August 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Lianne Kolirin, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 2:23 a.m. ET, September 1, 2022
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9:10 a.m. ET, August 31, 2022

Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet president who took down the Iron Curtain, dies

From CNN's Susannah Cullinane and Laura Smith-Spark

Mikhail Gorbachev — the last leader of the former Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991 — has died at the age of 91.

Gorbachev died after a long illness, Russian state news agencies reported.

"Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died this evening after a severe and prolonged illness," the Central Clinical Hospital said, according to RIA Novosti Tuesday.

The man credited with introducing key political and economic reforms to the USSR and helping to end the Cold War had been in failing health for some time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told RIA Novosti.

Putin will send a message on Wednesday to Gorbachev's family and friends, RIA Novosti added.

With his outgoing, charismatic nature, Gorbachev broke the mold for Soviet leaders who until then had mostly been remote, icy figures. Almost from the start of his leadership, he strove for significant reforms, so the system would work more efficiently and more democratically. Hence the two key phrases of the Gorbachev era: "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (restructuring).

"I began these reforms and my guiding stars were freedom and democracy, without bloodshed. So the people would cease to be a herd led by a shepherd. They would become citizens," he later said.

He will be buried next to his wife at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, RIA Novosti reported, citing the Gorbachev Foundation.

Read more here.

9:11 a.m. ET, August 31, 2022

Ukraine doing "everything we can" to ensure UN nuclear watchdog can safely visit Zaporizhzhia, Zelensky says

From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnyy and Tim Lister

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant seen on Tuesday.
Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant seen on Tuesday. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation arrives in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said their mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is important "and we're doing everything we can to make it happen safely and at full capacity."

"Unfortunately, Russia does not stop provocations precisely in those directions from which the mission is supposed to arrive at the station," he claimed. "But I hope that the IAEA mission will be able to start its work."

Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of daily attacks using rockets and artillery in the vicinity of the plant.

"The situation at the ZNPP and in Enerhodar [the adjacent city], in the surrounding areas, remains extremely threatening," Zelensky said.

Some context: Zelensky met with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on Tuesday, according to a press officer with Zelensky’s office. The delegation plans on visiting the power plant later this week.

Zelensky urged the IAEA to do more than inspect the plant, saying that strategic decisions were required “regarding the urgent demilitarization of the station, the withdrawal of all, any, military personnel of the Russian Federation with explosives, with any kind of weapon.”

The President insisted that the area should become a demilitarized zone and that there should be a transition of the plant to full control of the Ukrainian state.

8:49 p.m. ET, August 30, 2022

As Ukrainian offensive gets underway, Zelensky says Russians have two options: Run away or surrender

From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnyy and Tim Lister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken of the military's efforts to take the battle to Russian forces and says the occupiers "can do only two things: run away or surrender."

In his daily video message, Zelensky said the armed forces and security services were doing "everything possible and impossible so that every Russian serviceman will necessarily feel the Ukrainian response to this terrible terror that Russia has brought to our land."

He was speaking as a Ukrainian offensive in the south got underway. Few details have emerged about its goals and timeline, nor about Ukrainian advances in the Kherson region.

"Throughout the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, from Crimea to the Kharkiv region, the Russian army does not have and will not have a single safe base, a single quiet place," Zelensky said.

"Our defenders will destroy all warehouses, headquarters of the occupiers, and their equipment, no matter where they are located.

"This is Ukrainian land, and the occupiers can do only two things: run away or surrender. We leave them no other options."

Zelensky also addressed the people of Crimea, saying, "Please stay as far as possible from Russian military facilities. Do not be near Russian bases and military airfields, report to the special services of Ukraine all the information you know about the occupiers so that the liberation of Crimea can happen faster."

3:22 a.m. ET, August 31, 2022

State Department confirms US assessment that Russia has received Iranian drones

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Christian Sierra

A view of drones during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 24, 2022.
A view of drones during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 24, 2022. (Iranian Army/West Asia News Agency/Handout/Reuters)

State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel confirmed that the US believes Russia has received unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Iran and “intends to use these Iranian UAVs, which can conduct air to surface attacks, electronic warfare, and targeting on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

“The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to rely on unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment,” Patel said during a phone briefing Tuesday. “We'll continue to vigorously enforce all US sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade and we will stand with our partners throughout the region against the Iranian threat.”

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand reported Monday evening that the US assessed that Russia was in possession of the UAVs.

8:43 p.m. ET, August 30, 2022

Top Kremlin official is leading Russian efforts to stage sham referenda in occupied Ukraine, US says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Christina Sierra

A top Kremlin official is leading Russia’s efforts to stage sham referenda in occupied parts of Ukraine, US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Tuesday.

“Preparations for the sham referenda are being led by the first deputy head of Russia's presidential administration, Sergey Kiriyenko,” Patel said during a phone briefing. 
“Kiriyenko is responsible for overseeing the Russia-held territories in advance of their attempted incorporation into Russia, which would be illegal if completed.”

Kiriyenko was sanctioned in March 2021 and February 2022 — two days before the Russian war in Ukraine began — in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as “independent.”

Russian referenda: Patel reiterated that the US assesses that Russia could hold sham referenda in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and parts of Kharkiv. They “could take place in the coming weeks,” he said.

“We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia,” he said. 

“As part of the sham referenda, Russia will undoubtedly employ propaganda and disinformation campaigns, falsify voter turnout and exaggerate the percentage of those who supposedly voted in favor of joining Russia," he said. “We want to be clear any claim by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian people somehow want to join Russia is a lie. Polling shows that just 3% of Ukrainians say that they would like Ukraine to be a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union.”
9:48 a.m. ET, August 31, 2022

Ukraine claims early success in counteroffensive as Zelensky vows to "chase" Russians to the border

From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Jo Shelley, Tara John, Olga Konovalova, Rebecca Wright

As Ukraine ramps up its offensive to retake Russian-occupied territory in the country's south, its forces have regained four villages and broken through Russian defenses at multiple points of the front line in the Kherson region, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky also issued a warning to Russian forces during his evening address Monday, saying it was time for them to "run away, go home," and that "the occupiers must know we will chase them to the border."

Yet one of his advisers cautioned that the operation will be a slow one, that would "grind the enemy."

"This process will not be very fast," Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, said in a statement posted on Telegram late Monday, "but will end with the installation of the Ukrainian flag over all the settlements of Ukraine."

"[The Ukrainian Armed Forces] have broken through the front line in several sectors," Arestovych said in a video interview posted on YouTube, adding that Ukrainian forces were shelling ferry crossing points that Moscow is using to resupply Russian-occupied territory over the Dnipro River in the Kherson region.

"We suppress their attempts to supply their groups on the west bank [of the Dnipro]," he said. "We strike at reserves, including reserves that are on the east bank and are trying to cross."

Earlier Monday, a Ukrainian military source told CNN that Ukrainian troops had taken four villages — Novodmytrivka, Arkhanhel's'ke, Tomyna Balka and Pravdyne — back from Russian occupation, adding that the main target was the city of Kherson.

Read the full story here.