September 4, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, September 5, 2023
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1:30 p.m. ET, September 4, 2023

US State Department welcomes Turkey's efforts to revive grain deal, despite no breakthroughs

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The United States State Department welcomed Turkey’s efforts to revive the Black Sea Grain deal, despite no major breakthroughs resulting from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin’s meeting in Sochi on Monday. 

“We welcome the efforts of Turkey and other countries to convince Russia to return to the deal. We are engaging with the United Nations and with Turkey, both of whom have worked very hard to make BSGI (Black Sea Grain Initiative) both possible and functional,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that Russia’s decision to terminate its participation in the initiative “hurts communities vulnerable to food insecurity around the world.”

Turkey, who is a NATO ally, and the UN helped broker the previous grain deal. The State Department thanked Turkey for "its important diplomatic and operational efforts" on working to come to a new agreement.

The spokesperson added that Russia’s decision to terminate its participation in the initiative “hurts communities vulnerable to food insecurity around the world.”

11:39 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Ukraine needs to "soften its approach" to revive Black Sea grain deal with Russia, Turkish president says

From CNN's Ipek Yezdani

Ukraine needs to “soften its approach” to revive the Black Sea grain deal, from which Russia withdrew in July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

"In order to be able to take common steps with Russia, Ukraine needs to soften its approach. Especially now, grain which will be sent to the least developed poverty-stricken African countries is important,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a meeting in Sochi. 

“Putin rightfully does not approve if 44% of the grain goes to European countries,” the Turkish leader added. 

Erdogan said Turkey has prepared a new proposal with the United Nations to revive the grain deal, which involves "important improvements." 

“From the Turkish side, I believe we will be able to reach a solution soon which fulfills the expectations (regarding the grain deal),” he said.

The previous grain deal from which Russia pulled out, was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. It lasted about a year and allowed billions of dollars worth of grain and wheat to safely transit out of war-torn Ukraine via the Black Sea.

11:30 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Romanian territory not hit in Russian drone attacks on Ukraine's Danube port, foreign minister says

From CNN’s Eve Brennan and Chris Stern

A firefighter works at a site that was hit amid Russian drone attacks in Odesa region, Ukraine, in this handout image released September 4.
A firefighter works at a site that was hit amid Russian drone attacks in Odesa region, Ukraine, in this handout image released September 4. Ukraine's Operational Command/Reuters

Romania was not hit by Russian drone attacks on a Ukrainian Danube river port adjacent to Romanian territory, according to the country's foreign minister.

“Of course, there is a risk of accident or incidents, but for the time being, it was not the case,” Romanian Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu said, speaking at a joint news conference alongside German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock in Berlin.

Odobescu said the Russian drone attacks did not pose any direct military threats against Romania’s national territory or territorial waters. 

“From our part of the Danube we can see what's going on there, and we have seen that practically Russia cynically attacks and continues to attack the infrastructure — civilian infrastructure — not allowing Ukraine to export their cereals,” Odobescu said.  

Romanian Defense Minister Angel Tilvar condemned the "unjustified and criminal attacks targeting civilian infrastructure" in Ukraine, including the strikes on the port, in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

11:02 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Local elections taking place in illegally annexed areas of Ukraine, Russian officials say

From CNN's Svitlana Vlasova

Russian official agencies are touting the elections being conducted in the four regions of Ukraine that were illegally annexed last year. Voting is taking place at people’s homes in the four regions as well as at “extraterritorial” polling stations in Russia.

Russia’s Central Election Commission said voting at the extraterritorial polling stations was coming to an end. 

There are, for example, several polling stations in St. Petersburg alone.

Residents of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as well as those in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, are entitled to vote.

A local Telegram channel in occupied Zaporizhzhia said the early voting for the elections of deputies to the Legislative Assembly and local self-government bodies is “in full progress.”

It said that in three urban districts — Melitopol, Berdyansk and Enerhodar — voting will take place on September 8, 9 and 10.

There is no way to confirm the official figures and no international observers of the polling.

The Ukrainian side has poured scorn on the process: Yuriy Sobolevsky, deputy head of the Kherson region council, told CNN that the elections had “nothing to do with democracy or free expression of will. What is happening now is a show that they call elections in order to create a propaganda narrative.”

“The emphasis in these elections is on door-to-door work, when two collaborators accompanied by armed men from the Russian Guard, police, and in some cases the military, go from house to house in the settlements. They visit every house in the settlements and actually force people to vote under psychological pressure,” Sobolevsky said.

Ukraine’s National Resistance Center said the “occupiers have already prepared the election results.”

10:43 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Putin says Russia is not refusing negotiations over Ukraine conflict

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on September 4, in Sochi, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference on September 4, in Sochi, Russia. Getty Images

In brief remarks on the conflict in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said Russia is not refusing to negotiate on how to end the war.

“I want to say that Russia has never refused negotiations and now we are not refusing," Putin said.

He added that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised questions about negotiations on the war during meetings between the two leaders on Monday.

“As we know, through the mediation of the President of Turkey, an agreement was reached, draft documents were agreed upon between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, but then Ukraine sent them to... to the scrapheap! Nobody is coming back to this. We hear about some new initiatives, but this is not something that was ever discussed with us. Therefore, we do not accept anything new. As for mediation services, we have never refused them. We are also grateful to the President of Turkey for his efforts in this direction," Putin said.

The Russian president also said the Ukrainian counteroffensive had been a failure.

Ukrainian leaders have acknowledged the counteroffensive's slow progress, but in recent days, the Ukrainian military said it notched victories in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, penetrating the “first line” of Russian defenses.

10:17 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Putin blames West for collapse of Black Sea grain deal and says Russia was forced to pull out

From Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, on September 4.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, on September 4. Sergei Guneyev/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the West for the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal and said, even after Moscow pulled out, there has been no shortage of food in the global market. His remarks come after several hours of talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

“The West, to put it mildly, deceived us about humanitarian goals by the humanitarian Black Sea initiative to assist developing countries," Putin said.

Russia said when it left the deal that promised guarantees made about its own agricultural and fertilizer exports had not been upheld.

“As I've said before, we were simply forced to make this decision," Putin said, referring to not renewing the deal.

“Obviously, the termination of the deal did not affect the global production markets, and I would like to emphasize this in particular. No matter what they say about this, grain prices continue to decline, there is no physical shortage of food. There are problems with its fair distribution, yes. But this has nothing to do with the so-called grain deal," Putin added.

The Russian president described the meeting with Erdogan as “held in a constructive and business-like atmosphere.”

Putin said he told Erdogan Russia "will be ready to consider reviving the grain deal" and talked about supplying Russian grain free of charge to several African countries.

"We will do so as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fully implemented," he said.

Erdogan said he believes he and Putin will be able to reach a solution on the grain deal that will “fulfill expectations soon."

Putin said Monday’s meeting also included discussion of joint gas and energy projects.

10:26 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Ukraine releases interview with Russian pilot who defected

From CNN’s Josh Pennington and Maria Kostenko

Maxim Kuzminov
Maxim Kuzminov Defence Intelligence of Ukraine

The Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (DI) has published an interview with a man it identifies as the Russian helicopter pilot who defected last month – and brought his Mi-8 combat helicopter with him.

DI named the pilot as Maxim Kuzminov, who explained in the interview how he planned his defection.

"I contacted representatives of Ukrainian intelligence, explained my situation, to which they offered this option: 'Come on, we guarantee your safety, guarantee new documents, guarantee monetary compensation, a reward,’” the pilot said.

The pilot said he discussed more details with Ukrainian officials and began to plan his flight.

He continued that during one flight, "I realized that I was near the border. I relayed my location. I said: ‘Let's give it a try, I'm not far away.’ And having made a final decision, I flew at an extremely low altitude in radio silence mode. No-one understood what was going on with me at all….I flew across [into Ukraine], landed, they met me, and explained everything to me."

The circumstances of the interview are unclear, but the pilot appeared to be speaking freely.

Countering the official Russian narrative, he sai: "The truth is, there are no Nazis or fascists here. It's a real disgrace what's happening here. Murder, tears, blood. People are simply killing each other. That's all I can make of this and I don't want to be a part of it." 

“What is going on now is simply the genocide of the Ukrainian people. Both Ukrainian and Russian. The motivation for my action was to not contribute to these crimes. Ukraine will unequivocally win this war simply because the people are very united. Before they were not like this, but now they are very unified. The whole world is helping them, because first and foremost, human life should be valued."  

The pilot also urged other Russians in the military to defect to Ukraine.

“You'll be provided for, for the rest of your lives. You will be offered a job everywhere, no matter what you do. You'll simply discover a world of colors," he said.

CNN has been unable to verify the pilot’s identity. But Agenstvo, an independent Russian Telegram channel, said that it had found Kuzminov’s social media profile and that he was an attack pilot of the 319th separate helicopter regiment of the Eastern Military District.

8:12 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin has greeted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the southern Russian city of Sochi. The two leaders are expected to discuss the possibility of reviving the Black Sea grain deal, which Putin allowed to lapse in July.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to reshuffle his top military brass by appointing Rustem Umerov, a Crimean Tatar, as his new defense minister, as Kyiv seeks to consolidate its gains in the south.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Grain deal talks: Putin told the visiting Erdogan that Russia is “open to negotiations” on the grain deal, ahead of talks between the two leaders in Sochi on Monday. The grain deal, brokered in part by Turkey, had guaranteed the safe passage of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports until Russia withdrew from the deal in July. Russia has warned it will seek further guarantees before agreeing to the deal once more.
  • Danube port strikes: Just hours before grain deal talks got underway, Russian forces launched a “massive” drone attack on Ukrainian ports on the Danube river for a second consecutive night, targeting Ukraine’s grain storage facilities and port infrastructure. Ukraine’s Southern Defense Forces said it shot down 17 drones, but the attack in Odesa region damaged multiple targets, including warehouses and agricultural equipment.
  • Romania’s fears: The strikes hit just across the border from NATO-member Romania. Romania’s defense minister said “we condemn in the strongest terms the RU unjustified and criminal attacks targeting civilian infrastructure" in Ukraine. While the ministry said the drone attacks did not pose a threat to Romanian territory, Ukrainian officials reported that Russian Shahed drones fell and detonated on Romanian soil last night.
  • New defense minister: Rustem Umerov is set to become Ukraine’s new defense minister, after the incumbent Oleksii Reznikov tendered his resignation Monday. Umerov, a Crimean Tatar, is currently chair of the State Property Fund, tasked with attracting investment to Ukraine, and previously helped broker the Black Sea grain deal. His new role comes as the conflict enters a crucial phase, as Ukraine seeks to build on recent advances in the south.
  • Gains in the south: Ukrainian troops are edging closer toward the strategic hub of Tokmak, after its counteroffensive was able to breach the first line of Russian defenses in the south of the country and capture the village of Robotyne. Analysts have suggested that future Ukrainian gains may now come more quickly, since the bulk of Russia’s efforts were devoted to fortifying the initial line of defense, with fewer resources spent on the subsequent lines.
  • Shelling in the east: While Ukraine’s counteroffensive attempts to push further south, Russia is continuing its own offensives in the east. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said Monday that “the enemy is constantly trying to advance with varying degrees of intensity in the direction of Lyman, Kupiansk, Mariinka and Avdiivka," which have been subjected to heavy shelling.
7:22 a.m. ET, September 4, 2023

Ukraine seeks to expand pocket of gains in south, while intense shelling continues in east

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Maria Kostenko

Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on August 25.
Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank near the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on August 25. Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Ukrainian forces in the south are continuing their efforts to expand and deepen the pocket of territory they have taken toward the strategic hub of Tokmak.

Officials have said over the past two days that units are consolidating gains after piercing the first line of Russian defenses, consisting mostly of dense minefields, around the village of Robotyne.

“Over the past few days, there have been successes in the area of Novodanylivka and Novoprokopivka. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are consolidating there,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Monday.

Novoprokopivka is south of Robotyne, close to the next line of fixed Russian defenses and the next goal for Ukrainian forces -- along with the village of Verbove further east.

“In Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, the enemy is on the defensive, and the shelling continues. The intensity of shelling in the south remains at the level of 4,000 - 4,500 enemy attacks per week,” Maliar said.

However, Russian official accounts claimed that Ukrainian efforts to advance were being repelled.

“Ukrainian troops have changed their focus and are more actively attacking west of Verbove and east of Urozhaine but all attacks are repelled, and positions are held," Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told Rossiya 24.

Pushilin said the Ukrainian goal was to “go further, to the main point of the [Russian] defense line, and given the limited time before the weather deteriorates, to move in the direction of Tokmak.”

Meanwhile, Maliar said Russia’s offensive focus remained on the eastern front.

“The enemy is constantly trying to advance with varying degrees of intensity in the direction of Lyman, Kupiansk, Mariinka and Avdiivka,” Maliar said.

As for Bakhmut, she said fighting continued to the south and north of the city, with the Russians trying to regain lost ground “without success.”