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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1:01 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

How much impact would North Korean weapons have on the Ukraine battlefield?

Analysis by CNN's Brad Lendon

With North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin soon, all eyes are on a potential weapons deal between the two nations.

The US warned last week that Russia and North Korea are "actively advancing" their arms negotiations, adding that Pyongyang would "pay a price" if it struck a deal with Russia and provided weapons to be used against Ukraine.

But Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korean ammunition is unlikely to change the direction of the war -- only prolonging it and replenishing Russia's depleted supplies.

Others questioned how quickly any North Korean ammo could get into the hands of Russian troops on the frontlines in Ukraine.

Shipments from North Korea to Russian fighting forces would need to cross the Trans-Siberian Railway, more than 5,700 miles from Vladivostok in the east to Moscow in the west.

Much of the equipment on the rail line is from the late Cold War era, and seriously stressed, said Trent Telenko, a former quality control auditor for the US’ Defense Contract Management Agency who has studied Russian logistics.

“Overstressing Cold War-era transportation is a seriously stupid idea on a lot of levels. And that is exactly what the Russians are doing,” Telenko said.
12:34 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Putin says Russian-China relations have reached "unprecedented" levels, according to state media 

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Alex Stambaugh

The Russian national flag fluters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 24.
The Russian national flag fluters in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 24. Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that relations between Moscow and Beijing have reached an "unprecedented historical level," according to Russian state media agencies TASS and RIA. 

Putin, who was meeting with China's Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have "friendly personal and business relations," TASS reported.  

"This certainly helps to the cause of developing bilateral relations and interstate ties," Putin reportedly said.

Putin also praised the "very high" level of economic and political cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. "Of course, this is all a derivative of what has been achieved in the political sphere," he said, adding the results are "more than good, they are excellent."

China's stance on Ukraine: Xi, a self-described friend of Putin, has continued to bolster China's economic, diplomatic, and security ties with Russia despite the invasion of Ukraine — which Beijing has never condemned.

China did not send a delegation to international talks on Ukraine in Denmark in June, despite attempting to position itself as a potential peace broker on the conflict in recent months.

And Beijing's refused to condemn the invasion has further soured its relations with Western nations, especially in Europe.

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

Why Russia’s failures in Ukraine could be a win for North Korea

Analysis by CNN's Brad Lendon

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Getty Images

Russia’s failures on the battlefield in Ukraine could turn into a win for North Korea.

That’s the view of analysts who say an expected meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin could lead to Pyongyang getting its hands on the sort of weapons two decades’ worth of United Nations’ sanctions have barred it from accessing.

Kim's private train arrived in Russia on Tuesday, according to Russian state media. State media also cited the Kremlin in confirming the two leaders are set to meet "within days."

This comes after US officials warned last week that the two countries are "actively advancing" their arms negotiations, more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine has left the Russian military battered, depleted and in need of supplies.

The meeting would also come after 17 years of UN sanctions aimed at hampering North Korea’s ability to build a fully functioning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile force.

“This [meeting] is a very significant development if it goes forward,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “Russia has the military technology that Kim wants for his illegal satellite launch and nuclear weapons delivery programs.”

Were Kim to get his hands on technology from Russia, a world leader in nuclear missile forces for decades, it would be a great boost for his programs and a great concern for leaders in the West, analysts said.

Weapons in Ukraine: Meanwhile, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner forces late last year, and the potential deal being discussed would provide Russian troops with much more weapons, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby in August.

“Under these potential deals Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions form the DPRK, which the Russian military plans to use in Ukraine,” he said.

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

Kim Jong Un's train arrives in Russia ahead of expected Putin meeting, state media says

Kim Jong Un is now in Russia, ahead of an expected and closely-watched meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, according to Russian state news agency RIA on Tuesday.

The North Korean leader departed the capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday afternoon in a private train, accompanied by top officials, North Korean state media KCNA confirmed on Tuesday morning local time.

The train is currently traveling north through Primorsky Krai in Russia's Far East region, RIA reported.

It's not clear when or where they are expected to meet. But the Kremlin confirmed the two leaders are set to meet "within days," according to Russian state media, citing Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Bilateral relations will be a priority of the talks, and a formal dinner is planned in honor of Kim's arrival, said Peskov, state media TASS reported.

Arms talks on the table: The US government said last week that such a meeting could take place as part of Russia’s efforts to find new suppliers for weapons to use in its war against Ukraine.

The two leaders met for the first time in April 2019, in the far eastern city of Vladivostok. Putin reportedly arrived in Vladivostok on Monday to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state TV Russia 24.

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

Kim, Putin set to meet as US mulls sending long-range weapons to Ukraine. Here's the latest headlines from the war

From CNN staff

 Kim Jong Un departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia.
 Kim Jong Un departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia. KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to Russia on his heavily-armored private train for a closely-watched summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Russian and North Korean state media reported.

Meanwhile, discussions about the United States sending long-range missiles to Kyiv have ramped up in recent weeks as Ukraine officials put pressure on the Biden administration, people familiar with the discussions told CNN.

The transfer of the ATACMS – which have a range of up to 186 miles (299 kilometers) – would mark just the latest instance of the US reversing gear on providing a system after months of pressure by Ukrainian officials. The Biden administration also resisted sending multiple-launch rocket systems, Patriot air defense systems, Abrams tanks, and cluster munitions — all of which were ultimately provided to Kyiv.

Here's what to know:

  • Kim arrives in Russia: The North Korean leader's train arrived in Russia Tuesday and is traveling north through Primorsky Krai, in the far east region of the country, Russian state news agency RIA reported. Images released from North Korean news agency KCNA Tuesday show Kim boarding his armored private train in the capital Pyongyang Sunday ahead of the summit. Neither country has specified when or where the visit would take place, nor what would be on the agenda. However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the meeting will be a “full-blown visit, with talks between the two delegations,” according to Russian state media TASS.
  • Warnings from the US: The US government first warned last week that Kim may travel to Russia to meet Putin about a potential deal to supply Moscow with weapons for its war in Ukraine. The White House has said arms negotiations between the two countries are “actively advancing.” The potential Putin-Kim meeting could also lead to Pyongyang getting its hands on weapons United Nations and US sanctions have barred it from accessing for two decades.
  • Aid to Ukraine: US President Joe Biden is expected to make a final decision soon on sending long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, also known as ATACMS, to Ukraine for the first time, sources told CNN. In Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for continued US support for Ukraine even as his Republican party remains divided on the issue. Germany is pledging an additional 20 million euros (about $21 million) in humanitarian aid for Ukraine to prepare for winter, the foreign minister announced in Kyiv.
  • On the front lines: On the southern front, Russian and Ukrainian officials report heavy fighting in a small area near the village of Robotyne, which has been the focus of fighting for several weeks. In the east, both sides said the most intense fighting is centered on the village of Andriivka, south of Bakhmut.
  • What Ukrainians are saying: Some residents of Kyiv are saying they are prepared for the long haul after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the war may go on for some time yet. Kateryna Polishchuk, who lives in Kyiv, said she understood ”that we should not expect any immediate success in this war. This war has not been going on for 8 or 10 years, it is a struggle that has been going on for 300 years.”
  • Bear to be adopted: An Asiatic black bear, which endured severe trauma in a zoo in Russian-occupied Ukraine, is set to be adopted by a zoo in Scotland. Almost all 200 of the animals at the zoo had been killed by the time Ukrainian soldiers entered in October 2022. A 12-year-old bear was one of the few left alive but was injured when a shell exploded near his cage, Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland said.
10:05 p.m. ET, September 11, 2023

Biden expected to make final decision soon on sending long-range missiles to Ukraine, sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Jennifer Hansler

Joe Biden speaks in Anchorage, Alaska on September 11.
Joe Biden speaks in Anchorage, Alaska on September 11. Evan Vucci/AP

US President Joe Biden is expected to make a final decision soon on sending long-range missiles to Ukraine for the first time.

It's a major step recommended by the State and Defense Departments after months of Ukrainian requests, people familiar with the discussions told CNN. 

Discussions about sending the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, also known as ATACMS, picked up substantially in recent weeks, the sources said.

No final decision to send the missiles has been made, officials said. But "there's a much greater possibility of it happening now than before," one official familiar with the discussions said. "Much greater. I just don't know when."  

US officials had been reticent to send the long-range surface-to-surface guided missiles amid fears about escalating the conflict as they could potentially be fired into Russia itself. That concern has largely abated, however, since Ukraine has shown it is not using other US-provided weapons to attack territory inside Russia, officials said.

Ukraine has carried out strikes inside Russia, but those have been conducted using homegrown drones and weaponry, allowing Kyiv to stand by its commitment not to use American weapons inside Russia.

Currently, the maximum range of US weapons committed to Ukraine is around 93 miles with the ground-launched small-diameter bomb. The ATACMS, which have a range of around 186 miles, would allow the Ukrainian military to strike targets twice as far away.

The transfer of the ATACMS would mark just the latest instance of the US reversing itself on providing a system after months of pressure by Ukrainian officials. The Biden administration also resisted sending multiple-launch rocket systems, Patriot air defense systems, Abrams tanks, and cluster munitions — all of which were ultimately provided to Kyiv.

Read more details here

5:13 a.m. ET, September 12, 2023

Kim Jong Un traveling by private train to Russia, North Korea's state media says

From CNN's Heather Law

Kim Jong Un waves from a train in Pyongyang, North Korea, as he leaves for Russia.
Kim Jong Un waves from a train in Pyongyang, North Korea, as he leaves for Russia. KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Pyongyang on Sunday afternoon for Russia by private train, North Korean state media KCNA reported Tuesday morning local time.

Kim is accompanied by leading officials of the party, government, and armed forces, KCNA reported.

Some background: Earlier Monday, the Kremlin confirmed Kim will go to Russia “in the coming days" but didn't specify the exact date of the visit.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian journalist Pavel Zarubin that Russia “will continue to strengthen” its “friendship” with North Korea.

Meantime, the White House urged North Korea to “not provide or sell arms to Russia.”

Just last week, the US warned Kim might travel to Russia to discuss a potential deal to provide weapons to the country as it wages its war in Ukraine, and the White House has said arms negotiations between the two countries are “actively advancing.” 

CNN's Gawon Bae, Anna Chernova and Darya Tarasova contributed reporting to this post.

9:49 p.m. ET, September 11, 2023

Russia and Ukraine offer competing claims on the state of fighting on the southern front

From Olga Voitovych, Svitlana Vlasova and Tim Lister

Russian and Ukrainian officials report heavy fighting in a small area of the southern front, with no clear sign as to which side may have the upper hand.

The Russian Defense Ministry claims that its units along the southern front lines have repelled attacks by Ukraine near the village of Robotyne, which has been the focus of fighting for several weeks.

Ukrainian officials paint a different picture. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said there was progress in the area south of Robotyne and west of Verbove. Nearly five square kilometers of territory had been won in the previous week, for a total gain of 256 square kilometers (more than 98 square miles) since the counteroffensive began, she said.

CNN is unable to verify most of the claims made by either side, but Ukrainian units are in control of Robotyne, according to geolocated video, and attacking nearby Verbove.

Meanwhile in the east on the Bakhmut front, both sides have said that the village of Andriivka south of the city is the most intense part of the battle. The Ukrainian blogger Bakhmut Demon said that it was too early to celebrate victory there. Russia “artillery is still working, we have pushed the bastards back significantly, but they are not giving up yet,” the blogger said.

Much further east, and close to the Russian-held capital of Donetsk region, Russian blogger Neofitsyalnyi Bezsonov denied claims that Ukrainian units have a foothold in the heavily contested village of Optyne. “The enemy managed to enter the outskirts of the settlement, after which it was immediately knocked out of there. Optyne is fully under our control.”

Another well-known Russian blogger, Voenkor Kotenok, said Russia's problems in this area remain the same as they were six months ago — shortage of personnel, the lack of competent commanders and assaults.

9:49 p.m. ET, September 11, 2023

Russian aggression in Ukraine "synonymous with torture,” says UN official

From CNN's Tim Lister

Russia’s armed aggression “is becoming synonymous with torture and other inhuman cruelty,” according to the United Nations official responsible for investigating torture.

“The volume of credible allegations of torture and other inhumane acts that are being perpetrated against civilians and prisoners of war by Russian authorities appears to be unabating,” UN Special Rapporteur Alice Jill Edwards said Sunday at the end of her visit to Kyiv.

“These grievous acts appear neither random nor incidental, but rather orchestrated as part of a state policy to intimidate, instil fear, punish, or extract information and confessions,” Edwards said.

Edwards said she had gathered “harrowing testimonies involving electric charges being applied to ears and genitals, beatings of all kinds, mock executions at gunpoint, simulated drowning, being required to hold stress positions, threats of rape or death, and various ceremonies of ridicule and humiliation.”

“Returned Ukrainian civilians and soldiers recounted being crowded in basements and cells, in congested conditions, and being poorly fed. Several lost dangerous levels of weight.”

Edwards also visited places in Ukraine where Russian prisoners of war are held.

“I found that sincere efforts have been made by the Ukrainian authorities to treat Russian prisoners of war respectfully. The barrack-style facilities I visited were hygienic and orderly. Prisoners were being well fed," she said.

Growing evidence: Edwards' comments came days after Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin claimed that roughly 90% of Ukrainian prisoners of war had been subjected to torture, rape and other forms of cruel treatment.

Ukraine found "evidence of these horrors in all the liberated territories," Kostin said, during a meeting with Edwards last week.

According to Ukrainian government figures, over 103,000 war crimes proceedings have been registered so far.

“The work that the Ukrainian authorities are undertaking to document war crimes is all the more impressive given that it is being carried out ‘in real time.’ That early action is virtually unprecedented anywhere in the world,” Edwards said at the conclusion of her visit to Ukraine.

However, Edwards warned that there are major obstacles to bringing the alleged perpetrators to justice. The inaccessibility of presently-occupied areas, the loss of crucial evidence due to deterioration and lapse of time between the crime and liberation when investigations can begin, and adapting the criminal justice system to be able to process and prosecute international atrocity crimes, will all pose challenges to Ukrainian prosecutors.