September 7, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Chris Lau, Sophie Tanno, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, September 8, 2023
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2:53 p.m. ET, September 7, 2023

White House ramps up pressure on House speaker to keep Ukraine aid and disaster funding tied together

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

The White House on Thursday increased pressure on House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy to approve its request to tie aid for Ukraine with increased disaster relief funding ahead of a government funding showdown.

The push comes as tension among Republicans in Congress is mounting while lawmakers face an end-of-month deadline to avoid a government shutdown. The White House has called on Congress to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government running while congressional leaders hash out major differences.

“Like Senate Republicans, Speaker McCarthy should keep his word about government funding. And he should do so in a way that acts on these pressing issues – including fentanyl, national security and disaster response – rather than break his promise and cave to the most extreme members of his conference agitating for a baseless impeachment stunt and shutdown,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNN.

The White House is also pressing Congress to fulfill Biden’s supplemental funding request, which asks for more than $24 billion in additional funding to support Ukraine and $16 billion in disaster relief funds.

While the White House wants those two funding items passed together, McCarthy is considering breaking them apart, according to GOP sources, setting up a showdown not just with the White House but also with Senate Republicans.

Leaders in the Senate want to see the Ukraine aid and disaster relief funding tied to a short-term funding resolution, but the GOP remains sharply divided on Ukraine aid as some hardliners in the House have demanded it be stripped out.

Read more about the funding issues

2:00 p.m. ET, September 7, 2023

UK prime minister will discuss Black Sea grain deal at G20 summit, Downing Street says

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media in London in January.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media in London in January. Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will discuss circumventing Russia's "continued Black Sea grain blockade" at the G20 summit this weekend, according to a Downing Street spokesperson. 

Ahead of traveling to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi on Thursday, Sunak spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone. 

"President Zelenskyy updated on Ukraine’s counter-offensive and ongoing military requirements, and the Prime Minister pledged the UK’s steadfast support and commended Ukraine’s armed forces for their progress on the battlefield," according to a Downing Street spokesperson. 

"They also discussed the impact of Putin’s continued Black Sea grain blockade, both in Ukraine and for food supplies around the world. The Prime Minister committed to galvanize work with G20 countries on circumventing Russia’s blockade and ensuring vulnerable countries can access vital grain shipments," according to the readout of the leaders' call. 

Moscow withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal in July.

Sunak also said the UK would continue to drive forward plans for long-term security support for Ukraine. 

"President Zelenskyy thanked the Prime Minister for the UK’s continued solidarity, and the leaders agreed to remain in close contact," the statement added. 

12:54 p.m. ET, September 7, 2023

British insurance firm in talks with UN on potentially covering Ukrainian grain shipment, CEO says

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris, Gayle Harrington in London and Richard Roth in New York

CEO of Lloyd's of London John Neal poses for a photo in New York, US, on October 11, 2019.
CEO of Lloyd's of London John Neal poses for a photo in New York, US, on October 11, 2019. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

UK insurance firm Lloyd's of London is in discussion with the United Nations to provide coverage to Ukrainian grain shipment if a new Black Sea grain corridor agreement can be reached, CEO John Neal told Reuters in an exclusive interview Thursday. 

“Are we happy and able to continue to provide insurances in the event that a corridor can be re-operated and can be re-established? The answer to that is yes,” Reuters quoted Neal as saying. 

Lloyds did not dispute the CEO’s comments, telling CNN in a statement:

“We continue to work with the UN and international governments in support of their diplomatic efforts to reinstate the Black Sea Initiative, and stand ready to facilitate grain shipments through the safe corridor.”

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said, “No, no comment from us," when asked by CNN about the discussion.

More on the agreement: The initiative collapsed in July after Russia withdrew from the deal, which allows Ukraine to export vital grains through the sea's ports. 

Russia said it was forced to pull out of the deal and that guarantees made about its own agricultural and fertilizer exports had not been upheld. 

Turkey has been making efforts to revive it. Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this week that Russia will be ready to consider reviving the grain deal “as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fully implemented.” 

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the demands that Russia has put forward “blackmail” in an interview on Monday, according to state news agency Ukrinform. 

CNN's Mariya Knight contributed reporting to this post.

11:34 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

Ukrainian official says Russia no longer has troops in place to launch a ground offensive from Belarus

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

Russia has moved most of its units training in Belarus to other areas and no longer has enough ground forces in place to launch an offensive from its ally's territory, a Ukrainian border official said Thursday.

“Russia does not have a necessary strike group on the territory of Belarus that would be ready and able to invade the territory of Ukraine,” Andrii Demchenko, a spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, said during a briefing in Kyiv.

“At this point, Russia has withdrawn almost all of its units that have been trained and completed their rotation. However, no new units have been deployed there,” Demchenko said.

Some independent analysts have said Russia moved the units from Belarus to the northeastern front in Ukraine, between the besieged city of Kupiansk and nearby Kreminna.

Remember: Belarus is one of Russia's most steadfast allies. It helped Russia launch its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter the country through the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) Ukrainian-Belarusian border to the north of Kyiv.

Other actions near the border: Demchenko said Russia is regularly shelling the Ukrainian regions of Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv, which lie just east of Belarus along Ukraine's northern border with Russia.

In those areas, "the enemy is also trying to use sabotage and reconnaissance groups to try to enter the territory of Ukraine," the border official said. “Most of these attempts are recorded in Sumy region.”

Ukraine recently announced measures to fortify its northern border, as well as ban certain activities close to the border.

11:19 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

Ukrainians claim further marginal gains amid intense combat in the south

From Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva

Ukrainian soldiers enter the embattled village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on August 25.
Ukrainian soldiers enter the embattled village of Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on August 25. Ukrainian Armed Forces/Reuters

Accounts from the front lines in southern Ukraine suggest further incremental gains for Ukrainian forces amid constant artillery, mortar and rocket fire from both sides.

Geolocated videos show a wasteland of shell holes, abandoned trenches and wrecked military hardware in the area between Robotyne, Verbove and Novoprokopivka — a triangle of villages that hold the key for Ukrainians to getting closer to Tokmak, an important hub for Russian defenses.

Here's where the situation stands in and around each of the three villages:

Novoprokopivka: There was an advance in this direction and Ukraine captured several Russian positions east of this settlement, according to an unofficial Telegram account of soldiers of the Ukrainian 46th separate airmobile brigade. "Currently, the success is being secured and counterattacks are being repelled,” the Telegram channel said Thursday, adding that the effort to capture the heights near Novoprokopivka is underway.

This area is just 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) south of Robotyne.

Verbove: The 46th airmobile brigade suggested a harder fight around this area, saying there “was an attempt to gain ground to the north and northwest. Controlling the heights in these areas could strengthen the position of our units in the area of the settlement.”

The channel, which has frequently proven accurate in the past, said that Russian planes continue to bombard rear positions and artillery and drones on both sides were constantly working. In this situation, “it is hardly possible to expect a sharp change in the situation in anyone's favor in the near future,” the channel said.

Robotyne: Ukrainian forces "got Robotyne at a very high price. But the capture of this settlement opens the gates to Tokmak,” according to a soldier with the callsign "Bruce", commander of the 47th Brigade's reconnaissance unit.

“Bruce” added that then the road to the Sea of Azov would be open. “In my personal opinion, this will be the end. Because if we reach the Sea of Azov, both Crimea and the grouping of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia directions will be surrounded, and this will be the end for Putin."

What's Russia saying: Russian-appointed official in control of occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia, Yevgeniy Balitsky, gave a different account of the situation, claiming that Moscow's forces "inflicted massive fire damage" on Ukrainian forces, including loss of soldiers and equipment. A Russian military blogger also claimed that several enemy attacks had been repelled.

What does independent analysis show: "Ukrainian forces have advanced along the trench line west of Verbove,” the Institute for the Study of War says, citing geolocated footage. It also noted claims by Russian military bloggers that Ukrainian forces were now trying to break through in the direction of Novoprokopivka. 

10:58 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

No indication of intentional Russian attack on Romania, NATO chief says 

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on September 7, in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on September 7, in Brussels, Belgium. Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

NATO has so far seen no indication of an intentional Russian attack on Romania, said the military bloc’s head Jens Stoltenberg, after the Romanian government on Wednesday said wreckage found on its soil may be Russian drone parts

“We don't have any information indicating any intentional attack by Russia and we are awaiting the outcome of the ongoing investigation,” Stoltenberg told lawmakers at the European Parliament Thursday. 

Romanian Defense Minister Angel Tilvar said on Wednesday that wreckage found on Romanian soil may have come from a Russian drone that was targeted at a Ukrainian port on the opposite bank of the Danube.

“What we have seen, of course, is a lot of fighting and air attacks close to NATO borders,” Stoltenberg added.  

The alliance has increased its vigilance and is closely monitoring the situation, according to the NATO chief. 

Some background: Ukraine's Danube ports have come under heavy and prolonged Russian bombardment in recent weeks, as Moscow targets Ukraine's grain storage facilities and infrastructure after allowing the Black Sea grain deal to lapse in July. 

Many of the strikes have landed just across the border from Romania, a NATO member. Romania's defense ministry condemned an attack earlier this week “in the strongest possible terms,” calling it “unjustified and in deep contradiction with the rules of international humanitarian law.”

There were further drone attacks on the Ukrainian side of the river in the early hours of Wednesday, one of them killing an agricultural worker, according to a Ukrainian official.

CNN's Monica Sarbu in Bucharest contributed reporting to this post.

9:55 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

20 Russian embassy staff arrive in North Korea as speculation of Putin visit grows

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood

Twenty new diplomats and staff members arrived at the Russian embassy in North Korea as part of a personnel rotation on September 7, according to a Facebook post from the embassy. It comes amid US reports that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un may meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia to discuss an arms deal.

These staffers are the first to join the embassy since the height of the Covid pandemic. The post said in the past year, the embassy was staffed by 18 people. “It was very difficult for us, but we made it!” 

The post welcomed the new staff members. “There is a lot of work ahead, the country is setting new tasks for us. Let's work, brothers!” it said.

More context: Kim and Putin's meeting could secure a potential deal to supply Moscow with weapons for its war on Ukraine, according to the US government.

The National Security Council warned Monday that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing,” after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang in July in an attempt to convince it to sell artillery ammunition to Moscow.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said Tuesday it is “closely monitoring… the possibility of Kim Jong Un visiting Russia soon.”

9:38 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

What you need to know about the depleted uranium munitions that the US is sending to Ukraine

From CNN's Christian Edwards and Natasha Bertrand

The United States has decided to send controversial depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine for the first time, as part of a new aid package worth more than $1 billion announced Wednesday.

The 120mm rounds can be fired from the US-made Abrams M1 tanks and are set to arrive on Ukraine’s frontlines this fall, which both Washington and Kyiv hope will help Ukrainian forces to build on recent hard-earned gains in their ongoing counteroffensive.

But the munitions are mildly radioactive, raising queries about their safety and the risk they could pose to civilians, and drawing fierce criticism from Moscow.

Here’s what you need to know about depleted uranium munitions – and why their use has sparked questions.

What is it? Depleted uranium is what is left over when most of the highly radioactive isotopes of uranium have been stripped out of the metal for use in nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. It is far less radioactive than enriched uranium and unable to produce a nuclear reaction. But depleted uranium is extremely dense, making it a highly effective projectile. It has the ability to tear through the armor of enemy tanks, as it becomes sharper on impact with a target.

Why is it controversial? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has urged caution when handling it. Citing studies done on the health of military personnel exposed to depleted uranium, the agency said that while depleted uranium does not significantly contribute to the background radiation that soldiers and civilians encounter, it can pose a danger if it enters the body. When depleted uranium munitions strike a tank’s armor, it can ignite and produce uranium dusts or aerosol particles, which, if inhaled, can enter the bloodstream and may cause kidney damage.

Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh told CNN on Wednesday that the US is confident the Ukrainians would use the munitions responsibly.

Previous reporting from CNN’s Jessie Gretener and Darya Tarasova.

8:52 a.m. ET, September 7, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's everything you need to know

From CNN staff

A drone attack caused an explosion in the vicinity of Russia's Southern Military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don on Thursday, according to social media videos geolocated by CNN. The explosion took place less than a mile from the military’s building on Budonnovskiy Prospekt in the southwestern city.

Elsewhere, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is concluding his two-day trip to Ukraine with a trip to a de-mining center.

Below are the latest updates:

  • Depleted uranium: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the responsibility for the possible use of depleted uranium shells in Ukraine will rest with the United States. Speaking on a conference call with journalists, Peskov condemned the decision to send the munitions to Ukraine, describing it as "terrible news."
  • New defense minister: While introducing him at an event in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that new Defense Minister Rustem Umerov must build trust in military procurement and decision-making. Zelensky added that he wants the new minister to simplify the bureaucracy and focus on the welfare of soldiers.
  • Drone attack: Russian-appointed officials in occupied Zaporizhzhia say there has been another Ukrainian drone attack on Enerhodar, the city adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Yevgeniy Balitskiy, acting governor of occupied Zaporizhzhia, said on Telegram “several enemy drones attacked an apartment building” early Thursday.
  • Blinken trip: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is getting a glimpse of how Ukraine uses some of the assistance provided by the United States, during his second and final day of his visit to the country.