukrainian forces were responsible for some human rights violations, a larger number of instances that amount to war crimes had been carried out by Russian forces.

— Holly Ellyatt

China says U.S. intelligence on giving weapons to Russia is speculation

The flags of China and Russia

Mladen Antonov | AFP | Getty Images

China’s Foreign Ministry said any potential intelligence on arms transfer by China to Russia that the United States plans to release is just speculation, its spokesman said on Thursday.

“As for the so-called intel, this is just speculation and smearing against China,” Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that the U.S. government is considering releasing intelligence on China considering supplying weapons to Russia.


Ukraine believes Russians preparing possible war anniversary ‘provocations’

Ukraine’s armed forces in the north of the country said Thursday that they believe Russia’s forces are preparing for possible provocations on the first anniversary of their invasion.

Ukraine’s North Operational Command said on Telegram today that Russian forces “are preparing possible provocations for the anniversary of the full-scale offensive, most likely, the goal is to accuse the Ukrainian defenders of violating territorial integrity,” according to a Google translation of the post. 

The North Operational Command said its suspicions were “evidenced by intelligence data, which recorded the movement of columns of military equipment in the area of ​​the border with the Chernihiv region [in northern Ukraine] without identification marks and manpower dressed in a pixel [camouflage], similar to the uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Ukrainian members of the Territorial Defense Forces take part in target practice on Feb. 22, 2023, in Chernihiv region, Ukraine.

Roman Pilipey | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Command unit issued a later statement reiterating that its warning was about possible Russian provocations and not “about any actions that have taken place.”

CNBC was unable to verify the information in the report but both sides have accused each other of preparing possible provocations and “false flag” attacks as the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine approaches on Friday.

— Holly Ellyatt

Moldova dismisses Russian report of Ukraine plot over Transdniestria

Moldova dismissed an accusation by Russia’s defense ministry on Thursday that Ukraine planned to invade the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniestria after staging a false flag operation, and called for calm.

The Russian news agency RIA said Ukraine, which borders Moldova, planned to stage an attack by purportedly Russian forces from Transdniestria as a pretext for the invasion. Russia keeps troops in the breakaway region.

The TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin as saying separately that the West had instructed Moldova’s government in Chisinau to stop all interaction with Transdniestria’s Moscow-backed authorities.

Flags of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria and Russia flutter in central Tiraspol, in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria May 5, 2022. 

Vladislav Bachev | Reuters

The Moldovan government issued a statement on the Telegram messaging app saying state authorities “do not confirm” the Russian defence ministry’s allegations.

“We call for calm and for information to be received (by the public) from official and credible sources of the Republic of Moldova,” it said. “Our institutions cooperate with foreign partners and in the case of threats to the country, the public will be promptly informed.”

Moldova’s foreign minister told Reuters on Wednesday that the tiny former Soviet republic, which also borders NATO member Romania, was prepared for a “full spectrum of threats” from Russia.

“Our institutions have planned for responses along the full spectrum of threats,” he said. “Of course we have limited means, but at the same time we are not alone in this.”

President Maia Sandu, who wants her country to join the European Union, accused Moscow this month of planning a coup to topple Moldova’s leadership. Moscow denied the allegation.

The mainly Russian-speaking region broke away from then-Soviet Moldova in 1990. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, pro-Russian separatists fought a war with Moldovan government forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week it was “obvious” that Ukraine would not be Russia’s last stop after invading Ukraine, and that the Kremlin was thinking about ways to “strangle” Moldova.

— Reuters

Ukraine holds resupply routes around Bakhmut despite Russia’s ‘creeping encirclement’

Ukrainian soldiers rest in a dugout on the front line near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region on Feb. 21, 2023.

Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday that heavy fighting has continued in the Bakhmut area over the past 48 hours but that Ukrainian forces “are keeping resupply routes open to the west despite Russia’s creeping encirclement over the last six weeks.”

Further south in the Donetsk region, the town of Vuhledar has again experienced heavy shelling, the ministry noted, adding that there is now “a realistic possibility that Russia is preparing for another offensive effort in this area despite costly failed attacks in early February and late 2022.”

The ministry noted that Russia’s Eastern Group of Forces likely still has responsibility for the Vuhledar operation, noting that its commander, Colonel General Rustam Muradov, “is likely under intense pressure to improve results following harsh criticism from the Russian nationalist community after previous setbacks.”

The ministry added, however, it is unlikely that Muradov has a striking force capable of achieving a breakthrough.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.N. to mark one year of Ukraine war with vote to ‘go down in history’

Vasily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation of the United Nations, speaks during the Eleventh Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly on Ukraine, at UN headquarters in New York City on February 22, 2023.

Timothy A. Clary | Afp | Getty Images

Marking one year of war, Ukraine and Russia lobbied countries at the United Nations on Wednesday for backing ahead of a vote by the 193-member General Assembly that the United States declared will “go down in history.”

“We will see where the nations of the world stand on the matter of peace in Ukraine,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the General Assembly.

The General Assembly appeared set to adopt a resolution on Thursday, put forward by Ukraine and supporters, stressing “the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in line with the founding U.N. Charter.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres denounced Russia’s invasion and said the Charter was “unambiguous,” citing from it: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Ukraine and its supporters hope to deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation by seeking yes votes from nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly to match – if not better – the support received for several resolutions last year.

They argue the war is a simple case of one unprovoked country illegally invading another, while Russia portrays itself as battling a “proxy war” with West, which has been arming Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Moscow since the invasion.

— Reuters

NATO chief sees ‘some signs’ China could back Russia’s war

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has already previewed new moves by the alliance, announcing on Monday that it would increase its rapid response force and will bolster its battlegroups in eastern Europe.

Yves Herman | Reuters

NATO’s chief said that the military alliance has seen “some signs” that China may be planning to support Russia in its war in Ukraine, and strongly urged Beijing to desist from what would be a violation of international law.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also told The Associated Press in an interview that the alliance, while not a party to the war, will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

Asked whether NATO has any indication that China might be ready to provide arms or other support to Russia’s war, Stoltenberg said:

“We have seen some signs that they may be planning for that and of course NATO allies, the United States, have been warning against it because this is something that should not happen. China should not support Russia’s illegal war.”

— Associated Press

Giving Ukraine fighter jets is ‘difficult’ because we need them, Swedish defense minister says

Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said that giving Ukraine fighter jets is “difficult,” because Sweden needs them “to maintain [its] territorial integrity.”

“When I look at the Russian capabilities, they’re severely downgraded when it comes to land components right now. But when it comes to assets in the air and naval assets, [they] are pretty much unchanged, so, for right now, [giving Ukraine] Gripen is in the ‘too hard to do’ box for me,” Jonson told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro, referring to the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.

Jonson also highlighted that Sweden is very aware of what he described as Russia’s “low threshold” for the use of military force.

“[Russia] takes great political and military risk, and that’s something we’re cognisant about,” Jonson said, as he emphasized how important it was that Ukraine wins against Russia.

“This is a war that Russia started,” Jonson said. “If Russia would win this war, it would have disastrous geopolitical military and security policy consequences for Europe and Sweden as well.”

“We’re with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he added.

Sweden is currently in the process of applying to join the NATO military alliance, along with Finland. It is only a “matter of time” for the country to obtain its membership, the Swedish foreign minister said earlier Wednesday.

— Hannah Ward-Glenton

‘We have to be prepared,’ Norway’s foreign minister warns of nuclear risks

Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeld said Wednesday that NATO allies “have to be prepared” for rising nuclear risks, following Russia’s decision to suspend its nuclear-arms treaty with the U.S.

Huitfeld told CNBC that the geopolitical situation was currently “stable” in northern Europe, but warned that Russia’s nearby nuclear arsenal was a cause for concern.

“The situation in the north is stable, but we have to be prepared,” she told Silvia Amaro.

“Russia has one of their largest nuclear arsenals very, very close to the Norwegian border, and they still have these capacities despite the conventional loses that we’ve seen at land,” she said.

President Putin announced on Tuesday that Russia was suspending its participation in the New Start nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S. — a pact that limits the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

Huitfeld added that the region would be “even more secure” once Sweden and Finland are ratified into the NATO military alliance.

“When that will happen, I cannot be sure. But they are delivering on everything, so they are prepared, and we are ready to support them,” she said.

— Karen Gilchrist

Putin attends stadium concert to rally public support for war

People arrive for a patriotic concert dedicated to the upcoming Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on February 22, 2023.

Yuri Kadobnov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin briefly attended a concert in Moscow Wednesday to mark the national “Defender of the Fatherland” day in Russia.

Giving a brief speech to pro-war crowds gathered in the Luzhniki arena, Putin led the audience in chants of “Russia!” and said the country was fighting in Ukraine “for lands that were historically ours,” NBC News reported.

“Today, as part of a special military operation … We have gathered here for, in fact, a festive event, but I know that I was just listening to the country’s top military leadership about the fact that right now there is a battle on our historical borders, for our people,” Putin added, according to further comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Putin expressed his pride in Russia’s forces and said each soldier was a defender of the Motherland.

— Holly Ellyatt

Moscow bullish about nuclear arms treaty suspension

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address, announcing that Moscow is suspending its nuclear arms treaty with the U.S.

Mikhail Metzel | Afp | Getty Images

Officials in Moscow appeared bullish on Wednesday about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend Russia’s participation in the New Start nuclear arms treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between the U.S. and Russia that sought to limit the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that the decision to suspend the treaty was “overdue” and that Russia’s move would have “a huge resonance in the world in general and in the United States in particular.”

Medvedev repeated a Russian claim that the U.S. “wants the defeat of Russia” and that the world is on the brink of a new global conflict. “If the United States wants to defeat Russia, then we have the right to defend ourselves with any weapon, including nuclear,” Medvedev said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported in Russian media Wednesday as saying that Moscow would still be able to “fairly reliably assess” the U.S.’ nuclear potential from outside of the agreement.

“There are national technical means that make it possible to fairly reliably assess what is happening. We, in addition, have accumulated experience in tracking what is happening in the United States, and not only in the United States, in this area, using other possibilities. Yes, this is not the same as information exchange within the framework of the agreement. But the situation has changed radically, so we will proceed from what is available,” Ryabkov told reporters, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

The New Start treaty allowed for mutual inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons sites, although in practice, these have been suspended since the Covid-19 pandemic and have not resumed since the war in Ukraine began.

Ryabkov also said Russia would continue to adhere to the “central quantitative restrictions” under the treaty, saying that at this stage, Moscow considered “this sufficient from the point of view ensuring predictability and maintaining strategic stability.”

Medvedev signaled, as did Moscow’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on Tuesday, that Russia’s suspension of the treaty is reversible but that it wants to see Washington show “political will …for a general de-escalation and create conditions for the resumption of the full functioning” of the treaty. Russia has also said it wants to see Britain and France’s nuclear arsenals counted in any future Start treaty.

— Holly Ellyatt

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