April 12, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Jack Guy, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales and Tori Powell, CNN

Updated 10:42 p.m. ET, April 12, 2023
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10:52 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Serbian government denies it sold weapons to Ukraine

From CNN’s Florence Davey-Attlee

The Serbian government has denied it sold weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, after a report emerged claiming otherwise.

"Serbia has not and will not sell weapons to either Ukraine or Russia," Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Milos Vucevic said in a statement Wednesday. "We have rejected those allegations more than ten times, and we will do it again."

Vucevic was responding to a Reuters report that claimed a leaked Pentagon document names Serbia as having sent or is planning to send lethal aid to Ukraine. 

"Someone obviously aims to drag Serbia into that conflict, but we adhere to our policy consistently," Vucevic said.

"There is always the possibility that some weapons might mysteriously appear on the territory where there is a conflict, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Serbia. That is a question for the countries that do not conform to international norms or terms of business agreements," he added. 

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

The highly classified Pentagon documents 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 Joint Chiefs of Staff's intelligence arm, known as J2, and appear to be briefing documents.

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

9:56 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

There are no NATO troops in Ukraine, Ukrainian and Spanish defense ministers reiterate

From CNN’s Al Goodman in Madrid  

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, third on right, and Spain's Minister of Defence Margarita Robles, fourth on left, attend a meeting in Madrid, Spain, on April 12.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, third on right, and Spain's Minister of Defence Margarita Robles, fourth on left, attend a meeting in Madrid, Spain, on April 12. (J. J. Guillen/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian and Spanish defense ministers have denied claims that NATO troops are fighting against Russian armed forces in Ukraine, refuting allegations that emerged from a leak of highly classified Pentagon documents.

“It is totally false that there are NATO troops in Ukraine,” Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Wednesday at a joint news conference in Madrid with her visiting Ukrainian counterpart. 

“It’s not true that there are NATO personnel in Ukraine,” with the exception of military attachés, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.

Responding to a question about the document leak, Reznikov said it "has a lot of data that’s not true (and) is no longer current. The beneficiary of this operation is Russia or its allies or sympathizers," adding that he is confident that Ukraine’s US allies will work to "neutralize this leak and avoid this in the future."

Ukraine has "full confidence in our in our American allies" in spite of the leak, he said. From Spain’s perspective, Robles said the unity of NATO and European Union allies remains strong and Russia will "not achieve a break in that." 

Update on tanks: Robles said Spain’s first shipment of six modern battle tanks for Ukraine will leave soon via ship and should arrive in the war-torn country by the end of this month. Along with these six Leopard 2A4 tanks, Spain will also send 20 armored vehicles, she added. Spain will later send four more of the Leopard tanks "as soon as possible," after they are repaired.

Reznikov said Ukraine asked Spain for air defense systems, including combat jets, artillery rounds, and for training and technical advice in amphibious military operations, including undersea mine removal. The Ukrainian defense minister said he would meet with executives of Spanish arms makers on this visit. He and the Spanish defense minister were also expected to tour a military hospital in Madrid treating Ukrainian troops severely wounded in combat, including those whose limbs have been amputated.

 

9:30 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Russians say they are skeptical of what government has told them about new conscription bill

From CNN's Rob Picheta and Anna Chernova

Russian officials have denied suggestions that a bill to allow for the electronic delivery of military call-up papers lays the groundwork for a fresh wave of mobilization. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters it is meant only to "fix the mess" that followed September’s controversial partial mobilization order, which was beset by issues and prompted thousands of Russians to flee.

But the strict new rules make it more difficult for Russian men to avoid an order should it be made, and Russians told CNN of their concerns about the plan.

"Now it will be much easier to mobilize me, given how digitalized life in Moscow has become," Alexey, a 41-year-old lawyer from Moscow, told CNN.

While he is not within the official age range for mobilization, he does not expect the Kremlin to stick to their own guidelines when calling up recruits.

"I have no illusions with regard to the assurances of authorities who insist these amendments were passed exclusively to improve the draft’s bookkeeping and have nothing to do with the second mobilization wave," he said. "I don’t believe a word of this."

"I believe the mobilization has never ended. It has begun and continues to the day," he added. "You can look at this development as preparation of the state to step up mobilization. To make it possible to notify and mobilize large number of conscripts in a short period of time."

The bill passed through its third reading in the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament Tuesday, and was approved by the upper chamber, the Federation Council on Wednesday. Its final formality is to be signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CNN also spoke to Olga, a 48-year-old woman who fears her son, who is 16, will be sent to fight in the coming years, disrupting his plans for higher education.

"I feel very badly about this war. And same goes for all other wars and any deaths by force regardless of the cause," she said. "I would prefer for wars to be fought only by professional military or volunteers."

“Should (the war) drag on and intensify, and if there is a real second wave of mobilization, then I think some will try to leave (Russia), of course," she added.

Read more.

9:18 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Russia's defense ministry claims its forces struck Ukrainian reserves trying to enter Bakhmut

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russia's Ministry of Defense on Wednesday claimed its forces hit Ukrainian army reserves attempting to get into the battered city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

According to the ministry, Russian forces hit "reserves of the enemy that tried to break into Bakhmut from the settlements of Chasiv Yar and Bohdanivka, as well as the units of the 28th Mechanised Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine close to Kostiantynivka."

The ministry also said Wagner private military company fighters had captured three more blocks in their attempt to seize control of the embattled city.

CNN cannot independently verify these claims. 

What Ukraine says: On Tuesday, Ukrainian officials denied Wagner founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin's claim that Russian forces now control 80% of the city.

"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," Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN on Tuesday.

Western officials have conceded Russia had been able to make some progress in Bakhmut, but added it could be "measured in meters."

8:29 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Wagner leader denies his group is behind video purportedly showing beheaded Ukrainian soldiers

From CNN’s Katharina Krebs

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner private military company, attends a funeral ceremony at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, on April 8.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner private military company, attends a funeral ceremony at the Troyekurovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, on April 8. (AP)

Wagner private military company leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has denied that his fighters were involved in a grisly video that purportedly shows Ukrainian soldiers who have been beheaded.

“I have watched this video. It’s bad when people’s heads are cut off, but I haven’t found anything to support that this is happening near Bakhmut and that Wagner fighters are participating in the execution," he said in a statement published by his company Wednesday.

Prigozhin was responding to a question about a video that was posted to a pro-Russian social media channel on April 8, which appears to show the beheaded corpses of two Ukrainian soldiers lying on the ground next to a destroyed military vehicle.

Russian social media accounts say the video was shot near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has been the scene of the war’s fiercest fighting for many months, with Wagner fighters very heavily involved. CNN is unable to independently confirm the video’s location.

A second video, which was posted on Twitter and is heavily blurred, looks to have been filmed during the summer because of the amount of plant life on the ground. It purports to show a Russian fighter using a knife to cut off the head of a Ukrainian soldier. A voice at the beginning of the video suggests the victim might have still been alive when the attack began.

CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Andy Carey, Josh Pennington and Yulia Kesaieva contributed reporting to this post.

8:19 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Top US hostage official calls for consular access to Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich appears in an undated handout image.
Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich appears in an undated handout image. (The Wall Street Journal/Reuters)

The US continues its public push for consular access to Evan Gershkovich as the top official handling hostage negotiation committed to bringing the detained Wall Street Journal reporter home from Russia. 

“The Russians owe us a consular visit. We have yet to have consular access to Mr. Gershkovich,” US special envoy for hostage affairs Roger Carstens told “CNN This Morning.” 

Asked if a prisoner swap is on the table, Carstens said that the US is committed to bringing Gershkovich and others who are wrongfully detained home and that US President Joe Biden would do “whatever it takes to get that job done” and is willing to make “hard decisions.”

“The President of the United States and the Secretary are committed to bringing Evan home and Paul Whelan as well. And we're gonna find whatever it takes to get that job done. We’re not going into the specifics of the pathways of negotiation. To my mind that might decrease our chances to garner that release, but I can tell you that the President’s shown time and time again that he's committed, he's willing to make the hard decisions to find ways to bring Americans home,” he said. 

Now that Gershkovich has been formally designated by the State Department as wrongfully detained, Carstens said it “by force of law obligates the United States of America to seek a wrongfully detained American’s release. And that's what we're doing right now. My office is working closely with the National Security Council at the White House to find those paths that will bring Evan home.” 

More on Americans detained in Russia: Carstens said he spoke with Paul Whelan for about 15 minutes on Monday and they spoke “about Evan’s case.”

“Paul’s spirits are still good. He's still remaining strong. He's still resilient. Small known fact — I mean, he sings the National Anthem every day from his prison cell, and he's ready to come home and we're going to find a way to bring him home,” he said, adding that his office does not prioritize cases and both Whelan and Gershkovich, along with the 30-40 cases currently being handled by his office are “treated equally.”

Carstens noted that there have been conversations between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as discussions between US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy and her counterparts.

“We've been pressing them for Evan’s release, we've been pressing them for consular access, and anything beyond that I'd rather not talk about. I want to maintain some of our negotiation space,” Carstens said, adding, “We’re going to find a way to bring Evan and Paul Whelan home.”

8:17 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

How an electronic conscription bill could make it harder for Russians to evade military service if called up 

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Sarah Dean

A smartphone screen showing an open page of Gosuslugi website, in Moscow, Russia, on April 11.
A smartphone screen showing an open page of Gosuslugi website, in Moscow, Russia, on April 11. (AP)

The upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, has voted in favor of the electronic delivery of military call-up papers, which critics say will make it more difficult for Russians to evade conscription.

The final step is for the bill to be signed by President Vladimir Putin before it officially becomes law.

Once the bill becomes law, a person will be considered notified even if they have not seen the call-up papers or email. The call-up papers will be deemed to be served once they appear on a government portal called Gosuslugi — the main online platform for state services in Russia, such as making a doctor’s appointment, requesting a passport or registering for marriage. 

Previously, conscription documents in Russia had to be hand-delivered by the local military enlistment office or through an employer. 

Those liable for military service will be banned from traveling abroad, the proposed legislation published on the government’s website said. Draft dodgers will receive a travel ban from the day when the summons is considered to have been "handed" to them, in accordance with the law. 

People who fail to show up for a military summons without a valid reason within 20 days will face restrictions, such as being unable to register a vehicle and drive it, being unable to register an apartment, being unable to register as an individual entrepreneur or as self-employed, and be blocked from getting a loan.

Paper and electronic summonses will have equal legal force, Andrey Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Committee on Defense, said to the RBC TV channel. According to Kartapolov, the introduced changes apply to all those liable for military service and not just to conscripts, he told state news agency TASS.

Russia’s Defense Ministry routinely conscripts men for compulsory military service twice per year, in spring and autumn.

The spring conscription this year will apply to 147,000 citizens between the ages of 18 and 27, and will take place from April 1 to July 15, according to an official document published by the government.

More context: The Kremlin has consistently denied rumors of a possible second wave of mobilization in Russia. Its “partial mobilization” last year for its invasion of Ukraine resulted in a significant number of citizens fleeing Russia.

Conscription involves the selection and enlistment of young men into the military, while mobilization refers to the larger-scale process of calling up reservists and other military personnel in the event of an emergency or war.

 

8:04 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

UK sanctions those with financial links to Russian oligarch and ex-Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London 

Roman Abramovich at the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal, on May 29, 2021.
Roman Abramovich at the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal, on May 29, 2021. (Alexander Hassenstein/UEFA/Getty Images)

The UK has announced sanctions on a network of companies and individuals with financial links to Russian oligarch and ex-Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, as well as oligarch Alisher Usmanov.

It said the move would target those helping the pair to “avoid the full cost” of sanctions already imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“We are closing the net on the Russian elite and those who try to help them hide their money for war,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

“There’s no place to hide. We will keep cutting them off from assets they thought were successfully hidden. Together with our international partners the UK will continue to crack down on those who are supporting the war. We won’t stop until Putin does.”

Among those sanctioned are Demetris Ioannides and Christodoulos Vassiliades, whom the statement described as “two Cypriot professional enablers” of Abramovich and Usmanov.

Companies which the Foreign Office said were part of Usmanov’s financial network were also sanctioned, including USM, Curzon Square and Hanley Limited, according to the statement.

Several family members of other Russian oligarchs who it said were “used as proxies to hide their assets” were also sanctioned, according to the statement. 

The assets of Usmanov and Abramovich were frozen by the UK government shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. 

7:46 a.m. ET, April 12, 2023

Russian conscription bill will streamline military registration, Kremlin says

From CNN's Anna Chernova

A new bill allowing for the electronic delivery of military draft papers is meant to fix a chaotic process of registration and enlistment, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

“We must be aware that we must regulate the system of military registration and conscription. According to the Constitution, conscripts must serve in the army. This is a constitutional duty of citizens. When the special military operation began, we saw that in some places we had a lot of chaos in the military registration and enlistment offices,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told press on a Wednesday conference call.

The bill is designed to “fix the mess” and make the process “modern, efficient and convenient for citizens,” he said. 

Russian officials have denied suggestions that the bill lays the groundwork for a fresh wave of mobilization, after a chaotic order in September prompted scores of Russians to flee the country.

But the measure will make it harder for Russians to evade conscription.

On Tuesday, the State Duma -- the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament -- voted in favor of allowing electronic delivery of military call-up papers in addition to traditional letters. The upper chamber, the Federation Council, approved the bill on Wednesday.

The final step is for the bill to be signed by President Vladimir Putin before it officially becomes law.

Putin is “aware” of the legislation and will “read the document” before signing it, Peskov added. 

He also said the bill was passed through in “accordance with the procedure provided for in the State Duma,” and questions regarding the speed in which the bill passed should be addressed to Parliament.