September 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Melissa Macaya and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT) September 30, 2022
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3:28 p.m. ET, September 29, 2022

More than 200,000 people have left Russia since Putin's mobilization announcement, collective data shows

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite, Anna Chernova, Eve Brennan and Radina Gigova

Russian citizens entering Georgia at the Kazbegi border, on Wednesday.
Russian citizens entering Georgia at the Kazbegi border, on Wednesday. (Davit Kachkachishvili/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

More than 200,000 people have traveled from Russia into Georgia, Kazakhstan and the EU since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens on Sept. 21, collective data from various countries shows.

Here's a breakdown of the numbers:

  • Approximately 100,000 Russians have crossed into Kazakhstan in the last week, Marat Kozheyev, Kazakh deputy minister of internal affairs, said Wednesday, according to Kazinform, a state-owned news agency.
  • At least 53,136 people have crossed the Georgian-Russian border between Sept. 21-26, data released by Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs Tuesday shows.
  • Nearly 66,000 Russian citizens have entered the European Union over the past week (Sept. 19-25) — a more than 30% increase in comparison to the past week, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex said Tuesday.

This information does not include data from Mongolia and Armenia, where Russian citizens have also traveled in the past days. Official data from Russia has not been publicly available on how many Russian citizens have left the country since Sept. 21.

More on Putin's order: Russia’s mobilization announcement for its war in Ukraine sparked protests and an exodus of Russian citizens from the country, as the Kremlin tightened rules around evading military orders. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Sept. 21 that up to 300,000 men with previous military experience will be drafted. 

The number of Russians fleeing country to avoid call-up “likely exceeds” the number of troops that invaded Ukraine in February, the UK Ministry of Defense said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday he does not know the number of people who have left the country since the announcement. Independent Russian media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe on Tuesday cited a source in the Russian presidential administration as saying the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia) reported 261,000 men fled Russia since the announcement of the mobilization on Sept. 21.

11:28 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Analysis: Why Putin wants to annex Ukrainian territory

Analysis by CNN's Tim Lister

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference on December 23, in Moscow, Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference on December 23, in Moscow, Russia (Natalya Zamboska/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

President Vladimir Putin is set to sign agreements Friday that will absorb into Russia thousands of square miles of Ukrainian territory in what will be the largest forcible annexation of land in Europe since 1945.

The agreements will be signed at a ceremony at the Kremlin, three days after hastily-conducted referendums concluded in the four areas of Ukraine that Moscow will now consider Russian territory.

Putin will deliver a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the four occupied regions, according to the Kremlin.

Ukraine and its western allies have categorically rejected the planned annexation of the four regions – Donetsk, Luhansk and much of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, a swathe of Ukrainian land that contains heavy industry, rich farmland and a critical freshwater conduit for Crimea.

Donetsk and Luhansk are home to two breakaway republics that Moscow has backed since 2014, while Kherson and parts of Zaporizhzhia have been controlled by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began in late February.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asserted that if the Kremlin presses ahead with annexation, any negotiation with Putin will be impossible.

In all, Russia plans to raise its flag over some 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) of Ukrainian territory in what is a flagrant breach of international law and after votes dismissed by the great majority of countries, including some friends of Russia like Serbia, as null and void.

While the international community will reject Russia’s plan almost in unison (expect a few outliers like Syria and North Korea), annexation does change the “facts on the ground” and diminishes the prospects for any negotiated settlement.

There’s a huge difference between withdrawing from occupied land (as the Russians did in April when they pulled back from much of northern Ukraine) and giving up areas that has been formally and ceremonially absorbed into the motherland – especially for a leader like Putin who is fixated with a “greater Russia.”

Keep reading here.

10:48 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Ukrainian forces are closing in on an occupied railroad hub in Donetsk, Russian-backed official says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Rail infrastructure on fire after a shelling near the Lyman station in Lyman, eastern Ukraine, on April 28.
Rail infrastructure on fire after a shelling near the Lyman station in Lyman, eastern Ukraine, on April 28. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian forces continue to press closer to the occupied town of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region, according to a Russian-backed leader there.

The railroad hub fell to Russian forces and their allied militia at the end of May, but the situation has grown "difficult" for the forces trying to hold the territory, said Alexander Petrikin, the pro-Russian head of the city administration.

"Today, September 29. The situation in the city is difficult. Ukrainian militants keep shelling Krasny Liman [Lyman in Ukrainian] and Krasny Liman district," Petrikin said in a short video on the social network.

Ukrainian forces have made gains to the south, west and north of Lyman — with just one road to the east still under control of the pro-Russian groups.

9:56 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

EU readies new sanctions as Russia’s parliament plans to consider annexation of occupied Ukrainian regions

From CNN’s Jo Shelley in London and Anna Chernova

Russia’s two houses of parliament — the State Duma and Federation Council — will consider the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories next week, as EU readies additional sanctions in retaliation for the plan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a ceremony on Friday where agreements for Russia to take over four Ukrainian territories will be signed, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Thursday. The ceremony will start a legislative process in Moscow to annex Russian-occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson - a move that would be illegal under international law.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, will meet on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, its chairman, Vyacheslav Volodin, said according to RIA Novosti. The state news agency cited Volodin as saying that the State Duma’s schedule had been adjusted so the deputies could make legislative decisions based on the supposed results of the polls.

The Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, will consider the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories on Oct. 4, Andrey Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation, said in a Telegram post on Thursday.

“The Federation Council can consider all issues related to the entry of new regions into Russia only after the signing of the relevant Treaties, and that is exactly what will be done at the next meeting of the Chamber on October 4,” he wrote.

Remember: The declared annexation comes after so-called referendums on Ukrainian territory on joining Russia — votes that were not observed by independent monitors and have been widely condemned by western governments as a “sham.”

The EU proposed a new package of sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, targeting "those involved in Russia occupation and illegal annexation of areas of Ukraine,” including “the proxy Russian authorities in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and other Russian individuals who organized and facilitated the sham referenda in these four occupied territories of Ukraine."

9:23 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

"Nobody knows what’s coming next": CNN speaks with Russians trying to cross the border amid draft fears

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Melissa Bell, Mark Esplin and Ekaterine Kadagishvili

Travellers walking on the road from Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia on September 28, in Zemo Larsi, Georgia.
Travellers walking on the road from Verkhni Lars customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia on September 28, in Zemo Larsi, Georgia. (Daro Sulakauri/Getty Images)

With one bag in each hand and another on his back, Denis made his way up a hill on foot after crossing the border from Russia into Georgia.

“I’m just tired. That’s the only thing I feel,” the 27-year-old said as he tried to catch his breath.

Denis had just spent six days on the road, most of them just waiting in line to cross the border. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of Russians enduring a grueling marathon journey to leave their country. 

Though women and children are among those crossing, most are fighting-age men who fear the possibility that they will be drafted to fight the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, at least 10,000 have been coming through the Lars border crossing daily. 

Denis, who did not want to reveal his last name, said he chose to leave because of the uncertainty following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week of a “partial mobilization” of citizens – despite his earlier emphasis that the military assault would only be fought by military professionals. Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu said the military will conscript around 300,000 men with previous military experience, to go and fight in Ukraine.

Though the current draft should not apply to him, Denis fears that could change.

“How do I know what will happen in three years’ time? How do I know how long this will take?” he said.

“It is uncertain, and nobody knows what’s coming next," he told CNN.

His feeling is shared by many crossing the border into Georgia. They are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers and builders – ordinary Russians who have no appetite for war. And although they say they don’t agree with the government, they believe there’s nothing they can do to force Putin to change course. 

They’ve chosen instead to leave their homeland, despite the perilous journey. Denis said he spent days in his car without sufficient access to food and restrooms.

“When you’re there waiting, there is no toilet. You can’t get much to eat because everything is instantly sold out and nobody packed much food either because nobody expected it to take this long,” he said.

Another man CNN spoke to walked for 20 kilometers (12 miles) to get to Georgia, also fueled by concern that the draft might expand.

“It doesn’t apply to me today, but it may apply tomorrow,” the man said, speaking to CNN on the condition that he remain anonymous, because he fears Moscow’s far-reaching hand.

8:34 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

If Western nations are dismissing the referendums, why is Russia annexing occupied Ukrainian territories?

From CNN's Nic Robertson and Jack Bantock

Russia's President Vladimir Putin reviews naval troops as he attends the main naval parade marking the Russian Navy Day, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 31.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin reviews naval troops as he attends the main naval parade marking the Russian Navy Day, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 31. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

They've been dismissed as a "sham" by Western nations and leaders, but Russia is pressing ahead with its referendum votes by annexing four occupied Ukrainian territories at a ceremony Friday.

Illegal "votes" mean the polls are contrary to international law, yet there are concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the annexation as a way to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself and escalate the war.

According to former US ambassador Kurt Volker, Putin will use the annexation to maneuver Russia's future, more aggressive, strategy as one of self-defense.

"He's [Putin's] trying to create a situation in which he claims that now that they are an integral part of Russian territory, he's engaging in self defense by defending these territories, and therefore also implying that maybe he'll use nuclear weapons in self defense, which is part of their doctrine," Volker told CNN.
"I think this is a stretch, after stretch, after stretch, and even his own military and own elites probably don't believe it, but it is what he's trying to orchestrate."

Though US officials have not seen indications Russia is planning to use nuclear weapons in the near term, they are more concerned about the possibility now than they were six or seven months ago, one official confirmed to CNN this week.

Volker himself is skeptical nuclear weapons would ever be used, given the "devastating" consequences the Russian military would face in response.

Russia never expected the occupied territories referendum to be accepted by the global community, according to the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Andrey Kortunov believes that, given the similar international response to the Crimea referendum in 2014, Moscow is instead looking inwards to generate a positive response from the Russian population and validate their continuation of the conflict.

"Even closest partners and allies of Russia were hesitant to recognize the change of the legal status of Crimea," Kortunov told CNN.

"I suspect that his [Putin's] major goal would be to get some kind of recognition from his domestic audience. It's not clear whether the Russians are that eager to see the territory of the country expanded under the circumstances, because of course, the price they have to pay for that is pretty high.

"But I can imagine that in the Kremlin, they count on the patriotic feelings of the Russian population, and they believe that this acceptance of new regions into the Russian Federation would help the leadership to maintain a high approval rating, and also to make the society accept the costs associated with the special military operation."

8:58 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Russia will annex 4 occupied Ukrainian regions at ceremony on Friday, Putin spokesperson says 

From CNN's Anna Chernova

The Kremlin will host a ceremony on Friday at which agreements will be signed on the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson told reporters on Thursday.

Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony would take place on Friday at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET).

Putin will deliver a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the four occupied regions on the sidelines of the ceremony, he added.

Separatist leaders from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics all traveled to Moscow following the announcement of poll results.

The four territories, which together make up around 18% of Ukraine's territory, recently held Moscow-backed "referendums" on joining Russia. These have been widely condemned by Western leaders as a "sham."

Billboards proclaiming "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!" and giant video screens have been set up on Red Square, according to Reuters on Thursday.

Members of the lower house of the Russian parliament have also received invitations to Friday’s ceremony at the Kremlin, state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing a post by Denis Parfyonov, a Communist Party deputy, on his Telegram channel.

A man casts his ballot during a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 27.
A man casts his ballot during a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 27. (AP)

Some context: "Votes" for referendums on joining Russia, held in the four occupied areas from Friday to Tuesday, are contrary to international law and have been universally dismissed as "a sham" by Ukraine and Western nations, including US President Joe Biden.

Counts cited in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia ranged from 87.05% approval to claims of nearly universal verdicts, yet such figures stand in stark contrast to reality. According to a CNN poll of Ukrainians in February, just before Russia’s invasion, no region in the country had more than one in five people supporting Ukrainian unification with Russia.

CNN’s Jo Shelley contributed reporting to this post.

8:17 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Finland will close borders to Russian tourists amid record crossings since partial mobilization order

From Jorge Engels and Allegra Goodwin

People entering Finland queue at the passport control area at the border checkpoint crossing in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with the Russian Federation on September 29.
People entering Finland queue at the passport control area at the border checkpoint crossing in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with the Russian Federation on September 29. (Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland will close its borders to Russian tourists from Friday midnight local time (5 p.m. ET) until further notice amid a record number of Russians crossing into the country following Moscow's partial mobilization order, the government confirmed Thursday.

On September 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate "partial mobilization" of citizens for its war in Ukraine.

Since then, there has been an exodus of citizens fleeing the country and thousands of Russians have entered neighboring Finland.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the mobilization declared by Russia have changed the security situation in Europe," Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
"The Government deems that the Russian mobilization and the rapidly increasing volume of tourists arriving in Finland and transiting via Finland endanger Finland’s international position and international relations."

"The resolution aims to stop tourism and related transit from Russia altogether. It will drastically limit the capacity to receive visa applications in Russia," the ministry added.

"The resolution will not prevent travelling when it is deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons, for national interests or for meeting Finland’s international obligations."

Some context: The announcement comes after Helsinki announced Wednesday it would "significantly" restrict the right of Russian tourists to enter the country or as transit when travelling to other parts of the Schengen area.

Finland’s border guard also said Wednesday that more than 50,000 Russians have entered Finland via the land border since September 21.

Last weekend also saw a record number of Russians entering Finland via its land border, with 16,886 Russians arriving in total over Saturday and Sunday, according to the border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty.

10:23 a.m. ET, September 29, 2022

Nord Stream pipeline damage likely caused by "deliberate" acts of sabotage, says North Atlantic Council

From CNN's Eve Brennan

Information gathered on the damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea suggest "the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage," the North Atlantic Council said Thursday.

Damage to the pipelines is of "deep concern," the council said in a statement.

"These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage," the statement said.
"We, as Allies, have committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics by state and non-state actors. Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response," it added.

More context: Earlier Thursday, Germany's ambassador to the UK said there was a "very strong indication" the pipeline leaks were acts of sabotage. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also labelled the leaks "apparent sabotage" in a tweet Tuesday.

European security officials observed Russian navy ships in the vicinity of leaks on Monday and Tuesday, according to Western intelligence officials and one other source. Senior Western officials have stopped short of attributing the attack to Russia or any nation.

What the Kremlin is saying: A Russian government spokesperson said Thursday that the leaks may have been the result of a "terrorist attack."

"The unprecedented nature of this event, it seems that this is a terrorist attack, possibly at the state level," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a daily call with journalists. 

Asked about CNN's report on Russian submarines seen in the area of the Nord Stream disruptions, Peskov said: “This is the Baltic sea. There were far more aircraft, floating and other marine vehicles that belong to NATO countries seen there."

CNN's Anna Chernova, Allegra Goodwin and Radina Gigova contributed reporting to this post.