August 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Heather Chen, Tara John, Hafsa Khalil, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 4:08 a.m. ET, August 30, 2022
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2:11 p.m. ET, August 29, 2022

White House says threat of Ukrainian counteroffensive has already impacted Russian military

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Fred Pleitgen and Darya Tarasova

Ukrainian gunners prepare to fire with a self-propelled multiple rocket launcher at a position near a frontline in Donetsk region on August 27.
Ukrainian gunners prepare to fire with a self-propelled multiple rocket launcher at a position near a frontline in Donetsk region on August 27. Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

The White House says it has seen reports that Ukraine has begun a counteroffensive against Russian forces in southern Ukraine but does not want to comment further on specific Ukrainian military operations, John Kirby, the communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said.

Kirby did note, however, that regardless of the size, scale and scope of the latest counteroffensive, the Ukrainians “have already had an impact on Russian military capabilities.”

“Because the Russians have had to pull resources from the east simply because of reports that the Ukrainians might be going more on the offense in the south,” Kirby said. “And so they've had to deplete certain units …in certain areas in the East in the Donbass, to respond to what they clearly believed was a looming threat of a counter offensive."

Kirby also said that Russia “continues to have manpower problems” in Ukraine, and is trying to expand its recruitment of fighters inside Russia as well as “entice” some of their conscripts and contract soldiers to serve beyond their time frames.  

That is “because they are experiencing manpower challenges—manpower challenges that are not made any easier by the way they’ve had to respond to reports of a potential counteroffensive by the Ukrainians,” Kirby said.

Kirby also said that “the idea of going on the offense is not new to the Ukrainians.”

“Now I recognize that what we're talking about here is the potential for a major counteroffensive, which is different than going on the offense in a more localized way,” Kirby said. But he said Ukrainian forces “have been taking the fight to the Russians inside” Ukraine for quite some time now, including in the early months of the war around the capital Kyiv.        

“So, it’s not a new development for them to do this,” Kirby said.

What Russia is saying: Moscow on Monday acknowledged Kyiv’s counteroffensive in Ukraine’s south, but said the Ukrainian troops “suffered heavy losses” and “failed miserably” in their “attempted” offensive. 

Ukrainian forces on Monday “attempted an offensive in the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions from three directions,” the Russian defense ministry said in a statement, adding, "as a result of the active defense of the grouping of Russian troops, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine suffered heavy losses."

The ministry said that during the fighting, 26 Ukrainian tanks, 23 infantry fighting vehicles, nine other armored fighting vehicles were destroyed and two Su-25 attack aircraft were shot down.

“Another attempt at offensive actions by the enemy failed miserably,” it concluded.

12:42 p.m. ET, August 29, 2022

UN nuclear watchdog agency officials will reach Kyiv on Monday, Ukrainian foreign ministry says 

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

An inspection team from the UN nuclear watchdog on its way to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine will arrive in Kyiv on Monday, according to Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko. 

A delegation of 14 international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “has already left Vienna and is due to arrive in Kyiv today [Monday]. It is expected that the mission will start work at the (nuclear plant) in the coming days,” Nikolenko said on Monday. 

The inspection mission is headed by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, the spokesperson added. 

11:39 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

At least 2 dead after Russia shells Ukraine's southern port city of Mykolaiv

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Russian shelling has killed at least two people and injured 11 more in Ukraine’s southern port city of Mykolaiv near the Black Sea Coast on Monday, according to Vitalii Kim, head of the Mykolaiv region civil military administration.

The mayor of Mykolaiv condemned what he called Russia’s targeting of civilians.

Russia “cynically strikes at civilians,” says Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said in a post on his Telegram channel.

Residential buildings and educational institutions were hit, he said, adding that rescue and emergency workers were on the scene. 

11:34 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

Russia blocks consensus at the tenth review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on August 22.
A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on August 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Russia blocked a consensus document at the tenth review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is a key arms control treaty conference.

Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of arms control and nonproliferation at the Russian Foreign Ministry, reportedly said that this conference’s final document was not balanced.

“Russia did so in order to block language that merely acknowledged the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the very kind of challenge the conference is called upon to address,” US State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement.

Russia's opposition despite "overwhelming international consensus underscores the need" for countries to "continue urging Russia to end its military activity" near the plant and return its control to Ukraine, Patel added. 

Some background: This is the second consecutive time that parties to the NPT failed to reach consensus. They also were unable to do so at the review conference in 2015. The review conference typically takes place every five years to discuss the landmark nuclear arms control treaty. This tenth review conference was originally scheduled to take place in April 2020 – coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the NPT entering into force, but it was postponed due to Covid-19.

UN Secretary General António Guterres and EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell also expressed disappointment after conference concluded with no substantial outcome.

11:28 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

Ukrainian counteroffensive underway in Russian-held south, former president says 

From CNN’s Jim Sciutto 

Petro Poroshenko, former Ukrainian President, attends the farewell ceremony for First President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk at Ukrainian House on May 17, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Petro Poroshenko, former Ukrainian President, attends the farewell ceremony for First President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk at Ukrainian House on May 17, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Yurii Stefanyak/Global Images Ukrain/Getty Images)

A “long-awaited” Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces is underway in southern Ukraine to retake Moscow-controlled territory, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told CNN on Monday. 

“This is the long-awaited counteroffensive operation. It was started today at 7:00 a.m. (local time) with shelling and missiles attack," he told CNN's Jim Sciutto.

"This is first time since February 2022 when such a [concentration] of Ukrainian troops with western artillery, with western HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) and western missiles was collected together for this counterattack,” Poroshenko added.

The counteroffensive comes as Russia's war in Ukraine has passed its six-month mark, with US assessments indicating that Russia has been able to deploy fewer units to the frontlines than initially thought, according to a senior US official. 

On Monday morning, Ukraine indicated that actions were underway.

"Ukrainian armed forces have started the offensive actions in several directions on the South front towards liberating the occupied territories," Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Operational Command South, told CNN.

"All the details will be available after the operation is fulfilled," she added.

12:42 p.m. ET, August 29, 2022

UN nuclear watchdog to inspect Zaporizhzhia plant. Catch up here on today's top headlines

From CNN staff

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi, center, leads the IAEA expert mission as they set off for their official visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, at Vienna International Airport, Austria, on August 29.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi, center, leads the IAEA expert mission as they set off for their official visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, at Vienna International Airport, Austria, on August 29. (Dean Calma/IAEA//Reuters)

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are expected to go to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeast Ukraine sometime this week amid renewed shelling at the Russian-held facility and mounting fears over a potential nuclear accident -- which has seen Ukrainian officials make iodine pills available to residents.

This comes as Ukraine forces prepare for a counteroffensive in the south, according to United States officials.

"Shaping" operations begin: Ukraine's forces are preparing the battlefield for a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive, two senior US officials told CNN. Shaping operations are standard military practice prior to an offensive and involve striking weapons systems, command and control, ammunition depots and other targets to prepare the battlefield for planned advances. According to the officials, the US believes the much-anticipated counteroffensive will include a combination of air and ground operations.

IAEA inspectors heading in: A team from the IAEA -- the UN nuclear watchdog -- is on its way to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and will be there "later this week," IAEA Chief Rafael Mariano Grossi tweeted Monday. The mission will assess damage to the plant's facilities, evaluate the working conditions of the staff and perform urgent safeguard activities. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the international community should demand Russia's withdrawal from the plant so as to ensure nuclear security. The Kremlin welcomed the news of the visit, saying the IAEA mission will enter Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant from the Ukrainian side, but Russia will ensure its safety on the territory occupied by the Russian army.

Renewed shelling: The city of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region suffered more than 200 attacks in a six-hour time span, say Ukrainian officials. Shelling also occurred in the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, close to the nuclear plant, on Sunday night, Russian and Ukrainian officials said -- with each side blaming the other for the attacks.

Close call: Shelling in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia plant over the past few days hit a "special building" located just 100 meters from its reactor buildings, IAEA said Sunday. The nuclear agency's chief Grossi said safety systems at the plant remain operational, there has been no increase in radiation levels, radioactivity levels are within a normal range, there is no indication of hydrogen leakage and the plant has continued access to off-site electricity.

Iodine pills: It emerged over the weekend that Zaporizhzhia city authorities made iodine tablets available to residents as concern grows over a possible accident. The pills protect users against radioactive iodine and help prevent thyroid cancer in case of a nuclear accident.

Dugina murder: Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has accused a second suspect in the murder of Darya Dugina, who was a Russian political commentator and the daughter of prominent ultranationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin. CNN is unable to independently verify the FSB claims of those who perpetrated the killing and is therefore not naming the two suspects at this time. Ukraine has denied any involvement in Dugina’s killing, calling the FSB claims fiction.

7:15 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

Ukrainian forces have started "shaping" for a counteroffensive

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

Ukraine's forces have begun "shaping" operations in the south of the country to prepare the battlefield for a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive, two senior US officials told CNN. 

Shaping operations are standard military practice prior to an offensive and involve striking weapons systems, command and control, ammunition depots and other targets to prepare the battlefield for planned advances.

According to the officials -- who have been briefed on the intelligence -- the US believes the much anticipated counteroffensive will include a combination of air and ground operations.

On Monday morning, Ukraine indicated that actions were underway.

"Ukrainian armed forces have started the offensive actions in several directions on the South front towards liberating the occupied territories," Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Operational Command South, told CNN.

"All the details will be available after the operation is fulfilled," she added.

The plans come as Russia's war in Ukraine has passed its six-month mark, with US assessments indicating that Russia has been able to deploy fewer units to the frontlines than initially thought, according to a senior US official. 

The official said many of the existing units -- which Russia organizes into Battlefield Tactical Groups (BTGs) comprising infantry, tanks, artillery and air defense -- are deploying below strength, some even at half their normal manpower.

Additionally, the US has been observing Ukrainian forces benefiting from the use of US- and NATO-supplied HIMARS mobile rocket launchers, which have allowed Ukraine to strike and destroy targets in Russian-held territory.

6:50 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

Swedish leader pledges $47M in military aid for Ukraine 

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced on Monday that the country would provide a further 1 billion Swedish krona ($93.8 million) in aid to Ukraine, including both military and civilian assistance. 

Half of the additional aid package -- 500 million Swedish krona ($46.9 million) -- will provide military assistance. 

“Borders must never be changed by force or war. And it is our duty and honor to support you," Andersson said at a press conference in Stockholm after hosting Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.  

Kuleba reiterated Ukraine's request for Sweden to provide howitzers, air defense systems, and more shells, adding that "as long as the war continues, we will be asking for more weapons for obvious reasons -- to defend Ukraine, but also to defend [the] entirety of Europe."

6:43 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022

Moscow welcomes IAEA trip to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russian diplomat tells state media

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Lauren Kent

Russia's Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, attends the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on March 7.
Russia's Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, attends the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on March 7. (Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Moscow welcomes the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) planned trip to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeast Ukraine, which is occupied by Russian forces, a Russian diplomat said according to state media. 

Russia's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said that Russia understands the IAEA will leave several representatives at the plant on a permanent basis, state media RIA Novosti reported. 

"As far as we understand, it is the director general's intention to leave several people at the station on a permanent basis," Ulyanov said, according to RIA. 

Ulyanov added that the mission consists "of about a dozen employees of the agency's secretariat dealing with safeguards and nuclear safety issues" as well as a large team of UN staff dealing with logistics and security RIA reported. 

"Russia has made a significant contribution to the preparation of this mission. We hope that the visit of the plant by the IAEA mission will dispel numerous speculations about the unfavorable state of affairs at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," Ulyanov added.

What's happening? Early on Monday, the head of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, tweeted that the delegation would arrive in Zaporizhzhia -- home to Europe’s biggest nuclear facility -- “later this week.”

The Kremlin said Monday that the IAEA's mission will enter the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant from the Ukrainian side, but Russia will ensure its safety on the territory occupied by the Russian army.

As far as the territory controlled by Russia is concerned, security will be provided at the required proper level there,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on a regular conference call. 

“[The mission] will enter the [nuclear plant] territory from the zone controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. There, security will be provided by the Ukrainians,” Peskov added.

When asked about the possibility of creating a demilitarized zone around the plant, Peskov said it was “not under discussion.”

Peskov added that Russia welcomes the long-awaited IAEA mission. 

“We have been waiting for this mission for a long time. We consider it necessary,” Peskov said.