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Two videos emerged on social media this past week that appear to show beheadings of Ukrainian soldiers. The videos appear to be of separate events. One of them may have been filmed very recently, while the other — from the amount of foliage seen on the ground — looks like it was filmed during the summer.
The first video was posted to a pro-Russian social media channel on April 8. It was purportedly filmed by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group and appears to show the beheaded corpses of two Ukrainian soldiers lying on the ground next to a destroyed military vehicle.
In the video, a voice can be heard, behind the camera, the sound seemingly distorted to prevent the speaker’s identification.
“[The armoured vehicle] got f**ked by a mine,” the voice, speaking Russian, says.
Apparently referring to the bodies on the ground, the voice, laughing, continues, “They killed them. Someone came up to them. They came up to them and cut their heads off.”
The dead soldiers also appear to have had their hands cut off.
Russian social media accounts say the video was shot near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has been the scene of the war’s fiercest fighting for many months, with Wagner fighters very heavily involved. CNN is unable to independently confirm the video’s location.
The second video, which was posted on Twitter and is heavily blurred, looks to have been filmed during the summer because of the amount of plant life on the ground. It purports to show a Russian fighter using a knife to cut off the head of a Ukrainian soldier. A voice at the beginning of the video suggests the victim might have still been alive when the brutal attack began.
Shortly after the videos emerged, Andriy Yermak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted: “There will be an accountability for everything.”
An official Ukrainian government Telegram channel said the tweet was a direct reference to “another execution video published by Russians.”
Monday, the Institute for the Study of War said that Wagner was “reportedly continuing to commit war crimes by beheading Ukrainian servicemen in Bakhmut,” referencing a photo shared on pro-Russian social media sites showing what appeared to be a severed head mounted on a spike, which they claimed belonged to a Ukrainian soldier. The ISW has reported similar incidents in Popasna, in the Luhansk region, where Wagner troops were also operating earlier in the war.
Some pro-Russian social media accounts have suggested Ukrainian forces were responsible for the beheadings in an effort to conceal identification. This echoes a similar claim made by Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin in January after his fighters apparently found bodies with severed hands and heads near Bakhmut.
The CIA assesses that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not serious about negotiations at this stage” of the war in Ukraine and it is “Ukrainian progress on the battlefield that is most likely to shape prospects for diplomacy” to end the ongoing conflict, CIA Director Bill Burns said on Tuesday.
Speaking publicly for the first time, at Rice University, since leaked classified US military documents appeared online, Burns stressed the importance of Ukraine’s planned offensive, saying “a great deal is at stake in the coming months.”
“Instead of backing down, he has doubled down,” Burns said about Putin, adding the Russian president believes he can grind down Ukraine and the West.
The CIA director specifically mentioned that Ukraine continues to defend the Donbas region, which one of the leaked intelligence documents says is likely heading for a stalemate.
"Russia's grinding campaign of attrition in the Donbas region is likely heading toward a stalemate, thwarting Moscow's goal to capture the entire region in 2023," states one of the classified documents.
“Real countries fight back,” Burns said on Tuesday, adding that Ukraine and its president have done just that. “Putin was profoundly mistaken” in his assumptions about Ukraine before the war, Burns added.
Burns emphasized the importance of continued US support for Ukraine, including through intelligence sharing, at a time when the leaked classified documents are raising questions about the administration’s view of the conflict.
The CIA director made these statements at Rice University, where he's discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s aggressive posturing, Iran’s nuclear enrichment and other pressing foreign policy issues at school’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, according to the school's website.
CIA Director Bill Burns said Tuesday he expects more nuclear saber rattling from Russia as its war in Ukraine continues, but his agency does not “see evidence of preparations for any potential use of nuclear weapons.”
Burns said the CIA does not see any “significant change in nuclear deployments by Russian leadership."
He also said the leak of classified military documents represents an urgent problem for the US that is “as intense as anything” in the current moment.
Burns — stressing the importance of balancing both short-term and long-term issues — specifically pointed to the leak as an immediate problem the US intelligence agencies are grappling with.
The CIA director noted that the Justice Department is currently investigating the leak and declined to elaborate further on his understanding of the issue.
Burns made these statements at Rice University Tuesday, where he's discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s aggressive posturing, Iran’s nuclear enrichment and other pressing foreign policy issues at school’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, according to the school's website.
The highly classified leaked Pentagon documents posted to social media offer a pessimistic US view of the war's progress in Ukraine.
The documents highlight flaws in Ukraine's weaponry and air defenses and predict a stalemate in the war for months to come.
The documents, which appear to date from February and March, detail many of Ukraine's perceived military shortfalls as Kyiv prepares for a spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Several of the classified documents warn Ukraine's medium-range air defenses to protect front-line troops will be "completely reduced by May 23," suggesting Russia could soon have aerial superiority and Ukraine could lose the ability to amass ground forces in a counteroffensive.
The documents also underscore lingering problems with Russia's own military offensive, predicting that the result will be a stalemate between the two sides for the foreseeable future.
Officials familiar with the situation tell CNN the documents appear to be part of a daily intelligence briefing deck prepared for the Pentagon's senior leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
The leaking of the documents — many of which are marked top secret — represents a major national security breach, and the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into who may have leaked them while the Pentagon is investigating how the leak impacts US national security.
In addition to the assessment of the Ukraine war, the documents include intelligence gathered on allies and adversaries alike.
Here are the latest headlines:
- UN says nearly 8,500 civilian deaths confirmed in Ukraine since invasion: The the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had recorded 22,734 civilian casualties in Ukraine. between the beginning of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, until April 9, 2023 — with 8,490 civilians killed and 14,244 injured. The actual figures are likely to be “considerably higher,” the OHCHR cautioned, because information from some frontline locations such as Mariupol and Severodonetsk had been delayed, with many reports pending corroboration.
- Ukraine's top national security official downplays leaked intelligence documents: Some of the information in the highly classified leaked Pentagon documents was “not secret at all," according to Oleksii Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council. "You can find it in publicly available sources,“ Danilov told journalist, Vassili Golod, of German broadcaster ARD, in an interview on Sunday. Ukraine is in constant contact with its key allies, such as the US, the UK, Germany and Poland, according to Danilov.
- Americans detained by Russia: Paul Whelan, an American wrongfully detained in Russia, was able to call home on Monday for the first time in nearly two weeks, his brother David Whelan said Tuesday. "We been led to believe, erroneously, that Paul had been moved to LPU-21, the prison hospital," David Whelan said in an email to journalists. Such a move has happened in the past, leaving Paul Whelan unable to call his parents or the embassy. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden spoke with the parents of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent detained in Russia, Tuesday. It's their first time speaking since Gershkovich was arrested in Russia last month. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that he had designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained Monday, and reiterated that he called on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to immediately grant consular access and release the detained journalist.
- Russia conducted a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile: Russia successfully conducted a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. The launch from the Kapustin Yar test range in the Astrakhan region was part of testing on next-generation ICBM combat equipment, the defense ministry reports.
Russia successfully conducted a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The launch from the Kapustin Yar test range in the Astrakhan region was part of testing on next-generation ICBM combat equipment, the defense ministry reports.
"On April 11, 2023, a Strategic Missile Forces combat crew conducted a successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar state central joint forces test range in the Astrakhan region," the statement said.
The launch helped confirm the correctness of schematic and structural and technical solutions used in developing new strategic missile systems the defense ministry said. The missile's test warhead hit the target at the Sary Shagan firing range (Republic of Kazakhstan) with the target accuracy, according to the statement.
“The objectives of the launch were fulfilled in full," the statement read.
Russia notified the United States in advance of the launch through deconfliction lines under its New START treaty obligations, one official said, adding that "such testing is routine." Another official said that the test did not pose a risk to the United States and that the US did not view the test as an anomaly or an escalation.
CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia’s failure to grant consular access to wrongfully detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich “puts it, once again, in violation of international commitments it’s made."
“I think Russia not following through on meeting its obligations to consular access, never mind the practice of detaining people arbitrarily for political purposes, is going to do even more damage to Russia's standing around the world — a standing that has been in free-fall, particularly since its rei-nvasion of Ukraine last year,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.
“I think it sends a very strong message to people around the world to beware of even setting foot there, lest they be arbitrarily detained,” he said.
Blinken noted that he had designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained Monday, and reiterated that he called on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to immediately grant consular access and release the detained journalist.
Blinken did say what measures are being taken to free Gershkovich, only saying that the US is “engaged every single day in pressing for that access as well as pressing for Evan’s release.”
There was no physical damage to Canadian energy infrastructure after leaked US intelligence documents appeared to show that Russian hackers were attempting to cause damage to pipelines earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Tuesday.
“In regards to the reports of cyberattacks against Canadian energy infrastructure, I can confirm that there was no physical damage to any Canadian energy infrastructure following cyberattacks,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau is hosting Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, in Toronto for an official visit where Canada announced more military and humanitarian aid for the country.
Trudeau also confirmed that his government website was down after a denial of service attack Tuesday morning. The website appeared to be functioning normally by 2:30 p.m. ET after being down for several hours.
“It’s not uncommon for Russian hackers to target countries as they are showing their steadfast support for Ukraine as they are welcoming Ukrainian delegations or leadership to visit, so the timing isn't surprising,” said Trudeau during a news conference alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, adding that “Russia being able to bring down an official government of Canada webpage for a few hours is in no way going to dissuade us from our unshakable support of Ukraine."
In February, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which oversees Canada’s foreign intelligence and cybersecurity, issued an alert warning.
“Canadian organizations (need) to be vigilant and prepared for potential malicious cyber activity following the one-year mark of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Cyber Centre would like to specifically warn Canadian organizations and critical infrastructure operators to be prepared for the possible disruption, defacement, and attempted exploitation of Canadian network assets by cyber threat actors aligned with Russian interests,” the statement reads.
CSE said it would not confirm or deny any specific cyberattacks for security reasons.
Canada pledged another $2.4 billion (CDN) loan to Ukraine to support essential services, such as pension payments, purchasing fuel and restoring damaged energy infrastructure. This funding will be distributed through an IMF facility and brings Canada’s total contribution in this regard to about $8 billion (CDN).
Canada also signed a major nuclear supply contract to provide for Ukraine’s uranium needs to fuel its nuclear generators until 2035.
The United States has “engaged with allies and partners at high levels” in the days since the leak of classified documents came to light “to reassure them about our own committed to safeguarding intelligence and, of course, our commitment to our security partnerships,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Blinken noted that he had spoken Tuesday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and emphasized: “our enduring support for Ukraine and for its efforts to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty, its independence, reaffirmed the extraordinary support that we have provided to Ukraine along with dozens of other countries.”
The top US diplomat said he would not comment specifically on the “purported documents” when asked about a report that documents showed Ukraine had engaged in attacks outside of its territory.
However, Blinken noted that “Ukraine has to make decisions about how it can most effectively defend itself against Russian aggression and take back the territory that's been seized from it.”
“We give our advice as appropriate. We provide the support, that is well known, but Ukraine makes the decisions about how it actually prosecutes the effort to regain its territory,” he said.