The US State Department sent an urgent message to all US embassies in Europe telling them not to retweet the US Embassy Kyiv’s tweet calling the attack on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant attack by Russia a war crime this morning, according to the message reviewed by CNN.
The message is an indication that the US government may not be endorsing the war crime allegation made by the embassy.
“All – do not/not retweet Embassy Kyiv’s tweet on shelling of the facility being a possible war crime,” the message said. “If you have retweeted it – un-retweet it ASAP.”
As Russian forces continue their onslaught on key Ukrainian cities, the country’s biggest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia, came under attack Friday. A blaze there initially sparked fears of a potential accident, but the fire has since extinguished. The International Atomic Energy Agency also said the reactors at the plant are safe and no radioactive material was released.
Thus far, the administration of US President Joe Biden has not said that any of Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine amount to war crimes. President Biden said they are following Russia’s actions closely when asked about the matter on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has given brief remarks multiple times today in Brussels, but he has not mentioned the attack on the Ukrainian nuclear power plant.
The US has no reason to doubt Russian claims that they are in control of the nuclear power plant, a senior defense official said on Friday. But the official also said that it is “deeply concerning” that US doesn’t know what Russian control looks like, expertise of people there and their near-term intentions.
NBC was the first to report on the message.
CNN’s Jamie Crawford contributed reporting to this post.
The US “has no reason to doubt” Russian claims that they are in control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant that they assaulted overnight in Ukraine, according to a senior defense official.
The official said the US believes there is not any radioactive leakage.
“We don’t have a firm sense on the nature of the attack on the power plant, so I can’t give you a blow by blow of exactly how that occurred and who the Russians employed and what they employed to make that assault on the power plant. But the main thing is we don’t see any radioactive leakage,” the official said.
The US is “deeply” concerned about what the Russian intentions are regarding their control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, according to the official.
The official said the US does not know how many people the Russians have at the plant and what their control looks like “in terms of continuation of operations.”
The US doesn’t know the expertise of the Russians in control of the plant or what their near-term intentions are for the plant, according to the official.
“We are in no position to refute claims that they are in control of the nuclear power plant. But we don’t know exactly right now what that control means and what it looks like. So I would be loath to say that we know with specificity, you know, how many people they have there and what their control over the power plant looks like in terms of continuation of operations. And again, that’s one of the things that deeply concerns us, is that we don’t know what expertise they have, what they’ve applied to this, what their intentions are in the near term. I mean all of that is of great concern,” the official said.
Direct attacks on a massive Russian convoy outside Kyiv, coupled with a destroyed bridge in the convoy’s path, have stalled the Russian forces about 15 miles north of the city, a senior defense official said Friday. Meanwhile, Ukraine retains a “significant majority” of its air combat power, as Russia remains unable to establish air supremacy.
The convoy, stretched out more than 40 miles of road, has not appreciably advanced since the weekend, the official said.
“We certainly believe that the Ukrainians blowing up that bridge absolutely had an effective on stopping and curtailing the movement of that convoy,” the official said. “But we also believe that they have hit the convoy at other places as well in direct attacks.”
Earlier this week, the official said logistical and sustainment issues have also contributed to the slow advance of the convoy. But the US believe Russian forces in the convoy are regrouping and learning from their mistakes as they continue to try to attack the Ukrainian capital.
As the fight on the ground continues, the Ukrainian air force still has fighter jets, helicopters and drones available, though they have suffered some losses, the official said. The losses are due both to “Russian actions” and inoperability, the official added.
Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned on Friday that Ukrainian forces in the city of Kharkiv were readying a “provocation” in concert with Western journalists by firing heavy weaponry from a residential area with the aim of provoking a retaliation by Russian forces that would be caught on camera.
Russian statements about supposed “provocations” by the Ukrainian side have been a prelude to shelling or strikes by Russian forces.
“In the city of Kharkiv, Ukrainian nationalists are preparing a provocation with the participation of Western journalists,” Konashenkov said in a video briefing released by the Russian MOD. “According to confirmed data, on Zhylyardi Street, Kyiv District, in a private residential area, multiple launch rocket systems are placed between the houses. Nationalists have forbidden local residents, including children, from leaving their homes. Now the installations are ready for shelling units of the Russian armed forces located outside the city. The purpose of the provocation is to call back fire from Russian artillery on the residential sector of Kharkiv. All this is planned to be filmed on cameras with the subsequent transfer of filming to Western journalists.”
Konashenkov provided no evidence to support the claim. Russia has previously made baseless claims about humanitarian workers in Syria being involved in staging or provoking attacks to prompt international outrage and spur Western governments to intervene militarily. “Ukrainian nationalists” is a shorthand the Russian government has used to characterize forces putting up resistance to Russian troops.
Journalists working in Ukraine have extensively documented the heavy shelling of Kharkiv by Russian forces, including in residential areas.
The Ukrainian delegation participating in talks with Russia “understands the motives” of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office said Friday, adding that while the Ukrainian side is aware of “where [Russia] wants to go,” concessions won’t be made on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Speaking during a press briefing in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Mykhailo Podoliak said that Ukraine’s position is being “boosted” by western partners, adding that President Volodymyr Zelensky “is definitely not going to make any concessions that would diminish our territorial integrity and freedom.”
“The position of the Russian Federation is harsh — if it were easy, they wouldn’t attack Ukraine — but the position of the Ukrainian Chief of the Armed Forces is also harsh. The negotiations are difficult but they are taking place,” Podoliak added.
The press briefing comes a day after the second round of talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus. In a tweet on Thursday, Podoliak said the talks did not deliver the results sought by Ukraine, though the delegations were able to reach a “solution only for the organization of humanitarian corridors.”
Speaking on Friday, David Arakhamia — a senior official of Ukraine’s governing party who also participated in the talks — said that Zelensky has not made an official request for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that it remains “too early” and that further negotiations are needed before they speak.
Arakhamia also noted that Russia is facing increased “pressure” from the wider international community over attacks by Russian forces on civilian areas in Ukraine.
Pressed on Russia’s attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Arakhamia said that Ukrainian negotiators suggested a 30-kilometer conflict-free zone around all nuclear facilities in Ukraine during talks on Thursday, “and then immediately Zap happened.”
The “vast majority” of a $350 million US security assistance package has been delivered to Ukraine, a senior defense official said, one week after it was officially approved by the White House.
Approximately $240 million of the package has reached Ukraine, and the rest should arrive within days and maybe weeks “but not longer,” the official said Friday. The components that have already been delivered including “the most-needed capabilities, like anti-armor capabilities.”
The equipment being sent in is equipment on which the Ukrainians have already received training, including some “just-in-time” training in late December and early January. The Ukrainians can “use proficiently” the vast majority of the military equipment being sent in, the official said.
The US has also been coordinating the delivery of security assistance from other countries. A total of 14 countries have contributed security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, but the official declined to list the countries, instead preferring they speak for themselves.
US European Command is using its liaison network with allies and partners to coordinate “in real time” to send materials into Ukraine, the official said.
EUCOM is also coordinating with other countries, including particularly with the UK, in terms of the delivery process “to ensure that we are using our resources to maximum efficiency to support the Ukrainians in an organized way,” the official said.
Russian troops have occupied Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, after fierce fighting near the Ukrainian facility that drew international condemnation and sparked fears of a potential nuclear incident.
Those concerns were quickly downplayed by experts, who warned against comparisons with the plant at Chernobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred in 1986.
Modern plants are significantly safer than older ones like Chernobyl, they said. But analysts nonetheless expressed horror that Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine has spilled into nuclear facilities, a development with few recent parallels.
And the operator and regulator of the site have communicated that the situation on the ground is “extremely tense and challenging,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“No country besides Russia has ever fired upon an atomic power plant’s reactors. The first time, the first time in history,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Facebook post.
The IAEA called for fighting around the facility to end, and world leaders were swift in their criticism of Russia’s move.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that what happens next at Zaporizhzhia is “a situation that is very difficult to sustain, very fragile” while there is an active military operation and Russian forces in control. “This is unprecedented,” he said. “Completely uncharted waters.”
Read more about the attack here.
Russian forces are still about 25 kilometers (more than 15 miles) outside of the city center of Kyiv in the north, and Russian forces remain 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) outside of the city centers of Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the north, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday.
In Kharkiv and Chernihiv, being 10 kilometers away from the city center “equates to really being on the outskirts of the city,” because of the way the city is spread out, the official said.
The US does see more success for Russian forces in the south. The US does not dispute reports that Kherson has been taken by Russian forces, but has no way to independently verify those claims, the official said.
The US is also seeing fighting between Ukrainians and Russians near the city of Mykolaiv in the south, the official said. Mykolaiv is northwest of Kherson.
The Russians have not taken the southern city of Mariupol yet, according to US observations, but there is continued fighting there, the official said.
“We have observed Russian forces continue to advance on Mariupol, but we don’t assess that they’re in there, they are obviously bombarding that city as well,” the official said
“We continue to believe that the Russians want to move on Mariupol from the north as well as moving up that coast on the Sea of Azov,” the official added.
The European Union’s diplomacy chief Josep Borrell said the Russian army is “bombing and shelling everything” in Ukraine.
“Today, what we see is the ugly face of war erupting again in our borders. And the Russians are bombing and shelling everything: hospitals, houses, schools. A lot of civilian casualties. It is a barbarian way of doing war,” Borrell told journalists ahead of a EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Friday.
He appealed for Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the shelling and bombing.
“Putin has to stop to stop this war. We remain united in order to ask for this war to stop. To stop and avoid killing of innocent people,” Borrell added.
The EU diplomacy chief added that the UN’s Human Rights Council would soon “launch a mission in order to assess the violation of human rights which are happening in Ukrainian territory.”
US and other Western officials have told CNN Russia is expected to increasingly hit civilian targets and shifting toward a strategy of “slow annihilation” of the Ukrainian military.
CNN has geolocated and verified 13 incidents involving civilians over three days, as attacks intensified on Kharkiv, a city of about 1.5 million people, following Ukraine’s resistance. CNN has analyzed and verified digital evidence, including videos and photos, of several indiscriminate attacks in the city.