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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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.

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.