January 30, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Mike Hayes and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:24 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023
43 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:51 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

Former Wagner mercenary says brutality he witnessed in Ukraine pushed him to defect

From CNN's Muhammad Darwish, Katharina Krebs and Tara John

A former Wagner mercenary says the brutality he witnessed in Ukraine ultimately pushed him to defect.

Wagner fighters were often sent into battle with little direction, and the company’s treatment of reluctant recruits was ruthless, Andrei Medvedev told CNN’s Anderson Cooper from Norway’s capital Oslo, where he is seeking asylum after crossing that country’s arctic border from Russia.

“They would round up those who did not want to fight and shoot them in front of newcomers,” he alleges. “They brought two prisoners who refused to go fight and they shot them in front of everyone and buried them right in the trenches that were dug by the trainees.”

CNN has not been able to independently verify his account and Wagner has not replied to a request for comment.

The 26-year-old, who says he previously served in the Russian military, joined Wagner as a volunteer. He crossed into Ukraine less than ten days after signing his contract in July 2021, serving near Bakhmut, the frontline city in the Donetsk region. The mercenary group has emerged as a key player in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Medvedev said he reported directly to the group’s founders, Dmitry Utkin and Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.

He refered to Prigozhin as “the devil.” If he was a Russian hero, he would have taken a gun and run with the soldiers,” Medvedev said.

Prigozhin has previously confirmed that Medvedev had served in his company, and said that he “should have been prosecuted for attempting to mistreat prisoners.”

Medvedev told CNN that he did not want to comment on what he’d done himself while fighting in Ukraine.

Read more here

8:15 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

Analysis: Mercenary army is gaining power in Putin’s Russia

From  CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

There’s a growing rift at the top of the Russian government between Vladimir Putin’s official military and the off-the-books mercenary force that has achieved some gains in Ukraine.

The oligarch figurehead of the private military company Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been openly critical of Russia’s military and its bureaucracy.

Recruiting for tens of thousands of fighters in Russian jails, Wagner offers freedom and cash after a six-month tour.

Videos of these prison yard pitches made by Prigozhin have been shared on social media, and prison-rights groups in Russia estimate 30,000 have taken up the offer, according to an excellent analysis of what we know about Wagner and Prigozhin by CNN’s Tim Lister. Read Lister’s story.

Brutal tactics for its fighters. A Ukrainian assessment of Wagner tactics suggests the convicts are pushed to the front lines in a human wave. Wagner is using “convicts as cannon fodder to try and storm Ukrainian positions with almost no fire support,” as CNN’s Fred Pleitgen said in a video report he filed after talking to Ukrainian tank operators.

Lister, Pleitgen and CNN’s Victoria Butenko wrote about Wagner’s tactics after seeing the Ukrainian assessment. The focus is on small groups of fighters – a dozen or fewer – guided by drones.

Deserters are said to be shot. The wounded are left behind on battlefields for hours, according to the assessment. Prisoners account for the bulk of Wagner’s casualties as they are pushed to storm Ukrainian positions. More experienced fighters with better equipment follow.

US officials have said Wagner appears to be dueling with Russia’s military for power in the Kremlin.

“In certain instances, Russian military officials are actually subordinate to Wagner’s command,” John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said late last year. “It’s pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”

Read more here

A version of this story appears in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

8:40 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

"The enemy is always looking for us." The dangerous life of a drone operator in Ukraine combat zone

From CNN's Tim Lister, Frederik Pleitgen and Konstantin Hak

Shelling has caused serious damage to the village of Zarichne, near Kreminna.
Shelling has caused serious damage to the village of Zarichne, near Kreminna. (Matthias Somm/CNN)

The pine forests near the city of Kreminna have become one of the hottest combat zones in the war in eastern Ukraine. Almost every weapon seems to be at work here, artillery, howitzers, tanks and mortars. But perhaps the most important is the smallest: The reconnaissance drone.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting here for nearly two months. If the Ukrainians can break through Russian lines and reach Kreminna, they can disrupt Russian supply routes.

But it’s a much tougher proposition than it was at the end of last year. Russia’s defensive lines have been reinforced with heavy weapons and long-range artillery.

A year ago, one of the Ukrainian drone operators, who gave his name only as Ruslan, was a snowboard and kayak instructor. Now he’s watching the movement of Russian armor along the forest tracks, expertly skimming his drone across the treetops.

Arriving at a foxhole, the drone operators’ vehicles are carefully maneuvered under tree cover. The Russians have reconnaissance drones too, and Ukrainian drone operators are regarded as high-value targets.

Their job is to provide real-time intelligence on Russian positions and movements, and also to help Ukrainian artillery fix targets. 

A few miles away, the battalion Ruslan is a part of, Dnipro-1, has its own drone workshop, where NATO-issue grenades are carefully sawn in half to be reconstituted as small, free-fall munitions. Under a table sits a slab of C-4 plastic explosive. It’s a painstaking and demanding process, churning out one handmade munition every 20 minutes.

Some of the unit’s drone munitions are essentially fragment grenades dropped on infantry – and especially fighters from the Russian private military contractor Wagner fighters around Bakhmut. Heavier versions can damage or disable a tank.

The commander of Dnipro-1’s drone unit goes by the name of Graf. He says that drones have become “one of the most important elements of this war – both for us and the enemy. Nothing can be executed without drones.”

And that makes his men targets.

“At the moment the drone operator is one of the most dangerous jobs. The enemy knows we are the eyes of our army. As soon as they locate a drone operator, they use all kinds of weaponry: barrel artillery, MLRS, tanks,” Graf says.
“We have a high rate of casualties among the pilots, the enemy is always looking for us,” he says.

Read more here

8:52 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

White House defends decision not to send fighter jets to Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

F-16 Fighting Falcon aircrafts are seen over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex on August 19, 2013.
F-16 Fighting Falcon aircrafts are seen over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex on August 19, 2013. (DOD photo/Staff Sgt. Miguel Lara III/ABACA/Reuters)

White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby on Monday defended the Biden administration’s decision not to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, pointing instead to the aid the US is providing, including Abrams tanks.

“What I can tell you is that there's a lot of capability that is being sent, and will be sent in the coming weeks and months," Kirby told CNN. “The kinds of capabilities that we know will be critical to helping Ukrainians again in the fighting now in the wintertime, as well as the kind of fighting that we expect that they're going to be doing in the spring.”  

Kirby said he believes the decision, announced last week, to send Abrams tanks to the region wasn’t one that was made too late, even amid reports of Russia gaining territory in eastern Ukraine.

“The decision on the tanks — and it wasn't just the US, it was the Germans as well, and the Brits before that — was really designed to help Ukraine get ahead of the fighting that we think ... everybody's going to see come spring,” he said. “So, this was actually one of those cases where we are trying to forecast the kinds of needs that Ukraine is going to require when the weather turns better – and we can expect that the Russians will try to go on the offensive then.”

Some background: President Joe Biden answered, "No," when asked by a reporter whether he would send the jets to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought fighter jets to help sustain his war effort against Russia. Biden has consistently said the planes aren't on the table, even as he has given aid in other areas.

5:55 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

Russian couple arrested for anti-war conversation in restaurant, monitoring group says

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

A married couple in the southwestern Russian city of Krasnodar was arrested Sunday for professing anti-war sentiments during a private conversation in a restaurant, according to the independent Russian monitoring group OVD-Info.

OVD-Info told CNN that Aleksey Ovchinnikov was sentenced to 15 days in prison for petty hooliganism, while his wife Olesya Ovchinnikova received a 1,000 rubles ($14) fine.

Olesya Ovchinnikova is also facing charges for discrediting the Russian army, according to reporting from local media 93.RU, citing her lawyer.

CNN has sought comment from the couple’s lawyer. The restaurant where the incident is said to have taken place, “Na Drovoh,” would not comment to CNN.

Crackdown on anti-war sentiments: OVD-Info said at least 61 cases related to expressing anti-war views were initiated in Russia in 2022 on the charges of justification of terrorism on the internet, with 26 leading to sentencing so far.

In another notable case, 19-year-old Olesya Krivtsova was charged over social media posts that authorities say discredit the Russian army and justify terrorism. She posted an Instagram story about the explosion on the Crimean bridge in October that also criticized Russia for invading Ukraine, according to Russian officials.

5:35 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

Biden says he won't send F16 jets to Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden speaks in Baltimore, Maryland on Monday.
US President Joe Biden speaks in Baltimore, Maryland on Monday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Monday he wouldn't send American fighter jets to Ukraine, even as the United States ramps up military assistance in the form of artillery and tanks. 

"No," Biden said when asked by a reporter whether he would send F16 jets to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought fighter jets to help sustain his war effort against Russia. Biden has consistently said the planes aren't on the table, even as he has given aid in other areas.

Last week, for example, Biden announced he would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, despite top US officials saying previously the heavy-duty vehicles were a poor fit for the country's military.

Speaking on the White House South Lawn, Biden also said he wasn't sure whether he would visit Europe next month for the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

In response to a separate question, Biden said he was planning to visit Poland, but wasn't sure when.

CNN reported last week the White House was exploring the possibility of a Biden visit to Europe to mark 12 months since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Some background: Ukrainian leaders have renewed their appeals for Western fighter jets. “I sent a wish list card to Santa Claus last year, and fighter jets also [were] including in this wish list,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told CNN last week.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged Friday that Zelensky had asked for fighter jets. “We are constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their needs, and want to make sure that we’re doing the best we can to meet them – and if we can’t, that some of our allies and partners can,” Kirby said.

4:30 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

French president and Dutch prime minister say Ukraine did not request fighter jets from them

From CNN's Pierre Bairin and Arnaud Siad

French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Monday they have not received any requests from Ukraine for fighter jets.

“We do not have such a request formulated [from Ukraine],” Macron said at a joint press conference at The Hague where the two leaders were meeting to prepare the next EU council of February.

Macron said that while no requests had been received by France, “nothing is off-limits in principle.” He insisted that the usefulness of each request must be considered carefully.

Macron said the weapons requested should not escalate the conflict.

“That is to say that the equipment we deliver is not of a nature to touch Russian soil, but to help the effort of resistance and protection of Ukrainian soil,” Macron explained.

The French president added that the capacity of the French army to protect its own soil and its nationals should not be weakened by weapons transfer.

The Dutch prime minister also said that The Netherlands had not received any requests for F-16 fighter jets.

“There is not necessarily any taboo, but it would still be a very important step. If this were to happen, we would consider it, we would see what the situation is with our allies,” Rutte said.

France does not operate F-16s but does operate the French-made Rafale fighter jet.


7:09 p.m. ET, January 30, 2023

Zelensky calls for timely implementation of "strong decisions"

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen arrive to hold a joint press conference in Odesa on Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen arrive to hold a joint press conference in Odesa on Monday. (Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on allies for “timely” implementation of “strong decisions."

“There’s no time for continued reflections, we need to make decisions,” Zelensky said. “The key issue is efficiency.”

“Decisions were good, but it is crucial that strong decisions are timely. It is of great importance for us to react quickly," he said while speaking alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Zelensky also said that Ukraine shared “all the intelligence information we get" with partners. “There can be no secrets.”

He thanked Denmark for its donation of Caesar howitzers, and said that he is confident that Russia's offensive will not have a positive outcome. “I am confident in our army. I think we will be gradually stopping [Russians], fighting them and will be preparing our own big counter-offensive.”