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
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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.

8:12 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Kyiv residents disappointed as Germany hesitates on sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

From CNN staff

A Polish Leopard 2 stands in a wooded area during an international military exercise January 27, 2022, at the Hohenfels military training area in Hohenfels, Germany.
A Polish Leopard 2 stands in a wooded area during an international military exercise January 27, 2022, at the Hohenfels military training area in Hohenfels, Germany. (Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Residents in Kyiv have reacted with dismay to Germany’s reluctance to commit to sending its formidable Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive.

They were speaking in the wake of a high-level meeting on Friday of Kyiv’s military backers at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany ended in an impasse on the provision of tanks to Ukraine.

People in the Ukrainian capital told CNN how they felt about western support for the war against Russia. “Well, big thanks for the self-propelled artillery units and howitzers. It's a good weapon of deterrence, and we really need it,” said a Ukrainian anti-aircraft gunner known as “Sargent.”

“On the other hand, they clearly do not want to provide us with offensive weapons such as tanks. They expect us to liberate our territories, but they are afraid we will go further and enter the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Nikita Matiushenko, an 18-year-old university student, told CNN he thought Ukraine’s allies were playing “political games.” CNN has reported a standoff between the US and Germany, with the latter saying it would only allow its Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine if the US supplies Kyiv with its M1 Abrams tank. Defense ministers from the US and Germany later denied any "linkage."

“Now the West is doing much more. At the beginning of the war, it was not enough at all. They didn't want to give us some weaponry or gave very little. But now it is much better. Although, in my opinion, way too slow. I am convinced that they could do it faster, but the bureaucracy is in the way,” Matiushenko said, adding that his father has recently returned from fighting in Bakhmut with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“I understand well enough how much we need offensive and long-range weapons,” he said.

Beautician Natalia Sihachuk, 50, said she feared the war will not end soon. “In my opinion, we are not getting the aid fast enough. They give us what they want and can give us. Therefore, it will not be timely,” she said, acknowledging that Ukraine will not always get exactly what it wants. She added that Ukraine must “say ‘thank you.’ If not for the help, we would have had even more problems from the very beginning."

“We are now working not only for our own defense, but also to protect the interests of other countries. That's why western countries should be more interested in providing us with more aid,” civil servant Artur Myroniuk, 27, told CNN. 

Myroniuk said Ukraine’s allies must quickly provide his country with better air defense systems. He pointed to the January 14 missile strike on a residential building in Dnipro that killed 45 people and injured dozens more.

“We all saw what happened in Dnipro recently. Having seen how children are dying in Ukraine, we need help with air defense,” Myroniuk said.

6:16 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

Ukraine’s General Staff details heavy Russian fire in Zaporizhzhia region

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Uliana Pavlova

There are renewed indications that Russian forces are stepping up hostilities in and around the region of Zaporizhzhia, in Ukraine’s southeast.

Ukraine’s General Staff, in its latest update on battlefield activities, reported missile strikes on the town of Hulyaipole, as well as rocket attacks on Nikopol, which lies in the neighboring Ukrainian region of Dnipropetrovsk.

Oleksander Staurk, Zaporizhzhia regional head, said Russian artillery fire was ongoing Saturday morning, with 21 settlements across his region sustaining recent attacks. He said a woman had been killed in Hulyaipole, and a theater had burned down, one of dozens of buildings destroyed.

A Russian-appointed official in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region claimed Russian troops had broken through Ukrainian defenses and captured four villages – a claim CNN is unable to verify.

Ukrainian officials have not announced any such loss of territory, though the General Staff update confirmed heavy attacks, detailing tank, mortar, and artillery fire across a dozen front-line locations, including between Orikhiv and Kamyanske.

The front lines in the war, including those to the southeast of the city of Zaporizhzhia, have not moved significantly for weeks. But there has been growing expectation of a possible major Russian move in recent weeks since the head of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a rare interview last month that Russian troops were “100 percent being prepared,” for an offensive. 

General Valery Zaluzhny told The Economist magazine he expected the push to happen, “in February, at best in March and at worst at the end of January.”

4:14 a.m. ET, January 21, 2023

It's 10 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN Staff

Western allies met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany Friday where Germany failed to agree to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 main battle tanks after days of negotiations.

Here are the latest developments:

Military assistance progress: German officials have indicated they won’t send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine — or allow any other country with the German-made tanks in their inventory to do so — unless the US also agrees to send its M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv, something the Pentagon has said for months it has no intention of doing given the logistical costs of maintaining them. Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk has expressed his frustrations over Germany's indecision.

Leopard 2 tanks are seen as a vital, modern military vehicle that would bolster Kyiv’s forces as the war with Russia approaches the one-year mark.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said there is “no alternative” to sending main battle tanks to Ukraine. And the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Rau, said Ukraine is paying with blood for the West’s hesitation.

Biden ensured Friday that "Ukraine is going to get all the help they need" when a reporter asked if he supports Poland's goal to send the German-made tanks to Ukraine.

In a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other government officials in Ukraine Friday, US Sens. Lindsey Graham, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse urged both the US and Germany to send tanks. They're part of a growing group of officials applying pressure on Germany to step up its military aid and pleas from Kyiv for more weapons.

Ex-Navy SEAL killed: Daniel W. Swift, who was a Special Warfare Operator 1st Class, was killed Wednesday in Ukraine, the Navy said in a statement. Swift deserted the military on March 11, 2019.

Aid announcements: The Netherlands will send two launchers and rockets for Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine, the country’s Ministry of Defense said Friday. And in Germany, newly appointed Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced a $1.08 billion military aid package Friday for Ukraine. 

Escalation warning: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned of an escalation in Ukraine in the event of an increase in the supply of Western weapons to Kyiv, according to a statement. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reiterated Friday that Russia's war in Ukraine will likely "end in a negotiation" and not on the battlefield.

Wagner Group designation: The US Treasury Department will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced Friday. The Treasury will also impose new sanctions next week against the group and its global allies, the White House said.