December 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 1:47 a.m. ET, December 16, 2022
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11:52 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

US issues new sanctions targeting Russian proxies in Ukraine, Russian governors and an oligarch tied to Putin

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Vladimir Potanin speaks to journalists in Moscow in 2017.
Vladimir Potanin speaks to journalists in Moscow in 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

US President Joe Biden's administration rolled out new sanctions on Thursday targeting Russian-appointed proxies in Ukraine, more than 20 Russian governors, and a wealthy Russian oligarch who is believed to be close with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the State Department and the Treasury Department announced on Thursday. 

The Russian oligarch now under US sanctions is Vladimir Potanin, who US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs and a close associate of President Putin.” The Biden administration also sanctioned Potanin's company — a bank that his company acquired this year — and three of his family members, Blinken said. The US additionally identified his yacht as blocked property.

Blinken said that those targeted by the sanctions include 29 Russian heads of regions and governors, two of their family members, and an entity owned by one of the family members who was “helping to advance Russia’s invasion and control of Ukrainian territory.” 

The governors “oversee and enforce the conscription of citizens in response to Russia’s recent mobilization order," Blinken said.

The US also went after Russians who have been put into positions of power in Ukrainian territory by the Kremlin.

“We also are designating six proxy authorities and an entity operating on behalf of the Kremlin in Ukraine. This includes the former 'Minister of Internal Affairs' of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, who led a battalion that fought in Mariupol and oversees the operations of filtration camps that facilitate the forced relocation of Ukraine’s citizens to Russia,” Blinken said. 

The sanctions also hit the board members of Russian railways, and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is also designating 17 subsidiaries of VTB Bank, Blinken said. 

The sanctions come after Russia’s recent attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure that have “caused extraordinary death and destruction,” Blinken added.

11:07 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Kyiv Zoo's gorilla Tony gets wood-burning stove as power cuts hit city

From CNN's Tim Lister

In the midst of power cuts and sub-freezing temperatures, Tony the gorilla is staying warm at Kyiv's zoo thanks to a new wood-burning stove.

Tony, who is 47, is a popular fixture at the zoo, whose animals would have been put at risk by the lack of heat as temperatures plunge.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said two generators had been installed at the zoo to compensate for the loss of electricity during scheduled power cuts.

"A modern wood-burning stove will be able to heat Tony's housing in the absence of electricity, heating and gas. A heating point was arranged for the unbreakable Tony," he said.

Klitschko said 200 animals rescued from the war are wintering in Kyiv Zoo, including a tigress named Delilah from a private zoo in Kharkiv and rhinos and porcupines from Kherson.

"Those are small zoos in that part of Ukraine where there is no heating at all, nothing. It is very difficult for those zoos now. Therefore, they ask us to shelter the animals. Otherwise they will die," he said.

11:16 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Russia likely will tap migrants to bolster mobilization, Ukrainian military official says

From CNN's Tim Lister

Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov at a press briefing on December 1 in Kyiv.
Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov at a press briefing on December 1 in Kyiv. (Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian military's Main Operational Directorate, on Thursday said that Russia is stepping up production of munitions and would likely bolster its mobilization with migrants.

Hromov said Russia is increasing munitions "by reducing the quality of products, as well as by activating the conclusion of agreements with other countries."

He said Russia would likely tap into the large number of migrants from central Asia to shore up its mobilization.

"Individuals with dual citizenship are allowed to perform military service in Russia during peacetime. These changes are primarily aimed at attracting migrant workers staying in Russia to military service," he said.

Hromov estimated that about 2.7 million of the total number of migrants in Russia — the vast majority being from central Asia — are men of military age.

Some context: In November, Russia announced that its “partial mobilization” of hundreds of thousands of citizens to fight in the country’s war on Ukraine was completed. The mobilization, first announced in late September, sparked protests — particularly in in ethnic minority regions — and an exodus of men from the country.

Hromov also said that the Russian military presence has been growing in Belarus.

"Russian units of the Second Motorized Rifle Division ... are undergoing training and combat coordination. ... The Kremlin uses the officers and training ground infrastructure of Belarus to restore the combat capability of existing units, as well as to train newly established military units," he said.

Hromov said Russian tanks and aircraft had been moved to Belarus, likely to provide Russia with another route for its missile attacks.

"The enemy redeployed three Mig 31-K aircrafts, which carry Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, as well as an A-50U long-range radar detection aircraft to Machulychi airfield. This indicates an increase in the aggressor's capabilities to conduct air strikes on the territory of Ukraine," he said.

Belarus' role in the conflict: Neighboring Belarus is among Moscow's most stalwart allies, and the two nations have held joint military exercises since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Belarus has served as a staging ground for Russian forces near Ukraine's northern border. It was the launching point for the Kremlin's ultimately unsuccessful march toward Kyiv at the start of the invasion.

10:15 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Senior Ukrainian military officer says there have been nearly 400 clashes in the east this week

From CNN's Tim Lister

One of Ukraine's most senior military officers said that nearly 400 clashes have taken place between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the eastern regions of Ukraine this week.

Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian military's Main Operational Directorate, said Russia continues to launch attacks using missiles and artillery along a wide front.

"Since Dec. 8, the enemy has launched 41 missile strikes," including 38 attacks with S-300 missiles, on the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine and positions of troops.

Russia has also launched 32 drones loaded with explosives at energy facilities, including 15 self-detonating drones at the civilian infrastructure of Kyiv, he said. Almost all the Iranian-made drones were intercepted.

Hromov said that "388 military clashes with the enemy took place in eastern Ukraine this week" and claimed the Russians had experienced heavy casualties.

"During Dec. 1 and 2, up to 500 wounded were taken to hospitals in Luhansk, mostly from among the mercenaries of the Wagner private military company," he claimed.

"In total, as of Dec. 4, more than 3,600 wounded Russian servicemen from the so-called special contingent were in hospitals in the occupied territories," Hromov claimed. There is no way to verify the estimate.

Hromov also said that Ukrainian attacks on Russian positions and facilities behind the front lines continued.

"During the week, artillery units have struck 309 enemy targets, including 34 control points, 24 warehouses with ammunition and fuel," he said.

Additionally, he said, high-precision weapons had targeted 58 sites, including five ammunition warehouses.

10:18 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Zelensky and Ukrainian generals warn of new Russian offensive in the new year

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the liberated city of Kherson, Ukraine on November 14, 2022.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the liberated city of Kherson, Ukraine on November 14, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

In a series of interviews with The Economist, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top commanders say they expect a new offensive by Russia early in the new year – but are in no mood to compromise on their ultimate goals. 

Zelensky repeated that Ukraine’s aim was to retrieve the land it held when it became independent in 1991 — including Crimea. 

Days after the Kremlin said Ukraine must recognize new realities, including Russia's recent annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Zelensky repeated that Ukraine would make no concessions. “If he [Putin] now withdraws to the 1991 borders then the possible path of diplomats will begin. That is who can really turn the war from a military path to a diplomatic one. Only he can do it.” 

Zelensky said some 95% of Ukrainian people do not want to compromise on territory. “The issue is deeper than land. No one wants to have a dialogue with these people who unleashed [the war].”  

Zelensky said it was “a little scary” to visit recently liberated towns and witness how the occupation had changed people. 

“I must admit that this propaganda model of the Kremlin — it works.” It had changed Ukrainians in occupied territories. They were like “astronauts who cannot take off heavy helmets — limiting what they can see to unrelenting disinformation.” 

The overall military commander in Ukraine, General Valery Zaluzhny, said he expected a new Russian offensive in the new year. 

“They [Russian forces] are 100% being prepared,” he said. 

A major Russian attack could come “in February, at best in March and at worst at the end of January”, he said. And it could come anywhere: in Donbas, where Putin is eager to capture the remainder of Donetsk province; in the south, towards the city of Dnipro; even towards Kyiv. 

9:30 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Ukrainian officials confirm 2 killed in Russian shelling of Kherson

From Denis Lapin

Russian shelling of the recently liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson continues to kill civilians, according to Ukrainian officials.

"The enemy hit a critical infrastructure facility. Shell fragments damaged residential buildings and the place where the medical aid and humanitarian aid distribution point is located," Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of Kherson region military administration, said in a Telegram video on Thursday.

Yanushevych said two people had been killed.

"One of them was a volunteer, a member of the rapid response team of the international organization. During the shelling, they were on the street, they were fatally wounded by fragments of enemy shells," he said.

Three more people were wounded, he said.

Yanushevych earlier said the city had been hit 86 times with “artillery, MLRS, tanks, mortars and UAVs” over 24 hours.

9:04 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Local official blames Ukraine of shelling after air defense system is triggered over Russian town again 

From CNN's Seb Shukla and Mariya Kosetenko

A local official says missiles fired by Ukraine triggered air defense systems over the town of Klintsy in the Russian region of Bryansk on Wednesday night, but the missiles “were shot down.”

This would be the second time in a week that Klintsy has been targeted. On Tuesday Aleksandr Bogomaz, the governor of the region claimed the Ukrainians “shelled the territory of the city.” 

Klintsy is located around 50 kilometers (about 80 miles) from the Ukrainian border. 

Posting on Telegram a couple of hours later on Wednesday, Bogomaz said “As a result of the falling rocket debris shot down by the air defense system, the power supply to the village of Ardon’ in the Klintsy urban district was damaged." Ardon is located south of the city. 

Video posted to social media shows a livestream camera of a central street and an orange flash coming from the south. CNN was able to identify the location of the livestream camera from Google maps and crosscheck with the video posted on social media. The camera points south.

CNN has been unable to verify if was falling debris that caused the power outage or if it was a direct attack.

8:20 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Russia unleashed fresh strikes over Kherson on Thursday morning, as the nearly ten-month conflict in Ukraine ramped up in the southern and eastern regions of the country.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Shelling wipes out energy in Kherson: The southern Ukrainian city is "completely disconnected" from power supplies amid Russian attacks, according to a local military official. Kherson has been hit with fatal shelling 86 times in the past 24 hours Yaroslav Yanushevych, regional head of the Kherson military administration, said.
  • "Massive strike" on occupied Donetsk: Ukrainian forces carried out the biggest attack on the occupied Donetsk region of the country since 2014 on Thursday, according to a Russian-installed mayor. CNN cannot independently confirm Aleksey Kulemzin’s claims.
  • US Patriot missile warning: Any shipment of US Patriot missiles to Ukraine could "lead to unpredictable consequences," the Russian Embassy in Washington said Wednesday, after US officials told CNN the White House is finalizing plans to bolster Ukraine's military arsenal.
  • Russia publicizes intercontinental missile: In a further sign of the importance it attaches to its strategic nuclear deterrent, the Russian Ministry of Defense released video of a "Yars" ballistic missile loaded into a silo launcher in the Kaluga region, ahead of Russia's "Day of Strategic Missile Forces."
  • Ukraine raids Orthodox Church: The Security Service of Ukraine said Wednesday it carried out searches of premises belonging to a branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nine regions — finding Russian passports, propagandist literature and "passes of the occupiers."
8:12 a.m. ET, December 15, 2022

Kyiv receives four excavators and 130 generators from US to battle power outages

From CNN's Mariya Kostenko in Kyiv

Kyiv has been given machinery and generators from the United States to help strengthen the city's power infrastructure, amid sweeping energy deficits across the country.

The mayor of Ukraine's capital, Vitali Klitschko, said Kyiv "received machinery and generators from the U.S. Government to operate boiler houses and heat supply stations."

The Energy Security Project, run by USAID, delivered four excavators and over 130 generators in order to help Ukraine rebuild its energy infrastructure, Klitschko said on Telegram. All equipment was free of charge.

The excavators “have already been delivered and will be soon put to work," the mayor added.

The new equipment, will allow authorities "to quickly and efficiently perform soil excavation, and thus accelerate the performance of emergency works," he said.

The generators were sent to boiler houses, combined heat and power plants and heat supply stations.

“11 kilometers of heating networks damaged by rocket attacks were replaced this year," Klitschko added.