September 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Hannah Strange and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 10:35 PM ET, Wed September 28, 2022
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6:02 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Zelensky accuses Putin of planning to annex occupied Ukrainian regions and force residents into military

From CNN’s Jo Shelley in London 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky makes a speech via video link to students at Harvard University.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky makes a speech via video link to students at Harvard University. (President of Ukraine)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Moscow plans to annex four occupied regions in Ukraine and will force people to join the Russian military, saying “either you are killed, or you kill.”

The ballots held in the occupied parts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are illegal under international law and have been widely condemned by Western countries as “sham” referendums.

Zelensky claimed the Kremlin planned to “force” people living in the occupied areas to fight in the Russian military. “The goal (of annexation) is obvious -- the occupier wants to take the residents of the occupied territory into the army,” he said during a speech made via video link to students at Harvard University on Tuesday.

"Either you are killed, or you kill -- Russia wants to force hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians in the occupied lands to make such a choice." he added.

Any attempt to annex Ukrainian territory “will mean that there is nothing to talk about with this President of Russia,” Zelensky said in another speech to the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

 

8:14 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

NATO chief calls Nord Stream leaks acts of "sabotage"

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

The Nord Stream pipelines leaks are acts of "sabotage," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting with Danish Defense Minister Morten Bodskov in Brussels.

"Discussed the sabotage on the #NorthStream pipelines with Defence Minister Morten Bodskov of our valued Ally Denmark. We addressed the protection of critical infrastructure in #NATO countries," Stoltenberg said on his verified Twitter account.

Stoltenberg’s comments came after Swedish authorities warned of multiple leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines -- both of which run under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, and have been major flashpoints in the energy war between Europe and Russia.

There is reason to be concerned about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region, following the unexplained leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines, Bodskov said after the meeting on Wednesday.

"Russia has a significant military presence in the Baltic Sea region and we expect them to continue their sabre-rattling," Bodskov said, his press office told CNN.

The two discussed what Stoltenberg called “sabotage” on the Nord Stream pipelines and "addressed the protection of critical infrastructure in NATO countries," Stoltenberg tweeted.

The Danish Defense Ministry said that a total of three leakages -- which European leaders say cannot be ruled out as sabotage -- have been discovered on the gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, respectively northeast and southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm.

There are two leakages from Nord Stream 1 and one leakage from Nord Stream 2, the press office told CNN.

The Danish Maritime Authority has issued a navigation warning and established a prohibited area to ensure that vessels do not enter the zones near the leakages.

Vessels can lose buoyant force if they enter the area and there can be an ignition hazard above the water and in the air, the press office said.

A prohibited area has subsequently been created with a radius of 5 nautical miles for ships and a prohibited area of 1 kilometer for aircrafts.

"It is too early to make any conclusions on the causes of the incidents. But at the same time it is hard to imagine this to be pure coincidence. At this point we can’t rule out that this is a deliberate action," Bodskov said.”

"Obviously, this is a very serious matter. That is why we are now taking the precautions that we do, and increasing our presence in the area around Bornholm. Our authorities are doing everything they can to clarify the cause, in close cooperation with our partners," he added.

It might take a week or two before the areas around damaged Nord Stream leaks are calm enough to be investigated, Bodskov’s office confirmed to CNN.

Numerous other global leaders have cited concerns over the cause of the leaks, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen referring to the pipeline leaks as "sabotage action" in a tweet on Tuesday.

Finland Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said the damage caused to the pipelines is “very concerning,” while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that if the leaks were the result of an attack, “that’s clearly in no one’s interest.”

8:14 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Nord Stream gas leaks pose "no health risk" to nearby island of Bornholm, says Danish emergency management agency

 From CNN’s Arnaud Siad and Allegra Goodwin

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a large disturbance in the sea off the Danish island of Bornholm, on September 26.
This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a large disturbance in the sea off the Danish island of Bornholm, on September 26. (Planet Labs PBC/AP)

The leaks from the Nord Stream gas pipelines near the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic sea pose “no health risk,” according to Denmark’s Energy Management Agency.

"The prognoses show that the concentration of gas that could potentially reach Bornholm are very small and far below the threshold to pose any health risk,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The agency assessed “no risk outside the safety zones established at sea,” the statement added.

In addition to running prognoses, the agency said it had sent specialized equipment and crew to Bornholm to measure concentrations in the air.

“The crew has been working since Tuesday morning and the measurements confirm that there is no health risk,” the statement said.

Some context: Earlier this week, European countries raced to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The incident has scuppered expectations that Europe could receive gas via Nord Stream 1 before the winter, as gas prices soar and countries search for alternative energy supplies.

Russia ceased all gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 in August, condemning Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties -- which European politicians say is a ploy to stop dispensing gas.

The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline had not yet entered commercial operation, and Germany abandoned the plan to use it to supply gas just days before Moscow launched its invasion in February.

CNN's Jessie Yeung and Chris Liakos contributed reporting to this post.

8:15 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Authorities in occupied Ukraine regions declare huge majorities in favor of joining Russia after "sham" referendums

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London

Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin, left, and Secretary of the United Russia Party's General Council Andrey Turchak attend a news conference on preliminary results of a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 27.
Head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin, left, and Secretary of the United Russia Party's General Council Andrey Turchak attend a news conference on preliminary results of a referendum on the joining of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 27. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Authorities in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine that held so-called referendums say that all votes have now been counted and each saw a huge majority in favor of joining Russia.

The head of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, said on his Telegram channel that 99.23% of votes cast were for "joining the Donetsk People's Republic to the Russian Federation.”

Elena Kravchenko, the head of the election commission of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), said 98.42% of voters cast their ballots in favor of the motion.

As CNN previously reported, in Kherson, the Telegram channel of the pro-Russian administration said that with all votes counted, 87.05% were in favor of joining Russia.

In Zaporizhzhia, the head of the election commission said the final tally was 93.11% in favor.

The referendums -- announced at short notice by pro-Russian authorities in the four regions -- were widely condemned by Western governments as a sham and against international law. They were not observed by independent monitors.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the referendum process was a “sham” that showed Russia’s “contempt for all those who have been calling for diplomacy”.

Ukrainian officials say that turnout has been extremely low and claimed that people had been bussed in from Crimea to vote.  

 

8:15 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Facebook removes "two covert influence operations from China and Russia" on war in Ukraine 

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

Two covert “influence operations from China and Russia” spreading political narratives about the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine were removed from Facebook for violating the platform’s policy on “inauthentic behavior,” Meta said Tuesday.  

The Russian network was the “largest of its kind we’ve disrupted since the war in Ukraine began,” Meta said, targeting audiences in Germany, France, Italy and Ukraine with “narratives focused on the war and its impact through a sprawling network of over 60 websites impersonating legitimate news organizations.” 

Narratives pushed by the Russian network centered on the war in Ukraine, parroting Kremlin talking points about the impact of sanctions, and spreading stories critical of Ukrainian refugees. 

The sprawling network -- which began in May of this year -- comprised over 60 websites which carefully impersonated news organizations across Europe, including The Guardian, Bild and Der Spiegel. The disinformation effort revolved around fake news articles, original memes and YouTube videos which were shared across Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, Change.org, Avaaz, and LiveJournal, according to Meta. 

The content was shared in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian, and in some cases amplified by the Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia. 

“This is the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It presented an unusual combination of sophistication and brute force,” Meta said. 

The network that originated in China was smaller in its scope and targeted people in the United States, Czech Republic and to a lesser extent Chinese and French speaking audiences globally in four “largely separate and short-lived efforts” between 2021 and mid-September 2022.  

In the US the operation focused on “domestic politics ahead of the midterm elections," while in the Czech Republic the narratives concerned the country's “foreign policy toward China and Ukraine,” Meta said. 

8:15 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

EU vows to increase energy security after "deliberate" Nord Stream interference 

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite

Gas bubbles from the Nord Stream 2 leak reach the surface of the Baltic Sea near Bornholm, Denmark, on September 27.
Gas bubbles from the Nord Stream 2 leak reach the surface of the Baltic Sea near Bornholm, Denmark, on September 27. (Danish Defence Command/Reuters)

The European Union is “deeply concerned” about damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that has resulted in leaks in the international waters of the Baltic Sea, calling it a “deliberate act.”

"All available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act," the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday, while promising to increase energy security efforts. 

The bloc "will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security," he said. 

8:15 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

EU foreign policy chief denounces "illegal" referendums in Russian-occupied Ukraine

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin 

Press briefing by Josep Borrell, on the situation in Ukraine at UN Headquarters, New York, on September 21.
Press briefing by Josep Borrell, on the situation in Ukraine at UN Headquarters, New York, on September 21. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The European Union “denounces” the holding of illegal referendums by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday.

The referendums – condemned by Western countries as a sham – have seen four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine vote on whether to join Russia via polls which are contrary to international law. 

“The EU denounces holding of illegal “referenda” and their falsified outcome,” Borrell said in a tweet, adding, “This is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights.”

“We commend the courage of Ukrainians, who continue to oppose and resist Russian invasion,” he added. 

2:52 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Ukrainian military claims untrained Russian soldiers arriving in combat areas following mobilization effort 

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych and Hannah Ritchie

Untrained Russian forces are arriving in combat zones across Ukraine following the Kremlin’s mobilization effort, the Ukrainian military claimed Wednesday in its daily situational update. 

“In the Russian occupation forces, the recruitment of personnel called up for partial mobilization has begun. Thus, reinforcements arrived for the units of the 1st tank regiment of the 2nd motor rifle division of the 1st tank army, which are deployed to the combat zone. They were not trained at all,” the statement said, adding that persons “convicted of criminal offenses” were also joining the fighting. 

CNN is unable to verify the Ukrainian Armed Forces claims.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens, in an effort to bolster the Kremlin’s faltering invasion, following Ukraine’s gains in its ongoing counteroffensive. 

Experts have previously expressed concerns about the state of Russian forces in Ukraine and their ability to get new recruits sufficiently trained.

3:53 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

European leaders express concerns of sabotage over Nord Stream pipeline leaks

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, left, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, center and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist speak with the media about the Nord Stream gas leak in the Baltic Sea on September 27.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, left, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, center and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist speak with the media about the Nord Stream gas leak in the Baltic Sea on September 27. (Fredrik Persson/TT News Agency/Reuters)

Several European leaders have suggested three leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines near the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea were caused deliberately.

On Tuesday the Danish Prime Minister said she sees the leaks as “deliberate actions.” 

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson also said Tuesday that the incident is “likely a deliberate action.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen referred to the pipeline leaks as "sabotage action" in a tweet Tuesday. She added that, “Any deliberate disruption of active European energy infrastructure is unacceptable and will lead to the strongest possible response."

Finland Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Tuesday that the damage caused to the pipelines is "very concerning," following a call with his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde.

"There should be a full investigation into the incident. Sabotage to the pipelines cannot be excluded. (This poses) serious risks for the environment and shipping," he added.

Even Russia, which built the network, said the possibility of sabotage could not be ruled out.

Nord Stream AG, the operator of the pipelines, in safety documents published before any news emerged of the leaks, had said that the probability of a pipeline failure or leakage is “as low as one damage event every 100,000 years”.