Projectile veers off course after launching from near Russian city of Belgorod
From CNN's Julia Kesaieva
A rocket or missile fired from near the Russian city of Belgorod appears to have gone off course and crashed into a residential area, according to multiple social videos uploaded to the Telegram channel Belgorod Informant on Wednesday night.
It's unclear how much damage it caused, or whether there were any casualties. Videos show the projectile flying in a shallow arc across the city before coming down somewhere close by. Residents posted on Telegram that it had hit the Komsomolskiy district.
There has been no comment from local officials.
Belgorod is close to the border with Ukraine.
8:42 p.m. ET, August 31, 2022
Russia facing "severe" military personnel shortages, US officials say
From CNN's Jeremy Diamond
The United States believes that Russia is facing "severe" shortages of military personnel in Ukraine and is seeking new ways to increase its troop levels, two US officials told CNN.
"The Russian military is suffering from severe manning shortages in Ukraine. We believe that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) is seeking to recruit contract service members to make up for these personnel shortages, including by compelling wounded soldiers to reenter combat, acquiring personnel from private security companies, and paying bonuses to conscripts," a US official told CNN.
The latest US assessment is based on downgraded intelligence and confirmed to CNN by two US officials. It is the latest effort by the Biden administration to downgrade and publicly release intelligence findings about Russia's war effort.
The officials also said that the US has "credible reporting" that Russia's Defense Ministry is "likely to begin" recruiting convicted criminals in Ukraine "in exchange for pardons and financial compensation."
As with previous releases of downgraded intelligence, the officials did not provide additional details about the intelligence behind these assessments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the military to increase the number of troops by 137,000, though it was not clear how the Russian Defense Ministry intended to reach that target.
The Pentagon estimated earlier this month that as many as 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded during the war in Ukraine.
12:17 a.m. ET, September 1, 2022
US war-gamed with Ukraine ahead of counteroffensive and encouraged more limited mission
From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis and Natasha Bertrand
In the buildup to the current Ukrainian counteroffensive, the United States urged Kyiv to keep the operation limited in both its objectives and its geography to avoid getting overextended and bogged down on multiple fronts, multiple US and western officials and Ukrainian sources tell CNN.
Those discussions involved engaging in "war-gaming" with Kyiv, the sources said — analytical exercises that were intended to help the Ukrainian forces understand what force levels they would need to muster to be successful in different scenarios.
The Ukrainians were initially considering a broader counteroffensive, but narrowed their mission to the south, in the Kherson region, in recent weeks, US and Ukrainian officials said.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told CNN that "the United States has routine military-to-military dialogue at multiple levels with Ukraine. We will not comment on the specifics of those engagements. Generally speaking, we provide the Ukrainians with information to help them better understand the threats they face and defend their country against Russian aggression. Ultimately, the Ukrainians are making the final decisions for their operations."
Officials say they believe there is now increased parity between the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. But western officials have been hesitant to label the nascent Ukrainian operation — which appeared to begin on Monday in the southern province of Kherson — a true "counteroffensive."
How successful Ukraine is likely to be in regaining lost territory remains an open question, sources familiar with the latest intelligence tell CNN. Ukrainian officials have already said this offensive will likely be a slow operation, and punishingly cold winter weather is coming and then an early spring mud, both of which could force pauses in the fighting.
Still, there is a distinct feeling amongst Ukraine's US and western advisers that the Ukrainian military is on much more even footing with Russia than was believed even just a few short months ago, multiple officials told CNN. Russia still maintains superior numbers in overall manpower and massed artillery.
IAEA plans to establish permanent presence at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnny, Daria Makina and Vica Butenko
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it plans to establish a permanent presence at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where constant shelling has sparked fears of a nuclear accident.
The announcement from Rafael Grossi, the IAEA chief, came shortly after he and a team of 13 other experts arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia Wednesday. They are expected to visit the nuclear facility, which is about a two-hour drive away, on Thursday.
Grossi and his team embarked on the journey, an hours-long drive from Kyiv through a war zone, early Wednesday morning after striking a hard-fought bargain with Ukrainian and Russian officials to inspect the plant.
The team's current remit — a technical visit meant to "prevent a nuclear accident" — is expected to last "a few days," Grossi told reporters upon his arrival. However, if the team can lay the groundwork for a continued presence, their mission will be "prolonged."
"We will have a pretty good idea of what's going on," Grossi said.
It's unclear what sort of access the IAEA inspectors will be granted on their arrival or exactlyhow long their visit will last. A Russian-appointed local official told the news agency Interfax that the visit would last just one day, which may not be enough time to fully inspect Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
Heavy explosions reported in several parts of Kherson
From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister
There are multiple reports of heavy explosions in the Nova Kakhovka area of the Kherson region in southern Ukraine.
The town, which is occupied by Russian forces, is strategically placed on the Dnipro river and is home to a bridge that has been repeatedly attacked by Ukrainian forces. In the past few weeks, ammunition depots in the area have also been struck.
Local social media accounts speak of airstrikes and a large fire in the vicinity of a furniture factory.
There are also reports of fresh explosions near the main Antonivskiy bridge across the Dnipro river south of Kherson city, and explosions in the nearby Oleshkiy area.
There has been no official comment from either side on the reports, which come days after Ukraine announced a new offensive in the south aimed at dislodging Russian forces in Kherson.
12:20 a.m. ET, September 1, 2022
EU makes it more difficult for Russians to visit, but stops short of full visa ban
From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Chris Liakos
The European Union has agreed to reduce the number of new visas available to Russian citizens, but stopped short of an outright ban on travel to the bloc.
EU foreign ministers decided Wednesday to fully suspend a visa facilitation agreement between the European Union and Russia that gives Russians preferential treatment when applying for an EU visa. The measure is part of the bloc's wide-ranging package of sanctions imposed on Russia over its war on Ukraine.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a news conference following the ministerial meeting in Prague that the decision "will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by the EU member states" given that the process would become more complicated and will take longer.
The agreement will still need to be approved by all member states at the European Council, the EU body that is comprised of heads of states and governments.
Borrell said the measure was necessary because there has been a "substantial increase on border crossings from Russia in neighboring states" since mid-July, which has become "a security risk for these states."
"We have seen many Russians traveling for leisure and shopping as if no war was raging in Ukraine," Borrell said. "It cannot be business as usual," he added.
Visas were already restricted to some categories of Russian nationals and many Russian officials and prominent figures close to the Kremlin have been banned from entering the bloc.