Top U.S. spies warn Russia is boosting nuclear capabilities; Moscow unleashes barrage of missiles
This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on March 8, 2023. See here for the latest updates.
The battle of Bakhmut continues to dominate news out of Ukraine this week, with all eyes on the fate of the city in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
The leader of Russia's mercenary forces fighting in Bakhmut said Wednesday that his private military company, the Wagner Group, had taken full control of the eastern part of the city. CNBC was unable to verify the claims.
Ukraine gave a military update Wednesday in which it noted that Ukraine had repelled over 100 attacks on the Donetsk region over the past day, including on Bakhmut. But it said Russian forces were "continuing their unsuccessful offensive operations" in the area.
Russia unleashes wave of missile strikes on Ukraine, officials say
Kyiv and other major cities in Ukraine, including Lviv, Kharkiv and Odesa, have been hit by a wave of Russian missile strikes overnight, Ukrainian officials said, with air raid alerts activated across much of the country in the early hours of Thursday.
The Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko said the capital had been hit by a number of explosions that had damaged energy infrastructure and injured several civilians.
In his most recent post on Telegram this morning, Klitschko said that due to emergency power outages after the missile attack, 40% of the capital's residents were without heating.
The air alert lasted almost seven hours in the capital, Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said on Telegram as he accused Russia of unleashing "almost all types of their air weapons" from Iranian-made drones to "almost all types of cruise missiles."
Popko said preliminary information indicated that a Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles (a nuclear-capable, Russian air-launched ballistic missile) had hit an infrastructure object. CNBC wasn't able to verify the claims.
Officials in the southern port of Odesa, Lviv in western Ukraine and Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine all reported missile strikes overnight while in the Dnipro area, a regional official said there was "serious destruction" as a result of the shelling with "energy infrastructure and industrial enterprises" damaged. A number of fatalities have been reported in Lviv and Dnipro.
The governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said Ukraine's second-largest city Kharkiv had seen around 15 strikes on the city and region. "Objects of critical infrastructure are again under the sights of the occupiers," he said, adding that "information about the victims and the scale of the destruction is being clarified." Residents in the area have been told to stay in shelters.
— Holly Ellyatt
Zelenskyy honors women working to defend Ukraine on International Women's Day
On International Women's Day, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy presented high state awards to women who "distinguished themselves with selfless work and bravery in the defense of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
"Today we thank our women who are fighting, caring, working for peace for Ukraine, for the protection of our lives, our freedom, our people," Zelenskyy said during the ceremony at the Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv, according to the president's official website.
Orders and medals were awarded to women in the service and representatives of civilian professions.
— Audrey Wan
Natalia Popova continues to run war-injured animal shelter in Ukraine
Natalia Popova has helped rescue hundreds of animals from the war in Ukraine at the war-injured animal shelter which she manages in Chubynske, Ukraine.
Many of them were wild animals kept as pets in private homes before their owners left due to Russian shelling and rockets.
- Oleksii Chumachenko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
U.S. gets warrant to seize $25 million Boeing airplane owned by Rosneft
The U.S. obtained a warrant to seize a Boeing 737 airplane owned by Russian oil giant Rosneft over alleged sanctions violations stemming from the invasion of Ukraine, the Department of Justice said.
The investigation into the aircraft, believed to be valued at over $25 million, was coordinated by the Justice Department's "KleptoCapture" team, which was launched last year to enforce sanctions on Russian oligarchs. Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, reportedly a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A federal court in Brooklyn, New York, authorized the seizure based on violations of the Export Control Reform Act and sanctions that the U.S. slapped on Russia last year in response to the invasion, the DOJ said in a press release.
The plane allegedly left and re-entered Russia at least seven times since those sanctions were imposed in February 2022. "In this case, these sanctions bar a plane that was built or manufactured in the United States from entering Russia without a valid license," according to the press release.
— Kevin Breuninger
Ukrainian soldiers hold their positions near Bakhmut
The small village of Chasiv Yar, only 5 kilometers from Bakhmut, is one of the last towns around the city still under control by the Ukranian cities. As so, it has become a hub for resupply and the movement of troops. It has suffered several attacks by Russian artillery in the last days.
- Getty Images
UN and Russia to talk about grain deal renewal next week in Geneva
Top U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan will meet senior Russian officials in Geneva next week to discuss extending a deal that allows the Black Sea export of Ukraine grains amid Russia's war in the country, a U.N. spokesperson said on Wednesday.
"That's the next step, and we'll see whether anything further is needed than that," deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.
"The Secretary-General will continue to do all he can to remove obstacles to the export of Russian fertilizers."
The deal is set to expire later this month.
Ukraine carries out a series of missile strikes on Russian positions, Ukraine's military says
Ukraine's military said in the past 24 hours it carried out a series of missile strikes on separate areas where there was a high contingency of Russian troops.
Ukraine also said that it shot down one unmanned aerial vehicle, destroyed a Buk-M1-2 anti-aircraft missile system as well as three Russian warehouses storing fuel and military supplies.
The Ukrainian armed forces said that Russian troops carried out "22 airstrikes and 29 attacks from rocket salvo systems."
"In particular, they used one unmanned aerial vehicle of the Shahed-136 type, which has been eliminated," Ukraine's military said, referencing an Iranian drone supplied to Russia.
— Amanda Macias
Blacksmith turned artist makes 'flowers of war' from abandoned weapons in Donetsk
Viktor Mikhalev, a blacksmith living in the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, is creating art out of weapons and ammunition, the Associated Press reports.
Mikhalev uses half-burnt machine guns, artillery shells and other abandoned weapons from the frontlines to produce what he calls "flowers of war."
"Real flowers will not last long, and my roses will become a reminder for a long memory," Mikhalev told the AP.
— Amanda Macias
Russia is expanding and modernizing its nuclear weapons capabilities, U.S. spy chiefs warn
America's top spymasters warn in a 35-page annual report that Russia is continuing to develop long-range nuclear-capable missiles and underwater delivery systems meant to penetrate or bypass U.S. defenses.
"Throughout its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has continued to show that it views its nuclear capabilities as necessary for maintaining deterrence and achieving its goals in a potential conflict against the United States and NATO, and it sees its nuclear weapons arsenal as the ultimate guarantor of the Russian Federation," the intelligence community wrote in the unclassified assessment.
"After Russian military losses during Ukraine's counteroffensive in late summer 2022, Putin publicly warned the West that he was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia," the report added.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would suspend participation in the New START treaty, a crucial nuclear arms reduction agreement. Moscow holds the world's largest nuclear weapons stockpile.
— Amanda Macias
Zelenskyy to speak to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in wide-ranging, prime-time interview
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer for a wide-ranging interview, the network announced.
The two are expected to discuss China's relationship with Russia, President Joe Biden's recent trip to Kyiv and the ongoing battle for Bakhmut.
The interview is set for 9 p.m. E.T.
— Amanda Macias
Wagner Group leader says that the best of its fighters are still 'waiting in the wings'
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group of mercenaries fighting in Donetsk, said that the best of its fighters are "waiting in the wings."
Prigozhin said on his official Telegram that some of Wagner's units with "all possible modern weapons and intelligence means" have not yet joined the fight in Ukraine.
He also said, according to an NBC News translation, that the Wagner forces fighting in Bakhmut had taken full control of the eastern part of the city.
— Amanda Macias
UN secretary-general and Zelenskyy discuss renewing Black Sea grain deal in Kyiv
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv to discuss the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
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. The deal is set to expire later this month.
More than 23 million tons of grain have been exported from Ukrainian ports so far under the agreement.
The deal has "contributed to lowering the global cost of food and has offered critical relief to people, who are also paying a high price for this war, particularly in the developing world," Guterres said.
He added that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Food Price Index has fallen by almost 20% over the last year. Guterres stressed that exports of "Ukrainian as well as Russian food and fertilizers are essential to global food security and food prices."
"I want to underscore the critical importance of the rollover of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 18 March and of working to create the conditions to enable the greatest possible use of export infrastructures through the Black Sea, in line with the objectives of the initiative," Guterres said alongside Zelenskyy.
— Amanda Macias
Three ships leave Ukrainian ports under Black Sea Grain Initiative
Three ships carrying 62,700 metric tons of grain and other food products have left Ukrainian ports, the organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from the country said.
The vessels are destined for Spain and are carrying corn and wheat.
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. The deal is set to expire on March 20.
So far, more than 780 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports.
— Amanda Macias
Bakhmut may fall but it's unlikely to be a turning point in the war, NATO chief says
The beseiged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine could soon be fully captured by Russian forces, NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, but it's unlikely to represent a turning point in the war.
Russian forces, he said, had "suffered big losses but at the same time we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days and therefore it is also important to highlight that this does not necessarily reflect any turning point of the war and it just highlights that we should not underestimate Russia. We must continue to provide support to Ukraine," he said as he attended a meeting of EU defence ministers in Stockholm.
"Russia's war of aggression grinds on against Ukraine and over the last weeks and months we have seen fierce fighting in and around Bakhmut and what we see is that Russia is throwing in more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality, they try to make up in quantity," he added.
— Holly Ellyatt
Police response to protests in Georgia causes concern
Police in Georgia have reportedly used tear gas and stun grenades to respond to protests outside the Georgian Parliament on Wednesday.
Demonstrations in the capital erupted after after legislators gave initial backing to a draft law on "foreign agents" that would require any organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents" or face fines.
Reuters witnesses in the capital, Tbilisi, saw police with riot shields making arrests along Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare running through the center of the city. Some demonstrators were seen throwing petrol bombs and stones, the news agency reported.
Critics see the draft law as authoritarian and akin to a Russian-style directive designed to restrict civil society and repress media freedom.
Georgia has a strained and tense relationship with Russia which invaded the country in 2008 in support of two pro-Russian separatist areas, similarly to its support of two pro-Russian self-declared "republics" in Ukraine.
Like Ukraine, Georgia applied to join the EU and NATO, fearing Russia's potential attempts to spread, or impose, its influence. The protests this week have attracted pro-EU demonstrators who waved EU flags and chanted anti-Russian slogans.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said on Twitter that he was "strongly concerned about developments in Georgia," adding that the "right to peaceful protest is at the core of any democracy."
He said the "adoption of this 'foreign influence' law is not compatible with the EU path" which the majority in Georgia wants, he said, adding that "commitment to rule of law and human values is key to EU project."
— Holly Ellyatt
EU looks at increasing ammunition production to support Ukraine
The European Union needs to step up production of ammunition across the bloc to support Ukraine's war efforts, officials said Wednesday as they gathered for a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.
"The Ukrainians direly need ammunition in order to continue this war…We have to ramp up production in Europe. There's various ways to go about this," Sweden's Defense Minister Pål Jonson said Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Europe's internal market chief Thierry Breton also said Europe needs to do more to support Kyiv. "The priority is to make sure we will be able to provide what is necessary to Ukraine," he said.
He added that support to Ukraine needs to happen in three ways: member states need to give more of their ammunition stocks, they need to ramp up production and to allocate more EU funding to defense.
One of the ideas under discussion is the joint purchase of ammunition. This is similar to what the EU did during the pandemic when buying Covid vaccines together. In practice, this approach should allow the block to buy more stocks at lower prices.
— Silvia Amaro
Kremlin says Nord Stream attack reports are 'coordinated', demands open investigation
Western media reports on the blowing-up of the Nord Stream gas pipelines are a coordinated bid to divert attention and Russia is perplexed that U.S. officials can assume anything about the attacks without an investigation, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
The New York Times, citing intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials, reported on Tuesday that a pro-Ukraine group — likely made up of Ukrainians or Russians — was responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines that run under the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany last September.
Germany's ARD broadcaster and Die Zeit newspaper said the attack was carried out by five men and one woman who rented a yacht and used false passports.
"Obviously, the authors of the attack want to divert attention," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA news agency, adding that the information had been planted.
"How can American officials assume anything without an investigation?"
"The very least that the Nord Stream shareholder countries and the United Nations must demand is an urgent, transparent investigation with the participation of everyone who can shed light," Peskov said.
The Nord Stream 1 shareholders are Russia's state energy firm Gazprom, Germany's Wintershall and E.ON, Dutch company NV Nederlandse Gasunie and France's Engie.
Gazprom is the sole shareholder in the parallel Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was constructed with financing from Wintershall, Engie, Austria's OMV, Shell and Germany's Uniper.
Russia has repeatedly complained about being excluded from European probes into the explosions.
"We are still not allowed in the investigation. Only a few days ago we received notes about this from the Danes and Swedes," Peskov said. "This is not just strange. It smells like a monstrous crime."
The undersea explosions, seven months into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, occurred in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark in the Baltic Sea. Both countries have concluded the blasts were deliberate, but have not said who might be responsible.
Russia, without providing evidence, has at various times accused Britain and the United States of blowing up the pipelines, which they deny. The ruptured pipelines are set to be sealed up and mothballed as there are no immediate plans to repair or reactivate them, sources familiar with the plans have told Reuters.
Russia faces a strategic dilemma along the front line, UK says
Russian forces likely face a dilemma over where they should focus their offensive efforts along the front line toward Vuhledar, a town to the south of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, Britain's Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.
"Until recently, the Russian command likely saw a breakthrough at Vuhledar as a key way to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough in Ukraine's lines," the ministry said on Twitter.
"Russian planners are likely facing the dilemma of attempting another Vuhledar assault or supporting intense fighting further north near Bakhmut and Kremina," it noted.
The ministry also commented on the public rift between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group of mercenaries fighting in Donetsk.
It noted that, by releasing a video of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visiting troops in eastern Ukraine earlier this week, there is "a realistic possibility that this was partially in response to recent footage of the owner of Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, visiting his fighters on the front line."
"Wagner is in a high-profile dispute with the Russian Ministry of Defence and Shoigu is likely sensitive to being compared to Prigozhin. The only deployed Russian field commander shown in the video was Colonel General Rustam Muradov. It is notable that Muradov is responsible for the Vuhledar sector of Donetsk Oblast, where several assaults have failed in the last three months."
— Holly Ellyatt
Three reasons why Ukraine is fighting on in Bakhmut
After seven months of fighting over the industrial city of Bakhmut in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, it's not surprising that neither Ukraine nor Russia want to capitulate over its defense — or capture.
But now it looks increasingly likely that Russia could be gaining the upper hand. On Wednesday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia's mercenary forces fighting in Bakhmut, said that Wagner had taken full control of the eastern part of the city.
Despite its forces appearing vulnerable to encirclement, Ukraine vowed on Monday to continue defending the city and to send in reinforcements.
Both Russia and Ukraine have thrown masses of personnel into their bids to capture, and defend, Bakhmut, respectively, with both claiming to have inflicted hundreds of losses on each others' forces on a daily basis.
Aside from atoning for these sacrifices with some kind of victory in Bakhmut, there are several other reasons why both sides have a reason to continue fighting until the bitter end, ranging from the symbolic to the militarily expedient.
Read more here: Ukraine is vowing to defend 'fortress' Bakhmut as Russian forces surround it: Here are 3 reasons why
Russian mercenaries claim they control eastern Bakhmut
The leader of Russia's mercenary forces fighting in Bakhmut said Wednesday that his private military company, the Wagner Group, had taken full control of the eastern part of the city, according to comments published by Russian state news outlet Tass.
"Wagner PMC units have occupied the entire eastern part of Bakhmut. Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of the Wagner PMC," Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was quoted as saying by Tass, citing comments made on Prigozhin's Telegram channel. CNBC was unable to verify the claims.
Ukraine gave a military update Wednesday in which it noted that Ukraine had repelled over 100 attacks on the Donetsk region over the past day, including on Bakhmut, but said Russian forces were "continuing their unsuccessful offensive operations" in the area.
Russia sees the capture of Bakhmut, a city it refers to as "Artemovsk" or "Artyomovsk," as a key strategic goal, as it looks to cut off Ukrainian supply routes in eastern Ukraine, but the battle for Bakhmut is a also symbolic one for the Wagner Group as it seeks to prove its credibility to Russia's Ministry of Defense.
Prigozhin has had a long-running spat with defense officials in Moscow, criticizing its strategy in the war and, most recently, suggesting that the ministry had not responded to his request for urgent ammunition deliveries for his troops. Prigozhin suggested this could be because of "bureaucracy or betrayal."
— Holly Ellyatt
State Department says Russia will not be able to alter perceptions of war in Ukraine by holding UN Security Council presidency
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Russia's upcoming presidency of the U.N. Security Council will not impact global standing on the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.
Price said there will be no amount of "propaganda, misinformation or disinformation" that Russia peddles from the helm of the U.N. Security Council that will alter perceptions.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's permanent representative to the United Nations, urged the international forum earlier in the week to prohibit Russia from holding its scheduled one-month presidency on April 1 over the Security Council.
Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, which is based in New York City and serves as the U.N. arm tasked with maintaining peace and security. Russia also holds veto power in the Security Council, which can hamper any decision-making in regard to supporting Ukraine.
— Amanda Macias
130 Ukrainian service members returned in latest prisoner release
Andrii Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, said that 130 Ukrainians were returned following Russian detention.
Yermak said that 126 men and four women were released.
"These are soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, National Guardsmen, and border guards. Among them are 87 Mariupol defenders, 71 of whom are from Azovstal," Yermak wrote on his official Telegram channel, according to an NBC News translation.
"Most of the people we bring back today have serious injuries," he said, adding that all Ukrainians should work to take care of those returning from Russian imprisonment.
"I am proud of the entire team that worked long and hard on this exchange. Incredible feelings when our people are at home," he added.
— Amanda Macias
Zelenskyy warns that Russian troops will push deeper into Ukraine if Bakhmut falls
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Russian forces will push deeper into Ukraine if they seize control of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut.
"We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine," Zelenskyy said in the interview, which is set to air on March 8 at 9 p.m. ET.
"That's why our guys are standing there," he added when asked about potentially retreating from the area.
"Russia needs some victory, a small victory, even by ruining everything in Bakhmut by killing every civilian there," Zelenskyy said, referencing minimal gains by Russian troops against Ukrainian forces.
Zelenskyy said that if Russia is able to "put their little flag" in Bakhmut it would help "mobilize their society in order to create this idea they're such a powerful army."
— Amanda Macias
China has not yet provided Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine, White House says
The White House said it has not yet seen China supply Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine and declined to elaborate on potential U.S. retaliatory actions if Beijing decides to do so.
"China has a choice to make here," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said when asked by reporters about any potential weapons transfers.
Kirby said that additional sanctions measures would be a discussion on the table between U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission Ursula von der Leyen during her visit to Washington this week but declined to speculate about China.
He said that the U.S. and its Western allies hope that China does "not make it any easier for Mr. Putin to kill innocent Ukrainians."
— Amanda Macias
Russia's Shoigu: Capture of Bakhmut will allow further offensives in Ukraine
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that the seizure of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine would allow Russian forces to mount further offensive operations, Russian news agencies reported.
Shoigu also said the West was increasing its arms deliveries to Ukraine, but vowed they would not change the course of events on the battlefield.
Kyiv vows to fight on in Bakhmut, defying expectations of a withdrawal
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that he had spoken to his army commanders about the situation in Bakhmut and said they'd insisted the city should be defended rather than abandoned.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly address that he had asked Ukraine's ground forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, and the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, about their view on continuing to defend Bakhmut, saying the options were either "withdrawal or continuation of defense and reinforcement of the city."
The president said "both generals replied: do not withdraw and reinforce. And this opinion was unanimously backed by the Staff. There were no other opinions. I told the Commander-in-Chief to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut."
"There is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned," Zelenskyy noted.
Ukraine is keen to show its allies that it can fight on in Ukraine, although some analysis and reports from Bakhmut suggest some kind of withdrawal is taking place. And there are signs that its international partners would not view a tactical withdrawal from the city in a bad light in any case. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Bakhmut had more symbolic importance than strategic and operational value.
Defense analysts have noted, however, that Ukraine continuing to fight in Bakhmut has another added advantage, saying a significant number of Russian fighters have been brought into what has been described (by the head of Russia's mercenary forces) as a "meat grinder."
Zelenskyy said Monday that defending Bakhmut meant destroying more of Russia's invading forces.
"We are destroying the occupier everywhere - wherever it yields results for Ukraine. Bakhmut has yielded and is yielding one of the greatest results during this war, during the entire battle for Donbas."
— Holly Ellyatt