September 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:51 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022
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12:50 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Russian parliament amends law on military service, state media reports

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, made amendments to the law on military service on Tuesday, toughening the punishment for violation of military service duties — such as desertion and evasion from service — according to state news agency TASS.

The bill sets a jail term of up to 15 years for resistance related to military service or coercion to violate an official military order, involving violence or the threat of its use, during the period of mobilization or martial law.

Separately, State Duma deputies and senators have prepared amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, proposing to introduce liability of up to five years of jail time for the destruction or negligent damage of weapons and military equipment during wartime, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The deputies have also introduced concepts of "mobilization," "martial law," "wartime," and "armed conflict" into the Criminal Code of Russia, which will now be regarded as aggravating factors in criminal sentencing.

Remember: Politicians and political commentators in Russia have started debating mobilization, even as the Kremlin denied any discussions about a nationwide mobilization of troops. It could mean extending conscription for soldiers currently in the armed forces, calling on reservists or bringing in men of fighting age who have had military training.

The measures in the State Duma came before the referendum announcements in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine on Tuesday. 

1:12 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Ukrainian foreign minister looks to buoy support for Ukraine while at United Nations, sources say

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba talks with the US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield before the start of their meeting in New York on Tuesday.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba talks with the US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield before the start of their meeting in New York on Tuesday. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is focusing on the global spillover effects on the energy and food crises of the Ukraine war during his meetings with counterparts on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to UN diplomats familiar with the matter. 

Kuleba is doing this with a specific goal in mind: To try and maintain solidarity among the nations who support Ukraine by recognizing the impacts that the war is having on their country, the diplomats said.

While the devastation in Ukraine is immense, Ukrainian government officials believe that highlighting how the war's impact outside the borders of Ukraine is most likely to drive continued support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. 

The food crisis is a central spillover effect that is being felt globally, and the Ukrainians are pushing for the current grain deal to be maintained and extended, diplomats said. 

Kuleba also plans to privately shame the leaders of countries who are getting cheap oil from Russia, by saying that they are benefiting from Ukraine being victimized, one diplomat said.

Meanwhile, US and European officials feel confident that this week will fuel continued support for Ukraine, US and European officials said.

There are a few factors contributing to that expectation. First, Ukraine's gains on the battlefield have put the wind at their back because it wouldn't be a good look for countries to back away from supporting Ukraine while they are having success. Second, the comments by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian President Narendra Modi last week give further momentum to holding the line in terms of support for Ukraine, officials explained. 

Some background: Last week, 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 throughout its more than six months duration.

On Thursday, during a meeting with the Chinese leader, Putin acknowledged Xi’s “questions and concerns” about the war.

1:09 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

European soccer's governing body confirmed Russia's exclusion from EURO 2024

From CNN’s Matt Foster

The UEFA Euro 2024 trophy is pictured in Berlin in 2021.
The UEFA Euro 2024 trophy is pictured in Berlin in 2021. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for DFB)

UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, confirmed on Tuesday that Russia would not be included in the draw for Euro 2024 men’s qualifying after a meeting of their executive committee.

 A UEFA press release said, “all Russian teams are currently suspended following the decision of the UEFA Executive Committee of 28 February 2022 which has further been confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 15 July 2022.

“Russia is therefore not included in the UEFA European Football Championship 2022-24 qualifying draw.”

The executive committee met in Hvar, Croatia, to approve the procedure for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifying draw.

The draw takes place on Oct. 9 in Frankfurt and will include 53 national associations.

Euro 2024 is set to take place in Germany from June 14 to July 14, 2024.

11:46 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Ukraine says referendum plans in Russian-occupied areas stem from "fear of defeat"

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva

Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak attends a joint briefing in Kyiv on September 13.
Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak attends a joint briefing in Kyiv on September 13. (Ruslan Kaniuka/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office has responded to the sudden announcements of referendums on joining Russia in occupied parts of Ukraine.

"Naive blackmail with threats and horror stories of 'referendums', 'mobilizations' from those who know how to fight only with children and peaceful people ... This is what the fear of defeat looks like. The enemy is afraid, primitively manipulates," said Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, on his Telegram channel.

"Ukraine will solve the Russian issue. The threat can be eliminated only by force," Yermak added.

An adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Mykhailo Podolyak, said Russians decided to “respond asymmetrically” to the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“Thinking that illegal 'referendum' will stop HIMARS and the Armed Forces from destroying occupiers on our land. Do you really want to spend the time needed to escape for a new show? Try...It will be interesting...,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also dismissed the announcements in a tweet, calling the referendums a "sham."

In addition, Ukraine's foreign ministry also said, “such fake plebiscites” will have “no legal consequences.”

The vote will not change the “administrative-territorial structure and internationally recognized borders of Ukraine,” it said in a statement, adding that “neither Ukraine nor the international community will recognize their worthless results.”

The ministry called the vote “forced citizenship” of residents and said it is “another attempt of Russia to legitimize the consequences of its aggressive war against Ukraine.”

Remember: Multiple Kremlin-backed authorities in eastern and southern Ukraine announced referendums on joining Russia will be held this week. Senior Russian officials have welcomed the moves. 

11:17 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Pro-Russia authorities in Zaporizhzhia join Donetsk and Luhansk in planning referendum on joining Russia 

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Yulia Kesaieva

The so-called National Congress of Citizens of the Zaporizhzhia Region has a referendum on unification with Russia, said Vladimir Rogov, a senior pro-Russian official in occupied Zaporizhzhia.

Representatives of the public of the Zaporizhzhia region gathered in Melitopol addressed the military-civilian administration, Rogov said.

"The congress delegates demanded an immediate referendum on the reunification of the region with Russia, noting that this would forever restore peace in the Zaporizhzhia region and give impetus to the development of their native land, as well as stop the aggression of the Ukrainian regime against civilians and the destruction of infrastructure by militants of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," Rogov said.

The infrastructure for this endeavor is also ready, according to Yevgeniy Balitskiy, the Russian-appointed head of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration.

“Technically, we are ready. Security of polling stations is ensured. Our borders are reliably protected by the Russian military," he said.

Meanwhile, as fighting continues in the area, he said the region will recruit “volunteers” in the "near future" to fight against Ukraine, adding that he has signed a decree on the “formation of volunteer battalions of Zaporizhzhia region.”

11:13 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Putin praises Russian weapons and equipment used in Ukraine as having "high efficiency"

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russian weapons and equipment used against Ukrainian forces while speaking in a meeting with the heads of enterprises of the military-industrial complex on Tuesday.

“Russian weapons used during the [special military] operation show high efficiency,” Putin said.

“First of all, this concerns aviation, high-precision long-range missiles, aviation weapons, rocket-artillery, armored weapons and others. They allow to destroy military infrastructure, command posts, enemy equipment, hit the locations of nationalist formations, while minimizing losses among personnel,” he added.

Putin claimed that Russia’s equipment “effectively resists” Western models of weapons and called on further increasing and modernizing production capacities.

“Organizations of the defense industrial complex need to ensure the delivery of the required weapons and equipment to the troops, weapons of destruction as soon as possible,” he said.

10:09 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Ship that carried Ukrainian grain to Africa is a symbol of solidarity and diplomacy, UN chief says

A World Food Programme staff stands near the MV Brave Commander carrying wheat grain from Yuzhny Port in Ukraine to the Horn of Africa docks in Djibouti on August 30.
A World Food Programme staff stands near the MV Brave Commander carrying wheat grain from Yuzhny Port in Ukraine to the Horn of Africa docks in Djibouti on August 30.

In remarks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, UN chief António Guterres used the description of a ship that transported Ukrainian grain to Africa as a “symbol of what the world can accomplish when we act together.”

"It navigated through a war zone — guided by the very parties to the conflict — as part of an unprecedented comprehensive initiative to get more food and fertilizer out of Ukraine and Russia," he said.

At the end of August, after 14 days at sea, a shipment of 23,000 metric tons of wheat arrived on the MV Brave Commander in the Horn of Africa to support the United Nations World Food Programme. After Russia blocked Ukrainian Black Sea ports, the UN and Turkey helped broker a deal to get grain out of Ukraine.

"Some might call it a miracle on the sea. In truth, it is multilateral diplomacy in action," Guterres added.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative has opened the pathway for the safe navigation of dozens of ships filled with much needed food supplies. But each ship is also carrying one of today’s rarest commodities: Hope," he said.

But besides hope, action is needed is stabilize the world's fertilizer market, Guterres said.

"It is essential to continue removing all remaining obstacles to the export of Russian fertilizers and their ingredients, including ammonia. These products are not subject to sanctions – and we are making progress in eliminating indirect effects," he said.

"Without action now, the global fertilizer shortage will quickly morph into a global food shortage," he warned.

10:13 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

EU approves macro-financial package to provide additional 5 billion dollars to Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in London 

Czech Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura takes part in a meeting in Brussels on July 12.
Czech Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura takes part in a meeting in Brussels on July 12. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The EU Council on Tuesday cemented an additional 5 billion euros (nearly $5 billion) in macro-financial assistance for Ukraine by formally adopting the move agreed by the bloc's finance ministers earlier this month, according to the Council's website.

This marks the second stage of the EU's mobilization of up to 9 billion euros (nearly $9 billion) to support Ukraine’s macro-financial stabilization, "strengthen the immediate resilience of the country and sustain its capacity towards recovery," the statement reads.

It follows the 1 billion euros (about $1 billion) package adopted by the EU Council in July.

While the total macro-financial assistance package is made up of both loans and grants, the latest 5 billion euros is purely in loans, to be repaid by Ukraine within 25 years with guarantees, an EU spokesperson told CNN.

The "new loan of €5 billion will be used for the day-to-day running of the state and to ensure the operation of the country's critical infrastructure, such as offices, schools and hospitals," according to Zbyněk Stanjura, the finance minister of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU Council presidency.

Some background: EU finance ministers had agreed on a statement on Sept. 9 in support of the additional 5 billion euros in assistance for Ukraine. Today, this additional assistance was formally adopted, according to the press release.

8:47 a.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Russian-backed administration in Kherson plans immediate referendum on joining Russia 

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

The Russian-backed head of the Kherson regional administration, Vladimir Saldo, has announced that a referendum on the region joining Russia will be held between Sept. 23 and 27, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Those are the same dates as announced by the self-declared republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

"As head of the Administration of the Kherson region, I signed a decree on the referendum on the entry of the Kherson region into the Russian Federation as a full subject of the unified state," Saldo wrote on his Telegram channel. 

"The decree establishes the procedure for organizing voting and conducting the referendum on the territory of Kherson region, and also establishes measures of administrative and criminal liability for violation of these rules," he added.

Parts of Kherson are on the front lines between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

"Considering the difficult situation in Kherson region and understanding its responsibility for life and peace of mind of the region's residents, the Administration of Kherson region will do everything necessary to ensure safety for all residents of the region," Saldo said.

Earlier: One week into Ukraine's counteroffensive in September, senior US officials and Ukrainian officials told CNN that Ukrainian forces were making gains in the south, with the ambitious goal of taking back most of the Russian-occupied region of Kherson by the end of the year.

Saldo said the referendum will "secure" the territory in the backdrop of this counteroffensive.

"I am sure that the incorporation of Kherson region into the Russian Federation will secure our territory and restore historical justice. This is a necessary decision in the context of constant acts of terror on the part of armed formations of Ukraine and NATO member countries, which supply weapons to kill civilians on our land," he said.