January 12, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

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

Updated 8:35 a.m. ET, April 13, 2023
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5:10 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Russian oligarchs used investment visa plan to settle in the UK, British government says

From CNN’s Gayle Harrington

A British visa plan to attract investment was used by 10 Russian oligarchs placed under sanctions to get residency, according to a review from the UK Home Office on Thursday. 

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said a small minority who had used the visa route "were potentially at high risk of having obtained wealth through corruption or other illicit financial activity, and /or being engaged in serious and organized crime."

Braverman said the 10 Russian oligarchs who used the visa scheme were sanctioned after the invasion of Ukraine.

The secretary made the disclosure in a statement Thursday at the end of a long-awaited review into the so-called “golden visa” scheme for high-net-worth individuals.

She also said that "the UK's openness to global business carries risks that malign actors will take advantage of our systems to pursue corrupt and criminal ends. We must ensure that kleptocracies such as Russia are not able to act with impunity overseas."

Braverman said that since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, the UK has placed sanctions on 1,200 individuals and 120 entities linked to the Russian state and frozen $22 billion in Russian assets.

Some background: The Tier 1 Investor visa route, often referred to as "the golden visa," was introduced in 2008 to encourage wealthy people outside the European Union to invest in the UK. It was shut down last year.

A review of the visa scheme was commissioned in 2018 by the then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd following the Salisbury poisonings. The nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter resulted in the death of a woman.

In response to the review, Braverman said that "the Government is clear that any future visa route to facilitate investment-based migration must not offer entry solely on the basis of the applicant's personal wealth."

4:21 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Zelensky thanks soldiers stationed in the embattled town of Soledar as Russian assault continues

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during the tripartite meeting on January 11, in Lviv, Ukraine. 
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during the tripartite meeting on January 11, in Lviv, Ukraine.  (Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his daily address thanked the Ukrainian soldiers defending the eastern town of Soledar from a Russian assault.

“Especially today I would like to highlight the paratroopers of the 77th separate airmobile brigade, who along with the fighters of the 46th separate airmobile brigade in Soledar hold their positions and inflict significant losses on the enemy,” Zelensky said. “I thank you, guys!”

The Ukrainian military unit stationed in Soledar said Thursday that the situation in the contested eastern town is “critical."

“The situation is critical. News coming soon,” the 46th Airmobile Brigade said on Telegram.

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

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.

CNN's Rob Picheta, Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych contributed to this post.

3:29 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

New head of Ukraine invasion reflects "systematic challenges" for Russia, Pentagon says

From CNN's Michael Conte and Oren Liebermann

Russia’s appointment of a new head of the invasion operation of Ukraine likely reflects "systemic challenges" for Russia, according to a US Defense Department spokesperson

The announcement of General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, as overall commander of the campaign shows “some of the systemic challenges that the Russian military has faced since the beginning of this invasion,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing.

“We’ve talked about some of those things in terms of its logistics problems, command and control problems, sustainment problems, morale and the largely, large failure to obtain the strategic objectives that they’ve set for themselves,” Ryder said.

Ryder said the department will “continue to monitor” such Russian personnel shifts.

“I think that the world would rather see Russia focus on withdrawing from Ukraine and saving innocent lives versus spending time on numerous management reshuffles, and Russian soldiers and their families would probably like to see that too,” Ryder said.

3:29 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Wagner contests claim that Russian military was involved in Soledar assault

From CNN’s Mick Krever

Wagner, the Russian private military company, posted a video on Telegram Thursday directly disparaging the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim that regular Russian military forces have participated in the assault on Soledar

A day after Russia’s Defense Ministry reshuffled the command of its so-called "special military operation," Wagner’s post doubles down on the assertion by boss Yevgeny Prigozhin that his forces alone are responsible for the Soledar operation.

The video shows two men, faces obscured, wearing fatigues and standing in what looks to be an underground bunker, illuminated by flashlight.

“We are officers of the Airborne Forces, we declare that the Airborne Forces did not take part in the assault on the city of Soledar,” one man says. “The assault on the city of Soledar was carried out only by the forces of PMC Wagner. We were not even sent in that direction.”

Some context: CNN is unable to verify the men’s identity or the veracity of their statement, but the fact that Wagner posted it at all is significant. Which Russian forces are responsible for the assault in eastern Ukraine has become a key point of contention in the machinations of Russia’s power structure.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday that regular Russian forces were operating in and around Soledar, without mentioning Wagner.

Prigozhin, in a statement published on a Wagner Telegram channel Monday, called any claim that non-Wagner forces participated in the Soledar assault “fake information.”

In a visit to his forces near Bakhmut over New Year’s Eve, Prigozhin directly castigated Kremlin bureaucrats.

“Once we conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will conquer the Ukrainians and NATO, and then the whole world," Prigozhin told his fighters in a video posted to Telegram.

Some pro-Kremlin Russian military bloggers have speculated that the Russian Defense Ministry’s announcement of Valery Gerasimov as its new commander was motivated in part by Wagner’s success.

On the ground in Soledar: The Ukrainian military insisted Thursday that the town is still contested, and that its forces were even “conducting counterattacks” in the settlement.

A video posted to Telegram Thursday evening shows forces from Wagner in the town.

The video has been geolocated by CNN to the northern edge of the town, towards Russian-controlled territory.

"The situation in Soledar is still not easy,” a Wagner fighter says in the video. "The enemy does not reveal themselves because of the artillery fire, but it's obvious that we've decimated them.”

CNN's Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.

3:19 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Ukrainian soldier in Soledar describes dire situation: "We are just abandoned"

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

A Ukrainian soldier in the contested eastern town of Soledar described a dire situation to CNN on Thursday evening, saying “we are just abandoned.”

CNN is not identifying the soldier for security reasons.

“We tried to withdraw ourselves, but the Orcs [Russians] are already there. If there is no order to withdraw today, we will most likely not have time to leave,” he told CNN over the phone. “We were told that we would be withdrawn. And now we аre just abandoned.”

He said that the soldiers had run out of food, were running low on water, and that they had wounded soldiers. He said that they still had some ammunition.

“The last evacuation was three days ago,” he said. “The order was to hold out to the very end. Judging by the sounds of the battle, our neighbors [other units] either withdrew or were ordered to withdraw. We were told to hold out.”

“We hold on as long as we can. But anyone can get tired and hit the limit eventually. It is impossible to hold on just on a high morale for so long.”

Wagner, the Russian private military company, has claimed to have captured all of Soledar. A video posted to Telegram Thursday and geolocated by CNN shows Wagner forces on the northern edge of the town.

Ukraine’s 46th Airmobile Brigade claimed Thursday that it was “conducting counterattacks” in the town.

“After several days of pulling back, we've even made a small advance,” the unit said on Telegram. “The railway station is ours. The mine is ours. We are waiting for support. Soledar is Ukraine.”

8:35 a.m. ET, April 13, 2023

Ukraine's deputy defense minister says Russia is stepping up "illegal integration" of occupied territory

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

A Ukrainian official said Thursday that Russia is stepping up its “illegal integration” of occupied territory into Russia.

“They began to replace driver's licenses with Russian ones and issue Russian license plates with a numeric indication of the Russian region,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram. “The occupiers announced that it will be prohibited to operate vehicles, including personal ones, without meeting these conditions, and in case of violation they can be seized.”

Maliar also claimed that Russian forces were forcibly evicting locals from homes in order to house military forces.

2:35 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Spain receives 225 Ukrainian troops for basic training and HAWK air defense training

From CNN's Al Goodman

Spain will receive 225 Ukrainian troops late on Thursday at an air force base near Madrid, including 20 who will get training on HAWK air defense systems to counter air attacks, Spain's Defense Ministry said in a statement. Spain is sending six of the HAWK air defense units to Ukraine. 

Most of the remaining troops, who are Ukrainian civilians without prior military experience, will get basic training, the defense ministry said. That will include training on treating people wounded in combat and on procedures against IEDs.

The training in Toledo, an hour south of Madrid, is a program designed to handle 400 Ukrainian troops rotating through every two months and is part of the European Union's military assistance mission for Ukraine, the ministry said.

It is the second group of Ukrainian troops to come to Spain for training after 64 troops came in November and December, the statement added.

Spain's Defense Minister will receive the 225 Ukrainian troops at Torrejón Air Base, according to the ministry. 

Other allies' actions: Polish President Andrzej Duda announced a plan to send Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Lviv on Wednesday. 

And Ukrainian troops are set to begin training on the Patriot missile system in the United States as soon as next week, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.

11:50 a.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Ukrainian military says it is conducting counterattacks in Soledar

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that it was conducting counterattacks in Soledar, the eastern town that has been the subject of intense Russian bombardment.

“After several days of pulling back, we've even made a small advance,” Ukraine's 46th Airmobile Brigade said on Telegram. “The railway station is ours. The mine is ours. We are waiting for support. Soledar is Ukraine.”

Russia is trying to surround nearby Bakhmut using both Wagner private contractors and regular military personnel, Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said on Telegram.

“Our soldiers bravely hold their positions and inflict numerous losses on the enemy,” she said.

Why Soledar is important to Russia: The town of Soledar, located in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, has been a target for Russian forces since last May.

With a pre-war population of about 10,000, it has little strategic value in itself, but is a waypoint in the Russians’ attritional slog westward. Moscow has struggled for months to attack Bakhmut from the east. Were it to capture Soledar, Russian forces would at least be able to approach the city from a different path.