September 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Lianne Kolirin, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2355 GMT (0755 HKT) September 16, 2022
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7:49 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Mexico to propose committee aimed at reaching a truce in Ukraine at UN General Assembly

From CNN's Karol Suarez in Mexico City

President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, left, walks with Secretary of the Navy, José Rafael Ojeda Durán, during the annual military parade as part of the independence day celebrations at Zocalo in Mexico City, Mexico on Friday.
President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, left, walks with Secretary of the Navy, José Rafael Ojeda Durán, during the annual military parade as part of the independence day celebrations at Zocalo in Mexico City, Mexico on Friday. (Cristopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images)

Mexico's president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said on Friday that Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will propose a plan to create a ‘"Committee for Dialogue and Peace" to immediately seek a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.  

During a speech at the Independence Day military parade in Mexico City, López Obrador said the proposal seeks to achieve a truce of at least five years in favor of peace among all nations.

To be unveiled at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York, the plan would allow the time to be dedicated "to face the significant and severe economic and social problems that affect the peoples of the world," he said.

López Obrador criticized the sanctions on Russia and the "massive shipment" of weapons to Ukraine, calling them "actions that contributed to the ongoing confrontation, an additional dose of irrationality."

According to López Obrador, the proposal envisions Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Pope Francis, and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres serving as mediators in the committee. He said he hopes this will start direct talks between the leaders of Ukraine and Russia.

3:00 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

It's 10 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Ukrainian soldiers sit on infantry vehicles as they drive near Izium, Kharkiv Oblast on September 16.
Ukrainian soldiers sit on infantry vehicles as they drive near Izium, Kharkiv Oblast on September 16. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said some of the bodies found at a mass burial site in Izium show "signs of torture." Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged "concerns" from both China and India about the war.

Here are the latest developments:

Horrors in Izium: Ukrainian officials said that at least 440 graves had been discovered at a mass burial site in the city of Izium, in the recently liberated Kharkiv region. Zelensky said some bodies had "signs of torture," while the governor of the Kharkiv region claimed that "99% show signs of violent death," adding "there are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person is buried with a rope around his neck."

A United Nations source said a team will be going to Izium and the surrounding areas soon, and the war crimes investigation team may follow afterward.

India and China voice concerns: On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Putin that "today’s era is not of war” — a significant rebuke from a leader who has stayed largely silent on the conflict. And a day earlier, Putin on Thursday acknowledged China's President Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” regarding the conflict in Ukraine. 

Putin speaks on counteroffensive for first time: In his first comments following Kyiv’s successful counteroffensive in northeastern Ukraine, the Russian leader said the main goal of Russia's "special military operation" has not changed and that there's "no hurry."

"Let's see how this ends," he added.

Russia shelling continues: Much of Ukraine's Kharkiv region has been retaken by Ukrainian forces, but the military said liberated areas are now being heavily shelled by Russian artillery, resulting in some injuries. Attacks are also taking place in Luhansk, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

Russian-backed officials dead: The leader of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic said its prosecutor general had been killed in a "terrorist act," while the head of the Russian-backed administration in occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region said a senior official there was killed.

Biden to meet families of detained Americans: US President Joe Biden will personally meet with the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan at the White House today. The administration said Biden is “not going to let up” on getting Griner and Whelan back to the US. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said the matter is “at the very top of my priority list.”

US officials express frustration on sanctions: Senior US officials tell CNN they are disappointed US-led sanctions haven’t had a bigger impact so far on the Russian economy and are now predicting that the harshest effects probably won’t materialize until early next year at the earliest.

2:49 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Ukraine is "consolidating their gains" around Kharkiv, US Department of Defense says

From CNN's Michael Conte

The US assesses that the Ukrainians are “consolidating their gains” from retaking territory in the area of Kharkiv, according to the Defense Department.

“In the north, what we assess is that the Ukrainians are consolidating their gains after taking back significant territory, and that the Russians are attempting to shore up their defensive lines after having been pushed back,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder at a briefing with reporters.

Ryder also said that Ukrainian forces are making “deliberate, calculated forward movement” with their counteroffensive in the Kherson area.

“As always, our focus continues to remain on providing them the support that they need in their fight,” Ryder said.

2:22 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Biden is "not going to let up" on getting detained Americans back to the US, official says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

The White House said US President Joe Biden is “not going to let up” on getting Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan back to the United States from Russia. The comments on Friday come as Biden is scheduled to meet with their families.

“What I can tell you for sure is the President is not going to let up,” John Kirby, strategic communications adviser at the National Security Council, told CNN at a press briefing. “He's confident that this is going to remain at the forefront of his mind and his team's mind, and that are going to continue to work this as hard as they can.” 

He added that Biden wants “these two individuals home back where they belong with their families."

Asked why Russia hadn’t already accepted a US offer for Griner and Whelan’s return, Kirby said, “If we had the answer to that question, we might already have a deal. I think that's a better question put to our Russian colleagues.”

“We made a serious offer, we want them to accept it,” Kirby said. “Frankly, these two individuals ought to be home anyway, period, but we understand that's probably going to have to be the result of the negotiating process — one that we're willing to participate in honestly and fully, and we've been doing that. We await them to take the offer that's on the table.”

CNN previously reported that the Biden administration offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans held by Russia, according to sources.

2:16 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

White House calls reports of mass burial site in Ukraine "repugnant" and "horrifying"

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, speaks the daily White House briefing in Washington, DC on September 16.
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, speaks the daily White House briefing in Washington, DC on September 16. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House said reports of a mass burial site in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium are "horrifying" and "repugnant."

John Kirby, the strategic communications adviser at the National Security Council, said the discovery of what Ukrainian officials say is at least 440 graves at the site was "in keeping with the kind of depravity and the brutality with which Russian forces have been prosecuting this war against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people."

Kirby said the United States would continue to “actively support efforts to document war crimes and atrocities that Russian forces commit in Ukraine and assist national and international efforts to identify and hold Russians accountable.”

Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications said on Thursday that some of the graves discovered at Izium were “fresh” and that the bodies buried there were “mostly civilians.”

Izium was subject to intense Russian artillery attacks in April, and the city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, became an important hub for the invading military during five months of occupation.

2:14 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

UN General Assembly votes to allow Zelensky to speak by video link

From CNN's Tim Lister

The U.N. General Assembly meets during a special session at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on September 15.
The U.N. General Assembly meets during a special session at the U.N. headquarters in New York City on September 15. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The UN General Assembly has voted to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address the 77th session of the Assembly by video link.

The vote was 101 in favor and seven against, with 19 abstentions.

The countries voting against were Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Syria and Cuba.

China abstained.

General debate in the Assembly will run from Sept. 20 through Sept. 26.

2:22 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Release of Americans detained abroad is a top priority for the US, top official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting at the Department of State in Washington, DC on September 15.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting at the Department of State in Washington, DC on September 15. (Jose Luis Magana/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration is working relentlessly to secure the release of Americans detained abroad, including Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, who are being held in Russia.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Blinken said the matter is “at the very top of my priority list.” He reiterated that the United States had presented Russia with a “substantial proposal” to secure the release of the two Americans, who have been classified as wrongfully detained.

“I'm not going to get into the details or the back and forth. I don’t think that serves the interest of an agreement. But suffice to say we are working on it every day. And just because we don’t say something or you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Blinken said.

Some background: A senior administration official told CNN on Thursday that there has been “movement but not breakthrough” on the efforts to free Griner and Whelan.

The official said that the United States has urged Russia to put forward “a serious counteroffer” to the proposal on the table to secure the release of the two, but “we've not gotten a serious response back.”

President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with Griner and Whelan families at the White House later on Friday, marking his first time personally meeting with them since their loved ones were detained in Russia.

Griner was detained in February for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug charges and said she accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry. She has been sentenced to nine years, along with a fine of about $16,400. Her legal team in Russia has appealed the sentence.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia for more than three years after being convicted on espionage charges that he vehemently denies. He was sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison in a trial US officials denounced as unfair.

1:00 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Zelensky meets commanders to discuss next phase of "de-occupation"

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with senior military commanders to discuss the next steps in Ukraine's "de-occupation" efforts.

According to the Presidency's website, officials including the Commander of Ground Forces Oleksandr Syrsky, the Commander of the Western Command Serhiy Litvinov and the Commander of the South Command Andriy Kovalchuk joined the meeting via videoconference.

"The participants of the meeting considered further steps for the de-occupation of the territories of Ukraine and made the necessary decisions," the statement said.

They had also "updated the list of weapons necessary for the continuation of the operation to liberate Ukrainian lands."

1:05 p.m. ET, September 16, 2022

Putin says Russia is in "no hurry" in first public remarks on Ukrainian counteroffensive

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16. (Sergei Bobylev/Pool/Sputnik/AP)

In his first comments following Kyiv’s successful counteroffensive in northeastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the main goal of Russia's "special military operation" — what he calls the Ukraine invasion — has not changed.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan, Putin said the main goal continued to be “the liberation of the entire territory of Donbas” — the Luhansk and Donetsk regions — and that Russia was in “no hurry.”

"This work continues, despite these attempts to counterattack by the Ukrainian army. Our offensive operation in the Donbas itself does not stop. It continues," Putin said. "It goes at a slow pace, but it keeps going. Gradually, gradually, the Russian army occupies new territories."

On ending the fighting, Putin said, “The Kyiv authorities abandoned all agreements, they were thrown into a drawer and announced that they would not seek any agreements with Russia, but would seek victory on the battlefield. 

"Well, the flag is in their hands. They are now just trying to do this by conducting this counteroffensive. Let's see how this ends,” Putin said.

Putin also took aim at the West in his justification for the invasion, claiming that "for decades, the idea of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of classical Russia has been cultivated in the West."

Some context: This month brought huge strategic losses for the Kremlin as Ukraine carried out counteroffensives in the northeast and south. Ukraine has recaptured a total of 8,000 square kilometers (about 3,088 square miles) of land, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday.