September 22, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Lauren Kent, Hannah Strange, Aditi Sangal and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 0711 GMT (1511 HKT) September 23, 2023
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4:38 a.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Polish president says he is willing to talk to Zelensky as "friends" to resolve Ukraine grain dispute

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday said he is willing to talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as "friends" to resolve "difficult situations" between their countries after Warsaw signaled it would stop sending arms to Kyiv amid a dispute over grain imports.

The decision by Poland, one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, was a major reversal that threatens to upend Europe’s strategic relationship Kyiv as it wages a counteroffensive against Russia.

Referring to Zelensky's remarks Tuesday at the UN General Assembly that "some of our friends in Europe play out solidarity in a political theater," Duda told Polish channel TVN24 that although his Ukrainian counterpart did not mention Poland specifically, "the suggestion was there and we all understood it."

Asked whether he was upset by Zelensky's comments, Duda said, "maybe upset is a too strong word." 

"I was embittered, I would rather put it that way. I say this: 'let’s stay calm, please do not raise the temperature, because this is a dispute that concerns a small part of our relations. Let's not allow it to affect the whole, because there is no justification for it and only others will benefit from it,'" Duda said. 

Pressure has been building for months over a ban on Ukrainian grain, initially put in place earlier this year by several European Union nations to protect the livelihood of local farmers worried about being undercut by the low price of Ukrainian grain.

Last week, the EU announced plans to suspend the rule. But three nations — Poland, Hungary and Slovakia — said they intended to defy the change and keep the restrictions in place.

"This matter needs to be resolved, it is a dispute that is in fact a legal dispute," Duda told TVN24. "I understand that [Ukraine] are looking for help in their situation at all costs and therefore they do not care where they sell their grain, but it is not indifferent to us, and we want to help them and we do help them."

Arms shipments: Duda said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's statement Wednesday that Warsaw would no longer transfer weapons to Kyiv was "interpreted in the worst possible way."

Duda clarified that the prime minister was talking about new weapons earmarked for Polish army modernization and that Poland's existing pledges to Ukraine — including for howitzers, ammunition and mine clearing vehicles — would be honored.

He also did not rule out the possibility of resuming arms transfers to Kyiv in the future.

1:04 a.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Zelensky vows to liberate Bakhmut and 2 other key Ukrainian cities

From CNN staff

Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens as President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington on September 21.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens as President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington on September 21. Evan Vucci/AP

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday vowed to liberate the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut and two other key Ukrainian cities from Russian occupation during a discussion with US editors in Washington.

Bakhmut, which has been the scene of the some of the fiercest fighting of the war, has long been a target for Ukraine after Russian forces claimed control of the city in May following a months-long slog in which soldiers had to grind for every inch of territory.

"We will de-occupy Bakhmut," Zelensky said. "I think that we will de-occupy two more cities," he added. "I will not tell you what cities, sorry. And so we have the plan. Very, very comprehensive plan.”

Here's what else Zelensky addressed:

  • Congressional support: Zelensky told the editors that during his meetings with US lawmakers Thursday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said deciding what to do about Ukraine aid was "not simple" but assured him "they will be on our side." McCarthy previously said he would not commit to putting Ukraine aid on the chamber's floor by end of the year. The Biden administration has been asking Congress for more Ukraine funding amid divisions among Republican lawmakers.
  • Long-range missiles: Zelensky raised Ukraine's push for long-range missiles, such as the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), which weren't included in the new aid package the White House announced Thursday. Speaking to Ukraine's need for the weapons, Zelensky told US media: "We don't have another way out."
  • Israel ties: Zelensky said he was "happy" with his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly earlier this week, citing both countries' frayed relations with Iran, which the US says has supplied Russia with drones to attack Ukraine. "I'm happy with meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. ... It's good for Ukraine," Zelensky said. "But I really think that is even better for Israel. Because there is a dangerous moment and we have to be very serious with Iran."
  • On the counteroffensive: Zelensky also said Ukraine would not let up in its ongoing counteroffensive, saying he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was hoping for a lull in hostilities to renew his invading forces. "I know what Putin wants. I know it ... one of the best persons who understands him very well. 100%," Zelensky said. "And I knew that he needs pause because he really lost people, professional army, lost. They're dead."
12:02 a.m. ET, September 22, 2023

It's Friday morning in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Joe Biden shakes hands with Volodymyr Zelensky in the East Room of the White House,  in Washington on September 21.
Joe Biden shakes hands with Volodymyr Zelensky in the East Room of the White House, in Washington on September 21. Evan Vucci/AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced $128 million in new US security assistance to Ukraine as well as $197 million in arms and equipment.

The announcement comes amid President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to the White House, where he met with President Joe Biden. 

During a meeting with Cabinet members, Biden reaffirmed the US commitment, along with its partners, to Ukraine. Zelensky in turn thanked Biden and the American people for their support. 

Here are the latest developments: 

  • Zelensky plea: Ahead of his meeting with Biden, Zelensky made a visit to the US Capitol to speak with lawmakers. He said that if US money for the war dries up, it would have a cascading effect and eventually lead European countries to do the same. “You give money, we give lives,” he said in his message to senators, according to attendees. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy would not commit to putting Ukraine aid on the chamber's floor by end of the year despite what he described as a productive meeting with Zelensky, insisting instead domestic spending is a priority.
  • Southern gains: Ukrainian officials indicated further progress has been made on the southern front in the Zaporizhzhia region, with some units advancing "deep into the Russian defenses." Areas where progress was seen include Melitopol and Robotyne-Verbove.
  • Poland spat: The new US aid package comes as one of Ukraine’s closest and most vocal allies has said it will stop sending arms to Kyiv, a major reversal that threatens to upend Europe’s strategic relationship with the country as it wages a counteroffensive against Russia. In a separate issue, Radek Sikorski, a leading Polish opposition figure, told CNN that Poland should have asked the European Union for help with the cost and upgrade of port and railroad facilities to organize a trade corridor for Ukraine grain.
  • Deadly Russian strikes: Russia launched a barrage of missile attacks across Ukraine Thursday, including, for the first time in months, on Ukraine's power infrastructure, causing damage to facilities in central and western regions. Ukrainian air defenses shot down 36 of 43 missiles fired by Russia. Kyiv has now sounded air raid sirens for more than 1,000 hours since the invasion began in February last year. Since the beginning of the day Thursday, five people had been killed and 10 others injured, said Oleksandr Prokudin, head of Kherson Region Military Administration. The strikes in Kherson were part of a larger Russian attack across Ukraine.
11:51 p.m. ET, September 21, 2023

Ukraine support exempt from potential US government shutdown, officials say

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The Pentagon has determined that the training and support of Ukrainian forces is exempt from a potential government shutdown, according to the Defense Department, and will continue even in the increasingly likely event that Congress fails to pass a spending bill in the coming days.

The determination allows critical elements of American support for Kyiv, such as the training of Ukrainian forces and the ongoing transfer of weapons to Ukraine, to proceed in the midst of an ongoing counteroffensive.

“Operation Atlantic Resolve is an excepted activity under a government lapse in appropriations,” said Defense Department spokesman Chris Sherwood. Operation Atlantic Resolve refers to the US effort to support Ukraine and to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. It was established in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea.

But as recently as Tuesday, Sherwood had cautioned that a government shutdown could disrupt US aid to Ukraine, warning that the delivery of equipment and the US training efforts “could be impacted by furloughs of personnel and DoD’s suspension” of activities deemed not essential to US national security.

Politico first reported on the designation.

With prospects growing of a potential government shutdown, a disruption to US support and training for Ukraine would have come at a critical juncture, with US M1A1 Abrams tanks set to arrive on the battlefield soon and Ukrainian pilots about to start a training program for F-16 fighter jets.

The decision to shield the US military’s operations related to Ukraine from the effects of a possible shutdown come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington, DC, meeting with President Joe Biden, as well as top leaders at the Pentagon.

10:42 p.m. ET, September 21, 2023

Analysis: Zelensky's mixed reception in Washington may be a taste of political storm to come

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

The blue-and-gold flag draped hero worship of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s last Washington trip, which stirred comparisons to Winston Churchill’s wartime stand against Nazism, was a distant memory on Thursday.

Nine months later, Zelensky was back in town and he and his hosts learned some jarring lessons about one another at a moment when a path to ultimate victory in the war against Russia seems increasingly distant.

Zelensky got an abrupt preview of how Donald Trump’s possible return to power after the 2024 election and how the ex-president’s current sway over the ungovernable Republican-led House of Representatives could rupture the multi-billion dollar lifeline on which Ukraine’s survival depends. 

There’s also a question of whether Zelensky’s relentless efforts to shame the world into action might be reaching the point of diminishing returns. The pugnacious president might think so too judging by his multiple and poignant expressions of gratitude for previous help as polls show more Americans are skeptical of aid to Ukraine. He may need to develop new political skills to adapt to a vicious phase in American politics when Ukraine is being dragged into an impeachment saga for the second time and is a central general election issue.

Zelensky’s trip to the United States – whose democracy, while battered, is still a bulwark of free political systems around the world – was a mirror image of another journey made by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to restock his own arsenal in a meeting with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un in Russia’s Far East.

Read more about potential implications of mixed response to Zelensky's visit.

11:51 p.m. ET, September 21, 2023

US secretary of state announces new security assistance for Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Antony Blinken participates in the global infrastructure and investment forum in New York, on September 21.
Antony Blinken participates in the global infrastructure and investment forum in New York, on September 21. Seth Wenig/AP

The United States will give $128 million in new security assistance to Ukraine as well as $197 million in arms and equipment in previously authorized drawdowns, the secretary of state announced. 

The package includes additional air defense munitions "to help strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses against aerial assaults from Russia now and in the coming winter, when Russia is likely to renew its attacks against Ukrainian critical infrastructure,” Antony Blinken said Thursday.

“It also contains artillery ammunition and anti-armor capabilities, as well as cluster munitions, which will further enhance Ukraine’s capacity to continue its counter-offensive against Russia’s forces," he added.

This is the second time the US has provided the controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine, the Defense Department said. In late July, shortly after the US first provided cluster munitions, the White House said Ukrainian forces were using the weapons “effectively” and “appropriately” against Russian defensive positions.

The US will not be providing Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Ukraine, however, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, despite requests from Ukraine. He said while not providing it in this package, Biden is "not taking it off the table in the future.”

The announcement comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with President Joe Biden in Washington, DC.

12:01 a.m. ET, September 22, 2023

Analysis: Here's what to know about Poland halting arms supply to Ukraine

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at The European Council Building in Brussels on July 18.
Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at The European Council Building in Brussels on July 18. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

One of Ukraine’s closest and most vocal allies has said it will stop sending arms to Kyiv, a major reversal that threatens to upend Europe’s strategic relationship with the country as it wages a counteroffensive against Russia.

Poland’s decision was both sudden and predictable, coming after months of tensions over a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports to a number of European Union countries.

It also follows a pattern of increasingly confrontational behavior towards Kyiv from Poland’s government, just weeks before a tight general election.

And it could have implications for Ukraine’s attempts to push Russian forces out of the country’s southern regions, in an ongoing assault that has been making slow and grinding progress.

What has Poland announced? “We no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a blunt social media statement on Wednesday.

Morawiecki added in a television interview that Poland will now focus on supplying “the most modern weapons” for its own purposes, state news agency PAP reported. “If you want to defend yourself you have to have something to defend with,” the prime minister said.

It marks a major change in policy. In the spring, Poland became the first NATO country to send fighter jets to Ukraine – months ahead of the United States, which only agreed last month to approve the transfer of F-16 jets, pending the completion of training by Ukrainian forces.

It has also previously sent more than 200 Soviet-style tanks to Ukraine, and most Western military equipment and other supplies reach Ukrainian forces by crossing Polish territory.

Poland will now only carry out the supplies of ammunition and weapons to Kyiv that were agreed before Warsaw made its decision to stop shipments, government spokesman Piotr Muller said Thursday, according to PAP.

Muller emphasized that Ukraine has made a series of “absolutely unacceptable statements and diplomatic gestures” and that “Poland does not accept this type of unjustified actions,” PAP reported.

How did we get here? Pressure has been building for months over a ban on Ukrainian grain, initially put in place earlier this year by several EU nations to protect the livelihood of local farmers worried about being undercut by the low price of Ukrainian grain.

Last week, the EU announced plans to suspend the rule. But three nations – Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – said they intended to defy the change and keep the restrictions in place. It prompted protests from Ukraine, which this week filed lawsuits against all three countries over the issue.

Read more here about Poland's reversal and how it might impact the war.

10:28 p.m. ET, September 21, 2023

Russia launches missile attacks on Ukraine's power infrastructure for first time in months

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukraine's state energy provider Ukrenergo said Thursday that Russian missile attacks caused damage to power facilities in western and central regions in Ukraine.

Ukrenergo said it was the first time that Russia had launched attacks on the power infrastructure in six months. The strikes come as Ukraine prepares for the winter months. Last year, Russia began a series of intense attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure in October.

"Due to the consequences of the attack, there were partial blackouts in Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Dniproptrovsk and Kharkiv regions. The power supply is being restored to consumers," Ukrenergo said. 
"Due to the hostilities and other reasons, 398 settlements remain without electricity as of the morning.

Vitalii Koval, head of the Rivne regional military administration, said the region suffered several missile strikes. "Unfortunately, there are hits on the energy and civilian infrastructure," he said.

Speaking in front of a service station that was damaged, Koval said that there were no casualties, but added: "There is also no power supply in part of Rivne district."

Some context: Last year, Russia ramped up strikes on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as temperatures dropped. 

In October 2022, the country's energy facilities were attacked at least 82 times — more than in all previous months of the full-scale invasion combined.

From October through to January, Russia hit infrastructure throughout most of Ukraine.

10:27 p.m. ET, September 21, 2023

Ukraine shot down 36 of 43 Russian missiles Thursday, army chief says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Olga Voitovych and Manveena Suri

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 36 of 43 missiles launched by Russia on Thursday in attacks across the country, Ukraine's army chief said.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said in a Telegram post that cruise missiles launched from aircraft in southern Russia were “constantly changing course along the route.”

In an update Thursday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces launched "a massive missile attack" on civilian infrastructure in multiple regions:

  • Kherson: Since Thursday morning, Russian shelling killed at least five people and injured 10 others in the southern city of Kherson, Oleksandr Prokudin, head of Kherson Region Military Administration said.
  • Kyiv: At least seven people were wounded in aerial assaults on Kyiv, including a 9-year-old girl, Mayor Vitalii Klitschko said. Air raid sirens have now sounded for more than 1,000 hours in Kyiv since Russia's full-scale invasion began in February last year, an official said.
  • Kharkiv: At least two people were injured after six Russian strikes on the northeastern city, a Ukrainian official said. The attacks were focused on the Slobidskyi district and damaged civilian infrastructure, he added.
  • Cherkasy: A Russian missile strike destroyed a hotel in the central city, resulting in a fire, officials said. Seven people were injured.
  • Lviv: Structural damage to an industrial area was reported after a fire broke out following Russian attacks, according to officials. No casualties were immediately reported.