volodymyr zelensky
'It's too much': Zelensky reacts to applause from US Congress
03:08 - Source: CNN

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In a break from his usual messaging, Putin refers to fighting in Ukraine as a "war"

Putin gestures during his briefing after the State Council meeting at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Thursday, December 22.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the word “war” on Thursday while talking to reporters about the fighting in Ukraine. 

The former KGB officer, who chooses his words carefully, has often referred to the war in Ukraine as a “special military operation.”

“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” Putin told reporters in Moscow after attending a State Council meeting on youth policy.

“We have been and will continue to strive for this,” he continued.

After attending the meeting, Putin took questions from reporters on various topics, including the fighting in Ukraine, the US shipment of a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine and the Russian economy.

Head of Wagner dismisses US claim that the group took weapons from North Korea

Yevgeny Prigozhin gestures on the sidelines of a summit meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August 2016.

The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Thursday claims by the United States that his group took weapons deliveries from North Korea are “nothing more than gossip and speculation.”

“Everyone knows that it’s been a long time since North Korea has supplied weapons to the Russian Federation,” Prigozhin said in a statement published on his Telegram channel. “And no other such attempts have even been made. Therefore, these arms deliveries from the DPRK are nothing more than gossip and speculation.”

“On our behalf, I want to stress that - and I’ve already answered this question today - we buy quite a lot of American weapons. And that is why my lawyers will more than likely take an active part in the process to lift the U.S. sanctions on the supply of weapons to the Wagner PMC,” he said. 

“We believe these restrictions are completely unfair, due to the fact that Wagner PMC has never violated international trade rules when buying the US weapons,” Prigozhin said. 

“Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby makes a lot of statements based on speculation,” Prigozhin said in response to remarks by the strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council John Kirby.

Earlier Thursday Kirby said that “it’s pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian Ministries” and that it is recruiting convicts, including some with serious medical conditions. 

Russians use crowdfunding to buy boots and body armor for Kremlin's ill-supplied troops

Russian citizens are crowdfunding to equip soldiers deployed to Ukraine as winter closes in on the battlefield.

Troops have complained they are short of basic equipment – and the message has reached Russian President Vladimir Putin. He and other officials say they are working to overcome issues with supplying newly mobilized troops, partially blaming supply chain issues.

But the Kremlin has also stepped up pressure on those who dare to complain – and is increasingly framing the invasion of Ukraine as a patriotic and almost existential cause.

Local campaigns are raising funds for soldiers in both Russia and the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine.

One, dubbed “Together is Warmer,” has raised 3 million rubles (about $45,000) to provide basic equipment and clothing for Russian soldiers.

A Telegram channel detailed last month how citizens helped supply the DPR’s 6th Motorized Rifles, a company of 74 men.

The channel listed what the citizens bought: Uniforms, thermal underwear, socks, hats, balaclavas, sweaters, berets, a generator, power banks, medicines, clothes, boots and even two wheelchairs, which the company took to the hospital.

In the Chuvashia region, where the mobilization prompted protests in the fall, Telegram channels said that families had gone into debt buying equipment.

“From officials there, all they got was parting words and three sacks of potatoes,” one said.

Many of the public crowdfunding appeals focus on preventing hypothermia among soldiers fighting without adequate clothing and shelter in sub-zero temperatures. In the central Russian city of Tambov, for example, 8th grade schoolchildren raised money for socks for the troops.

But some also try to source thermal imagery devices, two-way radios, body armor or even drones.

Maxim Samorukov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine last week: “Ordinary Russians are expected to help their friends and relatives who have had the misfortune of being drafted. Indeed, they have little option but to cover the deficiencies in state provisions out of their own pockets simply to protect their loved ones.”

Read more on the Russian supply issues — and Moscow’s official response — here.

Inside Bakhmut, the Ukrainian city Zelensky hailed as a symbol of his nation's resilience

Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar towards Russian positions Thursday near Bakhmut.

In his address on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thrust the frontline city of Bakhmut onto the world stage, describing the situation there in moving terms.

In a roughly 25-minute speech, six minutes were dedicated to the situation in and around the city. Members of Congress stood and applauded four times as Zelensky recounted Bakhmut’s fate.

Here’s why the city has become a rallying point for Ukrainian fortitude:

Months of fierce fighting: Bakhmut rests in the gentle rolling hillocks of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. It lies on the road to the much bigger and more strategically important cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

During the past 10 months of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the city has risen to infamy. It’s regularly referred to as the most contested and kinetic area of the conflict. Zelensky’s advisers and generals have called the battles for Bakhmut “fierce,” “hot” and “difficult.”

The fire and brimstone unleashed by the Russian advance has left it in ruins, a smoking shell of its former self. This fate has burnished Bakhmut’s power as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. In the face of devastating Russian attacks, it is still holding on.

Ukrainian soldiers ride in a Humvee in Bakhmut on Wednesday.

On the ground in Bakhmut: Various CNN teams have visited the city in recent months. They witnessed the devastation and dereliction. They saw firsthand the impact it was having on the Ukrainian soldiers there, and the shellshock affecting the hardy residents who remained.

Despite all that, Ukraine has held off Moscow’s troops from overtaking the city, allowing Kyiv to fortify important surrounding cities and lessening the blow if Russia ever does prevail there.

In the meantime, Bakhmut has become more than just a city fighting for survival – it is now the beating heart and one of the most powerful emblems of the country’s resistance.

Read Shukla’s full report here.

US secretary of state says he discussed Ukrainian peace proposal with G7 leaders and it's "a good start"

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on Thursday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed Kyiv’s peace proposal with his Group of Seven colleagues this morning after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington. 

“I can just tell you that we’re looking at what he’s put forward. I was just on the — the video with our G7 partners this morning. And this is one of the things that we talked about,” Blinken told CNN’s Kylie Atwood. 

Blinken called Zelensky’s peace proposals “a good start.”

“They’re things that everyone should be able to, in one way or another, to rally to,” he said.

Blinken would not say how long it would take for the US and Ukraine to evaluate the plan together. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the two sides agreed to reviewing the plan yesterday in the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Zelensky.

What borders would Ukraine accept in a peace deal? Blinken said the US and Ukraine agreed on the overall peace effort underway. He did not respond more directly to a question of whether Kyiv would accept a goal of reclaiming territory up to its borders before the Feb. 24 invasion. Blinken has previously said that’s the US focus, while Zelensky has outlined broader visions for retaking the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

“What’s clear from all of our conversations with Ukraine, including the conversations just yesterday between President Biden and President Zelensky, is that we have the same objectives, the same goals: a free and independent, a prosperous, a democratic Ukraine, one that demonstrates that the principles of the United Nations charter are being upheld, including on territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence, and that’s something the president reiterated yesterday,” Blinken said.

Blinken said Ukraine has told the US that it is currently focused on taking back its eastern and southern territory that has been occupied since February.

“But that doesn’t prejudge in any way where this goes, where it settles,” said Blinken at his year-end news conference, emphasizing that it would be up to Ukraine to decide what a “just and durable” peace looks like.

Blinken also reiterated that Russia has shown “no meaningful interest” in diplomacy to end the war.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his administration has always been open to talks and that “it was the Ukrainian leadership that refused itself to conduct negotiations.”

It's nighttime in Kyiv. Here's everything you need to know.

US President Joe Biden’s administration rolled out new sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities after Russian operations against Ukrainian ports, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Thursday.

Here are more of the latest developments:

  • Patriot missile systems training: The US has trained approximately 3,100 Ukrainian troops to date on different systems, with training on the newly announced Patriot missile systems set to begin “very soon,” a senior defense official said.
  • Russian mercenary firm’s expanding influence: Newly downgraded US intelligence suggests the Russian mercenary group Wagner has assumed expanded influence and is recruiting convicts — including some with serious medical conditions — from prisons to supplement Moscow’s flagging military. The group recently took delivery of arms from North Korea, a top US official said, in a sign of its growing role in the war in Ukraine.
  • Zelensky meets Polish president on return to Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Polish President Andrzej Duda while heading back to Ukraine from the US.
  • Lukashenko denies “conspiracy” to enter war: The recent movement of Belarusian armed forces is not part of a plan to get involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday. Ongoing military exercises “are more extensive because of the current situation and threats. Therefore, we are conducting exercises on our territory,” Lukashenko said. “That’s it. No other intent, no conspiracy.” 
  • Ukrainian public hails Zelensky: CNN spoke to members of the public throughout Ukraine to gauge their reaction to Zelensky’s overseas trip and the way he was received by US lawmakers. Mariya Hrachova, a marketing director in Kyiv, said she is always moved by Zelensky’s speeches, and Wednesday was no different. “When he spoke to the House of Representatives, the way he looked, he didn’t wear a suit, he was himself,” she said. “He spoke the truth, he said what he wanted, what he had to say, I admire that.”

Amendment to transfer seized assets of Russian oligarchs to the people of Ukraine approved in US Congress

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s amendment related to seized Russian oligarch’s assets and transferring them to the people of Ukraine passed by voice vote.

It’s the fourth amendment to be approved Thursday to the US government funding bill.

“This amendment would allow the Department of Justice through the Secretary of State to transfer proceeds from seized oligarch’s assets or other sanctioned entities to the people of Ukraine,” Graham said. “It will be a god send to the long suffering people of the Ukraine. It will be a relief to the American taxpayer… It will be a bad day for oligarchs.”

US will begin Patriot missile training for Ukrainian troops very soon, official says

U.S. Army MIM-104 Patriots, surface-to-air missile system launchers, are pictured at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland on March 24.

The US has trained approximately 3,100 Ukrainian troops to date on different systems, with training on the newly announced Patriot missile systems set to begin “very soon,” a senior defense official said.

Nearly half of those troops have been trained on M777 howitzers or HIMARS rocket launchers, two of the systems that have been critical to Ukrainian operations so far. Ukrainian forces have also been trained on vehicles, various forms of artillery, drones and other systems. 

The Pentagon will soon begin training Ukrainian personnel on how to operate and maintain the Patriot missile system, officially announced yesterday during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.

Though the Pentagon would not specify exactly when the training would begin or how long it would take for Ukrainians to master the complex system, a senior defense official said Wednesday it would start “very soon” and would take “several months.”

The Patriot system costs between $450 and $550 million, the Pentagon said, depending on the configuration of the platform. Each missile costs approximately $4 million.

The US will also soon start an expanded training program for Ukrainian forces, including joint maneuver and combined arms training. This program will train approximately 500 soldiers per month on larger combat operations.

US believes Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group is expanding influence and took delivery of North Korean arms

An interior view shows PMC Wagner Centre, a project implemented by Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 4.

Newly downgraded US intelligence suggests the Russian mercenary group Wagner has assumed expanded influence and is recruiting convicts — including some with serious medical conditions — from prisons to supplement Moscow’s flagging military.

The group recently took delivery of arms from North Korea, a top US official said, a sign of its growing role in the war in Ukraine.

And the US believes Wagner could be locked in a power battle with the Russian military itself as it jockeys for influence with the Kremlin.

“In certain instances, Russian military officials are actually subordinate to Wagner’s command,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council. “It’s pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”

The revelations about the Wagner Group came a day after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s historic visit to Washington, where he thanked the United States for its military assistance and said more was needed to fend off Russian advances.

Some background: Wagner has emerged as a key player in the 10-month conflict. The group is often described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014, and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.

Kirby said the US estimates Wager currently has about 50,000 personnel deployed inside Ukraine, of which 40,00 could be convicts recruited from Russian prisons. He said the group was spending $100 million per month to fund its operations in Ukraine. 

The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has even traveled personally to Russian prisons to recruit convicts himself to go to the front lines and fight. Some of them suffer from “serious medical conditions,” Kirby said.

“It seems as though Mr. Prigozhin is willing to just throw Russian bodies into the meat grinder, in Bakhmut. In fact, about 1,000 Wagner fighters have been killed in the fighting in just recent weeks, and we believe that 90% of those 1,000 fighters were in fact convicts,” Kirby said.

Prigozhin, who has sometimes been referred to as “Putin’s chef,” already has close ties to the Russian president. But Kirby suggested he was working to strengthen those ties through his efforts to bolster Russian forces through his mercenary recruitment.

“It’s all about how good he looks to Mr. Putin, and how well he’s regarded at the Kremlin,” he said. “In fact, we would go so far as to say that his influence is expanding.”

Last month, Wagner received a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea, Kirby said, an indication of how Russia and its military partners continue to seek ways around Western sanctions and export controls.

Wagner, not the Russian government, paid for the equipment. The US doesn’t believe it will significantly change the battlefield dynamic in Ukraine — but suggested North Korea could be planning to deliver further material.

US issues new sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities

US President Joe Biden’s administration rolled out new sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities after Russian operations against Ukrainian ports, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday.

“We are committed to imposing additional severe consequences on President Putin and his enablers for Russia’s unconscionable war against Ukraine. In the wake of Russian naval operations against Ukrainian ports, including those that are providing much-needed food and grain to the world, the United States today is imposing sanctions on Russian naval entities,” Blinken said. 

The entities sanctioned include companies that produce different aspects of Russia’s naval capability. One of the sanctioned companies is a battery company, Rigel, that has been a supplier to the Russian navy for more than 15 years, the US State Department said. Also sanctioned was a central institute for scientific research, Elektropribor, which produces a navigation system for Russian combat ships. 

“The United States remains determined to use all appropriate measures to deter Russia’s attacks on Ukraine – whether those attacks be from the air, land, or sea. These accountability measures underscore a simple message: the Kremlin must end its brutal campaign against Ukraine,” Blinken said.

Zelensky says he is returning from Washington "with good results"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his first video message since leaving Washington, DC, on Wednesday that he is returning to his country with “good results.” 

In a selfie-style message on Telegram, the Ukrainian president said, “I am coming back from Washington. Coming with good results, that will really help.”

He also thanked US President Joe Biden for his “assistance and for international leadership and for his commitment to victory.”

“I thank the US Congress, to both Houses, to all Parties who support Ukraine, to all those who wish us Victory as much as we wish it,” he added.

Zelensky said that “we are bringing to Ukraine, to Donbas, to Bakhmut and to the South, solutions that our Defence Forces have been waiting for.”

Putin says Patriot missile defense systems are "old" and Russia will "always find the antidote" 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Patriot missile defense systems are “old” systems and Russia will “always find the antidote.” 

“In regards to Patriots, this is quite an old system and it doesn’t work as well as our S-300,” Putin said, when asked by a reporter to comment on the United States’ decision to provide a Patriot system to Ukraine. 

“Those who oppose us think this is a defensive weapon, that’s what they say,” Putin said. “But that’s in their own mind and we’ll always find the antidote.” 

“So those doing it are just wasting their time, it’s just delaying the conflict,” Putin said. 

Some background: The Patriot’s radar system combines “surveillance, tracking, and engagement functions in one unit,” a description from the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) says, which makes it stand out among other air defense systems. The system’s engagements with incoming aerial threats are “nearly autonomous” aside from needing a “final launch decision” from the humans operating it.

G7 nations "prepared to do more as needed" on Ukraine economic assistance

The Group of Seven nations “are prepared to do more as needed on budget and economic support” for Ukraine in the year ahead, according to a joint statement from the group’s finance ministers Thursday.

For 2023, the group has mobilized “up to $32 billion US dollars of budget and economic support for Ukraine and continue to make further progress,” said the statement published by the German government.

“We also strongly encourage other donors to step up their support,” the finance ministers added.

In 2022, the G7 mobilized $32.7 billion US dollars of budget support to the Ukrainian government, some $18 billion dollars of which came from the European Union, according to the G7.

Remember: The G7, or Group of Seven, is made up of allied leaders from some of the world’s largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

Zelensky meets with Polish president on his way back to Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Dudain in Rzeszow, Poland on Thursday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Polish President Andrzej Duda while returning to Ukraine from the US. 

Zelensky posted a photo of him on Telegram meeting with Duda and said, “We summed up the year, which brought historic challenges due to a full-scale war.”

“Also we discussed strategic plans for the future, bilateral relations and interactions at the international level in 2023,” he added.

From the video accompanying the post, Zelensky is seen disembarking from a plane at Rzeszow airport. It is unclear what time he arrived in Poland. 

Ukrainian officials express optimism about swift training on Patriot missile defense system

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov reacts during a press conference in Lviv on August 18.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he held a phone call with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, DC, and the announcement that the US will provide the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.

Reznikov tweeted that “PATRIOTic soldiers will master these systems quickly,” capitalizing part of the word in reference to the defense system.

Reznikov said he was “grateful for another package of security assistance, especially for the new capabilities to defend out skies from Russia’s brutal attacks.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said he thinks the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot missile defense system “will be accelerated.” 

He added that the training is taken “very seriously” by the Americans and that the training is “done strictly according to the rules.” 

Ihnat said on Ukrainian television that he hoped the one unit “should be just the beginning” and that the Patriot can help protect “important strategic objects” such as infrastructure and headquarters locations. 

Iran warns Zelensky that "patience for baseless accusations is not limitless"

Iran clapped back at Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and warned of limited “patience for baseless accusations.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said the speech delivered by Zelensky from the United States Capitol repeated “accusations and indecent statements.” 

“We have always respected the territorial integrity of countries, including Ukraine, and Mr. Zelensky should know that Iran’s strategic patience for baseless accusations is limited,” a published statement by Kanaani said. 

“Mr. Zelensky should learn from the fate of some leaders of countries who relied on America’s support,” the statement said. 

In his speech to the US Congress, Zelensky said that hundreds of deadly drones sent by Iran to Russia have become a threat to “critical infrastructure.” 

Some background: The Iranian government acknowledged last month that it had sent a limited number of drones to Russia in the months before the start of its invasion of Ukraine, but has denied supplying military equipment for use in the war in Ukraine.

Russia, Zelensky argued in strong terms, has “found an ally” in Iran.

“That is how one terrorist has found the other,” Zelensky said. 

“It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now.”

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