August 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Amy Woodyatt, Hannah Strange, Leinz Vales, Adrienne Vogt and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 9:39 p.m. ET, August 18, 2023
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9:52 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Russia says it thwarted attack by an unmanned Ukrainian gunboat in Black Sea

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Michael Rios

Russia says two of its patrol ships repelled a new Ukrainian attack on the Black Sea. 

According to Russia’s defense ministry, Ukraine targeted the ships with an unmanned gunboat late Thursday night. But Russia says its ships opened fire on the vessel and destroyed it before reaching its target.

The ships, the Pytlivy and the Vasily Bykov, were overseeing navigation in the area when the alleged attack happened, the Russian defense ministry said. Earlier this month, Russia said the Vasily Bykov was one of two ships that repelled another uncrewed boat attack by Ukraine. 

The Vasily Bykov also participated in Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s Snake Island at the start of the full-scale invasion.

Earlier this week, the ship fired warning shots on a cargo ship on the Black Sea after it failed to respond to a request to stop for an inspection, according to Russia.

Some more background: Ukrainian security services this week released exclusive footage to CNN showing the moment in July when they used an experimental sea drone to attack Russia’s bridge to annexed Crimea, providing new details on the attack and warning more such assaults will follow.

8:20 a.m. ET, August 18, 2023

Moscow court charges imprisoned US citizen with espionage

From CNN's Radina Gigova, Matthew Chance and Katharina Krebs

Moscow court has charged an imprisoned Russian-born US citizen with espionage, state-run news agency TASS reported Thursday, quoting the court’s press service.

Gene Spector, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg but later moved to the United States and received US citizenship, is serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery charges, according to TASS.

He was the chairman of the board of directors of Medpolymerprom Group, specializing in cancer drugs, according to TASS.

In 2020, Spector was charged with mediating bribes for Anastasia Alekseyeva, a former aide to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, according to TASS. Alekseyeva received bribes amounting to more than 4 million rubles ($43,000), which included trips to Thailand and the Dominican Republic, TASS reported.

A US official at the American embassy in Moscow told CNN they believe the US citizen was already in jail and added that they had no information on a new charge.

There is no indication the US has deemed Spector to be wrongfully detained.

A US State Department spokesperson said the US is “aware of reports of charges against a US citizen in Russia,” adding that they were “monitoring the situation but have no further comment at this time.”

Tensions between the US and Russia ratcheted up following President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, complicating efforts in the release of two other detained US citizens.

Read more about the imprisoned US citizen here.

8:41 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

After aide's controversial remark, NATO chief says only Ukraine can decide when to negotiate with Russia

From CNN’s James Frater and Niamh Kennedy

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed Thursday that it is up to Ukraine to decide when to come to the negotiating table, following controversial remarks made by the director of his office earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Stian Jenssen, director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General, said during an event in Norway that ceding territory to Russia could be a way for Ukraine to achieve peace and join the alliance, according to Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. 

That sparked outrage among Ukrainian officials, including the adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podolyak, who called the remarks "ridiculous," saying such a move would only encourage Moscow's "appalling indulgences." 

Speaking during a conference in Arendal, Norway, on Thursday, Stoltenberg maintained that if NATO allies want peace, "military support for Ukraine is the solution," according to��Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. 

“What is important is that it is the Ukrainians themselves who must decide when they are willing to sit down at the negotiating table,” Stoltenberg said, according to NRK. 

Tension in the Baltics: In his remarks Thursday, Stoltenberg also issued a warning that "great powers" such as Russia are not entitled to hold "spheres of interest," according to NRK.

"Small countries like Latvia and Lithuania cannot accept that (just) because they are small neighboring countries, then Russia shall rule over them," the NATO chief said.

Lithuania announced Wednesday that it would temporarily suspend operations at two checkpoints along its border with Belarus due to concerns about the presence of Wagner private military forces in the country.

Wagner fighters are stationed in Belarus — a close ally of Russia — in the wake of their short-lived rebellion against the Kremlin. Their presence has raised tensions on NATO's eastern flank.

12:17 a.m. ET, August 18, 2023

US commits to approving F-16s for Ukraine as soon as training is complete

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Barrett

A US Air Force F-16 aircraft flies near the Rionegro Airport during military drills in Rionegro, Antioquia department, Colombia on July 12, 2021.
A US Air Force F-16 aircraft flies near the Rionegro Airport during military drills in Rionegro, Antioquia department, Colombia on July 12, 2021. Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images

The US has committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as training is complete, according to a US official.

The plan is to make sure Ukraine has the fighter jet it has long sought the moment its pilots complete training on the F-16. The training program was initially expected to start this month, but it is now unclear exactly when it will start or how long it is expected to take.

Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jet, but the US is still working with other countries to see who may provide F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the jets would have the “full support” of the Biden administration and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft is complete.

“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” Blinken wrote in the letters.

Reuters first reported on the US approving the transfer of the jets.

Read the full story here.

9:42 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

German army trains "highly motivated" Ukrainian soldiers on Leopard tanks

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls in London

Germany’s army trained Ukrainian troops on Leopard 1 battle tanks Thursday in the eastern town of Klietz, outside Berlin. 

The Ukrainian army needs to train more soldiers after many have either been wounded or killed during the fight against Russia's invasion, German Lt. Gen. Andreas Marlow told reporters at the training site.

"I think the most important concern for Ukraine is the training of officers, because it's obvious that the professional soldiers have been at war for a year and a half now,” Marlow said. “Many have been killed or wounded, and now they need supplies, including leaders and sub-leaders. And there is quite a demand for that."

The Ukrainian soldiers are "highly motivated," said Marco Maulbecker, a German armed forces commander and trainer.

"They have to be. After all, if you want to learn the basic skills of the main battle tank, the instruction manual is a good 700 pages long. And you can see the motivation above all in the fact that they also deal with the system after duty and are really willing to learn the system in a really short time." 

Ukrainian soldiers also spoke to journalists at the training site. 

"The training is very important for us because we receive (new) tanks with technical (systems), and the soldiers have to learn to use this equipment. Therefore, it is very important for us, so that our soldiers can use it efficiently during battles," one service member said.

"We are very motivated to fight for our home country and that's the best remedy against fear."
9:29 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Ukraine's counteroffensive gradually moving forward with the help of cluster bombs

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Florence Davey-Attlee, Kostyantin Gak and Brice Lâiné

Ukrainian marines have advanced for the second time in two weeks on the southeastern frontlines, toward the key port city of Mariupol, with the recapture of the village of Urozhaine appearing to have been partially aided by the use of controversial cluster munitions.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed the village’s liberation Wednesday morning, as a CNN crew approached its outskirts with the 35th Marines. Heavy artillery fire prevented entry into the village, as Russian forces shelled Ukrainian troops holding the area.

Drone footage of the intense fight for the village has emerged in which dozens of Russian troops can be seen fleeing to the village’s south. They are apparently shelled as they flee, at times by what seem to be cluster munitions, two arms experts who reviewed videos of the incidents said. The experts did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive issue.

Dykyi, the callsign of an assault company commander, said of the Russian rout: “Very many died, especially when they started to run.”

The videos show dozens of Russian troops running along an open road, seemingly forced to use the asphalt as the adjacent fields and treelines had been mined. Dykyi said. The Russians also gathered in large numbers in houses which were then hit by artillery.

“Lots of them died there,” Dykyi said, adding that mortars and tanks were used in the rout. He would not comment on the use of cluster munitions.

Read the full story here.