September 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Melissa Macaya and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 9:58 PM ET, Thu September 29, 2022
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8:58 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Russia will annex 4 occupied Ukrainian regions at ceremony on Friday, Putin spokesperson says 

From CNN's Anna Chernova

The Kremlin will host a ceremony on Friday at which agreements will be signed on the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson told reporters on Thursday.

Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony would take place on Friday at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET).

Putin will deliver a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the four occupied regions on the sidelines of the ceremony, he added.

Separatist leaders from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics all traveled to Moscow following the announcement of poll results.

The four territories, which together make up around 18% of Ukraine's territory, recently held Moscow-backed "referendums" on joining Russia. These have been widely condemned by Western leaders as a "sham."

Billboards proclaiming "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!" and giant video screens have been set up on Red Square, according to Reuters on Thursday.

Members of the lower house of the Russian parliament have also received invitations to Friday’s ceremony at the Kremlin, state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing a post by Denis Parfyonov, a Communist Party deputy, on his Telegram channel.

A man casts his ballot during a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 27.
A man casts his ballot during a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 27. (AP)

Some context: "Votes" for referendums on joining Russia, held in the four occupied areas from Friday to Tuesday, are contrary to international law and have been universally dismissed as "a sham" by Ukraine and Western nations, including US President Joe Biden.

Counts cited in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia ranged from 87.05% approval to claims of nearly universal verdicts, yet such figures stand in stark contrast to reality. According to a CNN poll of Ukrainians in February, just before Russia’s invasion, no region in the country had more than one in five people supporting Ukrainian unification with Russia.

CNN’s Jo Shelley contributed reporting to this post.

8:17 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Finland will close borders to Russian tourists amid record crossings since partial mobilization order

From Jorge Engels and Allegra Goodwin

People entering Finland queue at the passport control area at the border checkpoint crossing in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with the Russian Federation on September 29.
People entering Finland queue at the passport control area at the border checkpoint crossing in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with the Russian Federation on September 29. (Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland will close its borders to Russian tourists from Friday midnight local time (5 p.m. ET) until further notice amid a record number of Russians crossing into the country following Moscow's partial mobilization order, the government confirmed Thursday.

On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate "partial mobilization" of citizens for its war in Ukraine.

Since then, there has been an exodus of citizens fleeing the country and thousands of Russians have entered neighboring Finland.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the mobilization declared by Russia have changed the security situation in Europe," Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
"The Government deems that the Russian mobilization and the rapidly increasing volume of tourists arriving in Finland and transiting via Finland endanger Finland’s international position and international relations."

"The resolution aims to stop tourism and related transit from Russia altogether. It will drastically limit the capacity to receive visa applications in Russia," the ministry added.

"The resolution will not prevent travelling when it is deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons, for national interests or for meeting Finland’s international obligations."

Some context: The announcement comes after Helsinki announced Wednesday it would "significantly" restrict the right of Russian tourists to enter the country or as transit when travelling to other parts of the Schengen area.

Finland’s border guard also said Wednesday that more than 50,000 Russians have entered Finland via the land border since September 21.

Last weekend also saw a record number of Russians entering Finland via its land border, with 16,886 Russians arriving in total over Saturday and Sunday, according to the border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty.

10:23 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Nord Stream pipeline damage likely caused by "deliberate" acts of sabotage, says North Atlantic Council

From CNN's Eve Brennan

Information gathered on the damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea suggest "the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage," the North Atlantic Council said Thursday.

Damage to the pipelines is of "deep concern," the council said in a statement.

"These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage," the statement said.
"We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response," it added.

More context: Earlier Thursday, Germany's ambassador to the UK said there was a "very strong indication" the pipeline leaks were acts of sabotage. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also labelled the leaks "apparent sabotage" in a tweet Tuesday.

European security officials observed Russian navy ships in the vicinity of leaks on Monday and Tuesday, according to Western intelligence officials and one other source. Senior Western officials have stopped short of attributing the attack to Russia or any nation.

What the Kremlin is saying: A Russian government spokesperson said Thursday that the leaks may have been the result of a "terrorist attack."

"The unprecedented nature of this event, it seems that this is a terrorist attack, possibly at the state level," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a daily call with journalists. 

Asked about CNN's report on Russian submarines seen in the area of the Nord Stream disruptions, Peskov said: “This is the Baltic sea. There were far more aircraft, floating and other marine vehicles that belong to NATO countries seen there."

CNN's Anna Chernova, Allegra Goodwin and Radina Gigova contributed reporting to this post.

2:13 p.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Fourth leak in Nord Stream confirmed by Swedish coast guard

From CNN's Jorge Engels

A gas leak causes bubbles to rise to the surface of the sea in Sweden, on Thursday.
A gas leak causes bubbles to rise to the surface of the sea in Sweden, on Thursday. (Swedish Coast Guard/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A fourth leak in the Nord Stream pipelines was confirmed by Sweden's coast guard on Thursday.

"There are currently two gas leaks in Swedish waters, a larger leak above North Stream 1, and a smaller leak above North Stream 2. Two leaks have also been reported in Danish waters," Sweden’s coast guard said in a statement.

The coast guard added that one of its vessels near the pair of leaks in its home seas was reporting a "constant flow" of gas to the surface.

The confirmation comes after Germany's ambassador to the UK, Miguel Berger, said earlier Thursday that a fourth leak had been discovered.

The leaks in Swedish waters are approximately 1.8 kilometers (1 nautical mile or 1.1 miles) apart, with the distance from the smaller Swedish leak to the closest Danish leak being 4.6 kilometers (2.6 nautical miles), the coast guard said.

The statement concluded by specifying that the coast guard’s vessel is in possession of a remotely operated vehicle but not a submarine, which the Swedish Coast Guard said it neither owns nor operates.

3:40 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Pro-Russian separatist leaders involved in illegal referendums across Ukraine arrive in Moscow 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Separatist leaders from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics visit Moscow, Russia, on September 29.
Separatist leaders from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics visit Moscow, Russia, on September 29. (Kirill Stremousov)

Some of the separatist leaders involved in carrying out sham referendums to secede from Ukraine and join Russia landed in Moscow Thursday, according to a photograph posted by Kirill Stremousov, the Russia-appointed deputy head of the Kherson regional military administration. 

The votes – which are illegal under international law – were carried out in the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.  

“The historic plane with the leaders of the liberated territories landed in Moscow. We will become new subjects of the Russian Federation very soon,” the statement read, alongside a photograph of Stremousov with Denis Pushilin, Yevgeniy Balitskiy and Vladimir Saldo, some of the other Russian-backed officials involved in the so-called “referendums.”

The votes mirror the playbook used during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, sparking fears they could become a false pretext for the Kremlin to illegally claim more territory in Ukraine and escalate its war effort. 

Some context: On Wednesday, with all “votes” counted, Kremlin-backed authorities in the four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine predictably claimed that residents had overwhelmingly agreed to become part of Russia.

The UK Ministry of Defense has said that “there is a realistic possibility” that Putin will use his address to Russia’s parliament on Friday to “formally announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov previously indicated that if the regions announced majorities in favor of joining Russia, the ratification process would be fast and they could become part of the Russian Federation “quite soon.” 

Asked if that would mean any attempt by Ukraine to regain the territories would be regarded as an attack on Russian territory, Peskov said: “Of course.”

8:26 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Fourth leak in Nord Stream found, "strong indication" of sabotage: Germany’s ambassador to UK

From Jorge Engels

Unused pipes for the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline are stored on the site of the Port of Mukran, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, on September 27.
Unused pipes for the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline are stored on the site of the Port of Mukran, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, on September 27. (Stefan Sauer/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany’s ambassador to the United Kingdom on Thursday said a fourth leak had been discovered in the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany and that there was a “very strong indication” these were acts of sabotage.

“It didn’t happen just like that. We think that there is a very, very strong indication these were acts of sabotage,” Miguel Berger, Germany’s ambassador to the UK, told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday.

“We have two gas leakages in Danish and two in Swedish economic exclusive zones,” Berger added.

CNN has reached out to Sweden’s coast guard but did not immediately receive a reply.

Berger said Sweden and Denmark would lead the investigation into the leaks but that results were likely to take up to 10 days because gas is still escaping from the pipelines.

Currently, it’s too dangerous to investigate,” Berger said.

Berger said that in Germany’s view, “everything indicated” the leaks were not the product of natural causes and that a non-state actor could not have caused this damage.

He did not blame Russia for the leaks but said it was too early to rule anything out.

Some context: Swedish authorities sounded the alarm on Tuesday about 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.

Neither pipeline was in operation at the time the leaks were found, but both still contained gas under pressure.

2:31 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

One child and at least two others dead, five injured in Russian missile strikes on Dnipro: Ukrainian official

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych

At least three people died – including a child – in missile strikes on the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine early Thursday, according to the head of the regional military administration Valentyn Reznichenko. 

“The Russians hit Dnipro with missiles at night. They hit residential areas. As of now, it’s known three are dead, including one child... Five more people are injured, including a 12-year-old girl. The rescuers got her out of the destroyed house, where she was sleeping when a Russian missile hit,” Reznichenko said. 

The strikes damaged “60 houses and several high-rise buildings,” leaving a handful of residences “completely destroyed,” he added. 

CNN cannot independently verify the claims. 

8:26 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

European security officials observed Russian Navy ships near Nord Stream pipelines leaks

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis, Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand

A large disturbance in the sea observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm on September 27.
A large disturbance in the sea observed off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm on September 27. (Danish Defence Command/AP)

European security officials on Monday and Tuesday observed Russian Navy ships in the vicinity of leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines likely caused by underwater explosions, according to Western intelligence officials and one other source.

It's unclear whether the ships had anything to do with those explosions, these sources and others said -- but it's one of the many factors that investigators will be looking into.

Russian submarines were also observed not far from those areas last week, one of the intelligence officials said.

Three US officials said that the United States has no thorough explanation yet for what happened, days after the explosions that caused three separate and simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines on Monday.

Russian ships routinely operate in the area, according to one Danish military official, who emphasized that the presence of the ships doesn't necessarily indicate that Russia caused the damage.

"We see them every week," this person said. "Russian activities in the Baltic Sea have increased in recent years. They're quite often testing our awareness – both at sea and in the air."

But the sightings still cast further suspicion on Russia, which has drawn the most attention from both European and US officials as the only actor in the region believed to have both the capability and motivation to deliberately damage the pipelines.

US officials declined to comment on the intelligence about the ships on Wednesday.

The prime ministers of both Denmark and Sweden said on Tuesday that the leaks were likely the result of deliberate actions, not accidents, and Sweden's security service said in a statement Wednesday that it cannot be ruled out "that a foreign power is behind it."

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday evening also called the leaks "apparent sabotage" in a tweet.

But senior Western officials have so far stopped short of attributing the attack to Russia or any other nation.

The Kremlin has publicly denied striking the pipelines. A spokesman called the allegation "predictably stupid and absurd."

CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment on the presence of the ships.

Read the full report.

CNN's Oren Liebermann and Alex Marquardt contributed reporting.

8:27 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Russia is the leading suspect in Nord Stream leaks investigation, US officials say

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis, Kylie Atwood and Natasha Bertrand

Denmark and Sweden are investigating the leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines, but a site inspection has yet to be done and details on exactly what caused the explosions remain sketchy.

One European official said that there is a Danish government assessment underway and it could take up to two weeks for an investigation to properly begin because the pressure in the pipes makes it difficult to approach the site of the leaks. However, another source said the probe could begin as soon as Sunday.

The Danish government is taking the lead on the investigation and has put in place an exclusion area of five nautical miles and a one kilometer no-fly-zone, according to European sources familiar with the matter.

US officials have been far more circumspect than their European counterparts in drawing conclusions about the leaks.

But a senior US official and a US military official both said Russia is still the leading suspect – assuming that the European assessment of deliberate sabotage is borne out – because there are no other plausible suspects with the ability and will to carry out the operation. 

It’s hard to imagine any other actor in the region with the capabilities and interest to carry out such an operation,” one Danish military official said. 

Russia has requested a UN Security Council meeting on the damaged pipeline this week – something the senior US official said is also suspicious. Typically, the official said, Russia isn’t organized enough to move so quickly, suggesting that the maneuver was pre-planned.

If Russia did deliberately cause the explosions, it would be effectively sabotaging its own pipelines: Russian state company Gazprom is the majority shareholder in Nord Stream 1 and the sole owner of Nord Stream 2.

But officials familiar with the latest intelligence say that Moscow would likely view such a step as worth the price if it helped raise the costs of supporting Ukraine for Europe.

US and Western intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is gambling that as electricity costs rise and winter approaches, European publics could turn against the Western strategy of isolating Russia economically.

Sabotaging the pipelines could “show what Russia is capable of,” one US official said.

CNN's Oren Liebermann and Alex Marquardt contributed reporting.