January 21, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Sophie Tanno, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 5:34 p.m. ET, January 21, 2023
16 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
2:28 p.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Ukrainian military says Russia is trying to advance in southern Zaporizhzhia region

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Russian forces are attempting an offensive in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, while also trying to push forward in parts of Donetsk in the east, the Ukrainian military reported.

The Russian military "conducted unsuccessful offensives in the Avdiivka sector (in Donetsk). It continues to attempt an offensive in the Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia directions, increasing the intensity of aviation use," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Saturday in a statement.

The General Staff said there had also been cross-border shelling by the Russians in the northeastern Sumy and Kharkiv regions.

It also said the Russian-appointed administration in occupied Kherson "is tightening control over the registration of civilians" in the southern region.

"In particular, it is trying to create a database of civilians' places of residence, threatening to cut off electricity under the guise of implementing an 'electricity saving program,'" the statement reads.

CNN has not independently verified the claims about such programs in Kherson.

What Moscow is saying: Earlier Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed several villages near the city of Orikhiv in Zaporizhzhia had been won. Ukraine has not responded to the claim, but said that "in the Zaporizhzhia sector, artillery fire hit areas near more than 25 settlements." 

There have been reports of heavy fighting around Bakhmut, which Russian officials claim is slowly being encircled, and further east around Kreminna in Luhansk, where Russian forces are seeking to prevent any Ukrainian advance through a nearby forested area. Ukrainian success in this area could compromise Russia's supply lines towards Bakhmut.

This map shows the latest state of control in key regions for the conflict:

1:06 p.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Zelensky accuses Russia of holding up more than 100 ships and disrupting global food supply

From CNN's Mariya Knight

Ship traffic in the Bosphorus was suspended due to the grounding of the 142 m-long bulk carrier named MKK-1, which was sailing from Ukraine to Istanbul on January 16 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Ship traffic in the Bosphorus was suspended due to the grounding of the 142 m-long bulk carrier named MKK-1, which was sailing from Ukraine to Istanbul on January 16 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Cem Tekkesinoglu/dia images/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that Russian aggression “ruins the food market” and accused Moscow of detaining more than 100 food-bearing ships "for weeks."

Zelensky made the remarks in an address to participants at the Conference of Agriculture Ministers in Berlin.

“Right now, while the discussions at this forum are going on, more than 100 ships transporting food are lined up near the Bosphorus (Strait in Turkey). Why? Because they need to be inspected, and Russian representatives are blocking this inspection,” said Zelensky, speaking in English at the conference. “The ships are detained for weeks.” 

“It means higher prices for Europe. For Asia, it means a growing threat of social instability. In Africa, for such countries as Ethiopia or Sudan, it means empty tables for thousands and thousands of families,” Zelensky continued. 

He said “the world needs more determination and more cooperation to stop the aggression that ruins the food market" and “to stop any state that blocks the sea and destroys food-supply chains, to bring to justice any tyrant who tries to make famine an instrument of political influence." 

The Ukrainian president said before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine “exported six and a half million tonnes of food every month.” 

But now the shipments have been cut in half, due to what he said was Russian aggression and actions to block Ukraine’s food exports. 

Zelensky called on participants of the Conference of Agriculture Ministers to join the "Grain from Ukraine" initiative, as well as to create food hubs in Africa. He invited them to Kyiv “to make concrete arrangements.” 

12:53 p.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Russian forces maintain attacks around Bakhmut and Soledar, according to Ukrainian defense ministry

From Yulia Kesaieva and CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a residential building heavily damaged during a Russian military strike in Bakhmut on Tuesday.
Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a residential building heavily damaged during a Russian military strike in Bakhmut on Tuesday. (Mykola Synelnykov/Reuters)

Russian troops have kept up with their assault on Ukrainian positions near Bakhmut and Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region, a press officer at the Ukrainian defense ministry said Saturday.

During a Ukrainian national TV marathon, the ministry's Andrii Yusov said that Russia had concentrated its forces and equipment near Soledar in eastern Ukraine.

“This is one of the few directions where they are still able to conduct this kind of actions," he said.

But Russian troops, including the mercenary group Wagner, have so far failed from taking Bakhmut, Yusov said.

Some background: Moscow said last week that its forces had captured Soledar, but Kyiv rejected the claims. The town is just a few miles northeast of Bakhmut, which has become the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Soledar 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, but were it to capture Soledar, Moscow would at least be able to approach the city from a different path.

A CNN team, which has been to the Soledar area several times in recent days, saw that Ukrainian forces are on the defensive.

12:26 p.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Ukraine says it foiled a sabotage attempt by a Russian reconnaissance group near the border

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukrainian troops foiled a sabotage attempt from a Russian reconnaissance group in the northeastern region of Sumy on Friday, according to a spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian forces "detected an attempt to infiltrate from (a) sabotage and reconnaissance group from Russia" which had crossed over the border into Sumy, spokesperson Andrii Demchenko told a Ukrainian telethon Saturday.

Sumy lies in the northeast of Ukraine, just 30 miles or so from the border with Russia.

Ukraine's forces managed to expose and fire upon the group who then "retreated behind the state border," Demchenko added. 

"I would like to note that before the new year, for example, the enemy tried to actively use subversive reconnaissance groups on the border in Kharkiv region. This year, as we can see, they use a different direction — Sumy region," Demchenko said. 

Belarusian border update: Demchenko also provided an update on the situation along Ukraine's border with Belarus, saying the situation is currently "under control" despite tensions caused by Minsk's close relationship with the Kremlin

"So far, intelligence units and other components that monitor the situation in this area have not noticed the formation of a strike group on the territory of Belarus that could carry out an invasion. But the enemy should never be underestimated," he said. 

Ukraine has been "preparing for any development of the situation" by reinforcing troops that will be ready "if the enemy enters our country in this direction, or if Belarus joins this full-scale war," the spokesperson added. 

11:20 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

France freezes bank accounts of French branch of Russian state broadcaster RT

From CNN's Jorge Engels

France's Finance Ministry told CNN on Saturday that it has frozen the bank accounts of the French branch of Russian state broadcaster RT in compliance with European Union sanctions that were passed in December 2022.

“The last package of sanctions last December designated for the first time new channels on the basis of Regulation 269, i.e. freezing of assets. These designations include ANO TV Novosti, the parent company that owns 100% of RT France. Thus, in application of the seizure criterion, the assets of RT France are to be frozen by the actors subject to the freezing of assets and economic resources,” the ministry’s press office told CNN.

“The freezing measures are a direct application of the European regulation, we do not take any additional national action,” it added.

Prior to the EU sanctions passed in December 2022, RT France was banned from broadcasting in France but its content production activity was not stopped, the finance ministry told CNN.

“Economic operators are bound by an obligation of result with regard to the implementation of sanctions and must therefore take the necessary steps to verify who their clients are and comply with the sanctions regulations. Specifically, if they identify transactions/flows involving sanctioned entities or owned/controlled by a sanctioned person, they must freeze them,” the finance ministry said.

Some background: Television providers across the world dropped RT in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In March 2022, tech companies — such as YouTube, TikTok, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — also moved to block the outlet from broadcasting. RT America ceased productions in early March.

11:10 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Ukrainian president and first lady lay flowers at helicopter crash memorial

From Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv and CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena pay their respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash during a farewell ceremony Saturday in Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena pay their respects to victims of a deadly helicopter crash during a farewell ceremony Saturday in Kyiv. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska laid flowers at a memorial to the victims of Wednesday’s helicopter crash.

On Saturday, residents and security forces personnel lined the streets as a convoy carried coffins toward the memorial service at the Ukrainian House National Center in Kyiv.

After the coffins were carried up some steps, military members covered them in Ukrainian flags. The crowd was silent and still, with many holding flowers. 

Family members wept at the coffins, one of which had a teddy bear on it, with the writing “I love you” on its paw.

 Relatives attend the funeral ceremony of victims of Wednesday's deadly helicopter crash on Saturday in Kyiv.
 Relatives attend the funeral ceremony of victims of Wednesday's deadly helicopter crash on Saturday in Kyiv. (Danylo Antoniuk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Black and white photos in the hall showed images of the victims, as family members and loved ones gathered and kissed the photos. One woman approached and slowly sank to her knees as she covered the image with kisses. 

Zelensky and his wife hugged family members who were in tears. Some were visibly overcome by emotions as they faced the coffins.

The president and first lady placed flowers on a coffin draped in the Ukrainian flag.

The helicopter was carrying the leadership team of Ukraine’s interior ministry when it crashed near a kindergarten and residential block in Brovary, a Kyiv suburb, killing at least 14 people and injuring 28.

A funeral ceremony is held for the victims of helicopter crash in the city of Brovary on Saturday in Kyiv.
A funeral ceremony is held for the victims of helicopter crash in the city of Brovary on Saturday in Kyiv. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

8:44 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Baltic foreign ministers call on Germany to provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks

From CNN's Jorge Engels

The foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on Saturday jointly called on Germany to immediately provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in a tweet.

“Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard,” Reinsalu said.

Let's recap: Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk expressed his frustrations Friday that Germany has yet to decide whether or not to send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine. 

Speaking to CNN's Isa Soares on Friday, Melnyk called Germany's indecisiveness a "disappointment" after first praising the UK for moving forward with a pledge of Challenger 2 tanks, adding he hoped the move might trigger other countries to follow suit.

Germany has so far failed to reach an agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure from NATO and Kyiv to step up its military aid ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive.

Newly appointed German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of a high-stakes defense meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday that no decision has been made yet regarding sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine. 

Countries in possession of those tanks need export permission from Germany. 

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed reporting to this post.


8:29 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

German defense minister has ordered an inventory review of Leopard 2 tanks

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has said he is ordering an inventory of Leopard 2 tanks, as his country faces increased criticism about not making a decision on sending the fighting vehicles to Kyiv.

Pistorius — only one day into the job — spoke Friday at Ramstein Air Base and said he had ordered the defense ministry “to carry out an audit of Leopard tanks of the various kinds, within our ranks as well as the industry, and we will especially look at the question of compatibility of the systems also with those of our partners, the availability and the number of units.” 

“The whole thing is not a precedent, it is simply preparation for a day that may come, in which case we would be able to act immediately and provide support within a very short time, this decision between the Federal Republic of Germany ... and the transatlantic partners and the NATO partners as a whole, is taken in this manner,” he said.  

“We are prepared; we are preparing,” he insisted.

8:25 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Why Germany is struggling to stomach the idea of sending tanks to Ukraine

From CNN's Luke McGee

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the media December 1, 2022, in Berlin.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks to the media December 1, 2022, in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Days after Russia's invasion began last February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a head-turning speech to parliament in which he committed to spending €100 billion ($108 billion) to modernize Germany’s military capacity.

He also vowed that Germany would lift its defense spending to 2% of GDP — meeting a target set by NATO that it had missed for years — and end its deep reliance on Russian energy, particularly gas.

However, nearly a year on, critics say Scholz’s vision has failed to become reality. And Germany has been accused of dragging its feet when it comes to sending its more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

The criticism has grown in recent days as US and European leaders have piled pressure on Berlin to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or at least allow other countries to do so.

Experts estimate there are around 2,000 Leopard tanks in use by 13 countries across Europe, and they are increasingly being seen as vital to Ukraine’s war effort as the conflict grinds into a second year. But Berlin must grant these nations approval to re-export German-made tanks to Ukraine, and it has so far resisted calls to do so.

Read the full analysis here.