Ukraine war live updates: Russian mercenary boss says ‘fierce resistance’ seen in Bakhmut; Kyiv says its fighters are under ‘insane pressure’

U.S. Attorney General says DOJ is working to ensure American technology isn’t used by Russia

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announces charges against three members of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran’s government with conspiring to assassinate a journalist and activist who is a U.S. citizen, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, January 27, 2023.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

U.S. Senators grilled Attorney General Merrick Garland on the Justice Department’s oversight of measures to check Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Garland defended his department’s monitoring of sanctions evasions by bad actors during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first hearing of the year.

“We’re getting some of the quadra-copters and other kinds of drones and even some of the missiles that are landing in Ukraine, turned out to have parts that came from American manufacturers,” Sen Chris Coons, D-Del., told Garland during the hearing. “And we have to find out how they were able to evade our export controls.”

In response to Coons, the Garland emphasized his department’s collaboration with the Commerce Department on the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, a task force created to protect American Innovation.

“On that particular task force is very focused on new technologies (artificial intelligence), for example, of very advanced microchips, which could be very dangerous, obviously, in the hands of an adversary, which are being exported, and are beating export controls,” Garland said. “So, what we’re working with the part of the Commerce Department, which enforces export controls, and … our National Security Division, (is) to identify these kinds of transfers and to prevent them from happening.”

—Chelsey Cox

Hungarian President urges lawmakers to ratify Finland and Sweden for NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks speaks during a joint press with Sweden and Finland’s Foreign ministers after their meeting at the Nato headquarters in Brussels on January 24, 2022.

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Hungarian President Katalin Novak urged lawmakers on Wednesday to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO entry “as soon as possible” as deputies started debating the motions after months of the bills being stranded in parliament.

“It is a complex decision, with serious consequences, so careful consideration is necessary,” Novak said on Facebook.

“My position is clear-cut: in the present situation, the accession of Sweden and Finland is justified. I trust the National Assembly will make a wise decision as soon as possible!” 

— Reuters

Biden extends executive order addressing the national emergency situation in Ukraine

A man holds a child as he flees a Ukrainian city, on March 7, 2022.

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden extended an executive order that acknowledges the national emergency in Ukraine due to Russia’s ongoing war.

“I am continuing for one year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13660,” Biden wrote in a statement, referencing the measure.

The executive order has been expanded several times since it was signed into law in March 2014.

The measure deals with the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of persons that undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine, threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.”

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy vows to bring ‘every murderer, terrorist and torturer’ to justice

A war crimes prosecutor looks on as a police officer enters an underground air raid shelter that was believed to be used as a prison by Russian occupying forces during a search for evidence of war crimes on October 15, 2022 in Kupiansk, Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Carl Court | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to bring “every murderer, terrorist and torturer” to justice.

“We will hold the terrorist state fully accountable for its genocidal war,” Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel, according to an NBC News translation.

“Every murderer, terrorist and torturer will be brought to justice. Historical justice will be restored. Life and Ukraine will prevail,” he added.

Russia has previously said its troops in Ukraine do not deliberately target civilians or commit war crimes.

— Amanda Macias

Blinken says he doesn’t plan to speak with Russian and Chinese counterparts at G-20

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks following a Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 3, 2023.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he has no plans to meet with his Russian or Chinese counterparts at the G-20 foreign ministers meeting.

“No plans to see either at the G-20, though I suspect we will certainly be in group sessions of one kind or another together,” Blinken told reporters during a press briefing in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The group is set to meet in New Delhi, India this week.

— Amanda Macias

National security advisor Jake Sullivan holds call with head of Zelenskyy’s office following Biden trip to Kyiv

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 23, 2021.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, spoke with national security advisor Jake Sullivan.

The two discussed Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joseph Biden’s meeting last week in Kyiv as well as updates on the battlefield.

Yermak also expressed “gratitude to the entire American people, the U.S. president and both chambers of Congress for the continued strong support of our country in the fight against the terrorist state,” according to a readout provided by the Ukrainian government.

— Amanda Macias

Russia won’t rejoin New START treaty unless U.S. changes ‘behavior,’ official says

A man wearing military uniform with a Z letter, a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, makes a selfie photo at Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in central Moscow on February 13, 2023.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Russia won’t rejoin the New START nuclear arms control treaty unless the U.S. changes its stance on Ukraine, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that Moscow was suspending its participation in the treaty, which puts controls on the nuclear arms production of both the U.S. and Russia, stating that Washington had to show “political will” and “make conscientious efforts” for a general de-escalation of tensions.

“Until the United States changes its behavior, until we see signs of common sense in what they are doing in relation to Ukraine … we see no chance for the decision to suspend START to be reviewed or re-examined,” Ryabkov said, according to comments to Russian news agency Interfax that were translated by Google.

Russia stressed that the suspension was reversible and Ryabkov said Wednesday that discussions on the treaty are being conducted through closed channels currently.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian mercenary leader says Ukraine putting up ‘fierce resistance’ in Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close ally of Vladimir Putin, is the head Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and a series of other companies.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

The head of Russia’s mercenary troops, who have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut and surrounding settlements, said Wednesday that Ukraine is putting up fierce resistance to Russian efforts to fully encircle and capture the city in Donetsk.

The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, denied several Russian reports suggesting Ukrainian security forces had received an order to retreat from Bakhmut saying that, on the contrary, Ukraine was throwing everything it could muster to defend Bakhmut, a city that Russia calls “Artemivsk” or “Artemovsk.”

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine in Artemivsk are adding additional reserves and are trying with all their might to keep the city. Tens of thousands of soldiers of the Ukrainian army are putting up fierce resistance, the bloodshed of the battles is increasing every day,” Prigozhin said in a statement reported by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Prigozhin’s forces, made up of standard mercenary fighters and men recruited from Russian jails who were offered a reprieve in return for fighting in Ukraine, have been credited with slow, incremental advances by Russian forces in Donetsk in recent weeks.

Unlike some Russian military officials, Prigozhin has not downplayed the abilities of Ukraine’s fighters and he has been openly critical of the Russian defense ministry’s strategies in Ukraine, ruffling feathers back in Moscow.

Holly Ellyatt

Russia accuses Ukraine of attempting drone attack on Crimea

Pedestrians pass a giant wall mural showing a map of the Crimean peninsula filled with the flag of the Russian Federation, in support of the Russian annexation, in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 28, 2014.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed Wednesday that Ukraine had attempted to carry out what it described as a “massive drone attack on the objects of the Crimean peninsula” but said the attack had been prevented.

“Six Ukrainian attack drones were shot down by air defense systems. Four more Ukrainian drones were disabled by electronic warfare,” it said, news agency Tass reported, noting there were no casualties from the incident. It did not give details on what was targeted nor present evidence.

Ukraine has not yet responded to the claim, which comes a day after Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out several drone attacks on Russian territory. Kyiv is yet to comment on those claims.

On Wednesday, however, the head of the joint press center at Operational Command South, Natalia Humeniuk, said Russian forces were looking to further fortify defense positions in Crimea, a peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.

Humeniuk said on Ukrainian television that Russia had brought in conscripts to dig defenses in a bid to set up a firm line ahead of a potential Ukrainian offensive, news agency Ukrinfornm reported.

“Let them dig, that’s something to keep their hands busy for now,” Humeniuk added.

Holly Ellyatt

Kremlin rebuffs statement by top Ukrainian official on drone attacks

An UJ-22 Airborne (UkrJet) reconnaissance drone belonging to Ukraine.

Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

The Kremlin said it does not believe a statement by a top official in Kyiv that Ukraine does not strike at Russia’s territory.

Earlier Wednesday, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the presidential office in Ukraine, said on Twitter that Ukraine doesn’t strike at Russian territory but was “waging a defensive war to de-occupy all its territories.”

“We don’t believe them,” a Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday when asked about Podolyak’s comments, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out several drone attacks against its own territory on Tuesday but Ukraine has not confirmed it was behind the attacks.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Lavrov talks security, trade issues with Indian counterpart

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a speech during a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia February 15, 2023. 

Russian State Duma | Reuters

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Wednesday, a day before attending the G20 foreign ministers meeting, Indian and Russian officials said.

The two ministers assessed the current security situation in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and ironed out issues on the use of local currencies for settling trade, said a senior Russian official.

Lavrov is scheduled to meet his Chinese, Bangladeshi and South African counterparts later on Wednesday, the official added.

“We will urge our constructive colleagues in the G20 to convert to national currencies, to align clearing and settlement mechanisms, and to create independent insurance plans and transport routes,” the Russian embassy in New Delhi said in a statement ahead of the meetings.

“We will describe in detail Russia’s actions to reduce these threats and diversify foreign economic ties and logistics corridors.”

India has refused to blame Moscow for the Ukraine conflict, while seeking a diplomatic solution and sharply boosting its purchases of Russian oil.

A Russian foreign ministry official said Lavrov was aiming to meet at least seven foreign ministers on Wednesday before the dinner hosted for all representatives from 40 countries.

“The G20 meeting has given Russia the opportunity to engage directly with many countries who wish and choose to continue trade with Russia,” the official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak with the press.

The G20 includes the wealthy G-7 nations as well as Russia, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among other nations. India has also invited nine other countries as special guests.

— Reuters

Bakhmut not yet fully surrounded but Russians are closing in

An aerial view of destruction in the city of Bakhmut on Feb. 27, 2023. Russian forces continue to pummel Bakhmut but have not fully surrounded the city, according to Reuters.

– | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces continue to pummel Bakhmut on Wednesday but have not fully surrounded the city, according to Reuters.

The news agency noted Wednesday that it was still able to reach Bakhmut from the west on Monday, saying that was “proof that the city was not yet surrounded despite Russian forces pressing from north and south to close the last remaining routes in.”

According to Reuters, flames and smoke rose into the sky from blazing buildings, and the sounds of gunfire and explosions peppered the air. Ukrainian armored vehicles roared through the streets, it noted, while stray dogs wandered in the mud and destruction wrought on the former industrial city.

Several thousands of civilians remain in the city despite the relentless fighting around them, which has been going on for more than half a year. Russia has thrown thousands of troops into the fighting around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk that it is determined to capture in a bid to rupture Ukrainian supply lines in the east.

In an update on Facebook Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces do “not stop storming the city of Bakhmut” but said Ukraine’s forces continue to fight back.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia appears to be looking to stretch Ukraine’s air defenses with new drone strikes

A series of drone attacks on Ukraine at the start of the week were likely launched by Russia from a new site, giving it more opportunity to strike targets in Kyiv, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said Monday that it had shot down 11 Shahed one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAVs) out of 14 that had been launched the previous night.

Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv City Military Administration, reported nine of these were shot down in the vicinity of Kyiv airspace.

Military personnel show the fragments of unmanned aerial vehicles used by the Russian Federation against Ukraine to journalists during a press conference of the Ukraine’s Security and Defense Forces at the Military Media Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Dec. 15, 2022.

Vladimir Shtanko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted in its daily intelligence updated that “due to the vector of the attack, these Shahed-UAVs were highly likely launched from the Bryansk Oblast, Russia. Previously, the only observed launch site since mid-December 2022 was from the Krasnodar region, across the Sea of Azov.”

“A second launch site would give the Russians a different axis of attack, closer to Kyiv. This is likely to decrease time in the air over Ukraine and an attempt to further stretch Ukrainian air defences,” it added.

The defense ministry also noted a brief reprieve from drone attacks that have been used to damage Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and have also hit residential buildings, noting that prior to these latest attacks there had not been any reports of UAVs being used in Ukraine since around Feb. 15.

“This decrease in OWA UAV attack tempo likely indicates that Russia has run down its current stock: it will likely seek a resupply,” it said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Zelenskyy discusses tax system for Ukrainians with OECD secretary-general

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he met with the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday and discussed a “fair tax system for Ukrainians.”

The tax system aims to balance the stimulation of economic growth and ensuring social justice, Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. “Our goal is for Ukraine to fully join the organization and to use the OECD experience to modernize our country,” he added.

A new OECD-Ukraine liaison office in Kyiv will begin operating Wednesday, OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said in a statement on Feb. 24. When at “full capacity,” a team of four OECD officials will implement a new OECD-Ukraine country program, he added.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OECD has coordinated international support for Ukraine and worked with its government on “rebuilding, reconstruction and reform,” Cormann said.

Audrey Wan

Ukrainian forces are being prepared for counteroffensives, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signaled Kyiv is preparing its soldiers for counteroffensives and praised soldiers for defending the country despite the “insane pressure” Russian forces have been putting on them.

Julien De Rosa | Pool | Reuters

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signaled Kyiv is preparing its soldiers for counteroffensives and praised soldiers for defending the country despite the “insane pressure” Russian forces have been putting on them.

“We are preparing for the return of our warriors to actions for the liberation of our land,” the president said in his nightly address Tuesday, alluding to an expected counteroffensive Ukraine is likely to launch in spring.

Ahead of that offensive, Zelenskyy said Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that has been wrestled over by Russian and Ukrainian forces for over six months, remains the epicenter of fierce fighting and fatalities in the war.

“The most difficult situation is still Bakhmut and the battles that are important for the defense of the city,” he noted, adding that the Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi had told him that around 800 Russian troops had been killed in the Bakhmut area since last Thursday.

Zelenskyy said “Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly storm our positions. The intensity of fighting is only increasing.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian combat deaths in Ukraine have exceeded all its post-WWII wars combined

An abandoned Russian dugout at Ukraine’s Kherson International Airport, which Russian forces fled in November 2022.

Scott Peterson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In the year since it invaded Ukraine, Russia has suffered more troops killed than in all Russian wars following World War II combined, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CSIS, a 62-year-old, U.S.-based think tank, concluded that about 5,000 to 5,800 Russian military personnel have been killed monthly since February of last year, bringing the total dead to 60,000 to 70,000 individuals.

“The average rate of Russian soldiers killed per month is at least 25 times the number killed per month in Chechnya and 35 times the number killed in Afghanistan,” CSIS said in a detailed report it released this week, highlighting “the stark realities of a war of attrition.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defense did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Since Ukraine defeated Moscow’s initial drive to take Kyiv last year, Ukrainian and Russian forces have arrayed against one another along a meandering, 500-600 mile front.

Russia has lost huge numbers of tanks, leaving its military increasingly dependent on infantry attacks.

Ukraine’s army has fought primarily from defensive positions and has come up with “new ways of fighting that improve the efficiency” of its forces, CSIS said.

— Ted Kemp

Traces of war in Kramatorsk

Photos show a building damaged in Kramatorsk by a Russian rocket attack. Three people were killed and ten apartments were damaged in the strike.

As Russian forces ramp up their offensive in the Donbas, the number of casualties has increased.

A view of the damaged building after Russian rocket attack as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on February 28, 2023.

Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Toys and personal belongings are seen in the damaged building after Russian rocket attack as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on February 28, 2023.

Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A view of the damaged building after Russian rocket attack as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on February 28, 2023.

Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

An elderly woman walks in front of the damaged building by Russian artillery as military mobility continues within the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on February 28, 2023.

Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A view of a cemetery amid Russia-Ukraine war in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on February 28, 2023. 

Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

— Ignacio Marin | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

IAEA chief says team at Zaporizhzhia heard 20 explosions near the nuclear power plant

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) speaks to journalists after the IAEA’s Board of Governors meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on November 16, 2022.

Joe Klamar | AFP | Getty Images

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi renewed his concerns about heavy artillery fire near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Grossi said the site, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, temporarily lost power on “its only remaining backup power line.”

He said that IAEA inspectors at the site documented at least 20 detonations on Monday.

He also expressed concerns about the IAEA inspectors at the facility who have not been able to rotate out of working there. He added that the team should have been replaced nearly a month ago.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine’s top intelligence agency says there is no evidence China is supplying Russia with weapons

Ukraine’s top intelligence agency said that it had not seen evidence that China agreed to supply Russia with weapons.

“There are no signs that China will agree to send any weapons to the Russian Federation,” Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said in an interview with Voice of America.

“As of now, I don’t think that China will agree to the transfer of weapons to Russia. I don’t see any signs that such things are even being discussed,” Budanov said.

He added that the majority of the weapons being sent to aid the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine are from Iran.

— Amanda Macias

Putin tells FSB security service to up its game against Western spy agencies

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin takes part in the opening ceremony of new hospitals in Russian regions via a video link at a residence outside Moscow, Russia, February 15, 2023.

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the FSB security service on Tuesday to step up its activity to counter what he described as growing espionage and sabotage operations against Russia by Ukraine and the West.

In a speech to FSB officials, Putin said the agency had to stop “sabotage groups” entering Russia from Ukraine, step up protection of key infrastructure, and prevent any attempts by Western security services to revive what he called terrorist or extremist cells on Russian territory.

“Western intelligence services have traditionally always been actively working in Russia, and now they have thrown additional personnel, technical and other resources against us. We need to respond accordingly,” Putin said.

He instructed the FSB to prevent illegal weapons flows into Russia, and to strengthen security in four regions of Ukraine that Moscow has partially seized and claimed as part of its own territory, a move most countries do not recognise.

— Reuters

Russian forces are bearing down on Bakhmut, Kyiv concedes ‘extremely tense’ situation there

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 93rd brigade covers his ears while firing a French 120mm rifled towed mortar (designated as a MO-120-RT-61) towards Russian positions in Bakhmut on February 15, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP | Getty Images

Officials in Kyiv conceded that the situation is rapidly deteriorating around Bakhmut, a besieged mining city in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that Russian forces have been hell-bent on capturing for months.

Russia’s slow but steady march on Bakhmut has raised questions over whether Ukraine will have to decide to withdraw its troops from the city in order to save its personnel. But there are no signs Kyiv is ready to give up just yet.

Read more on the situation in Bakhmut here: As Russian forces bear down on Bakhmut, Ukraine admits situation there is ‘more and more difficult’

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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