Ukraine war live updates: U.S. brushes off Putin’s ‘nuclear war’ threat; Ukraine’s forces shelling nuclear plant, Russia claims


Kremlin defends Putin’s nuclear war comments, saying there’s no threat

The Kremlin defended comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in which he said Russia was “technically” ready for a nuclear war, and was ready to conduct nuclear tests if the U.S. did so, saying the remarks did not constitute a threat to use them.

The remarks, published in pro-Kremlin media Wednesday, echoed previous comments Putin has made about Russia’s nuclear arsenal, saying Russia would only consider using them if the country’s existence was under threat. The White House responded that it saw no reason to adjust its own “nuclear posture” after the comments.

A photograph taken on March 12, 2018 shows the Kremlin complex (Rear) and the Bolshoy Kamenny bridge crossing the river Moskva in Moscow. 

Mladen Antonov | Afp | Getty Images

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Putin was just answering questions from Russian journalist Dmitry Kiselev, and that the comments had been distorted by the Western media.

“Putin did not make any threats about the use of nuclear weapons in this interview. He answered, firstly, the journalist’s questions, and these were precisely the journalist’s questions, and not some special statements,” Peskov said, according to comments published by news agency RIA Novosti and translated by Google.

“And the president was just talking about the reasons that could make the use of nuclear weapons inevitable. These are the reasons that are indicated in our relevant documents, which are well known throughout the world,” he added.

“This is a deliberate distortion of the context and a reluctance to listen to President Putin. Again, there is nothing new in this. This is what we are very focused on [and have] observed for a long time and especially in the last two years,” Peskov said. Moscow has repeatedly criticized what it sees as a “Russophobic'” Western media since it invaded Ukraine two years ago.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia hits back at Ukraine with ‘massive’ drone, missiles strike overnight

Russia has launched “massive” drone and artillery strikes against Ukraine overnight, Ukrainian officials said, with civilian infrastructure targeted in the northeast, east and south of the country.

The strikes come after a sharp uptick in Ukrainian drone and missile attacks against Russian regions over the last few days, with a number of major Russian oil refineries targeted and disrupting production.

Oleh Synehubov, the governor of the eastern border region of Kharkiv, said on Telegram on Thursday morning that Russia had carried out “massive” attack using drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), on television infrastructure in the region, with restoration work ongoing.

“About 15 settlements of the Kharkiv region were hit by enemy artillery and mortar attacks,” Synehubov said. There appeared to be no casualties from the attacks, he said, according to a Google translation.

The aftermath of a drone attack on a five-story residential building in Sumy, northeastern Ukraine, on March 13, 2023. 

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

In the neighboring Sumy region, the military administration said civilian infrastructure had been targeted in the cities of Sumy, Shostka, Trostyanets, and Bilopillya. Missile strikes were also carried out on Shostka and Trostyanets.

All in all, around 150 settlements in the Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions had come under Russian artillery fire, Ukraine’s military said in its latest update on Thursday morning.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. sees no sign Russia is ready to use nuclear weapons

The White House said it had no reason to adjust the U.S.’ “nuclear posture” after comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday in which he said Russia was “technically” ready for nuclear war.

Asked to respond to the remarks, White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that the Biden administration saw no need to adjust its assessment of the nuclear threat posed by Moscow.

“We have not seen any reasons to adjust our own nuclear posture … nor any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine,” she told reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his meeting with drivers and road industry representatives, on February 22, 2024 in Kazan, Russia. 

Contributor | Getty Images

In an interview published by pro-Kremlin media Wednesday, Putin said, “from a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready … [and] constantly in a state of combat readiness,” for nuclear war.

He added, however, that cool heads were likely to prevail to prevent a “rushing” toward such a scenario. Nonetheless, Putin said Russia would be ready to conduct nuclear tests if the U.S. did so.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant shelled by Ukraine, officials claim

Russian-installed officials at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) accused Ukraine’s armed forces of shelling critical infrastructure at the plant on Thursday.

On Thursday, officials at the site in southern Ukraine said the plant had been shelled and that an explosive device was dropped into an area where tanks with diesel fuel were located, adding that the action could have had “dire consequences.”

“Such attacks are unacceptable … But despite everything, we are recording ongoing shelling,” the Russian-run ZNPP Telegram channel stated, in comments translated by Google.

Russia has occupied the ZNPP since March 2022, early on in the invasion of Ukraine. The nuclear facility has been a focal point of tensions and skirmishes between Ukrainian and Russian forces ever since, with both accusing each other of endangering the safety of the plant and risking a nuclear disaster.

A view of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023. 

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been monitoring the site during the war, was notified of the incident, the Telegram post added.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the claims made in the post and Ukraine has not commented on the claims.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia says U.S. plans to attack its electronic system for presidential election

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that the United States planned to stage cyberattacks on Russia’s electronic voting system during its presidential election from March 15-17.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s annual end-of-year press conference in Moscow on January 18, 2024.

Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

Zakharova also said Washington had tasked U.S. non-governmental organisations with undermining the election by decreasing voter turnout. Her comments echoed similar accusations by Russia’s foreign intelligence service made this week.

— Reuters

EU ambassadors agree to reform European Peace Facility, boosting Ukraine aid

European Union ambassadors agreed in principle on Wednesday to reform the European Peace Facility fund in order to supply aid worth 5 billion euros ($5.48 billion) to Ukraine this year, the Belgian presidency of the EU said in a post on social media platform X.

“The [EU] remains determined to provide lasting support to [Ukraine] & ensure that the country gets the military equipment it needs to defend itself,” the post said.

The European Peace Facility is a mechanism set up in 2021 aiming to support the EU’s ability to create peace, security and prevent conflict, which member states pay into every year based on the agreed budget.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Russia says it isn’t planning to join Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland

Russia does not intend to join a high-level peace conference that aims to bring an end to the war in Ukraine, even if it is formally invited, a spokesperson for the Russia Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Switzerland said earlier this year that it would aim to host a peace conference in the coming months.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova cited a number of reasons for Russia not participating in the event, including that the conference will discuss Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace formula.

Ultimatums to Russia are a key part of the plan and are unacceptable, she added.

“Secondly, Switzerland can hardly serve as a platform for various peacekeeping efforts, since this assumes a neutral status, which Bern has lost,” the statement said, according to a Google translation.

Zakharova said previous attempts by the West to broker peace, such as the so-called Minsk agreements, had shown its inability to negotiate.

Russia would in principle be open to negotiations, Zakharova said, but only if Russian interests are taken into account and military aid to Ukraine was halted, among other conditions.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Ukraine’s security service behind drone attacks on three Russian oil refineries

Ukraine’s Security Service on Wednesday claimed responsibility for drone attacks on three oil refineries in Russia.

Oil refineries in Ryazan, Kstovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region and Kirishy, in the Leningrad region, were all deliberately targeted, according to a Ukrainian security source who asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about operations.

The source confirmed to NBC that the latest attacks are a continuation of a series of special operations against Russian oil refineries which were previously launched by the security service.

“We are systematically implementing a detailed strategy to reduce the economic potential of the Russian Federation. Our task is to deprive the enemy of resources and reduce the flow of oil money and fuel, which the Russian Federation directs directly to the war, to the murders of our citizens,” the source added.

A worker at the Lukoil company-owned Imilorskoye oilfield in Kogalym, Russia, January 25, 2016

Sergei Karpukhin | Reuters

The security source said footage on social media proved that the consequences of the attacks were significant amid reports of fires at the facilities. The refineries attacked today are among the top five largest plants in the Russian Federation, the source noted.

In addition, the SBU, together with other representatives of the defense forces, attacked the air base of the Russian Air Force in Buturlinivka and the military airfield in Voronezh with drones.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian regions face sharp uptick in Ukrainian drone, missile attacks

M142 HIMARS launches a rocket on Russian position on December 29, 2023 in Unspecified, Ukraine. M142 HIMARS proved to be a highly effective weapon, striking targets both on the front line and deep in the Russian rear. 

Serhii Mykhalchuk | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images

Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Wednesday that Russian air defense systems had destroyed numerous drones and missiles fired at its territory by Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

“During the [past] day, air defense systems shot down 136 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles, four HIMARS MLRS missiles made in the United States, six Grad MLRS missiles, as well as three Hammer guided aerial bombs made in France,” the ministry said on Telegram.

CNBC was unable to verify the information in the post and Ukraine has not commented on the apparent increase in attacks. Russian media agencies have published multiple reports over the last few days of attempted drone and missile attacks against Russian regions, particularly those along the border with Ukraine, as well as damage to energy infrastructure, with oil refineries being targeted.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian oil refineries put out of action after Ukrainian drone attacks

Several major oil refineries in Russia appear to be out of action following Ukrainian drone attacks.

Two primary oil refining units were shut down in Rosneft’s Ryazan oil refinery on Wednesday after a fire caused by a drone attack, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters. Rosneft has not commented on the incident.

Meanwhile, operations at the Novoshakhtinsky oil products plant in the Rostov region were stopped after drones shot down by Russian air defenses fell on the facility, regional Governor Vasily Golubev said on Telegram. No one was injured in the incident.

Production was also halted at Lukoil’s NORSI refinery in the Nizhny Novgorod region on Tuesday after a drone attack caused a fire.

A red dawn illuminates cracking towers at the Lukoil-Nizhegorodnefteorgsintez (NORSI) oil refinery, operated by OAO Lukoil, in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ukraine’s security service on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the drone attacks on oil refineries in Ryazan, Kstovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region and Kirishy, in the Leningrad region, saying the latest attacks were a continuation of a series of special operations against Russian oil facilities.

“We are systematically implementing a detailed strategy to reduce the economic potential of the Russian Federation,” a Ukrainian security source, who asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about operations, told NBC News.

“Our task is to deprive the enemy of resources and reduce the flow of oil money and fuel, which the Russian Federation directs directly to the war, to the murders of our citizens,” the source added.

Oil prices were around 2% higher Wednesday against the backdrop of refinery attacks and potential disruption to oil supplies from major producer, Russia.

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:


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