September 12, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Christian Edwards, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:55 AM ET, Wed September 13, 2023
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7:28 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

North Korea’s top officials among Kim Jong Un's Russian delegation

From CNN's Gawon Bae and Jake Kwon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission, Pak Jong Chon, the new head of the party's military-political leadership, Su Yong, party secretary and director of the economy department, Pak Thae Song, party secretary and chairman of a national space science and technology committee, depart Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia, on September 10, in this handout image.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Military Commission, Pak Jong Chon, the new head of the party's military-political leadership, Su Yong, party secretary and director of the economy department, Pak Thae Song, party secretary and chairman of a national space science and technology committee, depart Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia, on September 10, in this handout image. KCNA/Reuters

North Korea’s top officials – including its top military leaders and chief diplomat – are among Kim Jong Un’s delegation to Russia, according to photos shared by North Korean state media KCNA. 

In one photo released by KCNA, Kim’s second-in-command of the military, Ri Pyong Chol, was seen onboard the train.

Ri is a target of US and UN sanctions for his role in leading the country's ballistic missile programs as the former head of Department of the Munitions Industry.

He was recently seen sitting alongside Kim on a balcony during the paramilitary parade held last Friday, and welcomed Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the weaponry exhibition in Pyongyang late July.

Also accompanying Kim is Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who led the nuclear negotiation between former President Trump and Kim and was promoted to her current position in June 2022.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported the delegation appears to show a top-level army general Pak Jong Chon, party secretary Pak Thae Song, navy admiral Kim Myong Sik, and the department director of the Munitions Industry Jo Chun Ryong.

Kim is accompanied by “many members of his military,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu said on Tuesday.

It is unknown whether Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s sister and a high-ranking official, has joined her brother on the trip.

6:06 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Putin criticizes Russian businessman who condemned invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Arkady Volozh, Russia's largest internet search engine Yandex CEO, attends an Investment Forum in Moscow, Russia, on November 20, 2019.
Arkady Volozh, Russia's largest internet search engine Yandex CEO, attends an Investment Forum in Moscow, Russia, on November 20, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized a prominent Russian businessman who last month described the invasion of Ukraine as barbaric.

Addressing the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Putin was asked about the comments of the co-founder of Russian tech giant Yandex, Arkady Volozh.

Putin said that Volozh “is forced to make statements in order to preserve his foreign business and assets. Previously, he was sitting silently. God bless him, it doesn't bother us.”

He is a talented person, but there should be a sense of moral conscience and gratitude towards the country that gave him everything,” Putin said.

Volozh holds both Russian and Israeli passports and has lived in Israel since 2014.

Some context: Volozh became one of the most prominent Russian businessmen to criticize the war when released an explosive statement in August.

“I am totally against Russia's barbaric invasion of Ukraine, where I, like many, have friends and relatives. I am horrified by the fact that every day bombs fly into the homes of Ukrainians,” he said.

"Despite the fact that I have not lived in Russia since 2014, I understand that I also have a share of responsibility for the actions of the country," he added. "There were many reasons why I had to remain silent. You can argue about the timeliness of my statement, but not about its substance. I am against war."

In his statement, Volozh said that, since moving to Israel, he had been working on developing Yandex’s international projects."But in February 2022, the world changed, and I realized that my story with Yandex was over."

Volozh quit as CEO of Yandex in June 2022, after he was sanctioned by the European Union over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

5:30 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Russian defense minister to join talks with Putin and Kim, state media reports

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is set to participate in the discussions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to Russian state military TV channel Zvezda, citing the Kremlin.

A separate meeting between Shoigu and North Korea's defense minister is not expected, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov added.

Kim Jong Un’s heavily-armored private train crossed into Russia on Tuesday ahead of an expected summit with Putin, state media reported.

The United States has warned that the two leaders could strike a deal to supply Moscow with weapons for its war in Ukraine.

6:18 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

270,000 Russians have voluntarily signed up to armed forces, Putin says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12. Sergey Shinov/Roscongress Foundation/AP

More than a quarter of a million Russians have voluntarily joined the armed forces in recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

Responding to questions at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Putin said that the recruitment was in addition to the partial mobilization a year ago.

“We carried out a partial mobilization and 300,000 people were called up. Over the past six or seven months, we have 270,000 people who voluntarily signed service contracts," said Putin.

“People come to the military registration and enlistment offices and sign contracts. Every day 1,000-1,500 people sign contracts daily,” he added.

Putin stressed that those enlisting did so voluntarily, "realizing that they can get injured and give their lives for the Motherland."

Some context: Putin announced a partial mobilization of Russia citizens in September 2022, as his invasion of Ukraine looked set to drag on into the fall and take far longer than Russia expected.

The mobilization meant that citizens who were in reserve could be called up, and those with military experience were subjected to conscription.

5:21 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Putin says Ukraine must cancel decree before any negotiations possible

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Anna Chernova

Ukraine will have to cancel a decree that effectively rules out negotiations with Russia, if there is to be any prospect of talks to bring about an end to the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

“If the United States believes that Ukraine is ready for negotiations, then let them (Ukraine) cancel the decree prohibiting negotiations,” Putin said, speaking in Vladivostok at the Eastern Economic Forum.

Putin noted that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “said they were ready (for negotiations). Then they (Ukraine) should cancel the decree, then we will see.”

“They said publicly that they would not negotiate. Let them now say publicly that they want to,” said Putin.

In October 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree formally declaring the prospect of any talks with Putin "impossible.”

The decree followed a proclamation by the Russian president that four occupied regions of Ukraine had formally become part of Russia.

Not the time for talks: Zelensky has long expressed concerns about negotiating with Putin, and pointed to his past record of reneging on agreements.

“When you want to have a compromise or a dialogue with somebody, you cannot do it with a liar,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview in Kyiv last week.

Zelensky pointed to the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin – the Russian mercenary leader whose plane crashed weeks after he led a mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership – shows what happens when people make deals with Putin.

He said when Putin understood that a big part of society supported Prigozhin, “he killed him. But before (that) he gave him promises, the territory of Belorussia (Belarus), gave him new locations, the Africa issues and businesses, a lot of different things.”

Blinken told ABC News this week that Russia needs to demonstrate that it can act in good faith if talks are to occur.

“It takes two to tango. And thus far, we see no indication that... Putin has any interest in meaningful diplomacy. If he does, I think the Ukrainians will be the first to engage, and we'll be right behind them. Everyone wants this war to end, but it has to end on just terms and on durable terms that reflect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said.
5:43 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Putin says Trump prosecutions are "persecution of a political rival"

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the audience during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin addresses the audience during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12. Mikhail Metzel/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday described the criminal prosecutions faced by former US President Donald Trump as a political persecution.

In comments at the Eastern Economic Forum in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, Putin added that the criminal cases against Trump were "good for us" as they show the "rottenness of the American system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy."

“All that is happening with Trump is the persecution of a political rival for political reasons. And this is done in front of the public of the United States and the whole world,” he added.

Putin added: “They simply exposed their internal problems and in this sense, it is good (for us) because it shows who is fighting against us, this shows, as they used to say back in the Soviet times, the bestial appearance of American imperialism.”

Some background: Trump is the first current or former president in US history to face criminal charges. He has been indicted four times and faces a mountain of legal challenges as he prepares to mount his third presidential bid for 2024.

The US presidential election is likely to have huge implications for the war in Ukraine.

Top US and European officials have expressed concern that Putin is factoring the election into his war planning in the hope that a defeat for President Joe Biden next year will lead the United States to curtail its support for Ukraine and improve Russia’s negotiating position, four US officials told CNN.

One US official said they have “no doubt” that Putin is “trying to hold out” until the 2024 election. Another source familiar with the intelligence said “it’s sort of the elephant in the room” for the US, Ukraine and Europe.

“Putin knows Trump will help him. And so do the Ukrainians and our European partners,” the source said. “So even though we haven’t seen anything explicitly to that effect, you have to assume, I believe, that everyone is thinking it.”

A European diplomat told CNN that they believe trying to ride out the war in Ukraine until the US election “is exactly Putin’s plan.”

5:11 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Kim Jong Un stops to meet local officials at Russian border station, reports say

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh, Anna Chernova, Jake Kwon and Josh Pennington 

A green train with yellow trimmings, resembling one used by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his previous travels, is seen steaming near Khasan, about 127 km (79 miles) south of Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12 in this image taken from social media.
A green train with yellow trimmings, resembling one used by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his previous travels, is seen steaming near Khasan, about 127 km (79 miles) south of Vladivostok, Russia, on September 12 in this image taken from social media. primamedia/Telegram/AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a stop to meet local officials at the Russian border station of Khasan before continuing north on his private train, Reuters reported, citing a source with knowledge of the matter. 

Kim is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on this trip, with US officials warning arms negotiations could be on the table with Pyongyang possibly in a position to provide weapons for Moscow to use in Ukraine.

CNN cannot independently confirm that Kim left his train.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Kim’s train passed through Khasan station on Tuesday morning, citing a local administration representative.

The train purportedly carrying Kim has since crossed a railway bridge over the Razdolnaya River in the Primorsky Territory and is moving north, RIA reported. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said a meeting between Kim and Putin would happen "within days" and "will take place in the Far East," but didn't specify a date or location, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia's Far East region is a massive swath of territory that shares land borders with China, North Korea and Mongolia.  

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, the train believed to be carrying Kim appears to be moving toward a more northerly destination than the eastern port of Vladivostok, toward Khabarovsk province bordering China instead, citing multiple local sources in Vladivostok. 

Yonhap reported that there was no appearance of increased security in Vladivostok station, and buses and cars were parked in front of the station as usual on Tuesday. 

It was previously thought a Kim-Putin meeting would take place in the port city.

5:11 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

The green armored train Kim Jong Un is riding into Russia

From CNN's Jessie Yeung

 Kim Jong Un, accompanied by government officials, departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia.
 Kim Jong Un, accompanied by government officials, departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia. KCNA

On Sunday afternoon, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped onto an old-fashioned green train that has by now become an enduring symbol of the hermit nation’s isolation and secrecy.

Images released by North Korean state media KCNA show Kim boarding his private train as he prepared to travel to Russia for an expected meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, amid warnings by the United States that Pyongyang could provide weapons for Moscow to use on the battlefield in Ukraine.

It’s not clear when or where this expected meeting will take place. But Russian state media reported Tuesday that Kim’s train had arrived in the country, and was currently traveling north through Russia’s far east region.

Photos of Kim’s departure from Pyongyang show the leader at the train station, waving to the crowd – offering a glimpse into the heavily armored, slow-moving locomotive, with polished wooden floors and an ornately decorated white doorway.

The string of dark green carriages, with yellow stripes running down the side, match the look of the train used both by his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, who reportedly threw lavish dinners aboard.

The train has long been the subject of intrigue, carrying generations of the Kim family across the country and on rare overseas trips.

Kim Jong Il, who was reportedly averse to flying, relied heavily on the train, according to Reuters – in contrast to his son Kim Jong Un, who has previously traveled by luxurious private jet, and who studied in Switzerland in the 1990s.

Read more here.

8:40 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Russia and North Korea are old friends who use similar weaponry

Analysis by CNN's Brad Lendon

Military cooperation between Russia and North Korea has a history going back to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s support of Kim Jong Un's grandfather at the start of the Korean War in 1950.

But it has waned in more recent years, especially when Russia, with veto power in the UN Security Council, supported the implementation of sanctions on North Korea.

Still, that long history means there are many similarities in their weapons stocks that could be useful to Russia.

“North Korea makes good what I call heavy industrial weapons,” said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center. “Its artillery and ammunition is very good. It’s very similar to Russian designs.”

Doo Jin-ho, research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, agreed: "North Korea’s 152mm artillery ammunition and 122mm multiple rocket launcher ammunition can be used on Russian weapons immediately," he added.

And in return, Doo said, Russia could provide various things on North Korea’s wish list: reentry technology, improved launch capabilities for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, satellite reconnaissance capabilities, and even help with launching satellites.

North Korean ammunition wouldn't be a game-changer for Russia — but it could "help replenish depleted stocks and prolong the conflict" in Ukraine, said Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Read more here.