September 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

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

Updated 0235 GMT (1035 HKT) September 29, 2022
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12:17 p.m. ET, September 28, 2022

UK would never recognize Russian attempts at annexing Ukraine, prime minister says

From CNN’s Lauren Kent and Arnaud Siad

Photographed here on January 25, 10 Downing Street.
Photographed here on January 25, 10 Downing Street. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom “would never recognize Russian attempts to annex sovereign territory,” British Prime Minister Liz Truss told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Truss underlined the UK’s “steadfast support in light of Russia’s sham referendums in Ukraine.”

“The [British] Prime Minister made clear that the UK would never recognize Russian attempts to annex sovereign territory,” the spokesperson said.

“[Truss] reiterated that Ukraine could depend on the UK’s support until President Putin was defeated,” they added. 

During the call, President Zelensky welcomed Truss’ “strong backing” while the Prime Minister thanked Zelensky for his work in securing the release of five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine, the spokesperson also said.

Four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine staged votes on joining Russia, according to their separatist leaders from Friday to Tuesday. The polls, which are contrary to international law, could pave the way for Russian annexation of the areas.

The votes are illegal and have been universally dismissed as “a sham” by Ukraine and Western nations.

CNN's Rob Picheta contributed reporting to this post. 

11:57 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Swedish intelligence launches "gross sabotage" investigation into Nord Stream incident

From CNN's Chris Liakos and Livvy Doherty

Sweden’s security service has opened a “gross sabotage” investigation regarding the incident at the Nord Stream pipelines, the agency said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it cannot be ruled out “that a foreign power is behind it.”

The unit has taken over the preliminary investigation from the Swedish Police Agency, according to the statement. “The crime classification is currently gross sabotage,” Sweden’s security service said.

“The security service takes over the investigation because it may be a serious crime that may at least partially be directed against Swedish interests. Nor can it be ruled out that a foreign power is behind it,” it added.

More context: Leaders of several Western countries have said leaks in two Russian gas pipelines are likely the result of sabotage, vowing a strong response as investigations continue.

Swedish authorities sounded the alarm on Tuesday about leaks in the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines – both of which run under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, and have been major flashpoints in the energy war between Europe and Russia.

Neither pipeline was in operation at the time the leaks were found, but both still contained gas under pressure.

CNN's Jessie Yeung and Chris Liakos contributed reporting to this post. 

11:21 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

"Sham referenda" organized by Russia are a "pure violation of international law," EU foreign policy chief says

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and European Commission Vice-President, Josep Borrell speaks to the press at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, on September 28.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and European Commission Vice-President, Josep Borrell speaks to the press at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, on September 28. (Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

EU member states condemn in the "strongest possible term" the "illegal referenda" organized by Russia in Ukraine, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said Wednesday.

Borrell urged the international community not to recognize the "sham" referenda.

Speaking alongside EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Borrell said that with illegal referenda organized by Russia, the "Kremlin is following the same playbook that we have already seen in Georgia in 2008. And in Crimea in 2014."

"We condemn in the strongest possible term, and I am sure I can speak on behalf of the member states of the European Union, that none of them will recognize this falsified outcome," Borrell said, calling the international community to do the same.

10:59 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Gazprom dispute with Ukrainian transit company deepens, raising the risk to pipeline operation

From CNN's Tim Lister and Clare Sebastian 

A dispute over payments between Russian gas company Gazprom and Ukrainian pipeline operator Naftogaz has deepened, potentially putting at risk one of the few gas pipelines from Russia to Europe still in operation.

The dispute concerns transit fees for gas carried across Ukrainian territory to central Europe. In the wake of the latest exchanges between the two companies, wholesale gas prices in Europe rose Wednesday. 

In a statement Wednesday, Gazprom said it rejected all legal claims by Naftogaz, saying that "services that have not been provided by the Ukrainian party should not and will not be paid for." 

Gazprom said Naftogaz had refused to fulfill its transit obligations.

It also said the agreement from 2019 stipulated that all disputes should be settled in Zurich, Switzerland — but because of anti-Russian sanctions, "Gazprom has been deprived of its fundamental right to a fair and impartial hearing."

Gazprom said it considered the claims by Naftogaz as an "unfriendly step in continuation of the Ukrainian company's bad faith behavior," which may lead the Russian state to impose sanctions on Naftogaz. "In practice, this will mean a ban restricting Gazprom from fulfilling its obligations to the sanctioned entities."

Yuriy Vitrenko, chief executive officer of NJSC Naftogaz Ukrainy, in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 14.
Yuriy Vitrenko, chief executive officer of NJSC Naftogaz Ukrainy, in his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on July 14. (Andrew Kravchenko/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The CEO of Naftogaz, Yuriy Vitrenko, retorted on Twitter: "Gazprom's statement is another example of Gazprom's disregard for the rule of law and its association with the Russian Federation's war of aggression against Ukraine."

Vitrenko said "Naftogaz has invoked Force Majeure in respect of transit through entry point Sokhanovka because it is controlled by Russian armed forces, and instead offered transit through entry point Sudzha at no additional cost."

"Gazprom has accepted the right of Naftogaz to refer disputes to arbitration. When Naftogaz exercises this right, it is simply a regular exercise of a contractual right, and not an "unfriendly act."

10:48 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

EU Commission’s new Russia sanction package proposal includes an oil price cap

From CNN's Chris Liakos

The new package of “biting sanctions” proposed by the European Commission against Russia would also “lay the legal basis” for an oil price cap, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a news statement in Brussels Wednesday.

She said that the oil price cap which was already agreed upon on a G7 country level, “will help reduce Russia's revenues on one hand and it will keep the global market for energy stable on the other hand.”

“So today in this package here, we are laying the legal basis for this oil price cap,” the EU Commission chief said.

The EU has already agreed to ban seaborne Russian crude oil starting Dec. 5.

More on the package: The new package also proposes a ban on providing European services to Russia and the prohibition of EU nationals to sit on governing bodies of Russian state-owned enterprises.

“Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise,” von der Leyen said.

Finally, the package will propose ways to toughen the bloc’s crackdown on the circumvention of sanctions.

The EU Commission’s new sanctions package is a proposal at this stage and can only be officially adopted at an EU Council level with the approval of all the 27 member states.

9:44 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Unexplained leaks were found in 2 Russian undersea gas pipelines to Europe. Here's what you need to know

From CNN's Chris Liakos

European countries on Tuesday raced to investigate unexplained leaks in two Russian gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Several European officials said sabotage appeared to be the likely cause, while Russia — which built the network — did not rule it out.

Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland said Tuesday that the initial information received about the leaks indicated “acts of sabotage.” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and her Danish counterpart, Mette Frederiksen, both said the incident was likely “deliberate” but played down the possibility of a military threat.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters,” “No option can be ruled out right now.”

Why this matters: Both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow that has pummeled major Western economies, sent gas prices soaring and sparked a hunt for alternative energy supplies.

According to pipeline operator Nord Stream AG, it is not currently possible to estimate “a timeframe for restoring the gas transport infrastructure.”

In a statement on Tuesday evening, it added that pressure drops in the pipeline suggested there had been physical damage.

German, Danish and Scandinavian security authorities were closely looking at the leaks in the Baltic Sea and investigating their cause, according to German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who also said German energy supply had not been affected.

Earlier in the day, Sweden’s Maritime Authority had issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered.

11:47 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

EU Commission is proposing a new package of "biting sanctions" against Russia, president says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite, Sarah Diab and Chris Liakos

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on September 28.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on September 28. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Commission is proposing a new package of "biting sanctions" against Russia, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday in a news statement in Brussels. 

“Last week, Russia has escalated the invasion of Ukraine to a new level. The sham referenda organized in the territories that Russia occupied are an illegal attempt to grab land or to change international borders by force. The mobilization and Putin threat to use nuclear weapons are further steps on the escalation path,” von der Leyen said.

 

“We do not accept the sham referenda and any kind of annexation in Ukraine and we’re determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she added.

This eighth package would see new individuals and entities targeted by sanctions, and would further restrict trade, von der Leyen said. 

The new package also proposes sweeping new import bans on Russian products.

“This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros in revenues,” the European Commission chief said.

  

9:46 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

German chancellor tells Zelensky Germany will never recognize the results of "sham referenda"

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talks to the media as he arrives at the EU Council headquarters on February 24, in Brussels, Belgium.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talks to the media as he arrives at the EU Council headquarters on February 24, in Brussels, Belgium. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

German chancellor Olaf Scholz told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Germany would never recognize the “sham referenda” in four Ukrainian regions.

“The Chancellor stressed that Germany would not let up in providing concrete support to Ukraine politically, financially and humanitarianly, as well as in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including in terms of arms deliveries," according to a phone-call readout by the German chancellery.

Germany is among several European nations that have dismissed Russia's so-called referendum. US officials anticipate Russia could move quickly to annex the four areas, potentially within days of voting concluding.

If and when they do, it would prompt a swift response from the United States, which has also pledged not to recognize the results, one official said.

CNN's Rob Picheta contributed reporting to this post.

9:22 a.m. ET, September 28, 2022

Apple removes Russian social media giant VK from app store

From CNN’s Brian Fung

Apple has removed VKontakte, a top Russian social media platform, from its app store, according to the app's developer. 

Apple's decision also affects other iOS apps produced by VKontakte's parent, the technology giant VK, according to a blog post Tuesday by the company.  

"Now some VK applications are blocked by Apple, so they are not available for download and update in the App Store," VK wrote in the blog post. Existing installations of those apps should continue to function normally, VK added. 

VK apps provide a range of services including email, food delivery and digital payments. It is the fifth-largest website by traffic in Russia, by some estimates. The company's social network has 97 million monthly users worldwide, while its email service, Mail.ru, has 46 million users within Russia. 

In a statement to The Verge, which first reported the removals, Apple said the decision aims to comply with newly imposed UK sanctions against Russia. The UK government on Monday had said it was targeting dozens of Russian elites in response to Russia's "illegal sham referendums in Ukraine" that claimed to show support for Ukraine's integration with Russia. 

Apple told The Verge that VK's apps "are being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government. In order to comply with these sanctions, Apple terminated the developer accounts associated with these apps, and the apps cannot be downloaded from any App Store, regardless of location. Users who have already downloaded these apps may continue to use them.”

Earlier this year in response to the war in Ukraine, Apple stopped selling new products in Russia, clamped down on Apple Pay and removed state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik from its app stores outside of Russia.

CNN has reached out to Apple for comment.