September 13, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Andrew Raine, Rob Picheta, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 9:55 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023
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9:22 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Pentagon watchdog establishes new team in Ukraine to monitor how US aid is used

From Oren Liebermann

The Pentagon is establishing a new team in Ukraine to monitor US security assistance to Kyiv, as a growing number of Republican lawmakers are calling for more oversight into how the money is being used. 

The Defense Department Inspector General said a senior US representative began work in Ukraine in late August, and additional personnel are expected to arrive by the end of September. The personnel, based at the US embassy in Kyiv, will monitor US aid, which has totaled more than $43.7 billion since the start of the Biden administration. 

It marks the first time the inspector general will have personnel based in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, said spokesperson Megan Reed.

Some background: The establishment of the new team comes at a critical time for Ukraine aid. The Biden administration recently asked Congress for $24 billion more in assistance, including $13 billion in security assistance, as the president and other senior administration officials have vowed to continue US aid for “as long as it takes.”

But some increasingly skeptical Republicans have raised questions about how much bipartisan support there is for such substantial sums of aid. A growing number of Republicans have begun questioning the wisdom of spending billions of dollars in Ukraine and have called for greater oversight.

Republican calls for more oversight are not unanimous. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that there was already “unprecedented insight into how nearly 30 types of Western weapons systems and vehicles are being used by Ukraine, often down to the serial number.”

The Pentagon has improved its ability to monitor transfers of weapons and equipment to Ukraine through the defense attache in Kyiv and the establishment of the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine, but the military struggled to effectively oversee the shipments when the war began.

A Defense Department inspector general report obtained by CNN warned that the ability of the US to monitor billions of dollars in aid flowing into Ukraine faced “challenges” because of the limited US presence. During the first six months of the war, the Office of Defense Cooperation-Kyiv “was unable to conduct required [end-use monitoring]” of military equipment provided to Ukraine. 

The report, dated October 2022, underscored how difficult it was for the US to track the vast quantities of weapons, ammunition and equipment during the early months of the war. Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine attempted to steal some of the Western-provided weapons and equipment before it was recovered by Ukrainian intelligence, the report found.

8:13 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

It's past midnight in Kyiv. Here's what you should know

From CNN staff

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, September 13, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, September 13, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA/Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met at a space center in Russia's Far East on Wednesday.

The pair spent around five hours together, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Putin described the talks as "highly productive,” involving a “candid exchange of views” on both regional matters and bilateral relations.

The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, as both countries face international isolation over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

Putin was asked if he discussed military-technical cooperation with Kim. In his response, Putin acknowledged the certain restrictions in place, which he said Moscow fully complies with, but admitted there are areas open for discussion and consideration, suggesting the presence of potential prospects for cooperation.

Later, North Korea's state media KCNA reported that Kim invited Putin to visit Pyongyang at a "convenient time," and that the Russian leader happily accepted the invite.

Meanwhile, the United States said it “will not hesitate to impose sanctions” if the meeting results in weapons transfers between the two countries. The US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Moscow's engagement with North Korea "shows how desperate Russia is." 

Here are other headlines you should know:

  • Attack on Sevastopol: Ukrainian forces launched an extensive attack on a ship repair facility in the Crimean port of Sevastopol Wednesday, according to both the Russian defense ministry and Ukrainian accounts. Air defense forces shot down seven cruise missiles, and a patrol ship destroyed all the uncrewed boats, the Russian ministry said while acknowledging that “two ships under repair were damaged by enemy cruise missiles.”
  • Evacuations: More than 2,000 people have left the frontline Kupiansk district as of Wednesday, after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for 56 settlements on August 9, according to Kharkiv regional authorities. About 12,000 people were still living in the community as of Sunday, as opposed to the 57,000 people who lived there before Russia’s war on Ukraine, an official said.
  • Calls for tougher sanctions: A top Ukrainian official said that sanctions against Russia must be tougher and more sophisticated, after a new report that Moscow is evading international restrictions and increasing its missile production. The New York Times reported that “Russia subverted American export controls using its intelligence services and ministry of defense to run illicit networks of people who smuggle key components by exporting them to other countries from which they can be shipped to Russia more easily.”

8:47 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Ukraine claims that North Korea is already supplying Russia with ammunition 

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Ukraine is claiming that North Korea is already supplying Russia with ammunition. 

“We can say that cooperation continues between North Korea and Russia,” Andrii Yusov, representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, said in an interview with Ukrainian state media on Wednesday. He added that such intel between the countries is being intercepted and recorded. 

Russian requests are mainly for projectiles for artillery and MLRS, Yusov said, referring to rocket launchers.

"This is an important factor that will be felt on the battlefield, unfortunately,” he said, adding that Ukraine is working on a proper reaction to such cooperation. 

Yusof did not provide any evidence that North Korea is already supplying weapons to Russia nor has CNN verified any such supplies.

The comments come after United States officials warned that Russia and North Korea could make a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Vladimir Putin met on Wednesday in Russia's Far East.

Afterward, Putin was asked if he discussed military-technical cooperation with Kim.

The Russian leader acknowledged certain restrictions in place, which he said Moscow fully complies with, but admitted there are areas open for discussion and consideration. 

7:17 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Putin accepts Kim's invitation to visit Pyongyang, North Korea's state media says

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited President Vladimir Putin to visit Pyongyang at a "convenient time," state media KCNA reported, adding that the Russian leader has happily accepted the invite. 

Kim bid Putin farewell and has left for his “next destination,” KCNA said, without providing details of where he is going next.

The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on Wednesday.

The meeting was held after US officials warned that Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing” in a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use in its faltering Ukraine war in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.

Moscow is in need of fresh supplies of ammunition and shells after more than 18 months of war has left its military battered, while Pyongyang, which has faced years of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, is short of everything from hard cash and food to missile technology.

3:41 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

More than 2,000 people evacuated in the Kupiansk district, regional authorities say

From CNN’s Yulia Kesaieva and Martin Goillandeau

Oleksandr Pishchyk, a school director, stands in front of the school library that was destroyed by shelling in Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Wednesday, August 23.
Oleksandr Pishchyk, a school director, stands in front of the school library that was destroyed by shelling in Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Wednesday, August 23. Bram Janssen/AP

More than 2,000 people have left the Kupiansk district as of Wednesday, after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for 56 settlements on August 9, according to Kharkiv regional authorities.

Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said on Telegram that 2,339 people have evacuated so far, including 350 children. He said that another 1,438 evacuated on their own as well, including 164 children.

“The evacuation is ongoing," Syniehubov said. "People are reluctant to leave, explaining that this is their house, their land, their home. However, we are working with the national police to evacuate as many people as possible."

Syniehubov said 12,000 people were still living in the community as of Sunday, as opposed to the 57,000 people who lived there before Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Syniehubov added that the situation on the frontline in the Kupiansk sector remains “difficult.”

“The enemy is forming another ‘striking fist’ to intensify assault operations and try to break through our defenses," he said. "They carry out assault operations in waves and after suffering significant damage to their manpower and equipment from our military, they are forced to withdraw for renewal to form new assault forces.”

A video posted by Ukraine’s Offensive Guard on Wednesday appears to show an enemy position hit by an intense explosion in the distance. According to the caption, the Ukrainian border guard “used an automatic grenade launcher MK19 to hit the occupiers’ minefields.”

3:20 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Russia says it destroyed 3 unmanned Ukrainian boats in Black Sea

From CNN's Mariya Knight

The Russian defense ministry said it destroyed three Ukrainian unmanned boats in the Black Sea on Wednesday. 

The news comes after Ukraine launched an extensive missile attack on the Sevastopol shipyard in occupied Crimea in the early hours of Wednesday. 

The ministry claimed air defense forces shot down seven cruise missiles, and that the patrol ship Vasily Bykov destroyed all the unmanned boats. But the ministry acknowledged that “two ships under repair were damaged by enemy cruise missiles.” 

The vessels will be fully repaired, the ministry added.

2:25 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

US says it "will not hesitate" to impose sanctions if weapons are transferred between North Korea and Russia

From CNN's Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler

The United States “will not hesitate to impose sanctions” if the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un results in weapons transfers between the two countries, the US State Department said.

“We have taken a number of actions already to sanction entities that have brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia, and we won't hesitate to impose additional actions if appropriate,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Wednesday.

Ahead of the Putin-Kim summit, US officials warned that Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing” in a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use in its faltering Ukraine war in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.

Miller said that the US has not raised the issue of Russia potentially providing nuclear technology to North Korea with China, but that he anticipated they would.

“Secretary Blinken raised North Korea's nuclear program and North Korea's ballistic missile program in his engagements with Chinese officials when we were in Beijing, and we've regularly raised that in our conversations with Chinese officials,” Miller said.

Miller also condemned North Korea’s overnight ballistic missile launches.

1:56 p.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Here's what you need to know about the summit between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un

From CNN's Helen Regan, Gawon Bae, Larry Register, Simone McCarthy and Anna Chernova

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023. Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Reuters

Vladimir Putin has said Russia is considering and discussing some military cooperation with North Korea, following a summit at which that country’s leader Kim Jong Un appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, as both countries face international isolation.

Moscow is in need of fresh supplies of ammunition and shells after more than 18 months of war in Ukraine has left its military battered, while North Korea, which has faced years of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, is short of everything from hard cash and food to missile technology.

Here's what happened at the summit:

Kim signaled support for Russia's invasion: Without naming Ukraine, Kim said the “Russian military and its people will inherit the shining tradition of victory” and demonstrate their reputation on the frontline of “military operation,” the euphemistic phrasing Moscow uses to describe its illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“I will always be standing with Russia,” Kim said, praising Moscow for having “stood up against the hegemonic forces” to defend its sovereignty and security, a veiled reference to the United States and the West.

What North Korea wants in return: Putin signaled a willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program. North Korea has made space technology a priority — but has some ways to go, having tried and failed twice this year to launch a spy satellite into orbit.

Kim has also stressed the role of military satellites as a means to protect national safety and territorial stability and has spoken of their strategic value when deploying military force preemptively, North Korean state media reported in April.

Providing this technology to North Korea would be in violation of international sanctions, aimed at hampering Pyongyang’s ability to build a fully functioning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile force.

The meeting was at a space center: During the tour, the two leaders inspected the complex where Russia plans to launch its next generation of spacecraft. The facilities were built to receive launch vehicles, conduct pre-launch preparations, launches, and post-launch operations, state news agency TASS reported.

“Meeting at Russia’s eastern spaceport is particularly provocative because it suggests that Putin may offer sanctions-violating satellite launch technology in exchange for North Korean munitions that Moscow would employ in its illegal war in Ukraine,” Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told CNN.

North Korea fires ballistic missiles: Hours before the summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Analysts say it’s unusual for Pyongyang to conduct a launch while Kim is out of the country. North Korea may be intending “to show that the military maintains readiness with uninterrupted command and control,” Easley, the professor of international studies, said.

11:51 a.m. ET, September 13, 2023

Russia shows desperation by engaging with North Korea, US ambassador to UN says

From CNN's Richard Roth

US representative to the United Nations and president of the UN Security Council for the month of August Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference after a meeting of the UN Security Council on maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine at the United Nations Security headquarters on August 24, 2023 in New York City.
US representative to the United Nations and president of the UN Security Council for the month of August Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference after a meeting of the UN Security Council on maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine at the United Nations Security headquarters on August 24, 2023 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that Moscow's engagement with North Korea "shows how desperate Russia is."  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat down for talks on Wednesday at Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome space center. 

Putin signaled willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program Wednesday, as he gave Kim Jong Un a tour of Russia’s vast Vostochny space launch site ahead of their expected arms talks. When asked by a reporter whether Russia would help North Korea launch its own satellites and rockets, Putin responded: “That’s exactly why we came here.”

Remember: US officials have warned North Korea it will “pay a price” if it strikes an arms deal with Russia, after saying that negotiations were “advancing” between the two nations.

If Pyongyang provides weapons to Moscow to use in the war against Ukraine, it is “not going to reflect well on North Korea and they will pay a price for this in the international community,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a news briefing on Tuesday.