September 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Lianne Kolirin, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 7:55 PM ET, Fri September 16, 2022
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12:02 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials say some bodies found in Izium show "signs of torture"

From CNN's Tim Lister, Maria Avdeeva, Yulia Kesaieva and Victoria Butenko

Experts work at a place of mass burial during an exhumation in the town of Izium, Kharkiv region on September 16.
Experts work at a place of mass burial during an exhumation in the town of Izium, Kharkiv region on September 16. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has posted a photograph of the ongoing exhumation of bodies at a mass burial site near the city of Izium.

In a text accompanying the photograph on his Telegram channel, Zelensky wrote: "The whole world should see this. A world in which there should be no cruelty and terrorism. But all this is there. And its name is Russia."

"More than 400 bodies were found at the mass burial site in Izium. With signs of torture, children, those killed as a result of missile attacks, warriors of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Zelensky said.
"Russia leaves only death and suffering," he continued, before pledging: "You won’t run away. You won’t hide. Retribution will be justly dreadful."

As the exhumation continues, it's unclear how each victim died and when. Scores of civilians and soldiers were killed in the weeks-long bombardment of Izium by Russian forces in March and April. A CNN team at the site said that the graves they saw were predominantly of individuals, some marked only with numbers and others with full names and other details.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, said that "the scale of the crimes committed by the invaders in Izium is enormous. This is bloody brutal terror."

"450 bodies of civilians with traces of violent death and torture were buried in a forest belt. It is difficult to imagine something like this in the 21st century, but now it is a tragic reality in Izium," he said.

Syniehubov asserted that "among the bodies exhumed today, 99% show signs of violent death. There are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person is buried with a rope around his neck. Obviously, these people were tortured and executed. There are also children among the buried."

"About 200 law enforcement officers and experts are currently on the scene. The bodies will be sent for a forensic examination to determine the exact cause of death. After identifying the faces of the dead, they will all be buried with due respect," he said.

"Each death will be investigated and become evidence of Russia's war crimes in international courts," Syniehubov said.

10:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Kremlin: Putin says Russia will "do everything" to stop Ukraine conflict and acknowledges "concerns"

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday. (Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Russia would "do everything" to end the conflict in Ukraine, according to a statement from the Kremlin.

The two leaders met at the end of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Putin blamed Ukraine for the continuation of the conflict. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The Kremlin statement quoted Putin as telling Modi Friday:

“I know your position regarding the conflict in Ukraine, your concerns which you continuously express. We will do everything for all of this to end as soon as possible."
"Unfortunately, the leadership of Ukraine announced its refusal from the negotiation process and that it wants to achieve its goals by military means."

Some context: Earlier in the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeatedly called on Putin to hold negotiations with him. Last week, Zelensky said negotiations with the Russian Federation surrounding the end of the war are currently "impossible."

On Thursday, in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin also acknowledged China’s “questions and concerns” regarding the conflict in Ukraine. 

2:23 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

There are no plans for Blinken and Lavrov to meet at UNGA, but US won't rule out meeting on detained Americans

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing in Washington in August.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing in Washington in August. (Kevin Lamarque/AFP/Getty Images)

At the United Nations General Assembly next week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will find themselves in the same city for the third time in three months, but there are no current plans for the two diplomats to meet, a senior administration official said.

But US State Department spokesperson Ned Price would not rule out the possibility of a meeting if it could fuel efforts to bring home Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two wrongfully detained Americans in Russia.

“What I can say is that we will take every step that we feel would be would help move the process forward. If a senior level intervention with a senior Russian official would help us take one step closer to seeing the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, we wouldn't hesitate to do that,” Price said on Thursday, noting that the negotiation process with the Russian government “certainly hasn't moved with the speed we would like.”

Lavrov and Blinken are likely to be in the same room for a UN Security Council meeting next week. But being in the same room doesn’t ensure direct contact — though it could mean awkwardly avoiding one another.

Earlier in the week, Price reiterated that US President Joe Biden's administration does not believe it can do business as usual with the Russians, but the Biden administration has put an emphasis on getting the Americans home as public pressure has mounted. Price would not say if the administration feels that a meeting with Lavrov and Blinken could move the ball forward.

Blinken spoke to Lavrov by phone in late July for the first time since the Russian war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24, and "pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” the top US diplomat said at the time.

Blinken and Lavrov were in the same cities for international summits just weeks before that phone call and just weeks after it – in Bali in early July and in Cambodia in early August – but Blinken and Lavrov did not meet. In Cambodia, they were just seats away from one another for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers meeting and attended the same dinner, but they did not speak at the dinner, CNN reported at the time.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that they will not engage in diplomacy with Russia unless they think that it can be productive, and Russia has signaled no desire to diplomatically engage.

“We have seen no indications, our Ukrainian partners have seen no indications, our European allies and partners who have been in contact with senior Russian officials have seen no indications that the Russians are prepared to negotiate, prepared to engage in this dialogue,” Price reiterated this week.

Biden is set to meet with the families of Griner and Whelan today at the White House.

9:14 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Switzerland suspends exchange of tax information with Russia as Ukraine war continues

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

Switzerland is suspending its exchange of tax information with Russia to prevent “inappropriate” use of sensitive information as the war in Ukraine continues, the Swiss Federal Council announced in a statement on Friday.

“Due to the unclear and uncertain situation in the in connection with Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, there is no guarantee that the sensitive information to be exchanged will not be used inappropriately,” a spokesperson for the State Secretariat for International Finance told CNN.

“The suspension is not a sanction, but a measure to protect local and foreign tax payers,” the spokesperson added.

Switzerland is “reacting in the same way, as for example, all European Union member states, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom,” the spokesperson said.

According to the council’s website, tax authorities exchange information — for example, on financial accounts and advance tax rulings — “in order to increase transparency and prevent cross-border tax evasion.”

8:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Russian shelling of liberated areas of Ukraine injures several people, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Tim Lister

Women stand near a residential building destroyed by a military strike in the town of Izium recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on September 15.
Women stand near a residential building destroyed by a military strike in the town of Izium recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces on September 15. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

Much of Ukraine's Kharkiv region has been retaken by Ukrainian forces, but the military said liberated areas are now being heavily shelled by Russian artillery.

The Kharkiv regional civil military administration said Friday that "during the past day, the enemy massively shelled the recently liberated settlements of the Kharkiv region in the Kharkiv, Kupyansk, and Izium districts. Residential buildings were destroyed; there are injured."

The administration said 10 people were injured in the Kupiansk district, including two children. One more person was wounded in the Izium district, and one was injured in the Kharkiv district, it said.

Areas of Kharkiv near the Russian border also came under attack, it said, adding that there had been rocket attacks on the village of Zolochiv north of the city of Kharkiv.

Elsewhere, in Luhansk: The administration in the eastern Luhansk region said battles continue along the line of contact but there had been no further change in territory held by Ukraine. It said long-range artillery strikes by Ukrainian forces had inflicted heavy casualties on Russian units in the Perevalsk area, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) behind the front lines.

Donetsk: In Donetsk, regional authorities said Russian forces continued to shell settlements around Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Toretsk, killing five civilians. Despite a mandatory evacuation from the region, thousands of civilians have not left their homes.

Dnipropetrovsk: Further south, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the cities of Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol have come under fire. Local authorities reported widespread damage in Nikopol from Russian rocket attacks. "The Russians aimed their missiles at critical infrastructure. There is severe destruction of hydraulic structures," Valentyn Reznichenko, head of Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said about Kryvyi Rih.

Earlier this week, missile attacks on water infrastructure caused flooding along the Inhulets river, which runs south from Kryvyi Rih. 

Kherson: The regional military administration in the southern Kherson region implied there had been little further progress for Ukrainian forces there, saying "the situation in the region remains difficult."

It said Russian forces had tried to conduct an assault toward the town of Ivanivka but retreated with losses. It also said Ukrainian rocket and artillery units performed 140 fire missions.

10:29 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Pro-Russian official in occupied city of Berdiansk murdered, according to Russian-backed administration

From CNN's Tim Lister

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russia-installed head of the Zaporizhzhia region, holds a media briefing in Melitopol on July 14.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russia-installed head of the Zaporizhzhia region, holds a media briefing in Melitopol on July 14. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the Russian-backed administration in occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region said a senior official there has been killed.

Yevgeniy Balitsky, head of the Russian-appointed administration, said that Oleg Boyko — a senior official in the city of Berdiansk — and his wife had been killed.

"A tragic event happened last night. The deputy head of the administration of Berdiansk Oleg Boyko and his wife Lyudmila, who worked as the chairman of the Berdiansk election commission, were vilely killed," Balitsky said.

The circumstances of their deaths are unknown. 

7:55 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

German armed forces must become Europe's "best equipped," says Chancellor Scholz

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a conference of the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr in Berlin on Friday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a conference of the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr in Berlin on Friday. (Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images)

German armed forces must become Europe’s “best equipped,” with the country ready to take on a “leading responsibility” in guaranteeing Europe's security, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday.

"As the most populous country with the greatest economic power and as a country in the middle of the continent, our army must become the cornerstone of conventional defense in Europe, the best equipped force in Europe," Scholz told reporters at a German armed forces conference in Berlin.

"We are making it convincingly clear: Germany is ready to take on leading responsibility for the security of our continent," Scholz went on to say.

Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin currently poses ''the biggest threat'' to the NATO alliance.

The German Chancellor said that the German armed forces had for too long taken on other roles like "drilling wells, ensuring humanitarian help, stemming floods, also helping with vaccinations during the pandemic."

"But that is not your core mission," he said, adding "the core task of the Bundeswehr [the German armed forces] is the defense of freedom in Europe."

Scholz also said that Europe must take on a lot more responsibility within NATO, amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"We, Europeans, must however assume significantly more responsibility within NATO," Scholz said.

We will have to get used to the fact that Putin's Russia will define itself as an adversary to the US, to NATO and the EU for the foreseeable future,'' he added.

"NATO remains responsible for the collective defense of the entire alliance with a focus on Europe. Credible deterrence remains the core element,'' Scholz concluded.

12:03 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

UN to send team to site of mass burials in Izium, source says

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Kharkiv

Forensic technicians dig near a cross in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on Friday.
Forensic technicians dig near a cross in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on Friday. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

A United Nations source told CNN that a team from the UN’s human rights monitoring agency, the OHCHR, would be going to Izium and areas around it as soon as possible.

The war crimes investigation team may follow after that, the source said. Their specific destination remains unclear at this time.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that a mass burial site had been discovered in Izium, in the country's Kharkiv region, after the area was recaptured last weekend from Russian forces. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that at least 440 graves had been found.

7:30 a.m. ET, September 16, 2022

China’s Xi calls for international order “in a more just and rational direction” at SCO summit

From CNN’s Beijing bureau and Martin Goillandeau

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) leaders' summit in Samarkand on Friday. (Sergei Bobylyov/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

A day after meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to “promote the development of the international order in a more just and rational direction,” in remarks given at a summit of the organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Friday. 

The regional countries “must firmly uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and the international order based on international law, promote the common values of all mankind, abandon zero-sum games and bloc politics,” Xi said at the summit in televised remarks. 

Created in 2001, SCO includes China, Russia, four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), India and Pakistan.

Xi said countries should “support each other’s efforts to safeguard security and development interests, prevent foreign forces from staging color revolutions, and jointly oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries under any pretext.”

Xi also invited SCO members to join a Chinese-led global security initiative, aimed at “effectively responding to non-traditional security challenges,” adding “We need to crack down on the three forces.” Beijing has previously referred to “three forces of evil” as religious extremism, ethnic separatism and international terrorism, in diplomatic statements on military cooperation in Central Asia.

He added China is willing to train 2,000 law enforcement officers for member states over the next five years and establish a training base for Chinese SCO counter-terrorism professionals.