Ukraine war live updates: Moscow accuses U.S. of preparing a ‘toxic chemicals’ provocation in Ukraine; Belarus says it can produce weapons with Russia

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Moscow accuses U.S. of preparing a ‘toxic chemicals’ provocation in Ukraine

A top Russian defense official claimed Tuesday that the U.S. is planning a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals.

The official — Igor Kirillov, chief of the radiation, chemical and biological defense troops of Russia’s armed forces — said comments by former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan on Feb. 22 were a basis for Russia’s suspicions.

“On February 22, an influential American nongovernmental organization held a conference on the events in Ukraine. During the event, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan made a statement, claiming that Russian troops were allegedly planning to use chemical weapons in the special military operation zone,” Kirillov said, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

“We regard this information as the intention by the U.S. itself and its accomplices to stage a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals,” he added.

A New Year decoration Kremlin Star, bearing the letter Z, a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, at the Gorky Park in Moscow on Dec. 29, 2022.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Kirillov added that Moscow believed preparations for a provocation were underway, claiming that toxic chemicals and protective gear were delivered simulataneously to Ukraine. He said that if such a provocation takes place, Russia would “identify the true culprits and punish them.”

It’s not the first time that Russia has baselessly accused the West of planning a provocation that, it said, could then be blamed on Moscow. Similarly, the West has accused Russia, a country that has used chemical weapons in Syria, of potentially planning “false flag” attacks that it could blame on Ukraine.

CNBC has asked U.S. defense officials for a response to the claims.

— Holly Ellyatt

Belarus and Russia can produce ‘any type of weapon together,’ president says

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Palace of Independence on Dec. 19, 2022, in Minsk, Belarus.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday that Russia and Belarus are capable of producing “any type of weapon” and can export such products to 57 countries around the world, circumventing sanctions on weapons production.

“Despite unprecedented sanctions pressure, we produce sufficient quantities of weapons and military equipment to meet the needs of the Belarusian army. This is due to the fact that all we need in terms of military hardware we easily receive from Russia,” the president said during a meeting on military procurement that was posted on the Lukashenko-aligned Pul Pervogo Telegram channel.

“But as far as microelectronics, optical electronics, optics, etc. are concerned, kudos to those who preserved the legacy of the Soviet Union, and therefore, together with Russia, we are capable of manufacturing any type of weapon,” Lukashenko added.

“We can also afford to export this sort of product to 57 countries of the world. This is what we are doing”, he added.

Lukashenko’s latest comments come on the eve of his trip to China. The U.S. has warned Beijing against giving weapons to Russia as Moscow looks for other sources of military hardware.

Belarus has sought to stay out of actively participating in the war while assisting Russia in terms where it can, having allowed Russia to launch its initial invasion of northern Ukraine from Belarusian territory.

Last Monday, Lukashenko said he had ordered the formation of a new volunteer territorial defense of up to 150,000 people. And on Friday, he said he’d had a long chat with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine concedes it’s facing a deteriorating situation in besieged Bakhmut

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged Monday that the situation is deteriorating in and around Bakhmut, a besieged mining city in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that has been a key target for Russia for months.

“[In the] Bakhmut direction – the situation is getting more and more difficult,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. “The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, to gain a foothold and ensure defense,” he added.

Zelenskyy said those defending Bakhmut and the surrounding area are “real heroes” and said officials are doing what they can to ensure Ukrainian forces “have as many weapons, long-range weapons, powerful weapons as possible.”

Ukrainians watching a movie on TV at a humanitarian aid center in Bakhmut on Feb. 27, 2023 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces and private military contractors belonging to the Wagner Group have been trying to capture Bakhmut for months, with the city and surrounding area a scene of mass destruction, although several thousand civilians are believed to remain in the city.

Because of the sheer scale of bombardment and manpower thrown at Bakhmut, Russian forces have made incremental gains in the surrounding area and have gradually encircled the city.

On Monday, one official claimed Russian forces now controlled all roads into Bakhmut, stopping supplies of ammunition and forces into the city, although Ukraine’s armed forces said they’re still repelling attacks.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram Monday that “the situation at the front is difficult. The enemy army is increasing the intensity of its assaults. The most difficult situation remains in the Bakhmut direction.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin says China’s peace plans ‘deserve attention’

Men wearing military uniform walk along Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in central Moscow on February 13, 2023.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

A peace plan put forward by China that it believes could resolve the Ukraine war should be given attention, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

“Any attempts to develop plans that will help transfer the conflict to a peaceful course deserve attention,” Peskov told reporters, Russian news agency Ria Novosti said.

“We treat the plan of our Chinese friends with great attention. As for the details, of course, the details should be the subject of careful analysis, taking into account the interests of the parties,” he added.

Russia counts China among the last of its powerful international allies, having burned bridges with much of the global community following its invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

On the first anniversary of the war last Friday, China called for a comprehensive ceasefire in Ukraine and promoted its own 12-point peace plan that called for a cessation of hostilities, the sovereignty of all countries to be respected, warned against the use of nuclear weapons, and called for nuclear power plants to be kept safe as well as calling for a Cold War mentality to be abandoned.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was open to considering parts of Beijing’s proposed peace plan.

—  Holly Ellyatt

Russian forces control all roads into Bakhmut, official claims

Russian forces are now in control of all the roads leading into the Donetsk city of Bakhmut, according to a spokesperson for pro-Russian separatists in the region.

Yan Gagin, an advisor and spokesperson for the acting head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russian separatist area in eastern Ukraine, told the Tass news agency that Russian forces had cut off the supply of the Ukrainian forces in Artemovsk (the Russian name for Bakhmut).

“Artemovsk [Bakhmut] has finally fallen into a classic operational environment, our forces completely control the roads leading to the city. The supply of ammunition to the garrison of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been disrupted and stopped, the rotation and supply of replenishment of manpower has been stopped,” he said, in comments translated by Google.

A woman crosses a destroyed bridge in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on Jan. 6, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have both suffered heavy losses in the fight for Bakhmut, and most of the city’s pre-war population of 70,000 have left for safer territory, leaving behind cratered roads and buildings reduced to rubble and twisted metal.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the claims but the comments are the latest in a string of claims made by Russian officials that Bakhmut is coming under their control.

Ukraine and Russian forces have been engaged in fierce fighting around Bakhmut for months, turning the city and surrounding area into a landscape of death and devastation. Both forces claim that the other side is losing hundreds of soldiers every day because of fighting around Bakhmut.

Russian forces have been seen to have slowly encircled the city, prompting the question of whether Ukraine would choose to tactically withdraw from the city in order to save its remaining troops.

Kyiv’s top general visited the front-line town of Bakhmut on Sunday and on Monday. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in an update Monday that “the Russian army continues to keep its main efforts on the offensive actions in the directions of Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk.” It said that, over the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian army had repelled 81 attacks in those areas.

— Holly Ellyatt

Future world order is being decided now, Russia’s foreign minister says

Speaking at a conference of regional representatives of his ministry on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “at the moment, the configuration of the future world order is being decided.”

Pavel Bednyakov | Sputnik | Reuters

The future world order is being decided right now, Russia’s foreign minister said Monday, adding that Moscow has frustrated the West’s plans “to isolate, and even dismember” the country. 

Speaking at a conference of regional representatives of his ministry on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “at the moment, the configuration of the future world order is being decided.”

“[This determines] Russia’s place in the democratic, fair, polycentric system that is being formed now and for which there is no and cannot be an alternative,” he said according to comments reported by news agency Tass.

“I want to emphasize that we managed not only to disrupt the plans of the collective West to isolate, and even dismember Russia, but also to ensure ongoing cooperation with the overwhelming majority of members of the international community. We now call it the world majority,” he said in comments translated by Google.

Lavrov cited closer ties with countries like China and India and “many other international partners” including post-Soviet states like Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the BRICS nations (which include Brazil and South Africa).

Lavrov’s comments parrot similar remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in which he said the West wants to defeat and divide Russia.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine hit by more drone attacks overnight

Ukraine’s air force said the country was targeted by a series of drone attacks overnight.

“On the night of February 27, the enemy attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed-type attack drones from the north,” the Air Force said in a Telegram update Monday.

It said up to 14 unmanned aerial vehicles were launched and that air defense teams destroyed 11 of them.

Parts of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles): Orlan-10, Granat-3 , Shahed-136, Eleron-3-SV, used by the Russia against Ukraine, are seen during a media briefing of the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine in Kyiv, Ukraine on 15 December 2022.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Russia has unleashed multiple drone strikes on Ukraine, with much of the country’s energy infrastructure damaged by drone attacks. Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but in November it acknowledged for the first time that it supplied Moscow with the UAVs, but said they had been sent to Russia before the war in Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia has to take into account NATO’s nuclear capability, Putin says

Putin said the West is complicit in “crimes” being committed by Ukraine by supplying the country with weapons and that the end goal is to destroy and divide Russia.

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow has to take into account NATO’s nuclear capabilities and claimed again that the West wants to eliminate Russia.

“Where the leading NATO countries have proclaimed their main goal to be the strategic defeat of Russia, in order for our people ‘to suffer’ as they put it, how, in these conditions, could we not take into account their nuclear potential?,” Putin asked during an interview with Pavel Zarubin on the Rossiya-1 TV channel on Sunday, according to an NBC translation.

Putin said the West is complicit in “crimes” being committed by Ukraine by supplying the country with weapons and that the end goal is to destroy and divide Russia.

“They have one goal – to destroy what was the Soviet Union and it’s central part – the Russian Federation. After that they may indeed accept us into the so-called “family of civilized nations”, but only separately, each part separately. Why? To order around these parts and to put them under their control,” Putin said, claiming that plans to destroy the Russian people are “on paper,” without presenting evidence.

Putin has repeatedly blamed the West for starting the conflict in Ukraine. In a speech last week ahead of the first anniversary of the start of the war, Putin tried to justify Russia’s invasion by claiming it has been attempting to allow citizens in the contested Donbas region in eastern Ukraine to speak their “own language.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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