September 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 9:41 p.m. ET, September 21, 2022
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11:13 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

US President Biden plans to issue a "firm rebuke" of Russia's war in Ukraine at UNGA

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden waves as he disembarks Air Force One at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York City on September 20.
US President Joe Biden waves as he disembarks Air Force One at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York City on September 20. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden plans to issue a "firm rebuke" of Russia's war in Ukraine on Wednesday in his speech at the United Nations following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement ordering an immediate "partial mobilization" of Russian citizens.

An official said Biden will​ respond to Putin’s speech when he speaks at the United Nations General Assembly shortly.

Putin's speech was seen internally as both an escalation and sign of weakness. Coming several hours before Biden's yearly address at the UNGA, it set up a rhetorical showdown with the US leader, who had already been planning to make the war in Ukraine a centerpiece of his speech.

Biden plans to deliver “a call to the world to continue to stand against the naked aggression that we’ve seen these past several months," his national security adviser said.

What we know: The White House said it was aware that Putin could be making the announcement ahead of Biden's UN speech, and that the announcement did not require his staff to rewrite his speech. 

"The NSC had been aware of the possibility of Putin making such an announcement, so the speech did not have to be rewritten," an official said. 

"Secretary Blinken and NSA Sullivan did review the speech with the President in the morning, and certain lines were adjusted and emphasized, but the speech already fit the moment," the official said.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect that Biden is expected to respond to Putin’s speech.

10:10 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

NASA astronaut and 2 Russian cosmonauts launch to space

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, center, and Dmitri Petelin, right, with NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, left, walk to report to Russia's Roscosmos space agency head prior to the launch at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 21.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, center, and Dmitri Petelin, right, with NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, left, walk to report to Russia's Roscosmos space agency head prior to the launch at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 21. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian capsule took an American to space today, marking a notable continuation of the Russian-US partnership in space in an era of great geopolitical tension.

The spacecraft took off from the famed Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Dmitri Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev on what is expected to be a six-month stay on the International Space Station. Liftoff occurred at 9:54 a.m. ET. 

When Rubio and his Russian counterparts make it to the space station, they'll be tag-teaming with astronauts from the United States, Russia and Europe. The space station, which has continuously had people on board since the year 2000, keeps a rotating base of crew members to ensure the orbiting laboratory is consistently staffed with enough astronauts to maintain the space station's hardware as well keep a lengthy log of space-based experiments operating.

Remember: In July, Russia said it was planning to pull out of the International Space Station and end its decades-long partnership with NASA at the orbiting outpost after 2024, according to the head of Russia’s space agency.

10:07 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Moscow authorities warn against protests following mobilization announcement

From CNN's Anna Chernova 

Moscow prosecutor's office has warned citizens against participation in protests — reminding people that they could face up to 15 years in jail.

According to the official statement published Wednesday a few hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization," it said that posts with “information calling for participation in public actions in Moscow and the commission of other illegal acts” were published on social media.

“The Moscow Prosecutor's Office warns that the distribution of such materials… as well as participation in illegal actions are punishable under the current administrative and criminal legislation,” the statement read.

“The deed can be qualified as an administrative offense… which is punishable, including in the form of imprisonment for up to 15 years,” it added.

Some more context: According to OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group that tracks detentions in Russia, over 60 people have been detained at anti-mobilization protest actions in 8 cities across Russia.

9:42 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Ukraine's foreign minister says Putin throwing more men into "flames of war"

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration of a partial mobilization only throws "more men into the flames" of the conflict, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday.

In a tweet from New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly, Kuleba said, "Putin has shown utter disrespect to China, India, Mexico, Turkey, other Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Latin American nations which have called for diplomacy and an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine. He wants to throw more men into the flames of the war he has no chance of winning."

Read his tweet:

9:35 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Putin "clearly not seeing Ukraine conflict go the way he had hoped," British foreign secretary says  

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London  

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in London, England, on September 7.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in London, England, on September 7. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday described Moscow's announcement that it will call up 300,000 reservists as clear proof that the war is not going as Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected.

“We knew … that he had hoped to dominate Ukraine in a matter of days. We're now seeing months later, Ukrainians are pushing the Russians back, and these are the actions of someone who knows this conflict is not going well,” the British lawmaker said to CNN’s John Berman from the United Nations General Assembly in New York. 

When asked what difference 300,000 new troops would make to Russia’s efforts, Cleverly said the “hundreds of thousands of Russian troops” massed on Russia’s border with Ukraine in February were “poorly motivated, poorly equipped, and they did not have the spirit for the fight.”  

“I said at the time the Ukrainians would be ferocious in the defense of their country; that’s exactly what we have seen,” he said, adding, “with the support of the international community including the UK and, of course, the United States of America, they have been incredibly effective defenders of their homeland.” 

The foreign secretary added that sending more troops into Ukraine would only “create more parents who have lost their sons and daughters in this conflict,” and “more disquiet in Russia.”  

“It is a fundamentally wrong way forward and what Putin should do is withdraw from Ukraine, let the Ukrainians have control of their territory once again and bring this conflict to an end,” he said.  

9:28 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

The West must "respond decisively" to this "new stage of the war," Ukrainian official tells CNN

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak makes statements on the latest developments in the war in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 19.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak makes statements on the latest developments in the war in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 19. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s Western allies must “respond decisively and without hesitation” to Russia’s latest maneuvers, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told CNN on Wednesday.

“The attempted annexation of territories, mobilization, and nuclear blackmail is a new stage of the war, to which the Western Allies must respond decisively and without hesitation,” Podoliak told CNN in a written exchange.

Ukraine’s allies should supply it with more HIMARS rockets, including those that have a range of up to 300 kilometers, “as well as American Abrams tanks,” he said.

The announcement of an immediate partial mobilization of Russian citizens is Vladimir Putin's "last hope to change the course of the war," Podolyak said, warning that the Russian president is making the "same mistake he made in February" when he launched an invasion of Ukraine.

The announcement is "in fact a recognition of the absolute incapacity of the Russian army after seven months of a full-scale war,” Podolyak added. "The Kremlin tells the Russians bluntly, 'we dragged you into a military adventure and assured you that everything was going according to plan, but the situation is out of control, so get ready to send your children to die in the war.'"

Meanwhile, Podolyak says the Ukrainian stance remains unchanged.

"We do not recognize referendums in the occupied territories, we do not respond to threats of using nuclear weapons, and we will continue the operation to de-occupy the territory and liberate our cities," he added.

9:20 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Pope Francis says the thought of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine war is "madness"

From CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo and Eve Brennan

Pope Francis referenced Russian President Vladimir Putin hinting at the use of nuclear weapons in a speech today, with the pontiff calling it "madness."

The Pope, speaking in front of a crowd at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, which had gathered for his weekly general audience, did not name Russia or Putin specifically.

“This tragic war brings us to the point where some people are thinking of nuclear weapons, that madness,” Pope Francis said on Wednesday morning in front of a general audience.

 

9:13 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Putin's partial mobilization decision is "forced, but timely and absolutely necessary," Moscow mayor says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin attends a wreath laying ceremony in Moscow, Russia, on November 7, 2020.
Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin attends a wreath laying ceremony in Moscow, Russia, on November 7, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The mayor of Moscow on Monday expressed his support for President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on immediate partial mobilization of Russian citizens, and said that he would extend his city’s “material support” to anyone who is called up under the new decree.

"I consider the Presidential Decree on partial mobilization to be forced, but timely and absolutely necessary," Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said in a statement on his website, adding that "several thousand volunteers from Moscow are already taking part in the fighting with weapons in their hands."

Sobyanin also expressed hope that the separatist-held Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk will soon join Russia.

“I hope that soon, following the results of the referendum, they will become part of our Russian family,” he said.

9:09 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022

Putin's partial mobilization is a "sign that he's struggling," White House official says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, appears on ABC’s "Good Morning America," on September 19.
John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, appears on ABC’s "Good Morning America," on September 19. (ABC)

John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on immediate partial mobilization was “expected” and a “sign that he’s struggling.” 

“I think there was a lot in there that was a typical – a lot that we've heard before,” Kirby said during an appearance on ABC’s "Good Morning America," citing Putin’s baseless claims of neo-Nazis in Ukraine and that Russian territorial integrity is being threatened.

Kirby said that Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of reservists is “a lot” and “almost twice as much as he committed to the war back in February of this year.”

He sought to cast Putin’s speech, which comes hours ahead of US President Joe Biden’s address to the United Nations, as a signal of weakness.

“It's definitely a sign that he's struggling, and we know that he has suffered tens of thousands of casualties. He has terrible morale unit cohesion on the battlefield command and control has still not been solved. He's got desertion problems and he's forcing the wounded back into the fight. So clearly, manpower is a problem for him. He feels like he's on his back foot, particularly in that northeast area of the Donbas,” Kirby said.

More than 75,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded during the war in Ukraine, Biden administration officials told US lawmakers during a classified briefing in July, but it's difficult to independently gauge casualty figures in the war.

Kirby also said the US is taking Putin's nuclear threats “seriously” but that this rhetoric was “not atypical.”

“It's irresponsible rhetoric for a nuclear power to talk that way, but it's not atypical for how he's been talking the last seven months, and we take it very seriously. We're monitoring as best we can, their strategic posture, so that if we have to, we can alter ours. We've seen no indication that that's required right now,” he said.

There will be “severe consequences” for the use of nuclear weapons, Kirby warned.

Kirby reiterated national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s Tuesday preview of Biden’s remarks to the UN, saying that Biden will be “very clear about where we stand with respect to Russia and Ukraine,” and he also reiterated the US commitment to the UN charter.