Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
August 27, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Joshua Berlinger, Thom Poole and Aditi Sangal, CNN
The coalition aiding Ukraine's fight against Moscow's invasion would not support Kyiv if it were to move the hostilities to Russian territory, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.
"I believe that this is a big risk, we will definitely be left alone," he said in an interview with national media, where he was asked if it was time for such a move to Russian soil.
Zelensky said Ukraine’s fight to reclaim its own territory has been critically aided by its relationships with allies.
The progress and responsibility for Ukraine on the battlefield “is always bilateral,” Zelensky said, adding that international partners are a part of any victory, any hold-up in the counteroffensive, any defensive actions and any weakness.
Zelensky also said he believes it is possible to "push for the demilitarization of Russia" in Crimea by political means.
Some context: The last several months have seen a rise in strikes on Russian soil, with Russian officials saying Ukrainian drones and shelling are responsible for attacks that have at times wounded or killed civilians.
Officials in Kyiv have alluded to the incidents — Zelensky said after drone attacks last month, for example, that the war is "returning to Russia" — but Ukraine often declines to take explicit credit for attacks across the border.
Moscow seized the peninsula and declared it annexed Russian territory back in 2014, in a move denounced as illegal by Ukraine, the US and international bodies. Kyiv has said its goal of driving Russia out of Ukraine includes reclaiming Crimea.
Ukraine's forces are making more progress in the country's southern Zaporizhzhia region, while Russian troops have intensified attacks in areas surrounding the embattled city of Kupiansk on the eastern front line, the Ukrainian military said Sunday.
Around Kupiansk: Russia "has significantly increased the number of attacks. As of yesterday, the enemy shelled the positions of our defenders 620 times and carried out 15 airstrikes," Illya Yevlash, a spokesperson for Ukraine's forces on the eastern front, said on national television.
"However, the enemy's emphasis has changed somewhat. They are shifting their focus from the Kupiansk sector to Novoiehorivka," Yevlash added, referring to a village northeast of Kupiansk.
Ukrainian forces repelled 10 attacks in the area over the past day, the spokesperson said.
Russian shelling around Kupiansk has been so intense in recent weeks that it has prompted one of Ukraine's largest-scale evacuations of the conflict.
Near Bakhmut: Ukraine is still on the offensive in the Bakhmut direction, and continues to advance "meter by meter," Yevlash said. Over the past day, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions 590 times, using multiple rocket launchers and cannon artillery of various calibers, according to the spokesperson.
A total of 14 combat engagements took place on Saturday, Yevlash said. "The enemy is resorting to counterattacks, trying in vain to regain lost ground," he added, noting that Russia's tactics "remain virtually unchanged" in the area.
Since the Wagner private military group claimed to capture the eastern city in May, Ukraine has maintained that it is still fighting for Bakhmut and picking up gains in territory immediately surrounding the city.
Zaporizhzhia region: In southern Ukraine, Kyiv's forces continue to advance near the village of Robotnye, said Oleksandr Shputun, a Ukrainian military spokesperson for units in the region.
Ukrainian troops are advancing in the direction of Novoprokopivka — another village, located just south of Robotyne — and north toward the settlement of Mala Tokmachka, Shputun said on national television Sunday.
"Recently, the enemy has increased the number of airstrikes," he said. "But this also means that other firepower is no longer able to hold back the progress of our troops."
Ukraine has claimed successes in Robotyne and surrounding areas over the past several days, with social media video and images showing troops had entered the village. Almost no buildings are still standing in Robotyne, Kyiv's forces say.
Here's where the state of control stands in Ukraine:
The remains of all 10 passengers on Yevgeny Prigozhin's plane that crashed on Wednesday have been identified, confirming the death of the Wagner chief, Russia's Investigative Committee said Sunday.
The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency has reported that in addition to the three crew members, the following individuals were on board the plane that crashed in the Tver region north of Moscow:
- Yevgeny Prigozhin
- Dmitry Utkin
- Valeriy Chekalov
- Sergey Propustin
- Evgeniy Makaryan
- Aleksandr Totmin
- Nikolay Matuseev
What do we know about them?
CNN has previously reported on Utkin's role as a trusted lieutenant of Prigozhin’s since the beginning of the Wagner Group.
A report from a Russian investigative group run by exiled Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Dossier Center, revealed more details about the other passengers on board:
Valeriy Chekalov: Chekalov was one of the Wagner boss' deputies who had worked with him since the early 2000s, the Dossier Center says. He oversaw all of Prigozhin's "civilian" projects abroad, including geological exploration, oil production and agriculture, as well as the company's logistics.
In July, the US State Department imposed sanctions on Chekalov for acting on Prigozhin's behalf, noting that he had "facilitated shipments of munitions to the Russian Federation."
Evgeniy Makaryan: Makaryan joined Wagner in March 2016, the Dossier Center reported. He was part of the fourth Wagner assault detachment in Syria, which came under fire from American aircraft near Khasham in February 2018.
CNN previously reported that Russia acknowledged suffering heavy casualties in an ill-fated operation against US-backed forces in Syria.
At the time, Moscow insisted the casualties were not Russian troops, saying “servicemen of the Russian Federation did not participate in any way” in the clash. It did not say what the Russians were doing there, but families of the victims say they were military contractors working for Wagner.
Nikolai Matusevich: While the Dossier Center said it could not find a Wagner official with a perfect match for the spelling listed by Russian officials — Nikolay Matuseev — they did find Matusevich, who has been with Wagner since January 2017 and also served in the fourth assault detachment in Syria.
Sergey Propustin: Propustin joined Wagner in March 2015 and fought in a company dubbed Kirill Tikhonovich, which was one of the Wagner group's combat units, according to the Dossier Center.
CNN's Celine Alkhaldi and Katharina Krebs contributed reporting to this post.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday his country is preparing for a "productive" September, as several international events are set to take place and Ukraine is "expecting decisions" on defense packages.
"We are preparing Ukraine's participation in international events, including the UN General Assembly. The next (Kyiv) Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen is a way to build up Ukraine's soft power. Global food security is a constant priority," Zelensky said in a Telegram post.
"The free world needs more power to defend itself. Together we have this potential and we will demonstrate it," Zelensky added. "In September, there will be even more unity."
Russian volunteer forces and those defending the country's territory are now required to swear their allegiance to the Kremlin thanks to a new presidential decree signed by President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
The order, which took immediate effect, obliges military "volunteer formations" and those involved in territorial defense to swear loyalty to the Russian Federation by taking an oath before the Russian flag.
Key context: Though no specific groups are named in the decree, its timing is noteworthy.
The order comes as questions swirl around the future of the Wagner private military company. Russia has confirmed that Wagner's leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash on Wednesday — two months to the day after leading his forces on a short-lived mutiny against the Moscow military establishment.
The mutiny lasted fewer than 24 hours, but it revealed the intensity of the discord between various factions fighting in Ukraine on behalf of Moscow.
Putin signed the loyalty decree just two days after the crash.
Who this affects: The new measure applies to members of “volunteer formations,” as well as “other persons assisting in the performance of tasks assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other troops, military formations and agencies."
Some state enterprises employees and “persons brought in for the implementation of territorial defense measures,” will also take the oath.
It's unclear if this will affect Wagner troops or other forces fighting on behalf of Russia, such as those aligned with the breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Though Wagner has a global presence, Putin has said it has no legal right to exist in Russia, as private military companies are technically outlawed there. Despite that, he cultivated a close relationship with Prigozhin, and Wagner's convoluted legal status hasn't stopped it from operating across Africa or fighting the war in Ukraine under the umbrella of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious Russian mercenary leader believed to be on board a plane that crashed Wednesday, has been confirmed dead by Russian authorities.
Though Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company, was one of 10 people listed on the plane's flight manifest, Russian officials refrained from verifying his death until genetic testing was completed.
Russia's Investigative Committee confirmed Sunday that the remains of all 10 passengers listed on board were found in the wreckage.
Read about the other Wagner members killed in the crash here.
Some background: The crash came two months to the day after Prigozhin's short-lived mutiny against the Russian military establishment. The insurrection was the greatest challenge to Russian leader Vladimir Putin's authority in more than two decades of power.
Prigozhin's uprising ended up lasting just hours, thanks to a deal negotiated by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a Putin ally. Lukashenko said he talked his Russian counterpart out of destroying Wagner and convinced him to allow Prigozhin to leave Russia for Belarus to end the standoff.
The mutiny prompted some in the West, including US President Joe Biden, to suggest the Kremlin might be behind the crash, speculation Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called an “absolute lie.”
To date, no evidence has been presented that points to the involvement of the Kremlin or Russian security services in the crash. The cause of the incident remains unknown and Russian authorities say they have launched a criminal investigation.
For more than nine years, Russian tourists vacationing in Crimea didn’t need to give much thought to the fact that their country was waging war on Ukraine - or that their sun lounger was parked on occupied territory.
But with Kyiv’s counteroffensive underway, the southern Ukrainian peninsula is no longer the safe haven such holidaymakers had become accustomed to since Moscow annexed it in 2014.
Crimea has experienced a spate of attacks in recent weeks, including a seaborne raid by Ukrainian special forces on Thursday and a series of drone attacks on Friday. The bridges that connect Crimea to Russia and to southern Ukrainian areas under Russian control have been struck repeatedly in recent months.
Ukraine has claimed responsibility for some of these strikes and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has warned its assaults will continue.
The attacks are forcing Russian tourists to reconsider their plans
Read more about the situation in Crimea here:
The latest Russian attacks across Ukraine killed at least two people and wounded another 10, Ukrainian authorities said.
The head of the military administration in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia said Sunday morning that a 42-year-old man was killed and four others were hurt during Russian attacks in the past day.
To the west, in the southern region of Kherson, another person was killed and four more were injured during Russian shelling. The strikes hit regional settlements, infrastructure, a medical institution, a national park and some warehouses, authorities in Kherson said.
And in Kyiv, the capital, two people were injured and 10 homes were damaged in missile attacks overnight, the head of the Kyiv military administration said. The air raid alert caused by the salvo lasted for almost three hours.