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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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.  

2:16 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Zelensky departs UN after speaking at Security Council meeting

From CNN's Laura Dolan

President Volodymyr Zelensky departed the United Nations on Wednesday after speaking at the Security Council meeting on the war in Ukraine.

When asked how the meeting went, Zelensky replied, “Meeting went very strong, very good.”

Zelensky is expected to meet with President Joe Biden on Thursday in Washington, DC, and visit the US Capitol as he appeals for more support for Kyiv.

3:06 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

US Secretary of State Blinken seeks to highlight human toll of the war in Ukraine in UNSC remarks

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday sought to highlight the horrific human toll of the ongoing war in Ukraine as the Biden administration seeks to maintain support for Kyiv amid growing dissension in Congress

In remarks at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Blinken spoke in great detail about visiting the formerly occupied town of Yahidne during his recent trip to Ukraine, where Russian soldiers rounded up more than 300 villagers — “mostly women, children, and elderly people” — and imprisoned them in the basement of a school for nearly a month, “using them as human shields.”

He described seeing “two handwritten lists of names on the basement wall." He said, “One was for the villagers the Russian forces had executed. The other, for the people who died in the basement.”

“The oldest victim was 93 years old. The youngest — six weeks old,” Blinken continued.

“The Russians only allowed the removal of bodies once a day — so children, parents, husbands, and wives were forced to spend hours next to the corpses of their loved ones,” he described.

“I begin here because — from the comfortable distance of this chamber — it’s really easy to lose sight of what it’s like for the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s aggression,” Blinken said.

Blinken noted, “This is what happened in just one building, in one community in Ukraine. There are so many others like it."

The US official went on to discuss recent attacks by Russia. “In the last week alone, Russia has bombed apartment buildings in Kryvyi Riv, it’s burned down humanitarian aid depots in Lviv, it’s demolished grain silos in Odesa, it’s shelled eight communities in Sumy in a single day," he said.

“This is what Ukrainian families live through, every day. It’s what they’ve experienced for all 575 days of this full-scale invasion. It’s what they will endure tomorrow, and the day after that, for as long as Russia wages this vicious war,” Blinken added. 

The top US diplomat’s effort to reify the horrific reality of the war comes ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s trip to Washington, DC, and as the administration tees up for a potential funding fight with Congress over continued support for the war. 

Blinken also spoke broadly about Russia’s violations of the international order, telling fellow UN members: “It’s hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all it stands for.”

“This, from a country with a permanent seat on this Council,” he added.

12:56 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Ban on Ukrainian grain imports is costing Kyiv more than $175 million a month, officials say

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

A ban on Ukrainian grain put in place by neighboring countries is costing Kyiv more than $175 million a month, a senior official said.

Ukraine's neighbors — which include Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania — have said that the arrival of cheap Ukrainian grain has distorted local markets. In some countries, farmers have protested and blocked roads to demand that the imports cease. 

"If the bans continue, the losses could reach about €600 million ($644 million) by the end of the year," said Denys Marchuk, the deputy chairman of the All-Ukrainian Agrarian Council.

"For us, as a country at war, as a country that has been selling its products well below market prices for a year and a half, the possibility of losing export prospects is very problematic," he added.

Marchuk said the embargo by other countries "plays into the hands of one country, the aggressor country of Russia." Since pulling out of the Black Sea Grain deal in July, Russia has had the ability to "influence the course of ships in the Black Sea, does not allow Ukraine to fully export."

"The ban in the Black Sea and the inability to carry out full exports via land routes will provoke an aggravation of the food crisis, which is beneficial for Russia," Marchuk said.

Ukraine has already taken some legal action: Kyiv filed a lawsuit on Monday against Poland, Hungary and Slovakia over their ban on imports, Economy Minister Yuliia Svyrydenko said.

It came after the European Union said on Friday that it planned to suspend the temporary ban on the export of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

The measure was put in place to counter the risk of farmers in these countries being undercut by a bottleneck of cheap Ukrainian grain. However, Poland, Hungry, and Slovakia said they would defy it. 

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

Top US Senate Republican continues to make case for Ukrainian aid ahead of Zelensky visit

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference following the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon meeting at the Capitol Building on September 19, in Washington, DC.
Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference following the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon meeting at the Capitol Building on September 19, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber, is continuing to push for the United States to give more aid to Ukraine ahead of President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to the Capitol.

McConnell said that “our nation has a fundamental interest in Ukraine victory and European security" during floor remarks.

He suggested that the Biden administration needs to make that case more fervently, but his words also were directed at members of his own party who have balked at providing any more assistance to the besieged nation. McConnell argued the US “support for Ukraine isn't distracted from competition with China but contributing materially to it."

He pushed back on arguments to cut off the aid, suggesting the administration should do the same. 

“I hope this administration will use this evening's classified Senate briefing to begin making this case,” he said. “Tomorrow I'll join colleagues in welcoming President Zelensky to the Capitol. I’ll continue to make the case myself for sustained support of the Ukrainian cause, not out of charity but out of primary focus on Americans’ interest.”

Republican skepticism: The Biden administration recently asked Congress for $24 billion more in assistance to Kyiv, 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 members of the Republican party have raised questions about how much bipartisan support there is for such substantial sums of aid to continue. A growing number of Republicans have begun questioning the wisdom of spending billions of dollars in Ukraine and have called for greater oversight.

It all comes as Congress faces a deadline to avoid a government shutdown next week.

12:22 p.m. ET, September 20, 2023

Ukraine says it hit Russian command post in Crimea

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

The Ukrainian military says it successfully hit a Russian command post in Crimea on Wednesday morning.

The command post was "of the occupiers' Black Sea Fleet near Verkhniosadove near the temporarily occupied Sevastopol," the Strategic Communications Directorate of the Defense Ministry posted on Telegram.

Some background: Over the past month, Ukraine has stepped up attacks on Russian military bases and other installations, including air defenses, in Crimea.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine claimed responsibility for a series of explosions reported in the occupied area. Ukrainian Defense Intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov said Russia is using Crimea as a "logistics hub" and that "the ultimate goal, of course, is the de-occupation of Ukrainian Crimea."