January 12, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 12:59 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023
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4:58 a.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Ukraine claims 100 Russian soldiers killed in strike near Soledar

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych, Yulia Kesaieva & Josh Pennington

Ukrainian officials have claimed that a strike on a Russian position near the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine has killed 100 enemy soldiers.

In a statement published Thursday, the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said it had detected a “concentration of the enemy,” and employed artillery and a Soviet-designed missile system to carry out the attack.

“As a result of these several strikes, the destruction of more than 100 occupiers, two machine gun crews and two mortar crews was confirmed,” Ukraine’s military stated, praising the work of its “Special Forces warriors, artillerymen and rocketeers.”

CNN cannot independently verify the claim, and Kyiv did not provide any evidence of such an attack.

In recent weeks Ukraine has claimed a number of attacks which it says have killed large numbers of Russian soldiers.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said around 500 Russian troops were either killed or wounded in a hit near Chulakivka, a town in Ukraine's southern Kherson region, on New Year's Eve. 

CNN cannot independently verify that Ukrainian claim and Moscow has not publicly commented on it.

However both Ukraine and Russia acknowledged a strike that took place just after midnight on New Year’s Day on a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defense reported 89 Russian servicemen were killed in the strike, whereas the Ukrainian military reported higher figures, initially claiming up to around 400 Russian soldiers were killed.

CNN cannot independently verify either side’s reported death toll, but that strike appears to be one of the deadliest episodes of the conflict for Moscow’s forces.

1:43 a.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Russian forces have committed "a litany of violations" in Ukraine, rights group says

From CNN's Jack Guy

A man pushes a bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Bucha in April 2022.
A man pushes a bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles in Bucha in April 2022. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Russian war crimes and human rights abuses during the war in Ukraine add up to a “litany of violations of international humanitarian law,” according to Human Rights Watch.

In the rights group’s annual report reviewing human rights standards in nearly 100 countries, it said that evidence of war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, are part of a pattern that “has been repeated countless times.”

HRW’s World Report 2023 also highlights the bombing of a theater in Mariupol, despite signs warning that children were sheltering there, as well as strikes on other non-military targets.

“Inflicting civilian suffering, such as the repeated strikes on the energy infrastructure that Ukrainians depend on for electricity, water, and heat, seems to be a central part of the Kremlin’s strategy,” reads the report.

Read more here.

1:40 a.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Satellite photos show destruction in Soledar and Bakhmut

As the fight for control of the eastern Ukrainian towns of Soledar and Bakhmut continues, new satellite images from Maxar Technologies show the extent of the destruction in the area.

Satellite image shows destroyed apartment buildings and homes in Soledar on January 3, 2022.
Satellite image shows destroyed apartment buildings and homes in Soledar on January 3, 2022. (Maxar Technologies)

Destroyed buildings in Soledar on January 3, 2022.
Destroyed buildings in Soledar on January 3, 2022. (Maxar Technologies)

A destroyed school in Soledar on January 3, 2022.
A destroyed school in Soledar on January 3, 2022. (Maxar Technologies)

Some background: Soledar, a salt mine town in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, has been the site of intense fighting in recent days and a target for Russian forces since last May. The head of Russia's private military company claimed Tuesday that his forces had taken control of the "entire territory of Soledar," but Kyiv officials deny the claim, insisting that the fight persists.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that Russia sees its attempted capture of Soledar as a propaganda tool with which to maintain domestic support for its war.

Should Russian troops indeed capture the town, it would mark Moscow's first gain in the Donbas for months —  potentially offering President Vladimir Putin some welcome news after a string of defeats on the battlefield since last summer.

7:47 p.m. ET, January 11, 2023

Analysis: Yet another military reshuffle in Russia, as chief of armed forces is handed the "poisoned chalice"

Analysis from CNN's Tim Lister

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced yet another realignment of the commanders leading the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, as criticism mounts over its handling of the stalled campaign.

It said that Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, would become the overall commander of the campaign, with the current commander, Sergey Surovikin, becoming one of his three deputies.

Surovikin was only appointed as the overall commander of the what the Kremlin euphemistically calls the “Special Military Operation” in October.

In terms of the bureaucratic hierarchy, the announcement is hardly an upheaval. Surovikin already reported to Gerasimov.

“Generals are moved, shuffled from the Front to the Headquarters. From Headquarters to the Front,” Russian television commentator Sergey Markov said Wednesday on Telegram.
“Surovikin is not punished and Gerasimov is not punished. It’s all one team. Well, of course with competition, which always happens among the top dogs.”

But the decision puts Gerasimov, who has been chief of the General Staff for more than a decade, closer to direct supervision of the campaign — and to responsibility for it. While Gerasimov was a key figure in planning the invasion, he appears to have been at arms’ length since, with just one reported visit to the command of the campaign inside Ukraine, though the Defense Ministry did not confirm that either.

Mark Galeotti, senior associate fellow with the Royal United Services Institute, said “it is a kind of demotion [for Gerasimov] or at least the most poisoned of chalices. It’s now on him, and I suspect Putin has unrealistic expectations again.”

Read the full analysis here.

8:00 p.m. ET, January 11, 2023

UK government discussing "accelerating" support for Ukraine, including provision of tanks

From CNN's Lauren Kent

The British government is working with partners to discuss how to go "further and faster" in supporting Ukraine, including the provision of tanks, according to the prime minister's spokesperson on Wednesday. 

When asked by lobby journalists if the United Kingdom would supply tanks to Ukraine, the prime minister's spokesperson said, “We are accelerating our support to Ukraine with the kind of next-generation military technology that will help them win this war." 

"It is clear that tanks could provide a game-changing capability to the Ukrainians and the prime minister told President Zelensky last week that we’ll provide whatever support we can," the spokesperson added. "The prime minister has asked the Defence Secretary to work with partners in the coming weeks to discuss how we can go further and faster on our support to Ukraine including the provision of tanks."

But, while it is "constantly looking at what equipment we can provide," that does not mean that any decisions have been made about providing Challenger 2 tanks right now, the spokesperson said.

7:59 p.m. ET, January 11, 2023

Ukrainian soldier in eastern town of Soledar tells CNN: "We're hanging in there"

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

A Ukrainian soldier in the contested eastern town of Soledar told CNN Wednesday evening that he and his comrades remained in the settlement, but the situation was “very difficult” and the next 24 hours or so would be critical.

“It is tough here, but we are more alive than anyone else,” the soldier, whom CNN is not identifying for security reasons, said via text message.

The head of Wagner, the Russian private military company, claimed Tuesday that his forces had taken control of the “entire territory of Soledar.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tempered that sentiment on Wednesday, saying only there was a “positive trend.” The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that its forces had “blocked Soledar from the northern and southern parts” of the settlement.

“Don't believe what they say,” the Ukrainian soldier told CNN. “We're hanging in there. Though practically on our own. Without commanders.”

He said that the next 24 hours would be “very difficult.”

“During these days everything will be determined for the city. Because we are being trapped, they want to encircle us," he said.

The soldier said that if the nearby Ukrainian units held their ground, his unit would be able to safely retreat. He said the Russians were jamming Ukrainian communications, making coordination extremely difficult.

“It is not clear who our neighbors are, but someone is there and fighting. We have no connection with them," the solider said.

3:10 a.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Why is Russia so keen to capture the town of Soledar?

From CNN's Rob Picheta, Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Smoke raises after shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on January 11.
Smoke raises after shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on January 11. (Libkos/AP)

Fighting is still raging in Soledar, a salt mine town in eastern Ukraine, despite Russian claims that it has gained control of the region.

Should Russian troops indeed capture the town, it would mark Moscow’s first gain in the Donbas for months — potentially offering President Vladimir Putin some welcome news after a string of defeats on the battlefield since last summer.

The significance of Soledar in military terms is minimal. However, its capture would allow Russian forces, and especially the Wagner mercenary group, to turn their focus on nearby Bakhmut, which has been a target since the summer.

Taking Soledar would also represent a symbolic PR win for the man who runs Wagner — oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has frequently criticized the Russian Defense Ministry’s management of the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

Read more about Soledar here.

7:57 p.m. ET, January 11, 2023

Russia appoints new head of so-called Ukraine "special military operation"

From CNN’s Mick Krever

Russia’s defense minister has appointed Gen. Valery Gerasimov as commander of the Joint Group of Forces leading the country's so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Gerasimov replaces Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who had been appointed to the role on Oct. 8, 2022, and was in charge of Russian forces during their retreat from large swaths of Ukraine’s Kherson region. Surovikin will now serve as a deputy commander, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.

“On 11 January 2023, Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu assigns new leadership of special military operation,” the ministry said Wednesday on its official Telegram channel

“Chief of General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov has been assigned the commander of the Joint Group of Forces,” it said.

“The deputy commanders are: the Commander-in-Chief of Aerospace Forces General of the Army Sergei Surovikin, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army General of the Army Oleg Salyukov, as well as the Deputy Chief of General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Colonel General Aleksey Kim,” it added.

The ministry said the changes were necessary because of “the amplified range of tasks, the necessity of closer cooperation between services and branches of the Armed Forces, as well as of improving the quality of all types of maintenance and efficiency of commanding the groups of forces.”