April 11, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Helen Regan, Aditi Sangal, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 9:36 p.m. ET, April 11, 2023
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2:25 p.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Biden spoke to parents of journalist Evan Gershkovich, White House says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Evan Gershkovich in an undated image
Evan Gershkovich in an undated image The Wall Street Journal/Reuters/FILE

US President Joe Biden spoke with the parents of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent detained in Russia, Tuesday.

It's their first time speaking since Gershkovich was arrested in Russia last month.

Biden told reporters, before boarding Air Force One, that he planned to speak with Gershkovich's parents. He connected with them aboard the plane as he flew to Northern Ireland, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. 

"The president made it clear that his national security team has been and will remain focused on securing Evan’s release as well as that of Paul Whelan," she said, referring to a second American who has been detained in Russia for several years.

She said the charges of espionage against Gershkovich were baseless and said "he should be released immediately."

1:05 p.m. ET, April 11, 2023

"Serious level of inaccuracy" in leaked US classified documents, UK's defense ministry says

From CNN's Radina Gigova

The apparent leak of US classified information "has demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy," the UK's Ministry of Defence said Tuesday. 

"Readers should be cautious about taking at face value allegations that have the potential to spread disinformation," the ministry said in a brief statement posted on its official Twitter feed. 

Ukraine's response: Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said on his Telegram channel Friday that he believes the documents that have been disseminated are inauthentic, have “nothing to do with Ukraine’s real plans” and are based on “a large amount of fictitious information” spread by Russia.

But while Ukrainian officials brushed off the leak, Ukraine has already altered some of its military plans because of it, a source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN.

What's in the documents: CNN has reviewed 53 leaked documents, all of which appear to have been produced between mid-February and early March.

They contain a wide range of highly classified information – providing a rare window into how the US spies on allies and adversaries alike.

US allies are doing damage assessments, scrambling to determine whether any of their own sources and methods have been compromised by the leak.

“We expect the US to share a damage assessment with us in the coming days, but we cannot wait for their assessment. Right now, we are doing our own,” said an official from a country that is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US, which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Read more about the documents here.

CNN's Zachary Cohen, Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood contributed to this post.

12:52 p.m. ET, April 11, 2023

US investigations into leaked documents could take months to complete, sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Zachary Cohen, Kylie Atwood, Alex Marquardt and Haley Britzky

The US government investigations into a leak of highly classified Pentagon documents — which includes intelligence on the war in Ukraine — are starting to take shape, with the Pentagon examining how the leak impacts US national security and the Justice Department launching a criminal investigation into who may have been behind the breach.

The interagency probe is being led by the Pentagon’s Office of Intelligence and Security, according to three US officials, and could take months to complete. It will chiefly examine whether any sources and methods have been compromised since the documents, many of which are marked "top secret," were posted on a social media platform earlier this year.

Milancy Harris, the deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence and security, will be in charge of the effort on the Pentagon side, officials said. The investigation will also try to determine the scope of the leak, since officials do not yet know whether it has been contained or whether there are more classified documents still circulating online.

The Pentagon effort is not focused on the source of the leak, one senior Pentagon official said. But the Defense Department will be examining how it distributes highly classified information and whether it needs to change who receives it on a daily basis.

“Way too many people have access to very sensitive information,” a senior US official told CNN, noting that “thousands” of people likely saw these documents before they hit the internet.

The leaked materials appear to be photos of documents that were crumpled up and wrinkled, as though they had been folded and stuffed in a pocket.

While many officials tend to take classified information home, one senior US official said, the fact that the paper was folded up “tells me this person did not have that authority.”

Read more about the investigations here.

11:36 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Ukraine denies Wagner founder's claim that Russia controls 80% of Bakhmut

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Wagner founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on Tuesday that Russian forces now control much of the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut

“We are fully concentrated on Bakhmut, continuing to carry out combat missions. In Bakhmut, most of it — that is, more than 80% — is under our control, including the entire administrative center, plants, factories, the city administration,” Prigozhin said. “What is left is part of the multi-story residential areas, where fortification districts were made. There are tunnels under these high-rise buildings.”

Ukrainian officials have denied Prigozhin’s claim.

"This statement by Prigozhin is not true,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN on Tuesday. “I've just been in touch with the commander of one of the brigades that are defending the city. I can confidently state that the Ukrainian defense forces control a much larger percentage of the territory of Bakhmut."

"Prigozhin needs to show at least some victory in the city, which they have been trying to capture for nine months in a row, so he makes such statements," Cherevatyi added. 

The Wagner founder has been known to make incorrect claims about his forces’ advance on the ground in Ukraine. Last week, he posted a grainy video raising a flag at dawn, saying Bakhmut had "been taken," despite ongoing fighting in and around the city. His claim was seen as a "pretty desperate" attempt, Western officials said.

What Western officials are saying: The officials conceded Russia had been able to make some progress in Bakhmut, but added it could be "measured in meters."

"The Russians at the moment, despite trying for six months, with huge numbers of personnel and huge numbers of losses, have been unable to take the town, and at the moment have made very, very slow progress,” the officials said at a briefing last Wednesday. 

In the video this Tuesday, Prigozhin said Wagner fighters had relinquished control of some areas around Bakhmut to the Russian military. 

“We handed over the flanks to the Ministry of Defence. Units of the Ministry of Defence, including the airborne troops, have today taken over both the right and left flanks,” he said. “That is why Zaliznyanskoye, Nikolaevka, and other settlements, which were stormed by units of the Wagner PMC in previous months, are in the area of responsibility of the airborne troops and other units of the Ministry of Defence.”

CNN’s Max Foster contributed to this post.

11:25 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Ukraine’s foreign minister says US secretary of state "reaffirmed ironclad support" in call

From CNN’s Florence Davey-Attlee 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reassured Ukraine of the United States’ support following a leak of classified Pentagon documents, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

During a call on Tuesday, Blinken “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. support and vehemently rejected any attempts to cast doubt on Ukraine’s capacity to win on the battlefield,” Kuleba wrote Tuesday on Twitter, adding that the US "remains Ukraine's trustworthy partner."

The comments come after a number of highly classified Pentagon documents were released online in recent weeks. Some divulge key weaknesses in Ukrainian weaponry, air defense, and battalion sizes and readiness at a critical point in the war, as Ukrainian forces gear up to launch a counteroffensive against the Russians – and just as the US and Ukraine have begun to develop a more mutually trusting relationship over intelligence-sharing.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood contributed reporting to this post.

10:31 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Biden says he plans to speak with family of detained Wall Street Journal reporter

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Joe Biden told reporters that he planned to speak to the family of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich during his flight to Northern Ireland today.

The US State Department formally designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained by Russia, and Biden said that he tried to speak to Gershkovich’s family on Monday but would attempt again today.

“We’re making it real clear that it’s totally illegal what’s happening. And we declared it, so changes the dynamic,” he said.

10:51 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Egyptian official denies leaked intelligence suggesting Egypt's military was producing weapons for Russia

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Anna Chernova

A senior Egyptian official denied that Egypt’s military was planning to produce 40,000 rockets for Russia, following a report from The Washington Post citing a leaked US intelligence document, Egyptian state-affiliated media said.

A leaked US intelligence document obtained by The Washington Post said Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi instructed officials to keep production and shipment secret "to avoid problems with the West."

The "top secret" document from February contains purported conversations between Sisi and senior Egyptian military officials, according to the newspaper. It referenced plans to supply Russia with artillery and gunpowder, with Sisi asking officials to keep the plans a secret, The Washington Post reported.

CNN has not seen the document cited by the Washington Post and is not able to confirm its authenticity.

The unnamed Egyptian official called the report "informational absurdity" and said that Egypt follows a "balanced policy" with all international parties, according to Al Qahera News, a state-affiliated media outlet. The statement was also carried by several other Egyptian state-affiliated news outlets.

Egypt is one of the world’s top recipients of US military aid, receiving $1.3 billion in military financing annually.

What Russia says: Russia’s Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the information a "hoax."

"It looks like another hoax, of which there are plenty now. This is how you should treat such publications," Peskov said in response to a question from a journalist on the report.

CNN has reached out to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

Remember: Highly classified Pentagon documents leaked online in recent weeks have provided a rare window into how the US spies on allies and foes alike, deeply rattling US officials, who fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships.

Many of the documents, which US officials say are authentic, had markings indicating that they had been produced by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff's intelligence arm, known as J2, and appear to be briefing documents.

10:30 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

US Senate leader requests all-Senate classified briefing about Pentagon documents on Ukraine

From CNN's Lauren Fox

A spokesperson for US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told CNN that Schumer has requested a classified briefing for all senators on the leaked classified US documents that appear to contain information about the war in Ukraine.

Investigations and impact: The US Justice Department is investigating how the trove of highly sensitive documents ended up on social media sites.

The Defense Department is still reviewing the matter and has taken steps to tighten the flow of such highly sensitive documents, officials said, which are normally available on any given day to hundreds of people across the government.

While the Pentagon has stood up an “interagency effort” to assess the impact of the leak, US officials and close allies already fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships.

Read more about what's believed to be in the documents.

10:04 a.m. ET, April 11, 2023

Russian parliament votes in favor of electronic military call-up papers 

From CNN's Anna Chernova

The Russian parliament, the State Duma, voted in favor of amendments to a bill that would allow for the electronic delivery of military call-up papers in addition to traditional letters. 

The bill passed through its third reading in the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament Tuesday. It now needs to be approved by the upper chamber, the Federation Council, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday. The final step is for the bill to be signed by President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law.

The Kremlin said Tuesday the amendments to military conscription legislation are not connected to mobilization, dismissing rumors of a new wave of enlistment in Russia.

Asked during a regular call with reporters if the Kremlin is concerned that the proposed law, if passed, would trigger another wave of a mass exodus of Russians, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, "Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with mobilization; it has to do with military registration." 

"There is no second wave," Peskov said after being pressed further to respond to the rumors of an upcoming second wave of mobilization.

The State Duma published the bill on Tuesday. According to the document, electronic summonses for military service will be equated to paper summons. Currently, conscription documents in Russia must be hand-delivered by the local military enlistment office or through an employer.

A person will be considered notified even if they have not seen the call-up papers or email and from the moment of receipt of the summons. Those liable for military service will be banned from traveling abroad.

Remember: Russia’s "partial mobilization" for its war in Ukraine, which was announced in September, resulted in a significant number of citizens fleeing Russia, as CNN previously reported.

The Kremlin acknowledged mistakes were made in its military draft process, but maintains there is no discussion of a new wave of mobilization.