October 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 1:53 a.m. ET, October 21, 2022
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3:28 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Zelensky alleges Russia mined a critical dam on Dnipro river in Kherson region

From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva and Katerina Krebs

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky alleged that Russian forces have mined a critical dam on the Dnipro river in the southern Kherson region, as well as the adjacent hydroelectric plant.

"We have information that Russian terrorists have mined the dam and units of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant," Zelensky told the Council of Europe during a video address.

CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for a response to the allegations.

The dam and hydroelectric plant have been working at much-reduced capacity as the area was captured by Russian forces in March. Ukrainian forces are some 40 kilometers (more than 24 miles) north of the dam. Over the past four months, they have launched several strikes against the bridge that forms part of the dam to prevent its use by the Russian military.

Separately, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's office, said on Twitter Thursday that Russia planned to mine the dam and transformers, forcing the deportation of Ukrainian civilians from Kherson and flooding territory to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. The land to the south and east of the river is low-lying.

"Russia is preparing a man-made catastrophe," Podolyak said.

What pro-Moscow officials are saying: The Russian-appointed head of the Nova Kakhovka administrative district, Vladimir Leontiev, told Russian state media TASS that it makes no sense for Russia to destroy the dam of the power station.

"What is the point for Russia to destroy it now? Even from a formal point of view, this is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense," Leontiev said.

"First of all, you need to think about who benefits from it: it is only beneficial for Ukraine to destroy the dam, the hydroelectric power station, to disrupt logistics, to sow fear and panic, to stop the possibility of supplying water through the North Crimean Canal to the territory of Crimea," he said, according to TASS.

3:21 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Ukrainian missile strikes Russian military convoy in Luhansk, new video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

From Telegram
From Telegram

A Russian military convoy near Stara Krasnyanka in the eastern region of Luhansk was struck by a Ukrainian missile, new video shows. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video, which was posted on Thursday. The video is a compilation of a series of videos taken by a drone that shows five military vehicles, first traveling east on a road in eastern Kreminna. 

Later, the convoy is seen turning around in Stara Krasnyanka and returning to Kreminna. As the convoy nears a set of train tracks, it moves into a wooded area just outside of Stara Krasnyanka. 

They are then targeted by a Ukrainian missile salvo, and a number of explosions are seen. The resulting fire appears to explode the munitions that are being carried by the vehicles. Later, the burnt husks of the convoy are seen.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly hit Russian positions in the town of Kreminna, located just west of Severodonetsk. 

7:35 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

UK sanctions Iran over "kamikaze" Russian drones used in Ukraine

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

The UK is slapping new sanctions on Iran for supplying Russia with "kamikaze" drones used to bombard Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

In a statement, Cleverly accused Iran of “warmongering” by profiting off of “Russia’s abhorrent attacks on Ukrainian citizens and adding to the suffering of the people and the destruction of critical infrastructure.” 

The new sanctions match measures agreed to by the EU on Thursday, targeting three individuals and one business responsible for providing drones to Moscow. 

Subject to asset freezes and travel bans are:

  • Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chairman of the armed forces general staff
  • Brig. Gen. Seyed Hojjatollah Qureishi, the key Iranian negotiator in the deal that has provided Russia with the Iranian-produced drones
  • Brig. Gen. Saeed Aghajani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — a branch of the Iranian armed forces. 

One entity — Aerospace Force UAV Command — reported to have been in the temporarily controlled territories of Ukraine advising Russian forces on how to use the drones, is also subject to an asset freeze. 

More context: Iran has denied supplying weapons to Russia despite evidence to the contrary. CNN reported Tuesday that Iran has sent military personnel to Russian-occupied territory inside Crimea to train and advise the Russian military on the use of their drones, according to two sources familiar with US intelligence. 

A spokesperson for the Iranian mission at the United Nations said “Iran does not confirm this claim and rejects it.” 

“These cowardly drone strikes are an act of desperation. By enabling these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused the people of Ukraine untold suffering. We will ensure that they are held to account for their actions,” Cleverly said.

1:55 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Former Italian leader criticized for remarks on Russian invasion and his relationship with Putin

From CNN’s Valentina DiDonato and Antonia Mortensen in Rome, Sugam Pokharel and Sharon Braithwaite in London

Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks in Rome, Italy, on September 22. 
Former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi speaks in Rome, Italy, on September 22.  Riccardo Fabi/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing criticism for comments on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

The 86-year-old former Italian leader said he "re-established relations with President Putin," according to audio released this week by Italian news agency LaPresse.

Putin sent him 20 bottles of vodka and a “very sweet letter” on his birthday last month, Berlusconi says, and he sent back a letter and some Italian sparkling wine, according to the LaPresse audio.

He went on to boast that Putin called him “the first of his five true friends.” 

A secret recording: Berlusconi’s comments were surreptitiously captured during a meeting of his Forza Italia party in the Parliamentary Chamber Tuesday, his office confirmed with CNN on Thursday, while confirming the authenticity of the audio clips released by LaPresse.   

Berlusconi, who will be part of Italy's incoming coalition government, can be heard saying Putin “was against any initiative” for war against Ukraine.

In the audio clips, the Italian politician can be heard talking to the members of his party about what he thought led to the war.

He accuses Kyiv of violating a 2014 treaty with separatist-controlled regions in Donbas and says the Russian-backed leaders in the area asked Putin to defend them.

"He (Putin) entered Ukraine and found himself faced with an unexpected and unpredictable situation of resistance from the Ukrainians, who began receiving money and weapons from the West on the third day (of the war)," Berlusconi can then be heard saying. "And the war, instead of being a two-week operation, has become a two-century war.”  

In the LaPresse audio, Berlusconi is also heard saying, "I do not see how Putin and Zelensky can sit at a mediation table.

Defending his remarks: Berlusconi defended his comments in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Thursday.  

“Everything was taken out of context. It was circulated without knowing the global meaning of my words. With the only scope to spread disinformation and lies,” he told the newspaper.   

“I don’t deny my past friendship with Vladimir Putin, that brought to important results, which were achieved in full accord with our western allies … But today the circumstances have changed,” he said.   

The comments he made were “ended with the condemnation of the Russian invasion and with the hope of a negotiated solution that would put an end to this massacre and protect the rights of the Ukrainian people,” Berlusconi went on to say.  

1:14 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Russia's military is focused on holding off southern counteroffensive, Ukraine says

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva

A senior Ukrainian official says that Russian forces' "task number one" is to hold the southern frontline.

The Russians are digging in and sending more resources in hopes of holding off the Ukrainian forces pushing toward Kherson, said Oleksii Hromov, a top official with the military's General Staff.

"The enemy plans to fulfill this task with the help of the first wave of the partial mobilization and by increasing the number of their troops on the west bank of the Dnipro River," he said, referring to a key waterway where fighting has recently taken place on both banks.

Hromov suggested there were now more than 40 Russian battalion tactical groups in the Kherson region. Each group usually comprises some 1,000 personnel.

Why this region is key:

"For Putin's regime, the south direction — Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv — has strategic meaning from the point of view of preserving the land corridor to Crimea and water supply to the peninsula, as well as creating a future bridgehead for the capture of Mykolaiv and Odesa regions, depriving Ukraine of the status of a maritime state," Hromov said. 

In his own statement, the Russia-backed head of Crimea stressed the region's importance to Moscow and its appointed leaders in occupied Ukraine.

"Our common position is that the protection of Kherson region will ensure the security of the Republic of Crimea. To that end, we will continue to take all necessary measures, including providing maximum assistance to the troops and law enforcement units on the front lines," Sergey Aksenov said Thursday.

2:02 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Putin visits recently mobilized Russian troops at training ground

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a training ground in the western Ryazan region of Russia, on October 20.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a training ground in the western Ryazan region of Russia, on October 20. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited mobilized troops at a training ground in the western Ryazan region, according to a statement published by Kremlin on Thursday.

The statement said he inspected the "combat coordination of the units and the readiness of the military personnel to perform tasks" at the site in the Western Military District.

Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu presented Putin with a report on combat training for the mobilized, according to the statement.

"Vladimir Putin inspected practical exercises as part of tactical, firearms, engineering and medical training," officials said.

Putin also visited "a multifunctional shooting complex, where military personnel practice various types of shooting under the guidance of full-time commanders and professional instructors with combat experience," according to the statement.

The Ministry of Defense says instructors are training newly mobilized servicemen with "increased intensity." Recruits fire at least 600 rounds and use five grenades in the course of their training, according to the ministry.

Putin's partial mobilization order: The Russian president announced in September that he sought to recruit 300,000 military personnel, but its execution has been widely criticized inside Russia.

The process has been beset by errors, caused angry protests and prompted a mass exodus when it was announced last month.

In early October, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said more than 200,000 new people had joined the Russian Armed Forces through the mobilization.

2:07 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Ukraine calls on international allies for help with power infrastructure

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, on September 22. 
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks during a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, on September 22.  Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Ukraine is turning to its global allies for help as it faces blackouts brought on by Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Thursday the Kyiv government is working with NATO, the European Union and other partners to overcome the effects of the Russian barrage, which knocked out at least 40% of the country's power-generating capacity.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry added that Ukrainian diplomats have appealed to several dozen international and non-governmental organizations and private companies with a request for generators as well as equipment for the gas transportation system.

"The first deliveries have already been arranged from Italy, France, Lithuania, Finland, Germany and Poland. The first of about 600 pieces of equipment will arrive in Ukraine next week," the statement reads.

"Russia's targeted attacks on critical energy infrastructure are war crimes for which we will hold Russia accountable," Kuleba said. "Russian missile terror will not break either Ukraine or our partners."

11:30 a.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Ukrainian military sees growing risk of Russia reopening a northern front from Belarus, official says

From CNN's Tom Lister

A senior Ukrainian military official says there is growing danger that Russia will open a new front in the war through its coordination with Belarus, using it to cut military supplies to Ukraine.

"The threat of the Russian armed forces resuming the offensive on the northern front is growing," Oleksii Hromov, a senior official in the military's General Staff, said at a news conference in Kyiv.

"This time, the direction of the offensive may be changed to the (western part) of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border to cut the main logistics arteries of supplying weapons and military equipment to Ukraine from partner countries."

Hromov said Ukraine's defense forces were "taking measures to ensure reliable coverage of the state border of Ukraine and the city of Kyiv from the northern direction. In case the enemy decides to open the so-called second front, namely, to conduct offensive actions from the Republic of Belarus, we will be ready for an adequate response."

More background: Belarusian authorities have denied any plans for mobilization but have held a high number of training and readiness exercises this year and recently announced a joint force with Russian troops.

The last time Belarusian and Russian forces held joint exercises, in February, many of those Russian forces went on to cross the Ukrainian border in their ill-fated drive toward the capital.

Ukraine and Belarus share a 1,000-kilometer (about 620-mile) frontier, much of it sparsely populated and thickly forested.

Belarus does not have a mighty army in numbers. But the prospect of the long northern border again becoming a passageway for Russian forces would be a nightmare for Ukraine’s already stretched forces.

12:51 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

US secretary of state calls latest Russian moves in Ukraine "another sign of Putin’s desperation"

From CNN's Andrew Millman

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 19.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 19. Branden Eastwood/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described recent Russian attacks in Ukraine as another sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s "desperation” in a television interview this week.

Blinken's remarks came in an interview with George Stephanopoulos that aired Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Blinken also said Putin’s latest moves were “pretty close” when Stephanopoulos asked if Putin was preparing for “all-out war." When asked if the Russian president was acting rationally, he said that Putin’s “objectives are not rational.”

“We’ve been very clear with President Putin directly and privately about the severe consequences that would follow any, any use of nuclear weapons,” Blinken said when asked about the potential use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

“We have not seen reason at this point to change our own nuclear posture,” he added.

US steaming at oil decision: “It’s helping to line Putin’s pockets,” Blinken said of Saudi Arabia and OPEC+’s recent decision to slash oil production, describing now as “exactly the wrong time to engage in production cuts.”

“There was no reason to make the decision when they made it,” he said, while also acknowledging: “We have a multiplicity of interests with Saudi Arabia.”

More context: OPEC+ is a group of major oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia. The countries announced a production cut equivalent to about 2% of global oil demand earlier this month, despite US pressure not to tighten supply further.

Russia’s production has held up better than predicted against Western sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine, with supply being diverted to China and India.