September 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Ed Upright, Joshua Berlinger, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 10:13 a.m. ET, September 28, 2023
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5:33 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Armenia is welcoming US troops onto its soil, and Russia is concerned

From CNN's Christian Edwards

Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), hold a distinguished visitor day for Eagle Partner 2023, on September 15, in a training area in Armenia.
Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), hold a distinguished visitor day for Eagle Partner 2023, on September 15, in a training area in Armenia. SFC Aaron Duncan/DVIDS

The arrival of US soldiers for a peacekeeper training exercise in Armenia has rankled the Russian government, which has for decades acted as the sole security guarantor for the former Soviet republic. The 10-day “Eagle Partner” exercise, which began last Monday, involves 85 US and 175 Armenian soldiers and aims to prepare the Armenians to take part in international peacekeeping missions.

The exercise, while small in scale, is the latest in a series of what Russia’s foreign ministry has deemed “unfriendly actions” taken by its traditional ally.

Armenia recently sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time, and its parliament is set to ratify the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute – meaning it would be obliged to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he were to set foot in the country, which Russia has long viewed as its own backyard.

Armenia’s flirtation with new international partners has been spurred by its frustration that Russia has been unable or unwilling to defend it against what it sees as aggression from neighboring Azerbaijan, and has raised questions about Russia’s ability to retain its hold on countries and conflicts across the former Soviet empire.

Read more about Armenia's geopolitical balancing act here:

5:04 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Ukraine's counteroffensive has been successful, top Zelensky aide tells CNN

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge and Kostyantin Gak in Kyiv

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 19.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 19. Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images/File

Ukraine’s counteroffensive agains Russian forces has been a success, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

In an interview with CNN, Zelensky aide Mykhailo Podolyak cited having broken through Russian’s first line of defense as a reason of optimism in Ukraine's fight against the Kremlin -- a military power that, Podolyak explained, “everyone was afraid of” before Moscow's full-scale invasion.

The initiative is entirely with Ukraine," Podolyak said.

"Even Russian officials like Putin say that they are repelling Ukraine's offensive operations. They don't talk about their counteroffensive, they only talk about Russia's defensive war."

After weeks of anticipation, Ukraine's counteroffensive began in June but got off to a slower-than-expected start, facing tough resistance from Russian troops. Kyiv's forces have in recent weeks notched some important gains on the front lines.

Podolyak added that Ukraine was preparing to fight to liberate Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in violation of international law in 2014.

More aid needed: Podolyak said Ukraine needs from its Western partners more air support, particularly F-16 fighter jets; long-range missiles to strike deep into Russian-controlled territories; and ammunition.

4:35 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Danube port targeted in Russian attacks

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Alex Stambaugh 

Russian attacks damaged recreational infrastructure in a Danube River port, a Ukrainian official said Monday.

Oleh Kiper, head of the Odesa regional military administration, said a fire broke out following the attacks on Vylkove in Odesa's Izmail district.

Earlier Monday, Ukraine's military said Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in Odesa with a "massive" missile and drone attack.

Ukrainian air defenses destroyed 11 attack drones over Odesa, Kiper said.

There were no civilian casualties, he said. 

4:26 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Zelensky to make case for Ukrainian victory at UN, adviser says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge and Kostyantin Gak in Kyiv

Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a joint briefing in Kyiv, on September 6.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a joint briefing in Kyiv, on September 6. Ukrinform/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Volodymyr Zelensky will make the case for a speedy victory over Russia in his addresses to the United Nations and in his meeting with US President Joe Biden this week, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian president said.

In an interview with CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen, adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Zelensky would use the platforms to explain "why this war should have a fair ending," and "that helping Ukraine is an investment in stability, in global rules, in the restoration of international law.” 

Zelensky will also stress that "this war can be accelerated if there is a sufficient amount of weapons for Ukraine,” Podolyak said.

World leaders are meeting in New York starting Monday for the UN General Assembly.

Aside from an address to the assembly, Zelensky also has plans to hold several meetings with other world leaders in New York, according to people familiar with the plans. After that, the Ukrainian president is set to go to Washington to meet with Biden.

4:16 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Ukraine has liberated 300 square kilometers but minimizing troop losses more important, senior official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Frederik Pleitgen, Daniel Hodge and Kostyantin Gak

Hanna Maliar attends a graduation ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 23.
Hanna Maliar attends a graduation ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 23. Gleb Garanich/Reuters/File

Ukraine has liberated 300 square kilometers (115 square miles) of territory from Russia since the start of its summer counteroffensive, but minimizing casualties as troops move forward in tough conditions has been its priority, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.

In an interview with CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen, Maliar said Kyiv's counteroffensive has progressed slower than anticipated but that pace was designed to save troops' lives.

“Contrary to the military science, Ukrainians risked and started an offensive when the enemy had more weapons and more people,” she said. “Military science tells you have to do it when you have superiority. That is not possible in our situation. We have to fight as it is.

“It’s not about number of liberated kilometers. It’s about our forces [being] able to move forward in these conditions.”

Maliar also claimed the Russians were losing up to eight times as many troops as the Ukrainians in the east of the country. CNN could not independently verify her claim, but Western officials and independent analysts believe Moscow has consistently suffered heavier losses.

Maliar also reiterated the counteroffensive “is going according to the plan,” but said Ukraine needed additional international support and repeated Ukrainian calls for more weapons and ammunition.

“Ukrainian people are very grateful for all the support from Western countries. We realize that our victories are impossible without the help from the West,” she added. 

Despite the difficulties, Maliar believes in Ukraine’s ultimate success.  

“We believe in our victory. We are on our land, there is no falling back. We will defend our country till we liberate all of our territories,” she said.
2:08 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Russia launches "massive" attack on Odesa, Ukraine's military says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Alex Stambaugh 

Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in Ukraine's southern Odesa region with a "massive" missile and drone attack on Monday morning, Ukraine's military said.

In a statement on Facebook, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said the consequences of the attack remained unclear.

Ukraine's Air Force said air defenses destroyed 18 out of 24 attack drones headed toward the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions.

It also said it destroyed all 17 cruise missiles launched from Russia's southwest Volgograd region. The missiles were destroyed in Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava and Khmelnytskyi regions, it said. 

1:53 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

2 dead in Russian attacks on Kherson, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Alex Stambaugh

A 72-year-old man and an elderly woman were killed as a result of Russian attacks on Ukraine's southern Kherson region overnight into Monday, according to a local official.

Oleksandr Prokudin, head of the Kherson region military administration, said three others were injured, including a 60-year-old man and a 63-year-old woman.

"The enemy was shelling Kherson region all night," he said.

Last week, Prokudin said the regional government would issue mandatory evacuation orders for families with children who live along the Dnipro River due to Russian shelling. 

From Monday, the curfew in the region will be from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time, he added. 

Dnipro attacks: Meanwhile, Ukraine shot down two cruise missiles over Dnipropetrovsk overnight, according to Serhii Lysak, head of the region's military administration. 

There were no reports of casualties.

1:18 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Zelensky to push for support from world leaders at the UN General Assembly this week. Here's what to know

From CNN staff

The UN General Assembly Hall is seen in New York on September 20, 2021.
The UN General Assembly Hall is seen in New York on September 20, 2021. John Angelillo/AFP/Getty Images/File

World leaders are meeting in New York starting Monday for the United Nations General Assembly meetings.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning to use an in-person appearance at the annual meeting to appeal for more support for Ukraine as it continues to wage a counteroffensive against Russia.

Aside from an address to the assembly, Zelensky also has plans to hold several meetings with other world leaders in New York, according to people familiar with the plans. After that, the Ukrainian president is set to go to Washington and meet with US President Joe Biden.

Here's what else to know:

  • Visit to Washington: After meeting with Biden, Zelensky will visit the US Capitol next Thursday, according to a GOP source familiar, though he will not address a joint session of Congress and is instead expected to meet with senators. It comes as Congress is weighing a White House request for additional aid to Ukraine. Its passage remains in doubt, with the GOP fiercely divided over the issue.
  • The goal for Biden: In Zelensky's visit to the White House, the US president is looking to reaffirm "for the world, and for the United States, for the American people his commitment to continuing to lead the world in supporting Ukraine as it defends its independence, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. Both Zelensky and Biden are scheduled to give remarks to the UN assembly.
  • Biden and Zelensky's history: The two leaders met in person on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Lithuania in July. Before that, the men sat for talks in May at the G7 summit in Japan. Despite support from the United States for an appearance at last week’s G20 summit in India, Zelensky wasn’t extended an invitation by the hosts. Zelensky last came to the US in December, his first time leaving Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began.

Other key headlines from the war:

  • Counteroffensive near Bakhmut: Ukraine has recaptured Klishchiivka, a key village in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky said Sunday. Zelensky's office posted a picture on social media earlier in the day, indicating Kyiv's forces had liberated this key area that has been critical to Ukraine's counteroffensive in the east. 
  • Moscow meeting: China’s top diplomat Wang Yi is expected to discuss the war in Ukraine with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday as he begins a visit to Russia this week. Wang and Lavrov are expected to discuss “a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues,” which include a “detailed exchange of views on issues related to a settlement in Ukraine,” according to Russia's Foreign Ministry.
  • Kim departs Russia: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received body armor and drones as parting gifts as he wrapped up a trip to Russia that has alarmed the West. The send-off capped a rare, six-day visit that saw him hold talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, raising the possibility North Korea could provide Russia with weaponry to aid its invasion of Ukraine.
  • NATO chief's warning: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that we must "prepare ourselves for a long war" in Ukraine. “The easiest way to end this war would be if Putin withdrew his troops," he said. Stoltenberg also reiterated that it is just a matter of time before Ukraine joins NATO.
1:10 a.m. ET, September 18, 2023

Chinese foreign minister to meet Russian counterpart on visit to Russia 

From CNN’s Beijing bureau, Teele Rebane and Larry Register

Wang Yi attends a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on July 26.
Wang Yi attends a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on July 26. Stringer/AFP/Getty Images/File

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi is expected to discuss the war in Ukraine with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday as he begins a visit to Russia.

Wang will visit the country from September 18 to 21, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. 

He is expected to meet Lavrov to discuss “a wide range of bilateral cooperation issues,” which include a “detailed exchange of views on issues related to a settlement in Ukraine,” according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry last week.

The scheduled meeting comes on the heels of a closely watched summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which the United States has warned could lead to Pyongyang supplying Moscow with munitions for its war in Ukraine.