Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 19
The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EST.
11:15 p.m.: Ramzan Kadyrov, the ally of President Vladimir Putin who leads Chechnya, said on Sunday that he one day planned to set up his own private military company in the style of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group of mercenaries, Reuters reported.
The rise of Wagner and other mercenary forces outside of the traditional Russian military command structures has raised concerns among Western diplomats that such groups could one day pose a threat to stability in Russia.
In a post on Telegram, Kadyrov said Wagner, which has been fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, had achieved “impressive results” and that private military companies were a necessity.
“We can say confidently that Wagner has shown its mettle in military terms and drawn a line under discussions about whether or not such private military companies are needed,” said Kadyrov, who has led the Chechen Republic since 2007.
“When my service to the state is completed, I seriously plan to compete with our dear brother Yevgeny Prigozhin and create a private military company. I think it will all work out,” said Kadyrov, 46.
Kadyrov and Prigozhin both lead forces in Ukraine largely autonomously of Russia’s military command and are staunch allies of Putin, but they have also spoken out in public against the military leadership.
10:20 p.m.: Ukrainian officials have urged U.S. Congress members to press President Joe Biden’s administration to send F-16 warplanes to Kyiv, saying the aircraft would boost Ukraine’s ability to hit Russian missile units with U.S.-made rockets, Reuters reported, citing the lawmakers.
The lobbying came over the weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in talks between Ukrainian officials, including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and House of Representatives.
“They told us that they want (F-16s) to suppress enemy air defenses so they could get their drones” beyond Russian front lines, Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who flew U.S. Navy fighters in combat, told Reuters on Saturday evening.
Biden administration officials, speaking on Sunday, said the United States should focus on providing weapons that can be used immediately on the battlefield, rather than fighter jets that require extensive training.
But they did not categorically rule out providing F-16s.
9:18 p.m.: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Sunday that he and U.S. President Joe Biden will discuss possibly increasing the presence of U.S. troops in Poland and making it more permanent during Biden’s upcoming visit to Warsaw, he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“I’m very grateful also for sending new Patriot systems and other very modern weapons and munitions because this is also to some extent a proxy for presence of soldiers, but of course the two go in tandem,” he said.
Biden will visit Poland February 20-22, days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
The United States bolstered its troop presence in Poland ahead of the February 24, 2022, invasion and currently has about 11,000 personnel on rotation there, according to CBS.
Biden said last June that the United States would set up a new permanent army headquarters in Poland in response to Russian threats.
8:11 p.m.: Russian shelling killed three adult members of a family in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson on Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported, citing regional authorities.
Four others, including two children, were injured when a shell flew into the yard of a house in the village of Burgunka, officials said.
Separately, an 8-year-old boy was injured by the shelling in the same village, the regional authorities said.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions including Kherson.
In November, Moscow ordered its troops to withdraw from the city of Kherson in a humiliating defeat for the Russian army.
7:19 p.m.: France said on Sunday it will begin delivering the armored vehicles it has promised Ukraine in its war against Russia by next weekend, Agence France-Presse reported.
The vehicles, of the AMX-10 type and sometimes described as “light tanks,” are used for armed reconnaissance and attacks on enemy tanks.
The first vehicles will be sent to Ukraine “by the end of next week,” Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu told Le Parisien newspaper’s Sunday edition.
He declined to specify the number of vehicles in the first batch, saying he did not want to give Russia any “strategic information.”
According to the French defense ministry, AMX-10s are highly mobile, “powerfully armed” and offer protection against light infantry fire.
Their combat weight is 20 metric tons, around a third of that of France’s Leclerc battle tanks.
5:40 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed into law a new set of sanctions on Sunday. The law is targeting 333 Russians connected to the banking sector and the Moscow Stock Exchange. The sanctions, which will be in effect for the next ten years, include a ban on the withdrawal of capital outside Ukraine, privatization and leasing of state property, as well as the blocking of assets, The Kyiv Independent reports.
The list of sanctioned individuals includes a number of top managers of Russia’s largest privately owned bank AlfaBank, such as First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors Oleg Sysuev, CEO Vladimir Verkhoshinskiy, and Alfa Group asset management director Marat Atnashev. Aleksey Oborin, senior Vice-President of Unicredit Bank and others were also on the list.
On February 12, Zelenskyy signed into law a set of sanctions targeting 199 Russians and one Ukrainian citizen connected to Russia’s nuclear industry, including Rosatom, a Russian state-owned nuclear power company. These measures are to remain in effect for 50 years.
5:20 p.m.: Belarusian fighters leave their country to go and fight on the side of Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. Before leaving their native Belarus or the countries of their residence, they went through online screening by the Belarusian anti-government hacker group Cyber Partisans and then passed face-to-face verification at the Belarusian House in Warsaw, a diaspora support group. According to Belarusian volunteer Dzyanis Prokharau, who is in charge of training them, many people want to join his unit but not enough of those have solid military experience.
The newcomers — athletic young men with tattoos all over their bodies, bearded white-collar workers, and middle-aged men with rough hands chapped by labor represent different generations, professions, and backgrounds. What unites them — is the hope that by helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia they may speed up the downfall of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“One is for Putin, and the other is for Lukashenko,” Ruslan, a burly man carrying two machine guns, said during a break from shooting practice — a succinct expression of the regiment’s ideology.
However, says Prokharau, there is palpable threat of infiltration into the unit by agents of Lukashenko’s regime and so the recruitment process is time-consuming.
5:05 p.m.: French President Emmanuel Macron and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed on the phone Sunday what the Ukrainian leader described as joint decisions ahead of this week’s anniversary of Russia’s invasion of his country, Reuters reports.
During the Munich Security Conference, the two leaders pledged to strengthen their support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s latest military attacks.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy thanked the French president “for understanding our needs and for expressing jointly that we cannot waste any opportunity or a single week in our defense against Russian aggression.”
“…We also discussed important decisions that we are planning for this week — for our year of resistance.”
That was a reference to the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion — February 24.
4:30 p.m.: In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the situation in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine is very difficult. “We are fighting. We are breaking the invader and inflicting extremely tangible losses on Russia,” he said.
However, the Ukrainian leader said that Ukrainian fighters are inflicting damage on Russians forces. “I repeat again and again: the more Russia loses there, in Donbas — Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Maryinka, Kreminna — the sooner we can end this war with Ukraine’s victory,” he said.
Zelenskyy said that new sanctions were signed Sunday against Russian financial entities, who help fuel Russian aggression. “These are Ukraine’s sanctions. But each of our sanctions packages becomes the basis for working on sanctions with our partners,” he noted.
“The next EU sanctions package — the tenth one already — is now being prepared. We are working with our partners to strengthen it. But we are also working with other actors in global relations. Sanctions for terror are something where the efforts of every responsible state can push the global process forward,” he said.
4:00 p.m.: The world should “come down hard on China” if it provides lethal weapons to Russia, said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Graham advised Chinese leaders not to do anything rash. “To the Chinese, if you jump on the Putin train now, you’re dumber than dirt,” he said. “It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after you saw the movie. Don’t do this.”
Graham said it would be the “most catastrophic thing that could happen to the U.S.-China relationship. … That would change everything forever.”
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have been heightened in recent weeks after the U.S. shot down what it says was a Chinese spy balloon. China insists it was used mainly for meteorological research and was blown off course.
In her appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also expressed her concern about any effort by China to arm Russia, saying “that would be a red line.”
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, said he agreed with the Biden administration’s decision to expose China’s possible readiness to provide some lethal weapons to Russia. He said it may persuade China to hold off, The Associated Press reports.
3:15 p.m.: The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine dominated this year’s Munich Security Conference, which concluded February 19 with vows of additional support for Kyiv and pleas for even more aid highlighting the activity, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas outlined a proposed procedure for the European Union to purchase ammunition for Ukraine’s defense forces on behalf of member states.
At the close of the conference Sunday, U.S. lawmakers said that Ukrainian officials, including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, had urged members of the U.S. Congress to prompt President Joe Biden’s administration to send F-16 jetfighters to Ukraine to aid it in its fight against Russia.
Biden has so far resisted the requests, saying the focus should be on providing weapons that can be used on the battlefield in the near term rather than supplying jets that would require a substantial training period.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington and its allies remain “stronger than ever” behind Ukraine, while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the international community must “give Ukraine what they need to win and prevail.”
For the first time in two decades, Russia was not invited to the conference, as Western countries seek to isolate Moscow diplomatically over its invasion of Ukraine.
2:05 p.m.: White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on MSNBC’s The Sunday Show that there are “no plans” for President Joe Biden to visit Ukraine during his upcoming trip to Poland Monday, just four days before the one-year anniversary since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We obviously are maintaining a high degree of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. The United States leads the world in terms of contributions, whether it’s humanitarian assistance or military weapons to Ukraine, and we’re going to continue to use our convening power, to marshal the world, to galvanize support for Ukraine, but there are no plans for the president to enter Ukraine on this trip,” he said.
Kirby added that the U.S president will have a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Ukraine, and he will deliver a speech in Warsaw “communicating how important it is for the world staying united in supporting Ukraine as the war heads into a second year.
1:15 p.m.: As Russia’s invasion in Ukraine nears its one-year mark, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News that China is actively considering providing lethal support, including weapons and ammunition to aid Moscow in its war against Ukraine.
“We’ve been concerned from day one about that possibility,” Blinken said in an interview with “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan on Saturday. Pressed on the type of lethal aid China is considering, Blinken spoke in general terms.
“There’s a whole gamut of things that — that fit in that category, everything from ammunition to the weapons themselves,” he said.”
The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re considering providing lethal support, and we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” Blinken added.
12:45 p.m.: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Ukraine needs ammunition as soon as possible. “This shortage of ammunition needs to be solved quickly. It’s a matter of weeks,” Borrell told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of policymakers.
Referring to an Estonian proposal for the EU to place large ammunition orders on behalf of multiple member states to help Ukraine defend itself, Borrell said this is a lengthier process “because any procurement that comes to the market will come at the end of a queue of a long list of orders already passed by the member states.”
According to Reuters, such a step would need the approval of EU member countries. Several have already indicated they are in favor, but the position of others remains unclear.
Estonian Primi Minister Kaja Kallas told the Munich conference that Russia was firing as many artillery shells in a day as Europe produces in a month.
But she said European defense industry leaders had told her they had yet to receive orders big enough to boost production or invest in increased capacity.
She suggested some European countries were wrongly assuming that the need for more ammunition was a short-term issue.
“It seems to me that some of the countries are still in the hope that it will go away,” she said.
12:22 p.m.: The decision to accept Ukraine as a part of the European Union is already made, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said during the Munich Security Conference.