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Fighters who previously fought in Ukraine for the Russian mercenary group Wagner have returned to the battlefield in the east, according to the Ukrainian military. Across this part of the country, Ukrainian forces are continuing offensive actions in an effort to retake territory.
A new video appears to show a reporter asking Russian Black Sea Fleet commander about last week's attack in Sevastopol last week, in which he was alleged to have been killed by Ukraine forces.
Here's what else to know:
- Wagner fighters back in Ukraine: "Several hundred" Wagner fighters have returned to the eastern front of Ukraine, the military said. They are working for the Russian Ministry of Defense or its affiliated structures and joined as individuals, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, the deputy commander of communications for Ukrainian troops in the east.
- Sanctions on Iranian drones: The US announced sanctions against an Iranian company as well as companies in China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly supporting Iran’s “one-way attack” drone program by supplying critical components. Russia is primarily using the drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure and stretch Ukraine’s air defenses, according to a senior Defense Intelligence Agency official.
- Rail link to occupied cities: Russia is constructing a new railway that will link the occupied cities of Mariupol, Volnovakha and Donetsk to Russia, according to a Ukrainian official. It comes as the bridge connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland has come under increasing attacks by Ukrainian forces in recent months, as they try to cut supply lines to the peninsula.
- Black Sea Fleet commander: The Kremlin has maintained that a Black Sea Fleet commander who Ukraine claimed to have killed appeared to take part in a meeting of Russia’s military leaders on Tuesday, as seen in a video of the meeting posted by the Russian defense ministry. On Wednesday, a Russian military channel on Telegram posted an interview with the commander. CNN has not been able to confirm when either video was filmed.
- Grain to Poland: Discussions about Ukrainian grain shipments to Poland are going in a "good direction," Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said following a virtual meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Wednesday. Telus said they are "in the final stage" of talks with Lithuania about organizing transit of Ukrainian grain to the country's ports. Tensions between the two countries appear to be easing after Poland, Hungary and Slovakia decided to extend a ban on Ukrainian exports.
- Russia's bid to rejoin UN council: Ukraine is reaffirming its position that Russia should not be allowed to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council "until it is held accountable for all its crimes," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said. Russia was expelled last April following its invasion of Ukraine. The United States also called on UN members to reject the bid and claimed that Moscow has violated international humanitarian law, according to a spokesperson.
- Attacks on cultural heritage sites: Russia has committed at least 534 offenses against Ukrainian cultural heritage sites to date, according to figures by a nongovernmental organization registered in Kyiv. Violations include the “use of cultural property for military purposes, transfer of cultural property from the occupied territories,” among other things, the organization's project manager said.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated a nongovernmental organization is based in Crimea. It is registered in Kyiv.
Russia has committed at least 534 offenses against Ukrainian cultural heritage sites since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, according to figures by a nongovernmental organization registered in Kyiv.
Elmira Ablialimova-Chyigoz, project manager at The Crimean Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS), presented the findings on Wednesday at a news conference in Kyiv.
Violations include “appropriation of cultural heritage sites, use of cultural property for military purposes, transfer of cultural property from the occupied territories, looting of museums, illegal archaeological works, modification and reconstruction of monuments and decontextualization of historical sites,” Ablialimova-Chyigoz said.
The organization has been researching cultural heritage violations dating back to 2014, when Russia illegally invaded annexed Crimea, where Ablialimova-Chyigoz noted 200 offenses have been recorded.
In other Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia since 2022 (Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk), 334 cultural heritage violations have been recorded, she said.
CNN cannot independently verify the figures from the CISS. On the homepage of the organization's website, the CISS describes its work as “focusing on researching the state of protection of cultural heritage sites in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and identifying the major trends in the course of events in this area through the lens of international humanitarian law.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated the Crimean Institute for Strategic Studies is based in Crimea. It is registered in Kyiv.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov named three new deputies on Wednesday, more than a week after he announced the department was “rebooting” following a mass dismissal of personnel.
On his official Facebook account, Umerov said “the changes will be notable by our soldiers.”
He named the following people as “Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine” with varying portfolios:
- Yurii Dzhygyr (finance)
- Nataliia Kalmykova (social development)
- Kateryna Chernogorenko (digital development)
The recent shake-up of defense officials comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fired his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, at the beginning of the month, citing the need for “new approaches.”
The change of leadership followed several military corruption scandals.
New video of Russian Admiral Viktor Sokolov shows him being asked by a reporter about last week's Sevastopol attack, in which he was alleged to have been killed, offering the strongest proof yet he is alive.
In the video, published on Telegram Wednesday by Russian state news agency TASS, a reporter can be heard asking: "Could you please tells us in a few words what happened to reassure Sevastopol residents?"
Sokolov then replies, “Nothing happened to us, life goes on. The Black Sea Fleet is carrying out the tasks assigned to it by the command."
Ukraine claimed on Monday that Sokolov had been killed in a strike on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, last week, along with 33 other officers.
Two other videos of Sokolov had been shared by the Russian military in the past two days, but neither gave firm indication of when they had been filmed.
The US announced sanctions against an Iranian company as well as companies in China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly supporting Iran’s “one-way attack” drone program by supplying critical components.
As of July, it is believed that Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 Shahed 131, 136 and Mohajer drones for use in its war in Ukraine.
“Iranian-made UAVs continue to be a key tool for Russia in its attacks in Ukraine, including those that terrorize Ukrainian citizens and attack its critical infrastructure,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism Brian Nelson in a statement.
The sanctions are against the Iranian firm Pishgam Electronic Safeh Company and its CEO Hamid Reza Janghorbani for procuring “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of servomotors that can be used in Iran’s attack drones.
“One of the servomotors procured by the network designated today was recovered in the remnants of a Russia-operated Shahed-136 that was recently shot down in Ukraine,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a statement.
The sanctions also target the Hong Kong-based company Hongkong Himark Electron Model Limited and “PRC-based Hongkong Himark official” Fan Yang for selling more than $1 million worth of servomotors to Iran, as well as two Turkish companies that “facilitated financial transactions totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars” to procure the servomotors from Hongkong Himark and a UAE-based firm that facilitated servomotor shipment.
More background: Russia is primarily using the drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure and stretch Ukraine’s air defenses, according to a senior Defense Intelligence Agency official. The US obtained and analyzed several of drones downed in Ukraine, and officials say there is “undeniable evidence” that they are Iranian, despite repeated denials from Tehran that it is providing the equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.
Asked repeatedly by CNN on Wednesday how hundreds of Cubans came to fight for Russia in Ukraine, Russia’s Ambassador to Cuba Victor Koronelli said the two countries are in communication about the subject.
“The competent organs are at work and are in touch both on the Russia side and the Cuban side,” he said, adding that he “does not know how many Cubans are there; I don’t have the information.”
This is first time Russian officials have commented on allegations that hundreds of Cuban mercenaries are fighting in their invasion of Ukraine.
Koronelli spoke at an “appreciation ceremony” on Wednesday where Russia donated 672 tons of cooking oil to Cuba, which is weathering the worst economic crisis the communist-run island has seen in decades.
Cuban officials have defended their longtime ally Russia during its war in Ukraine, but in September said they had arrested 17 Cubans who had violated local laws by attempting to fight for Russia as paid mercenaries and for alleged human trafficking. Some family members of Cubans fighting for Russia allege their relatives had been tricked into joining the Russian war effort with promises of money, Russian citizenship and assurances they would not be sent to the front lines.
Fighters who had previously fought in Ukraine for the Russian mercenary group Wagner have returned to the battlefield in the east, according to the Ukrainian military.
Serhii Cherevatyi, the deputy commander of communications for Ukrainian troops in the east, said the Wagner fighters who had returned to Ukraine were now working for the Russian Ministry of Defense or its affiliated structures and had joined as individuals, not as a unit.
“As of now, there are several hundred of them in our direction, on the eastern front, in different areas,” Cherevatyi told CNN Wednesday.
But he sought to downplay the significance of their return, saying Russian forces in Ukraine “are short of everyone there now, so any man is good for them.”
Ukrainian soldiers taking part in the offensive near the beleaguered city of Bakhmut also told CNN that Wagner had returned to the area.
“Wagner is here too,” a drone operator with call sign Groove told CNN on the ground in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
“They came back, they swiftly changed their commanders and returned here,” he said.
Groove said that the group’s presence is in part intended to compensate for personnel shortages on the Russian side.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Wagner fighters had signed contracts with the Russian defense ministry “as an agreement to play the last chord, plugging the Russian hole in the Bakhmut direction for a short time.”
Podolyak, too, was keen not to inflate the return of the former mercenaries.
“Remember: the Wagner PMC no longer exists,” Podolyak wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday.
The Ukrainian general leading the southern counteroffensive, Oleksandr Tarnavsky, told CNN last week that Wagner fighters continue to pop up “here and there” on the front lines in the country.
“The fact is that their badges appear here and there; that’s been constant,” Tarnavsky said.
Remember: Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in August two months after he led a short-lived rebellion against the Kremlin. After the insurrection, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wagner forces would have the opportunity to sign a contract with Russia’s Ministry of Defense, “other law enforcement agencies, or to return to your family and friends,” or go to Belarus.
Discussions about Ukrainian grain shipments to Poland are going in a "good direction" after "certain emotions" were calmed down, Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said Wednesday, following a virtual meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Mykola Solskyi.
"I am glad we had this meeting. I am glad that we are talking about the future, that we are building mechanisms for the future and we are calming certain emotions that have not, as you all might know, served us well, and this is probably a good direction," Telus said during a press conference after the meeting.
During the meeting, Solskyi said he would talk to Ukraine's economy minister to consider withdrawing a complaint made against Poland at the World Trade Organization, Telus said.
"This would be a good thing because if we want to talk, we want to look for solutions, and I think we all want to look for long-term solutions, not just for here and now but solutions for longer, then this splinter is unnecessary, as it is a kind of splinter when it comes to the complaint which should be withdrawn," he said.
Telus also said they are "in the final stage" of talks with Lithuania about organizing transit of Ukrainian grain to the country's ports. Solskyi proposed a similar measure for Germany as a transit point as well.
"The minister of Ukraine also proposed to move the same kind of controls to the German side, we are talking about German ports, so that they are not on the Polish-Ukrainian border, but in the German ports. I promised we would consider this option as well," Telus said.
The Ukrainian agriculture ministry also said in a statement Wednesday that "the parties discussed Ukraine's action plan for the export of agricultural products to Poland."
Solskyi said that in the coming days, there will be a trilateral meeting between the agriculture ministers of Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania on the transfer of veterinary products too, according to the Ukrainian agriculture ministry.
Some context: Tensions between Poland and Ukraine appear to be easing somewhat, after a series of heated exchanges in recent weeks over a ban on Ukrainian grain, which Poland, Hungary and Slovakia decided to extend to protect local farmers worried about the low price of Ukrainian grain.
One of Kyiv's strongest allies, Warsaw is also under pressure from the far right to take a tougher stance on Ukraine ahead of the country's October 15 elections.