August 17, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sophie Tanno, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, August 18, 2023
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9:53 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Russian air defenses shoot drone down near Moscow Expocentre, Moscow mayor says

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Russian air defenses shot down a drone early Friday over Moscow, according to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. 

"A drone was destroyed by our air defense forces during an attempted flight over Moscow tonight. Debris from the drone fell in the area of the Expocentre without causing any significant damage to the building," the mayor said on Telegram.

Sobyanin said no casualties or significant damage has been reported. 

Russian state media reported that the airspace over Vnukovo International Airport is currently closed and that arrivals and departures have been delayed. 

This marks the third time in the past month that this district of Moscow has been struck by drone debris.

9:43 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Russia says it thwarted attack by an unmanned Ukrainian gunboat in Black Sea

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Michael Rios

Russia says two of its patrol ships repelled a new Ukrainian attack on the Black Sea. 

According to Russia’s defense ministry, Ukraine targeted the ships with an unmanned gunboat late Thursday night. But Russia says its ships opened fire on the vessel and destroyed it before reaching its target.

The ships, the Pytlivy and the Vasily Bykov, were overseeing navigation in the area when the alleged attack happened, the Russian defense ministry said. Earlier this month, Russia said the Vasily Bykov was one of two ships that repelled another uncrewed boat attack by Ukraine. 

The Vasily Bykov also participated in Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s Snake Island at the start of the full-scale invasion.

Earlier this week, the ship fired warning shots on a cargo ship on the Black Sea after it failed to respond to a request to stop for an inspection, according to Russia.

10:08 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

US commits to approving F-16s for Ukraine as soon as training is complete

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Barrett

A US Air Force F-16 aircraft flies near the Rionegro Airport during military drills in Colombia, on July 12, 2021.
A US Air Force F-16 aircraft flies near the Rionegro Airport during military drills in Colombia, on July 12, 2021. Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images

The US has committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as pilot training is complete, according to a US official. 

The training program was initially expected to start this month, but it is now unclear exactly when it will start or how long it is expected to take.

Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jet, but the US is still working with other countries to see who may provide F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the jets would have the “full support” of the Biden administration and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft is complete.

“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” wrote Blinken in the letters.

Reuters first reported on the US approving the transfer of the jets.

A one-page training concept from the Danish Ministry of Defense laid out a six-month plan to prepare pilots and ground crews to operate the fighter jet.

But the US has yet to receive a formal training plan to familiarize and prepare Ukrainian pilots for the fourth-generation fighter jet. Even though a number of other countries fly the F-16, the US needs to sign off on the transfer of training materials, simulators and manuals for the jet because it is an American aircraft carrying sensitive technology. 

“We want to get ‘em there as soon as possible,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday. “The other thing you have to fold in here is the training piece. You gotta make sure that you have enough pilots, that they have the proper English proficiency, and then get them into that training.”
“We think that that training is going to be able to get started here relatively soon,” Kirby added.

Even so, Ukraine said Wednesday that it didn’t expect to receive F-16s until sometime next year.  

6:21 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Ukraine's counteroffensive is gradually moving forward. Here's what you should know

From CNN staff

Ukraine's counteroffensive is gradually moving forward with the help of cluster bombs.

The country's marines advanced for the second time in two weeks on the southeastern frontlines, towards the key port city of Mariupol, with the recapture of the village of Urozhaine appearing to have been partially aided by the Ukrainian use of controversial cluster munitions.

Drone footage of the intense fight for the village has emerged in which dozens of Russian troops can be seen fleeing to the village’s south.

The National Guard of Ukraine also said Thursday that its forces are entrenched near the village of Urozhaine in the eastern Donetsk region and are repelling Russian attacks after retaking the area. 

Here are other headlines you should know:

  • Military equipment and trainings: The Russian assault Ka-52 helicopters shot down in Ukraine Thursday morning were manufactured using foreign chips and processors, according to Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine. Also, Germany’s army trained Ukrainian troops on Leopard 1 battle tanks Thursday in the eastern German town of Klietz, just outside Berlin. The Russian Education Ministry announced Thursday that the country's vocational schools are to train the operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs), according to state media TASS. And Ukraine does not expect US-made F-16 fighter jets to arrive this year, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson said Wednesday.
  • The latest on the grain deal: Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called for increased international pressure to restore the Black Sea grain deal in a meeting with World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in Kyiv Thursday. Shmyhal said in a social media post that he stressed that Ukraine is counting on WTO support in restoring agricultural exports. 
  • NATO update: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed Thursday that it is up to Ukraine to decide when to come to the negotiating table, following controversial remarks made by the director of his office earlier this week.
  • Fines and sanctions: A magistrate’s court in Moscow fined US tech giant Google 3 million ruble (about $31,800) Thursday for its failure to delete questionable information about what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine, as well as information that is banned in Russia, according to state news agency TASS. Meanwhile, Yermak called for tougher sanctions to prevent Russia from procuring components for the weapons it uses in Ukraine. Ukraine has repeatedly called for stronger Western sanctions against Russia, arguing that despite the existing tough sanctions imposed by the US, NATO and the EU, Russia is still able to procure components for the weapons.
  • Comments from the Belarusian president: The war in Ukraine was avoidable, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview on Thursday, according to Belarus state news outlet BelTa. The outlet also reported that Belarus would immediately respond to aggression if provoked, including by using nuclear weapons, Lukashenko said.
  • Detainees in Russia: A Moscow court has charged a Russian-born US citizen with espionage, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday quoting the court's press service. And on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with American Paul Whelan, who is being held in a remote prison camp in Russia, a source familiar told CNN.
9:09 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Moscow court adds new charge for jailed Russian-born US citizen, state media reports

From CNN's Radina Gigova, Josh Pennington, Jennifer Hansler, Katarina Krebs and Matthew Chance

A general view of the pre-trial detention center "Lefortovo" in Moscow, on December 9, 2000.
A general view of the pre-trial detention center "Lefortovo" in Moscow, on December 9, 2000. AP

Moscow court has charged an imprisoned Russian-born US citizen with espionage, Russian state news agency TASS reported Thursday, citing the court’s press service.

The individual, named Gene Spector, is currently serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to bribery charges, according to TASS.

Spector was born and raised in St. Petersburg but later moved to the United States and received US citizenship, according to TASS. He was the chairman of the board of directors of Medpolymerprom Group, specializing in cancer drugs, according to TASS.

In 2020, Spector was charged with mediating bribes for Anastasia Alekseyeva, a former aide to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, according to TASS.

A US State Department spokesperson said the US is “aware of reports of charges against a US citizen in Russia" and that it is monitoring the situation.

There is no indication the US has deemed Spector to be wrongfully detained.

Read more about Spector

Detainees in Russia: Several Americans have been held in Russian custody during Moscow's war in Ukraine.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities in March, marking the first detention of an American reporter in Russia on allegations of spying since the Cold War.

Gerskovich's arrest rattled White House officials and further strained wartime relations between Moscow and Washington.

Other high-profile detentions — including that of US basketball star Brittney Griner, who was released in December, and former US Marine Paul Whelan — have raised concerns that Americans could be used as pawns in the broader geopolitics surrounding the war.

Clarification: This post has been updated to note Spector was already serving a prison sentence, and that this is a new charge.

CNN's Anna Chernova, Sophie Tanno and Jo Shelley contributed to this report.

3:03 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Ukrainian armed forces chief and US Gen. Mark Milley discuss military aid and frontline conditions

From Yulia Kesaieva and Radina Gigova

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and his US counterpart Gen. Mark Milley discussed the situation along the frontlines during a phone call Thursday, Zaluzhnyi said in a Facebook post. 

The two spoke about "plans for the near-term, midterm and more remote prospect," Zaluzhnyi said. He also mentioned that he discussed "actions" by Russian forces in Ukraine, without going into any detail in his post.

"We discussed relevant needs of the Ukrainian military in ammunition, weaponry, demining assets, AD, EW [Air defense and Electronic warfare] systems. I thanked allies for the material and technical assistance, which has been already provided," he said.
"We keep consolidating efforts in order to triumph over the aggressor," Zaluzhnyi added.
2:18 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Belarus would use nuclear weapons only to respond to aggression, president says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Belarus would immediately respond to aggression if provoked, including by using nuclear weapons, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview on Thursday, according to state news outlet BelTa. 

“There can be only one threat: aggression against our country. If aggression against our country is launched from the side of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, we will immediately respond with everything we have," he said. "NATO stands behind Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. We certainly understand that the forces are incomparable."

Lukashenko reiterated that “the nuclear weapons deployed in Belarus will definitely not be used unless we face aggression."

"If only an act of aggression is committed against us, an attack against Belarus, we will not tarry, wait and the rest. We will use the entire arsenal of our weapons for deterrence. Why? Belarus is not Russia. Belarus cannot observe and wait for something. There is a great distance between Brest (a city in southwestern Belarus) and Vladivostok (a city in far eastern Russia), but our territory can be captured within a month and there will be nothing left," he said. 

Lukashenko said that he has publicly approved plans in case of aggression, but he would not specify the contents. "We didn't bring nuclear weapons here in order to scare someone. Yes, nuclear weapons represent a strong deterring factor. But these are tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones. This is why we will use them immediately once aggression is launched against us," he added. 

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and said that Moscow would also construct a special storage facility for the weapons.

The Belarusian president also said Thursday his country would not get directly involved in Russia's war in Ukraine, unless Ukrainians cross the border.

“If you, Ukrainians, do not cross our border, we will never get involved in this war, in this hot war," Lukashenko said in the interview. "Yet, we will keep helping Russia — they are our ally," he added, saying that over 50 countries are helping Ukraine "with coordination, training, ammunition, weapons, and so on" but "only Belarus is openly helping Russia.” 

He called claims that Putin is pushing him to get involved in the war "complete nonsense."

For context: Belarus helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter Ukraine from the north.

3:25 p.m. ET, August 17, 2023

Belarus' president says Ukraine war was avoidable and that Minsk should be involved in peace talks

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks in Minsk, Belarus, on February 16.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks in Minsk, Belarus, on February 16. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

The war in Ukraine was avoidable, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview on Thursday, according to Belarus state news outlet BelTa.  

"The war was avoidable,” he said. “At any point in time. It can be stopped now and it could have been avoided then."

Lukashenko said he was "familiar with all the issues" regarding Ukraine and Russia because at one point he liaised between former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Lukashenko is a longtime ally of Putin. Belarus, which is west of Russia on Ukraine’s long northern border, helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter Ukraine from the north.

Lukashenko said in the interview that Belarus should be involved in peace talks about Ukraine.

"We border on Ukraine. We are 'co-aggressors'" in the eyes of the West, Lukashenko said. "Of course, we have our interests there, and our position should be heard. I believe that Belarus should be involved in the negotiation process."

Lukashenko said he thinks Belarus' participation in peace talks would be positive.

As for the current state of affairs in Moscow, the Belarusian president said claims that the Wagner Group's short-lived rebellion weakened Putin are "total nonsense."

Lukashenko said he allowed the private military group into his country to "quell this mutiny," and that Russia's leader had emerged from the ordeal stronger.

“As for Putin's overthrow that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky and his supporters desire, they may try. Let them try. If they don't have enough problems as it is, they will get even more problems. Nobody will overthrow Putin today,” Lukashenko said.