September 5, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, September 6, 2023
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3:33 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

White House official: Talks between North Korea and Russia show sanctions have hit Moscow's defenses

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 5, 2023.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 5, 2023. Leah Millis/Reuters

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that discussions between North Korea and Russia on a potential deal that would allow Pyongyang to provide military support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are evidence that economic sanctions against Russia have succeeded in shrinking the country’s defense industrial base.

“We will continue to call it out, and we will continue to call on North Korea to abide by its public commitments not to supply weapons to Russia that will end up killing Ukrainians. Over time, we have not seen them actively supply large amounts of munitions or other military capacity to Russia for the war in Ukraine,” Sullivan said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing.

“I cannot predict you what will happen at the end of this, I can only say that the discussions have been actively advancing and the Russians have imbued them with an increased intensity, as reflected in the fact that their defense minister (Sergei Shoigu) — their number-one guy in their defense establishment — actually got on a plane and flew to Pyongyang to try to push this forward,” he said. 

The national security adviser said President Joe Biden's administration has been discussing the possibility of North Korea providing Russia with weapons “for quite some time,” and it’s possible in the near future that those discussions may see North Korea’s Kim Jong Un participate in “leader-level discussions, perhaps even in-person leader-level discussions.”

“We have also imposed sanctions, specific targeted sanctions, to try to disrupt any effort to use North Korea as a conduit or as a source for weapons going to Russia; we did so as recently as mid-August, and we have continued to convey that privately as well as publicly to the North Koreans and asked allies and partners to do the same,” Sullivan said. “Our view is that they should abide by their publicly stated commitments that they're not going to provide these weapons.”

2:57 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

US State Department urges North Korea to cease arms negotiations with Russia upon reports of upcoming meeting

From CNN's Haley Britzky

US State Department Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel acknowledged Tuesday that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea “are actively advancing” after reports that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un would be meeting in Russia with President Vladimir Putin. 

“As you all know, some of you reported, that last month that Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, traveled to the DPRK to try and convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia and we have information that Kim Jong Un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia,” Patel said.

“We urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and to abide by the public commitment that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia," he added.

Patel said that it was notable Russia “has been forced to search desperately around the world" for weapons that can be used in war in Ukraine because of US sanctions. 

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that the Defense Department is also urging North Korea to refrain from selling ammunition and arms to Russia "which would unnecessarily prolong this conflict.” 

“In terms of the report about a potential meeting between the North Korea leader and President (Vladimir) Putin, I don't have anything specific to provide in terms of a potential meeting or nor am I going to speculate on when such a meeting could occur,” Ryder said, referencing reports that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un would be visiting with Putin in Russia.

“You have heard the White House talk about the fact that Kim Jong Un is seeking to continue diplomatic engagement with Russia as a follow-on to the Russian Defense Minister's recent visit where Russia is seeking to purchase artillery ammunition from the DPRK," he said.

Ryder noted that "such a sale would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and it would prolong the unnecessary suffering of Ukrainian civilians who are impacted by Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine." 

1:08 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

US ambassador to Japan: Russia turning to North Korea for weapons shows "how much of a failure this war is"

From CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Ami Kaufman and Ana Bickford

US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. CNN

A possible deal for North Korea to supply Russia with weapons “is not welcome, but it is a sign that the embargo is effective and working,” US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

“The entire endeavor here for Russia was to reestablish its empire, and this empire now is dependent on North Korea,” Emanuel told CNN in an interview. “That tells you how much of a failure this war is.”

The US National Security Council’s spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Monday that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing," adding that US has information that "Kim Jong Un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia.”

Watson did not say when and where a potential meeting between Kim and Putin in Russia might take place.

"Russia’s attempt at building an empire has become dependent on North Korea. I think that says it all,” Emanuel said about the negotiations.

As discussions advance, the US and its allies are concerned about the technology North Korea is seeking from Russia in return for weaponry, according to two US officials.

North Korea is seeking technology that could advance their satellite and nuclear-powered submarine capabilities, officials said, which could significantly advance North Korea’s capabilities in areas that the rogue regime has not fully developed.

CNN's Kylie Atwood contributed reporting to this post.

1:06 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Alleged footage posted on social media shows destroyed UK-donated tank in Ukraine, source says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Footage allegedly recorded near Robotyne, Ukraine, and posted on social media overnight shows what a Western source says is a recently destroyed UK-donated Challenger 2 tank. 

The tank was being used as part of Ukraine's counteroffensive arsenal, according to the source. 

The video, seemingly filmed from a civilian vehicle, shows a destroyed tank as the car drives through a war-torn road. CNN could not independently verify where the footage was recorded.

“It is a Challenger 2,” a source, who is associated with the West and has knowledge of the battlefield, told CNN on background.

The source added that the crew of the tank “survived the initial attack on the vehicle.” The source spoke on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record about sensitive battlefield logistics.

“It’s a testament to the quality and the level of these capabilities, compared to Soviet equipment Ukraine was using before,” the source added. 

This is the first known instance of a Challenger 2 tank being destroyed on the battlefield since the UK provided Ukraine with the capability earlier this year.

12:34 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Russia is covering aircraft with car tires, potentially to protect them from Ukrainian drones

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Gianluca Mezzofiore.

Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies
Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

Russian forces have started covering some of its attack aircraft with car tires, which experts say could be a makeshift attempt to protect them from Ukrainian drone strikes.

Satellite imagery from Maxar of Engels Airbase, deep inside Russia, shows two Tu-95 strategic bombers with car tires on top of the airframes. 

CNN could not independently verify why the tires were placed on the aircraft, but experts say it could be a crude attempt at not only adding another layer of protection against Ukrainian drones but also to reduce the aircrafts' detectability aircrafts visibly, especially at night.

The makeshift attempt may have limited effect in terms of mitigating damage, according to Francisco Serra-Martins of drone manufacturer One Way Aerospace whose drones have been used by Ukrainian forces. "It may reduce the thermal signature for exposed strategic aviation assets placed on airfield aprons, but they will still be observable under infrared cameras," he told CNN.

Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies
Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

“While it seems pretty goofy, they seem to be trying to do the best they can to up-armor the planes that are otherwise sitting ducks. Whether it works depends on what the warhead is on the missile/drone," said Steffan Watkins, an open-source research consultant who tracks aircraft and ships, adding that the tires could be used to stop fragmentation of an airburst above the plane from piercing the aircraft.

A NATO military official told CNN the alliance had seen the makeshift attempt. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe it's meant to protect against drones,” a NATO military official told CNN. “We don't know if this will have any effect.”

Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies
Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

12:08 p.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Ukraine accuses Russian oligarch of financing invasion

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Mikhail Fridman attends a conference in Moscow in 2019.
Mikhail Fridman attends a conference in Moscow in 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via Reuters

The Ukraine Security Service (SBU) has accused Ukrainian-born Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman of financing Russia's war against Ukraine.

Fridman is chairman of Alfa Group, a private conglomerate operating primarily in Russia and former Soviet states that spans banking, insurance, retail and mineral water production. He has a net worth of $11.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index. Fridman is also chairman of Alfa Bank, Russia’s fourth-biggest financial services firm and its largest private bank.

Alfa Bank was hit last week by sanctions that will prevent it from raising money through the US market. Fridman is one of the few Russian oligarchs who have spoken out against Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the beginning days of the war, he called the conflict a "tragedy" for both Ukrainians and Russians.

The SBU made the following claims in a statement:

  • Since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Fridman has “poured” around 2 billion rubles (about $20 million) into several military factories in Russia, including the Tula Cartridge Plant, which produces ammunition for the army, and the Urals Optical-Mechanical Plant, which produces high-tech equipment for combat aircraft and helicopters.
  • He uses the assets of the Alfa Group for the mass distribution of dry rations, clothing and other products under the trademark “Russian Army,” which are supplied to the military. 
  • He organized the collection of material and technical assistance for the needs of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
  • His insurance companies are carrying out insurance for military equipment, as well as life and health insurance for Russian soldiers.

Investigators have notified Fridman of the allegations "on the basis of collected evidence," the statement added.

"The suspect is currently hiding from justice abroad. Comprehensive measures are underway to bring him to justice. The perpetrator faces up to 8 years in prison with confiscation of property," it said.

CNN reached out to Fridman, who declined to comment on the SBU’s accusations.

Charles Riley contributed reporting to this post.

10:51 a.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Ukrainian forces continue to push near the Zaporizhzhia village of Robotyne

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych and Katharina Krebs

Ukrainian forces continued to try and expand their gains around the southeastern Zaporizhzhia village of Robotyne after they were able to breach Russian defenses, according to Ukrainian sources.

Efforts are now focused on widening the bridgehead, with fighting near Verbove, a few kilometers to the east.

“There have been heavy battles near Verbove, and a very tough fight is going on near the trenches of the first line of defense of the Russians. Fighting is mainly southwest of the settlement for access to the heights,” Ukraine’s 46th Brigade said on Tuesday.

“The enemy is putting up fierce resistance. There is a constant transition of positions from hand to hand. While some are restraining the Russians, others are expanding the bridgehead," it continued.

Both sides are relying heavily on artillery and drones to try and prevent each other from advancing, with the situation at the front remaining very fluid, according to both Ukrainian sources and well-connected Russian military bloggers.

“Heavy fighting continues in the southern part of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia direction,” said one Russian military blogger, Voenkor Lisitsin, on Telegram Tuesday. “The enemy is pulling more and more reserves to this area, which are being hit by the artillery of Russian units. The AFU still managed to advance on the Robotyne-Verbove line towards Ocherevate and Novopokrovka.”

Another pro-Russian blogger, Dva Maiora, added that Russian forces had been able to strike some Western donated equipment.

“In the Zaporizhzhia front at the Robotyne-Verbove line, a number of AFU armored vehicles, including Leopards, were hit,” Maiora wrote on Telegram Tuesday. “The enemy's attacks were concentrated on Verbove.”

For its part, Ukrainian forces say they continue to advance in the area.

“In the direction of Robotyne - Novoprokopivka, the Ukrainians continue to consolidate to the east of the settlement. Yesterday the guys took a very important enemy stronghold. It was hard work - almost 5 days of fighting, but it was necessary,” the 46th Brigade said.

The brigade said the Russians "have reinforced the northern flank between Robotyne and Novoprokopivka and moved their reserves there, one has to work in an 'inconvenient' direction to the east and northeast.”

“This narrows the space for maneuver, but at least the guys are moving,” it added.

As is customary, officials in Kyiv have remained relatively silent on military progress at the front. The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said only that its forces “continue to conduct offensive operation in the Bakhmut and Melitopol direction,” adding they were consolidating their gains.

What Moscow is saying: The Russian Defense Ministry for its part rejected any Ukrainian advances saying its forces had successfully repelled two Ukrainian attacks near Robotyne.

“In the Zaporizhzhia direction, units of the Russian grouping of troops, aviation, artillery, and heavy flamethrower systems have repelled two attacks by the 47th Mechanised Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the area of the village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Tuesday.

10:37 a.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Lithuania may not need to close Belarusian border as Wagner situation begins to stabilize, president says

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London 

Gitanas Nauseda, the President of Lithuania, attends a NATO Summit at LITEXPO Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Center in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12.
Gitanas Nauseda, the President of Lithuania, attends a NATO Summit at LITEXPO Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Center in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12. Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Lithuania’s president said the need to close its border with Belarus is becoming less relevant as the threat of encroaching Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group wanes. 

“This is an issue of several weeks ago when it was quite obvious that the threats to relocate the Wagner group to Belarus had already started to be carried out and when information emerged that some of the Wagner group’s fighters had appeared in the Gozha training area which is very close to the Lithuanian and Polish borders,” President Gitanas Nausėda told Lithuanian public broadcaster, LRT on Monday.

Poland hosted a meeting with Baltic states in Warsaw last week in response to recent concerns that Wagner troops were amassing along the Belarusian border after thousands of mercenary fighters were reportedly sent to Belarus following the failed rebellion against Moscow.

At a joint press conference during those meetings, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński outlined the group’s willingness to “act together if there is a critical situation regardless of whether it is a Polish, Lithuanian or Latvian border.” 

However, on Tuesday, the Lithuanian head of state, Nausėda, pointed towards signs that the situation along the border is beginning to stabilize, saying he has “no concrete information suggesting that the Wagner group’s members are close to our borders or are trying to destabilize the border situation.” 

Questions have emerged about the future of Wagner troops stationed in Belarus following the death of the group’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a plane crash last month. 

When asked if the prospect of a complete closure of its border with Belarus is losing relevance, the Lithuanian president responded: “I think we can say so.”

“If the situation gets complicated, we act in one way. If the situation remains as it is now, or even stabilizes, we have to act differently. Nobody wants to close the borders again just for the fun of it,” Nausėda added. 

9:43 a.m. ET, September 5, 2023

Russian-appointed official injured in apparent assassination attempt

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Vasco Cotovio

An official in the occupied Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine has been injured after an explosion at his house, which is being described as an assassination attempt by both Ukrainian and Russian sources.

A suspect has been arrested and detained for the attempted killing of Yuriy Afanasievsky, according to the Russian Investigative Committee.

The investigative committee stated the "attacker" is currently detained and said she has "already confessed." The statement also said that the investigative committee is cooperating with the Federal Security Service Department in the so-called Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) to investigate the "attempted murder."

The committee stated that a wide range of people were questioned at the scene, and items of interest to the investigation were seized.

There are conflicting reports on Afanasievsky's condition.

Russian state news agency TASS reported Afanasievsky was “not seriously injured,” but added his son was hospitalized.

“His son is in the hospital, not him. But the terrorist attack, most likely, was directed specifically against Afanasievsky,” officials in LPR told TASS on Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials, however, suggested Afanasievsky’s condition was more serious.

Luhansk Regional Military Administration head Artem Lysohor speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 27.
Luhansk Regional Military Administration head Artem Lysohor speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 27. Ukrinform/Shutterstock

“Let's look at the severity of his injuries,” the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk regional military administration Artem Lysohor wrote on Telegram Tuesday.

“The house of Yuriy Afanasievsky, who headed the 'state customs committee,' was blown up in the ‘LPR,’” he said

Lysohor accused Russia of being behind the assassination attempt, without providing any evidence. “Another collaborator did not meet the expectations of the Russians,” he wrote.

CNN could not independently verify Lysohor’s claims.

It comes as authorities backed by Moscow pushed local elections in four Ukrainian regions that were illegally annexed last year, including Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Russian forces held similar elections last year, which are illegal under international law.

CNN's Jessie Gretener contributed reporting to this post.