August 28, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Mike Hayes and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, August 29, 2023
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7:31 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian soldiers acknowledge more tough challenges as they try to push south

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Maria Kostenko

 Soldiers line up during celebrations for Ukrainian Independence Day in Kyiv on August 24.
Soldiers line up during celebrations for Ukrainian Independence Day in Kyiv on August 24. Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Even as Ukrainian units have breached the first line of Russian defenses on part of the southern front, soldiers have been describing just how difficult it is to make more than incremental gains in the face of complex and multi-layered fortifications.

Ukrainian forces say they have taken one village -- Robotyne -- in Zaporizhzhia region, and are moving towards several others in a bid to bring the strategic hub of Tokmak within range of artillery.

One soldier, a communications specialist named Oleksandr Solonko, has written in detail about the challenges of making progress in the area, with his account supported by others.

The lay of the land: First, he said, the topography of the region has left many Ukrainian troops exposed.

"Whoever you are, an assault group ... an evac[uation mission], an airborne or ground reconnaissance, your movement is visible from afar. The enemy has been preparing to meet you for a long time," he said.

"There are a limited number of access roads and logistics routes. Everything has been shot at and shelled repeatedly every day. You are almost certainly being spotted. It is basically impossible to do the job while remaining completely invisible to the enemy."

On Friday, a Ukrainian officer with a front line unit also told CNN that the open terrain was a challenge, with drones from both sides overhead.

"It is impossible to hide any movement of equipment, any maneuver immediately becomes known to the enemy and shelling begins either with artillery or drones."

The officer added that, unlike in Bakhmut, there were no basements in which to shelter.

Trenches and minefields: Solonko also said that Russian fortifications were elaborate. "There is an entire system of trenches, dugouts, actual tunnels in some places ... Automatic grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-tank missile systems. Anti-tank ditches and minefields stretch across the fields."

"What is not dug up is mined. We need to go through all this to move forward."

Multiple accounts in recent weeks speak of Ukrainian sappers - soldiers tasked with clearing minefields - making slow progress, with some of the weapons set off by tripwires that were intensively laid as a first line of defense by the Russians.

"Our positions on the retaken territory are surrounded by mines and tripwires. Paths are being made to enter, sappers are gradually clearing the territory."

Air power: Solonko also acknowledged the loss of Ukrainian armor in the region "because of the enemy's superiority in the air." 

"Guided aerial bombs are one of the biggest fears. The Russians use them on a massive scale. I can't judge the accuracy, but the weapon is formidable in power."

The Russians are extensively using drones for surveillance and targeting Ukrainian positions, according to Solonko. "They identify targets and launch Lancets in swarms as well as guided bombs."

But he says that US-donated vehicles are saving lives, with one soldier he'd spoken to revealing he'd survived a direct attack twice in Bradley (fighting vehicles).

Defenses run deep: Analysts have said there are deeply entrenched defenses further ahead. OSINT analyst Emil Kastehelmi notes that "the Russians have built 100-350m long communication trenches, which helps them both reinforce or retreat from the fighting positions."

"Heavy fortifications are built in order to block any potential advance on the main road towards Tokmak," Kastehelmi wrote Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The Institute for the Study of War commented in its latest front line assessment that "Ukrainian forces are now within striking distance of the next series of Russian defensive positions, which appears to be comprised of a relatively more contiguous array of anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles, with Russian fighting positions behind these obstacles similar to the previous layer of Russian defenses."

ISW added: "The highly interconnected systems of trenches and dugouts that the Ukrainian soldier described is the result of months of Russian preparation. It is unclear if Russian forces extended that system throughout subsequent series of defensive positions further south."

6:37 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukraine needs more support or Russia won’t stop, Moldovan president tells CNN in exclusive interview

From CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Claire Calzonetti and Ben Kirby

Maia Sandu speaks with CNN on Sunday.
Maia Sandu speaks with CNN on Sunday. CNN

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu has told CNN that “Ukraine needs to get more support… and everybody should understand that if Ukraine is not helped, then Russia will not stop in Ukraine or Moldova.”

In an exclusive interview in Chisinau with CNN’s chief international anchor, the president added that she hoped “more support will be coming soon, so that Ukraine could recover its territories and we will see an end to this crazy war.”

Amanpour spoke with President Sandu on Sunday as Moldova marked its 32nd independence day. The country borders Ukraine and has experienced serious tensions with Russia, in particular over the eastern pro-Russian breakaway territory of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed.

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin revoked a 2012 foreign policy decree that in part recognized Moldova’s independence, according to Reuters.

Sandu told Amanpour that in Transnistria “there is a regime which is supported by Russia.”

“There are the Russian troops which are stationed illegally in the Transnistrian region. And of course, this is how the Russian authorities are trying to influence things in the Republic of Moldova.”

Tensions have been further heightened since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Moldova, and of Moldovans from Russia.

“When people from Russia try to overthrow a democratically elected government, this is a very clear sign that there is no respect for this country,” Sandu told Amanpour, referring to the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

Moldova is not currently a member of the European Union, but applied for membership shortly after Russia launched its invasion, and was then granted candidate status in June 2022.

President Sandu noted that “it’s a long process” and acknowledged “we still have corrupt judges and corrupt prosecutors who do not want our reforms to succeed,” but she emphasized that “Moldova’s democracy will be preserved when Moldova becomes [an] EU member state.”

When asked about the death of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Sandu noted that “this just reconfirms the risks which come from Russia, a country which does not have justice… Unfortunately this does not limit to Russia’s borders. Unfortunately this is the way Russia acts with respect to its neighbors.”

Watch the full interview on Amanpour on Monday, 1 p.m. ET.

6:06 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukrainian drones intercepted over Crimea, says Russian defense ministry

From CNN's Maria Kostenko

Two Ukrainian drones were intercepted over Russian-occupied Crimea on Monday, according to Russia's defense ministry.

"Another attempt by the Kiev regime to carry out a terrorist attack using two airplane-type UAVs against facilities on the territory of the Russian Federation was foiled at around 10.30am today," the ministry said.

Community channels on Telegram monitoring the area of Yevtaporia on Crimea's west coast described an air defense missile being launched and exploding in the sky.

The west coast of Crimea has seen an uptick in Ukrainian attacks this month, with drones being supplemented by special forces landings, aimed at degrading Russian air defenses and hitting other Russian military facilities.

Kyiv has said its goal of driving Russia out of Ukraine includes reclaiming Crimea, which was annexed by Russian forces in 2014.

5:50 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Spiraling war costs spell more economic pain for Russia

Analysis from CNN's Clare Sebastian and Hanna Ziady

“We have no funding restrictions,” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told a gathering of military top brass in December. “The country, the government will provide whatever the army asks for.” Eighteen months into his war in Ukraine, Putin seems to be keeping that promise.

But he’s doing it increasingly at the expense of another, unspoken, compact with the Russian people: To maintain economic stability at home.

A few weeks before that December meeting, Putin had signed into law a budget that earmarked 4.98 trillion rubles — $52 billion at the current exchange rate — for “national defense” in 2023, a little more than last year’s expenditure. But according to a government document seen by Reuters earlier this month, that forecast has now been doubled to 9.7 trillion rubles ($101 billion). That’s almost three times what Russia spent on defense in 2021, before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February.

Those figures are likely to underestimate the total spent on Russia’s war effort. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks military expenditure around the world, estimates that the “national defense” line in Russia’s official budgets accounts only for around three-quarters of total military spending.

Richard Connolly, a specialist on the Russian economy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, also suggests that military spending this year will far exceed $100 billion. He said that before the war Russia would typically splash around 3-4% of its annual gross domestic product on defense but now it could be anywhere between 8% and 10%.

If the price of goods and services in Russia is taken into account, the equivalent amount in dollar terms for 2023 looks even higher, probably closer to $300 billion, estimates Janis Kluge, a senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Read the full story from CNN Business here.

5:27 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

"Highly likely" Russia canceled major military exercise due to too few troops, says UK defense ministry

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh

Russian paratroopers board a plane as they take part in ZAPAD 2021 in Kaliningrad region, Russia, last September.
Russian paratroopers board a plane as they take part in ZAPAD 2021 in Kaliningrad region, Russia, last September. Vitaly Nevar/Reuters/FILE

The UK’s Ministry of Defense suggested it is “highly likely” that Russia canceled a major joint strategic military exercise “because too few troops and equipment are available.”

ZAPAD, a joint military exercise between the armed forces of Russia and Belarus, was due to be held in September, the ministry said in an intelligence update Monday.

ZAPAD, Russian for “West,” is a major annual event in Moscow's military calendar. Since 2010, Russia has run a four-year cycle, rotating the JSEs [joint strategic exercises] around four of its military regions. 

However, since 2021, Russia has held the JSE in the west of the country every second year, “as it prioritizes confronting what it perceives as the threat from NATO,” according to the British defense ministry.

ZAPAD 2021, the largest Russian military exercise since the Soviet era, was held along Russia and Belarus’ western flanks, much to the alarm of Ukraine and some NATO countries.

“Zapad 2021 marked a major tactical, operational and strategic change of pace,” according to a report from RUSI, a UK defense and security think-tank. 

That exercise involved 200,000 military personnel, more than 80 aircraft and helicopters and 15 ships, the RUSI report said, adding that “Zapad 2021 was Russia’s first preparation for operations on a scale comparable to those undertaken in Ukraine a year later.”

But the British intelligence update on Monday suggested that this year’s event might have been canceled for several reasons.

"The Russian military's under-performance in Ukraine has highlighted how JSEs [joint strategic exercises] have had limited training value and have largely been for show. Russia has likely canceled ZAPAD 23 because too few troops and equipment are available," the intelligence update said.

This is not the first military event that Russia has scaled back since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Putin led a more modest Victory Day parade than usual in Moscow on May 9, featuring just a single World War II-era T-34 tank. In previous years, dozens of tanks had been involved in the procession.

The British defense ministry suggested there may be some doubts among Russia's leaders about staging flashy military exercises while its invasion of Ukraine drags on.

“There is a realistic possibility that the Russian leadership is also sensitive to domestic criticism liable from running another slickly presented JSE during wartime," the update said.
4:20 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Zelensky suggests elections in Ukraine may be possible next year

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says it may be possible to hold elections in Ukraine next year as scheduled, but the country would need financial support for such a complex undertaking during wartime.

In an interview with local media, Zelensky noted that the United States had held an election during the Second World War.

"We are defending democracy and our land. That's why people are talking [about elections]. There is a political process. It cannot be banned."

Under the current state of martial law in Ukraine, elections are not possible. But Zelensky said: "If our members of parliament are ready, because we need to change the Electoral Code, we should do it quickly."

Zelensky said he would not take money earmarked for weapons to spend on holding elections and hoped that the US and Europe would provide financial support.

Among the challenges listed by the Ukrainian president, he said: "We must bring observers to the frontline so that we can have a legitimate election that is legitimate for the whole world."

There would also be the issue of ensuring the millions of Ukrainians elsewhere in Europe could vote.

Zelensky stressed that every Ukrainian must be afforded the opportunity to vote. "We need it to be a choice of society, so that it does not divide our people, so that the military can vote. They are defending democracy today, and it is not fair not to give them this opportunity because of the war. This is the only reason I was against the elections," he said.

"I would not want the authorities to be perceived as the ones who are holding on (to power). I am not holding on to anything. I would like to hold elections. I like doing it within a year."

4:02 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Ukraine claims more gains along southern frontline as "heavy fighting" rages in the east

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Alex Stambaugh 

Ukrainian troops ride a tank near the village of Robotyne.
Ukrainian troops ride a tank near the village of Robotyne. Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Ukrainian forces appear to be making further advances along the southern frontline, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Monday.

Maliar told national television troops were moving southeast of the liberated village of Robotyne toward the settlements of Novodanylivka, Novoprokopivka and Ocheretuvate in the Zaporizhzhia region.

"The enemy is throwing all its forces at these areas in order not to surrender the occupied positions," Maliar said. 

In the east: "Heavy fighting" continues, in particular around Kupiansk, Lyman, Avdiivka, Mariinka and the embattled city of Bakhmut, Maliar said. 

"Bakhmut is a very hot area. We have weekly advances to the east, gradual but steady," she said. "The enemy is attacking on the northern flank, they want to recapture the positions we have taken. This is what we are fighting for now." 

Ukrainian forces have liberated an additional 1 square kilometer around Bakhmut, bringing the total area recaptured near the city to 44 square kilometers, she added.

Maliar also said fighting continues in the village of Klishchiivka and Ukrainian forces are advancing in the area of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, northwest of Bakhmut. 

Elsewhere in the Donetsk region, Maliar said fierce fighting and a "powerful confrontation" continues in Avdiivka and Mariinka, adding, "the enemy is not successful."

In northeastern Kupiansk and nearby Lyman, "Russians are gathering new forces ... regrouping, trying to use their most professional units — the air assault units," Maliar said, adding, "they have not been successful."

3:33 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Russian missile attack kills at least 2 in Ukraine's Poltava region

From CNN's Maria Kostenko 

The aftermath of a Russian missile strike at a village in Ukraine's central Poltava region.
The aftermath of a Russian missile strike at a village in Ukraine's central Poltava region. Andrii Yermak, the head of the Presidential Office

At least two people were killed and five others injured in a Russian missile strike on a village in Ukraine's central Poltava region, a senior Ukrainian official said Monday.

Andrii Yermak, head of the Ukrainian President's office, said the strike caused an explosion at an oil mill in the village of Hoholeve.

Local officials said search operations and the removal of rubble are ongoing.

Russia launched strikes across Ukraine overnight, killing at least one other person in the southern Kherson region and damaging homes and infrastructure in Kryvyi Rih and nearby Nikopol.

2:21 a.m. ET, August 28, 2023

Russia destroys 2 drones over Bryansk region, defense ministry says

From CNN's Josh Pennington 

Russian air defenses destroyed two drones overnight over the country's western Bryansk region, Moscow's defense ministry said Monday. 

Bryansk and other Russian regions bordering Ukraine have come under almost daily attack in recent months, with Russian officials saying Ukrainian drones and shelling have wounded or killed civilians.

The defense ministry's statement Monday came shortly after Moscow's mayor said a drone was also destroyed near the capital.

Just hours earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the coalition aiding Kyiv would not support moving hostilities to Russian territory. "I believe that this is a big risk, we will definitely be left alone," he told Ukrainian media.

Kyiv often declines to take explicit credit for assaults across the border, though last month, Zelensky said the war is "returning to Russia" following several drone attacks.