January 13, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Kathryn Snowdon and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 8:59 p.m. ET, January 13, 2023
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5:17 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

France aiming to deliver light tanks to Ukraine within two months

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne, Marguerite Lacroix and Allegra Goodwin

French soldiers on an AMX 10 RC at the training military camp of Sissonne, during a training session, on November 29, 2012.
French soldiers on an AMX 10 RC at the training military camp of Sissonne, during a training session, on November 29, 2012. (Gouhier Nicolas/ABACA/Shutterstock)

France is aiming to deliver AMX 10-RC tanks to Ukraine within two months, French armed forces minister Sébastien Lecornu said in a statement Friday. 

It comes after French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed France would send the light-combat tanks in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on January 4.

Lecornu “reaffirmed France's unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov on Thursday, according to the statement. 

The ministers “also agreed on the rapid organization of training for Ukrainian soldiers” on the use of the French-made tanks, the statement said. 

Poland has also promised to deliver Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, although typically any shipment would require approval from Germany as the tanks are manufactured in the country.

A delivery of either Leopard or AMX 10-RC tanks will mark the first time Western-designed tanks will be provided to Ukrainian forces. 

4:28 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

Wagner disparages Russian defense ministry claim of involvement in Soledar assault

From CNN’s Mick Krever, Uliana Pavlova and Josh Pennington

Wagner, the Russian private military company, posted a video on Telegram Thursday evening 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 doubled down on the assertion by boss Yevgeny Prigozhin that his forces alone are responsible for the Soledar operation, directly contradicting the ministry.

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."

CNN is unable to verify the men’s identity or the veracity of their statement, but it is significant that Wagner posted it at all as competing claims over 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.

Some context: On Wednesday Russia’s defense ministry said that regular Russian forces were operating in and around Soledar, without mentioning Wagner.

"Airborne Troops have blocked Soledar from the northern and southern parts of the city," the ministry said on its official Telegram channel. "The Russian Aerospace Forces strike at enemy strongholds. Assault squads are fighting in the city."

But Prigozhin called any claim that non-Wagner Russian forces have participated in the Soledar assault "fake information."

"I would like to emphasize that Soledar was taken exclusively by Wagner PMC units," he said in a statement published on a Wagner Telegram channel on Monday.

The Ukrainian military insisted Thursday that the town is still contested, and that its forces were even "conducting counterattacks" in the settlement.

Some pro-Kremlin Russian military bloggers have speculated that the Russian defense ministry’s announcement Wednesday of Valery Gerasimov as the commander of its "special military operation" was motivated in part by Wagner’s success.

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

"This year we will win! But first we will conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption," Prigozhin told his fighters in a video posted to Telegram.

"Once we conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will conquer the Ukrainians and NATO, and then the whole world."

"The problem now is that the bureaucrats and those engaging in corruption won’t listen to us because for New Year’s they are all drinking champagne."

4:21 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

"It is taking too long": Putin berates industry and trade minister on delivering aircrafts

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov touches the R-2200 helicopter drone while visiting the Aeronet 2035 Drone Exhibition on November 17, in Moscow, Russia.
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov touches the R-2200 helicopter drone while visiting the Aeronet 2035 Drone Exhibition on November 17, in Moscow, Russia. (Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday publicly berated his industry and trade minister for acting too slowly in completing orders for military and civilian aircraft.

"It is taking too long! Much too long," Putin said a virtual meeting with ministers – his first of the year. "Do we not understand the circumstances we are in?"

Putin reprimanded industry and trade minister Denis Manturov for the lack of military and civilian aircraft contracts in 2023, and urged to speed up the process for companies to fulfil the orders.

Putin also demanded that the contracts should be completed within a month.

Manturov pushed back: "Actually, the defense ministry has confirmed this year’s figures for all enterprises. Moreover, as I have reported to you, Russian Helicopters enterprises have taken loans – we are primarily talking about helicopters – in order to sign contracts with their Tier Two, Three and Four suppliers. Therefore, we have all the plans drawn up for the current as well as the next year."

It is taking too long," Putin reiterated. “Please, I ask you to speed up this process."

After another exchange with Manturov, Putin said: "You say everything is ready to go, but there are no contracts. This is what I am telling you. Let's discuss this after the meeting. There is no point in our splitting hairs at this point. I know no contracts have been signed with the enterprises, the directors told me so. What are you fooling around for?"

Manturov replied with: "We will try to do our best."

2:46 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

"Hot" night in Soledar as Russia intensifies offensive, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Denis Lapin

Fighting raged overnight in the contested town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, a senior Kyiv official said.

Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hana Maliar said on Telegram that “the night in Soledar was hot, fighting continued.”

Russian forces have thrown “almost all main forces to the Donetsk direction and maintains high intensity of the offensive," she added, referring to the eastern city.

Maliar also noted this was “a difficult state of the war” but Ukrainian troops were “bravely trying to hold the line” despite Russian claims that it has gained control of the region.

2:43 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

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

From CNN’s Gayle Harrington

UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks at the House of Commons in December, 2022.
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman speaks at the House of Commons in December, 2022. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters/FILE)

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 "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."

1:24 a.m. ET, January 13, 2023

Zelensky thanks Ukrainian soldiers in embattled Soledar amid Russian assault

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Ukrainian soldiers fire a German howitzer near Soledar on Wednesday.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a German howitzer near Soledar on Wednesday. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

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.

8:05 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 Gen. 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.

8:01 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 the soldiers had run out of food, were running low on water, and some were wounded. He said they still had some ammunition.

“The last evacuation was three days ago. 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,” he said.

“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.”

7:55 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

More than 200 Ukrainian troops are traveling to Spain for 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 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 Ukrainians 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 Ukrainians 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.