September 22, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Jack Bantock, Ed Upright, Adrienne Vogt and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 9:15 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022
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4:16 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

NATO condemns "sham" referendums in Ukraine and says alliance will never recognize them

From CNN's Amy Cassidy and Tim Lister

Vehicles drive past advertising boards, including panels displaying pro-Russian slogans, in a street in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Luhansk, Ukraine on September 20.
Vehicles drive past advertising boards, including panels displaying pro-Russian slogans, in a street in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Luhansk, Ukraine on September 20. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

NATO on Thursday condemned plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, calling them a “sham” that the alliance will not recognize.  

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the plan to hold so-called 'referenda' on joining the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian regions partly controlled by the Russian military,” the North Atlanta Council, NATO's principle decision-making body, said in a statement.  

The referendums were called suddenly at the beginning of this week by pro-Russian officials in occupied regions of Ukraine. They will ask the people of the occupied areas whether they wish to join the Russian Federation.  

"Allies do not and will never recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. Sham referenda in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine have no legitimacy and will be a blatant violation of the UN Charter. NATO Allies will not recognize their illegal and illegitimate annexation,” the council said.  

“These lands are Ukraine. We call on all states to reject Russia’s blatant attempts at territorial conquest,” according to the statement.

The council also accused Russia of escalating its "illegal war" by ordering what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a "partial mobilization" of its military.

"We continue to reject Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric," it added, referring to Putin's speech on Wednesday in which he threatened the use of nuclear weapons and warned he was "not bluffing." 

"NATO Allies remain resolute in providing political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia’s aggression," the council said.  

3:51 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Aid to Ukraine will not be affected by Putin's nuclear rhetoric, US Defense Department says

From CNN's Michael Conte

Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, September 22.
Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Thursday, September 22. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The Defense Department said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric threatening the possible use of a nuclear weapon would not affect the aid the US is providing to Ukraine.

“In terms of the statements or the announcements coming out of Russia, it does not affect the department’s commitment to continue working with our international partners and our allies on providing Ukraine with the support that it needs in their fight to defend their country,” said Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder at a briefing.

Putin on Wednesday spoke about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. "The territorial integrity of our homeland, our independence and freedom will be ensured, I will emphasize this again, with all the means at our disposal. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction," he said.

Ryder said that Putin’s threats would not affect discussions on the kinds of lethal aid the US would provide.

“We will continue to have those conversations and we’ll continue to think through not only what they need in the medium to long term, but also what they need now,” said Ryder. “So I don’t see those conversations being impacted by this situation.”

3:16 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Voting begins Friday in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine on referendums widely considered shams by West

From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva and Olga Voitovych

Voting begins Friday in referendums called in four regions of Ukraine that are occupied by Russian forces and their militia allies. 

The votes take place over five days through Sept. 27, and in Donetsk and Kherson regions, in-person voting will only take place on the last day. 

Observers say it seems unlikely that such a rushed process, in areas where many voters live close to the front lines of the conflict, can be successful or fair. Additionally, because of widespread internal displacement since the beginning of the conflict, voting databases are likely out of date. In Kherson, for example, Ukrainian officials have said that about half the pre-war population have left.

The plans have been condemned by both the government of Ukraine and its allies in the West as "illegitimate" and "a sham." The European Union has said it won't recognize the results and has indicated it is preparing a new package of sanctions against Russia. 

In Donetsk, the question will only be presented in Russian. The chair of the People's Council — an unelected body — in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, Vladimir Bidyovka, called Russian is the "state language."

The questions on the ballot vary slightly depending on the region. 

  • In the Donetsk People's Republic, the question will be: "Are you in favor of joining of the DPR to the Russian Federation on the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?" The self-declared Luhansk People's Republic uses the same phrasing.
  • In Kherson, the question will be: “Are you in favor of the secession of the Kherson region from state of Ukraine, the formation of an independent state by the Kherson region and its joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?” In occupied Kherson, Marina Zakharova — who chairs the election commission — said about 750,000 are expected to vote.
  • And in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia, the question is in both Russian and Ukrainian, and it reads: "Do you vote FOR the secession of Zaporizhzhia Oblast from Ukraine, the formation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast as an independent state and its accession to the Russian Federation as a sub-entity of the Russian Federation?"

The Central Election Commission of Russia said it will take part in monitoring the referendums in all four areas.

In both Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, local authorities have urged people to vote from home, saying that ballot boxes can be brought to them. A video from the Luhansk election commission says, "You can vote directly from home! From 23 to 27 September you can vote at home."

Ahead of the votes, pro-Russian authorities are trying to enthuse voters. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti showed a poster being distributed in Luhansk, which read "Russia is the future." 

"We are united by a 1,000-year history," it says. "For centuries, we were part of the same great country. The break-up of the state was a huge political disaster. ... It's time to restore historical justice."

3:03 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Partial mobilization is underway in Russia. Here is a snapshot of the tearful goodbyes.

From Tim Lister, Uliana Pavlova and Anastasia Graham Yooll 

(Telegram)
(Telegram)

Social media videos show the first phase of Russia's partial mobilization getting underway in several Russian regions, especially in the Caucasus and the Russian Far East.

Telegram videos showed one newly mobilized group of men awaiting transport, purportedly in Amginskiy Uliss in the region of Yakutiya, a vast Siberian territory — where the caption on one video read, “50 mobilized guys are going to the special operation zone."

Another shows a group of about 100 newly mobilized soldiers waiting at Magadan Airport in the Russian Far East, next to a transport aircraft. The group receives instructions on no smoking and other rules inside the plane and are warned that it will be cold inside the aircraft and that there are no toilets on board.

Still in the Russian Far East, in the city of Neryungri, a community video channel posted video of families saying goodbye to a large group of men, as they board buses. The video shows a woman crying and hugging her husband goodbye, while he reaches for his daughter’s hand from the bus window.

Neryungri is six time zones east of Ukraine.

CNN has not been able independently to geolocate or date all the videos posted. 

The republic of Buryatia has already supplied hundreds of volunteers to the conflict in Ukraine. The central Asian region may be about to send many more. According to a community Telegram channel called The People of Baikal, "they might mobilize up to 6-7 thousand people in Buryatia. The authorities do not name the exact number."

"Buses with mobilized people are arriving in Ulan-Ude [Buryatia's capital] in the morning. The men are taken to the assembly point of the Military Commissariat...," it said.

The channel, which has just under 5,000 subscribers, describes itself as independent. It quotes a local official as saying, “we were given a verbal order to raise the mobilized from their beds, put them in cars and immediately bring them to the military registration and enlistment office."

It's not possible to verify the channel's reporting. 

In Dagestan in the Caucasus, a furious argument broke out at one enlistment office, according to one video. A woman said her son had been fighting since February. Told by a man that she should not have sent him, she replied, " Your grandfather fought so that you could live," to which the man responded: “Back then it was war, right now it is politics.”

Much nearer the Ukrainian border, a crowd was gathered near the city of Belgorod to see off a batch of newly mobilized men. As they get on a bus, a boy shouts out, "Bye, Daddy!” and starts crying.

Other moves are underway to increase the flow of troops.

The Human Rights Council of Russia has proposed that immigrants from central Asian countries who have had Russian citizenship for less than 10 years will undergo compulsory military service in Russia for a year, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

1:30 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Ukraine among countries formally invited to first meeting of new European nations' club 

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels and Jorge Engels in London 

Ukraine and the United Kingdom — as well other European countries — have been formally invited to attend the first meeting of the “European Political Community” in the Czech capital Prague on Oct. 6, a senior European Union official told journalists in Brussels Thursday.   

“The European Political Community constitutes a platform for political coordination for European countries across the continent,” the senior official said. 

The aim of the high-level meeting is to foster “political dialogue and cooperation to address issues of common interest so as to strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of the European continent,” the official said. 

At the summit, a series of roundtable discussions are planned to cover “peace and security, energy and climate, the economic situation, migration and mobility.” 

“The EPC meeting will bring together leaders from European countries on an equal footing and in a spirit of unity, ideally once or twice a year,” according to the senior official. 

All of the EU’s 27 member states and the European Free Trade Association countries of Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland have been invited, alongside neighboring non-EU countries, including Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine and the UK. 

The EPC will not replace current institutions and doesn’t plan to create new ones for now, the official added. 

1:46 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Russian foreign minister dismisses Western condemnation and blames Ukraine for the war

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the conflict in Ukraine on September 22.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the conflict in Ukraine on September 22. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday dismissed Western condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, instead accusing Ukraine of being the country violating international law.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council session on Ukraine, Lavrov claimed Ukrainian forces made "illegal" attacks on the "peaceful citizens of Donbas."

He also accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the "Kyiv regime" of "racist" and "anti-Russian" motivated aggression.

Lavrov claimed Zelensky made "Russo-phobic" comments in an August interview and that they motivated people living in Russian occupied areas of Ukraine to hold referendums on the prospect of joining Russia.

"I think the decisions that have been adopted by a whole range of the regions of Ukraine about conducting referendums are the result of his [Zelensky's] comments," Lavrov said.

Lavrov also condemned the "cynical" way Western nations are supplying weapons to Ukraine and said the "policy means the direct involvement of the West in the conflict and makes them a party to the conflict."  

In his speech, Lavrov claimed the West was primarily motivated to supplying weapons to Ukraine in order to "drag out the fighting as long as possible in spite of the victims and destruction in order to wear down and weaken Russia." 

Lavrov ended his speech by dismissing the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court, "We have no confidence in the work of his body,” he said, adding, “and we don't expect anything more from this institution or a whole range of other international institutions." 

"Everything I've said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the 'special military operation' was inevitable," Lavrov added.

Some context on those referendums: This week, Russian-appointed leaders in the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic all said they planned to hold “votes” beginning Friday.

The expected referendums run counter to international law upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty. Ukrainian officials dismissed the announcement as a “sham” stemming from the “fear of defeat.”

US ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink echoed that sentiment on Twitter Wednesday.

1:15 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

US official criticizes Russian foreign minister for short stay during UN meeting about Ukraine

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

A US official criticized Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for only being at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine for a short time and skipping the Russian criticism from Western diplomats.

"Lavrov apparently couldn’t bear to hear the clear and repeated messages of condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine. He walked into the chamber just before his speaking slot and left shortly after," the US official said. 

The official said it was a sign of Russian weakness. 

"It’s another sign of weakness and a testament to the fact that Russians recognize they are increasingly isolated on the world stage," the official said.

CNN has reached out to Russian officials to explain why Lavrov was only in the chamber for his own remarks.

 

1:38 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

Finnish prime minister says country ready to take action to put "an end" to Russian tourism 

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel in London

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends a press conference in Kongens Lyngby, outside of Copenhagen, Denmark on August 30.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends a press conference in Kongens Lyngby, outside of Copenhagen, Denmark on August 30. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament Thursday that her government is ready to take action to put “an end” to Russian tourism and transit through Finland, according to Finnish public broadcaster Yle. 

"We have to put an end to Russian travel and tourism, how to do this is a more complicated question," Marin told reporters after the parliament session, Yle reported. 

"The assessment has to be done very quickly," Marin said. 

This comes as traffic on Finland’s eastern border with Russia intensified overnight on Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "partial mobilization.”

Social media video from Russia's land borders with several countries shows long lines of traffic trying to leave the country. 

“If the security situation at border crossings is assessed to have deteriorated, new solutions are possible to limit visas, for example restricting border crossings from Russia to Finland,” Marin said, according to Yle. 

Family visits will still be allowed under any new restrictions, the broadcaster reported. 

1:35 p.m. ET, September 22, 2022

China refuses to place blame on war in Ukraine and calls for "neutrality" in war crimes probe

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at the UN Security Council meeting on September 22.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks at the UN Security Council meeting on September 22. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke more vaguely than his counterparts at the United Nations Security Council Thursday, calling for “neutrality” from UN agencies and adding that any investigation into war crimes in Ukraine be “based on facts, not assumption of guilt.”

He laid out several proposals, calling for Russia and Ukraine to commit to "dialogue without preconditions," and for all parties to prevent attacks on civilians and civilian facilities (an accusation levied by Russia, as well as by Ukraine and the West).

Wang Yi also said that China supports the International Atomic Energy Agency amid concerns over nuclear posturing in the conflict and over the safety of the Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

“There is no room for trial and error” when it comes to nuclear issues, he said.

Some context: In recent months, China has offered Russia tacit support and stepped up economic assistance to its neighbor, boosting bilateral trade to a record high.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin conceded last week that Beijing had “questions and concerns” over the invasion, in what appeared to be a veiled admission of their diverging views on the military assault.