September 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Ed Upright, Sophie Tanno, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, September 21, 2023
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5:54 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Germany will host next Ukraine recovery conference in June 2024, official says

From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin and Jessie Gretener in London

Germany will host the next Ukraine recovery conference, a German government spokesperson announced in a news release on Wednesday.

The decision was made after a meeting between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said.

The conference is scheduled to take place in Berlin on June 11, 2024, he said. The 2023 Ukraine Recovery Conference was hosted by the United Kingdom in London.

The leaders met for half an hour on Wednesday and discussed the "political, military and humanitarian situation in Ukraine, " Hebestreit said.

According to the release, Zelensky thanked the German government for its military support. Meanwhile, Scholz reiterated Germany's continued solidarity with Ukraine.

5:43 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Analysis: Ukraine is fighting for its territory back, but European security also rides on counteroffensive

Analysis by CNN's Nick Paton Walsh

Burned cars outside a damaged apartment block in the frontline town of Orikhiv on September 17.
Burned cars outside a damaged apartment block in the frontline town of Orikhiv on September 17. Oliver Weiken/picture alliance/Getty Images

In the basements of Orikhiv, Ukrainian troops stand by the walls. Even though they are underground, the huge Russian bombs that routinely land could collapse everything above onto them, and so the edges of their underground world are safer.

Imagine these sorts of risk, and the men and women enduring its nerve-wracking toll nightly, when you next hear talk of the progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. It is slow, perilous, bloody, and harder than anyone hoped. But make no mistake: this is perhaps the most important moment for European security since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even 1945.

While the Ukrainians’ progress along the southern front picked up earlier this month, it now appears to have partially slowed again. They are still some distance from Tokmak, the halfway point to Melitopol, and achieving the goal of severing Russian-occupied Crimea from the land corridor to mainland Russia.

Still, it's Ukraine’s fight is for its territory, yes. But it is a startlingly vivid moment for European security – the outcome of the next two months might decide the tenor of the next decade in global terms.

By late November, the weather will become cold, and winter will soon set in. It already risks becoming wetter and muddier than Ukrainian assaulting armor would prefer. But Kyiv’s last major advances were achieved in mid-November last year, after the Russian retreat in Kherson, so it is fair to presume they have another eight weeks left.

The West broadcasts its relentless resolve to support Kyiv. But be in no doubt, the billions of dollars of aid seemingly announced weekly by Washington could be at risk as the 2024 election campaign hovers into view.

Some Republicans are already expressing doubts about US President Joe Biden's decision to continue to give aid to Ukraine. Donald Trump, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, believes he can magically fix the war in 24 hours, which risks severe concessions to the man he seems to fear criticizing — Russia's Vladimir Putin.

European support, too, is not set in concrete. In the face of economic pressures, the bloc’s full-throated unity on the war is an outlier, and could also falter if US support wanes. Another winter of high fuel prices and looming elections might shake this unity too.

But the next two months cannot be permitted to pass by NATO without a greater sense of urgency, the realization that winter setting in without a serious worsening in Russian fortunes places European security at grave risk in the decade ahead.

Read more on the high stakes

5:16 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Polish president calls on world leaders to act in solidarity to deal with Russia

From CNN's Karen Smith

Andrzej Duda addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, on September 19.
Andrzej Duda addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, on September 19. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Poland's President Andrzej Duda urged world leaders at the United Nations to unite to deal with Russia.

“If we don’t act in solidarity today, to defend the fundamental values of international law, tomorrow may be too late,” Duda said during Wednesday’s UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine.

Duda said the “strategic change” that occurred following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not temporary.

“We are living in a new era of uncertainty,” Duda said.

Earlier, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the Security Council to revoke Russia's veto power.

5:35 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Biden seeking the "battlefield perspective" during Zelensky's visit, White House says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly Leader's Reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, on September 19.
Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly Leader's Reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, on September 19. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

United States President Joe Biden is seeking to hear a “battlefield perspective” from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Washington, DC, Thursday, the White House said.

It comes as the Ukrainian president pleas for additional aid for his war-torn country and the US Congress remains divided about how to proceed. Biden will also reiterate US support "that we're going to continue to be with them for as long as it takes,” said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications.

Biden will talk to Zelensky about specific weapons needs, Kirby said. However, CNN has reported that ATACMS — the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems — may not be part of a new weapons package, something Zelensky suggested to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer would be a disappointment. 

Kirby said ATACMS are “not off the table,” and "we continue to have discussions here in the interagency about that particular weapon system, but no decision has been made.

More broadly, Kirby said there is a “critical need” for Congress to grant the White House’s $24 billion supplemental funding request for Ukraine for its counteroffensive capabilities. He offered forceful pushback to Republican lawmakers questioning continued US aid to Ukraine and encouraged them to meet directly with the Ukrainian president.

“If you think that the cost of supporting Ukraine is high now, just ponder how exorbitantly higher it would be in blood and treasure if we just walk away and let them take Ukraine, all of it. And then he's (Russian President Vladimir Putin) left in a much stronger position and oh, by the way, right up on to the shores of NATO territory,” he said. 

How the visit is expected to unfold: First, Zelensky will meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and others at the Pentagon. In addition to the Senate, Zelensky is expected to speak with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other leaders, according to Kirby.

After that, Biden and Zelensky will hold a small bilateral meeting in the Oval Office followed by an extended bilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room, Kirby said. 

 Biden and Zelensky have met in person six times, Kirby noted, and “have spoken regularly,” adding that there will be an “air of familiarity” between the two. 

4:54 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Zelensky called for UN to strip Russia of its veto power. But could that happen?

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

In an extraordinary meeting in the UN Security Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday called for Russia's veto power to be stripped -- an argument he has made previously, since Russia's invasion of his country in 2022. 

Russia is one of five permanent members of the powerful Security Council, the so-called P5, that also includes the UK, France, the United States, and China. Ten other non-permanent members fill out the body on rotation. But only permanent members wield the power to veto resolutions.

In recent years, the Russian Federation and China have cast the overwhelming majority of vetoes, frequently doubling up on the same resolutions. Over the past 10 years, Russia has vetoed two dozen resolutions, China has vetoed nine, and the US has vetoed three.  

Among these: In September 2022, Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have condemned its seizure of Ukrainian territories and called on it to withdraw from Ukraine. 

Russia's war in Ukraine and deepening geopolitical rivalries between the P5 have highlighted paralysis in the council, while major emerging powers like India and Brazil remain stuck on the sidelines. 

In a speech opening the General Debate on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres himself called for reform, pointing out that the Security Council was created in the 1940s, in a vastly different geopolitical context than today -- back when the seat currently held by Russia belonged to the USSR. The only alternative to reform, he warned, would be “rupture.”

 But the odds of change seem slim for now. Any attempt to reform the Security Council would require the assent of the existing P5 members.

3:22 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

"Until Ukraine has won, nobody is safe": Lithuanian foreign minister urges allies to keep supporting Kyiv

From the Isa Soares Tonight team and Sugam Pokharel

It's up to Ukraine’s allies to ensure Kyiv’s victory in the war against Russia, a top Lithuanian official said Wednesday, warning that “until Ukraine has won, nobody is safe.” 

If Ukraine is not able to defeat Russia's invasion and take back territory "it spells a new geopolitical reality for everybody — not just for Ukraine, not just for Lithuania and those who are bordering Russia, but basically every country now has to rethink where and how they are going to live if Ukraine is not able to win,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

Ukraine has claimed it has been successful in reclaiming some areas, but officials in Kyiv previously admitted the country's counteroffensive is moving ahead slowly.

Landsbergis told CNN that allies "need to be patient," stressing that "it’s a very difficult war" and Ukraine needs more weapons.

"They are paying for the counteroffensive with their blood, with the lives of their people. We are just footing the bill. So, I don’t think it’s morally right to expect them to go faster or criticize that they are not achieving the goals that we think that should be achieved. They are doing what they can, and I have full trust that they can win," the minister said.
3:13 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Zelensky calls for UN Security Council to remove Russia's veto power

From CNN's Karen Smith

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine, on September 20, at United Nations headquarters.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine, on September 20, at United Nations headquarters. Mary Altaffer/AP

Ukrainian soldiers are doing on the battlefield "at the expense of their blood" what the UN Security Council "should do by its voting," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

"They're stopping aggression and upholding the principles of the UN Charter,” he said during a speech at Wednesday’s UN Security Council meeting. 

He also called for Russia’s veto power to be removed, arguing that "this will be the first necessary step."

"It is impossible to stop the war because all efforts are vetoed by the aggressor,” Zelensky said. 

While allies have already imposed sanctions on Russia since the start of the war, the Ukrainian president called for applying preventative sanctions to countries that engaged in conflicts. 

“Anyone who wants to start a war should see before their fatal mistake what exactly they will lose when the war would start,” Zelensky said. 

Russia's response: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the right to veto during the Security Council meeting.

“The Western aggressive clique has been pedaling the theme of the abuse of the right of the veto with an incorrect focus on members of the UN,” Lavrov said.

“The right to a veto is an absolute legitimate instrument which is stipulated in the charter of the United Nations to prevent the adoption of decisions that would divide the organization," he added.

Some background: When the United Nations charter was signed in 1945, it established the Security Council with five permanent members and six nonpermanent members. The permanent members – the US, the UK, France, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China – were each given the power to veto any resolutions they opposed.

Today, the Security Council has 15 members, but the five permanent members have remained the same, with Russia holding the former Soviet Union’s seat and China taking the seat of the Republic of China. And the veto hasn’t changed either.

3:11 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

South Korea "will not stand idly by" if North Korea receives Russian help to enhance its weapons capabilities

From CNN's Heather Law 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on September 20.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on September 20. Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said his country, together with its allies, "will not stand idly by" if North Korea receives Russian help to enhance its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities.

"While military strength may vary among countries, by uniting in unwavering solidarity and steadfastly adhering to our principles, we can deter any unlawful provocation," Yoon said.

Yoon also called upon reform to the UN Security Council, saying it "would receive a broad support" if Russia was supplying North Korea with information in exchange for weapons.

"It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions," Yoon stated. 

"In such a situation, the call to reform the UN Security Council would receive a broad support. And if the DPRK acquires the information and technology necessary to enhance its WMD capabilities in exchange for supporting Russia with conventional weapons, the deal will be a direct provocation, threatening the peace and security of not only Ukraine, but also the Republic of Korea," the president added.

More context: Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled to Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kim offered his support for Putin after their talks, saying “I will always be standing with Russia,” and appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Putin described their discussions as “very substantive.”

2:38 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

US not expected to provide Ukraine with long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems imminently, officials say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand

The US is not expected to provide Ukraine with long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) imminently, US officials said, despite repeated requests from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky. 

The ATACMS will not be part of a new weapons package for Ukraine that may come as soon as Thursday, officials said, which is when Zelensky is expected to meet with US President Joe Biden for a bilateral meeting.

Currently, the maximum range of US weapons committed to Ukraine is around 93 miles with the ground-launched small diameter bomb.

What the weapons do: The ATACMS, which have a range of around 186 miles, would allow the Ukrainian military to strike targets twice as far away – even further than the UK-provided long-range Storm Shadow missiles, which have a range of about 155 miles. ATACMS missiles are fired from HIMARS rocket launchers, the same type of vehicle that launches the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) missiles that Ukraine already employs.

The US Army’s head of acquisitions Doug Bush, said on Tuesday that a final decision on ATACMS still had not been made. CNN previously reported that Biden is expected to decide soon on sending the missiles to Ukraine, a capability that would allow them to strike targets deeper in Crimea. 

“Ultimately the President owns that authority,” said Bush. “The Army has been providing data to decision makers, and they’ll make that decision at the right level with the right information.”

Asked what version of the ATACMS missile the Army would be able to provide, Bush said, “I think there are different versions of ATACMS, and I think that is just part of the conversation that would inform senior leader making the final decision.”

Bush said the number of ATACMS missile in the US inventory, which he would not divulge, is not a limiting factor in providing the missile to Ukraine. The Army would try to replace any missiles transferred to Kyiv with the newer Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) missile.

“If the decision is made, the Army is prepared to do that,” Bush said.

More background: There is also a version of the ATACMS that the US no longer uses, however, which could alleviate stockpile concerns. The US has in its stocks an earlier version of the system with rockets that carry cluster munitions, also known as dual purpose improved conventional munitions or DPICMs, officials told CNN. Those were retired after the US phased out the use of DPICMs in 2016, and Ukrainian officials have argued that the US has little excuse not to provide them if they are simply collecting dust in storage.

The cluster munitions they are equipped with have a higher dud rate than the US is comfortable with, however, officials have told CNN. The dud rate refers to the number of bomblets dispersed by the munition that fail to explode on impact, posing a long-term risk to civilians who may encounter them later. A US official said the dud rate of the ATACMS cluster munition variant depends on how they are fired. 

The US provided cluster munitions to the Ukrainians earlier this year that can be fired from shorter-range systems, and Ukraine has been using them effectively, officials have said.