January 31, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Charlotte Banks, Jack Guy, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 12:23 a.m. ET, February 1, 2023
16 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
7:16 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Russian airborne units have joined Wagner fighters in Bakhmut, says former Azov commander

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

Russian airborne units have joined Wagner mercenary fighters in the battle for the key eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, according to Maksym Zhorin, a former co-commander of Ukraine's Azov regiment.

Zhorin is not fighting on the battlefield but is in contact with Ukrainian soldiers and helps with supplies. 

"Not only the Wagnerites are fighting in the Bakhmut sector on the Russian side," Zhorin said on his official Telegram channel Tuesday.

"Previously, the assaults were carried out first by convicts, followed by more 'elite' Wagner units, but now airborne units have also joined the fight," he said.

"First of all, this is notable because of the use of their regular equipment. Wagner's troops are forced to advance on foot, while Russian paratroopers have armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, which they actively use," added Zhorin. 

"Another difference is that for some reason regular troops are less willing to die than Wagner's men. That is why they act a little more cautiously. But they are still dying, just not in such huge numbers."

CNN is unable to independently verify those claims. 

Other Ukrainian military commanders have echoed Zhorin's assessment in recent days, saying that regular Russian military troops are now assisting Wagner private military contractors in the fight for Bakhmut. 

7:10 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

NATO, Japan pledge to strengthen ties amid threat to "international rules-based order"

From CNN’s Emiko Jozuka in Tokyo

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands after holding a joint media briefing on January 31, in Tokyo, Japan.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands after holding a joint media briefing on January 31, in Tokyo, Japan. (Takashi Aoyama/Reuters)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged on Tuesday to strengthen ties, saying Beijing and Moscow are leading "an authoritarian pushback against the international rules-based order."

"The Indo-Pacific faces growing challenges from China's coercive behavior to provocations by North Korea. And in Europe, Russia continues to wage its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. This war is not just a European crisis, but a challenge to the world order," Stoltenberg said in a joint statement with Kishida on Tuesday, adding that he and Kishida agree that "transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security is deeply interconnected."

"If President Putin wins in Ukraine, this would send a message that authoritarian regimes can achieve their goals through brute force. This is dangerous. Beijing is watching closely and learning lessons that may influence its future decisions," said Stoltenberg.

During a visit Tuesday to Japan's Iruma Air Base, Stoltenberg said that "the war in Ukraine matters for all of us, and therefore we're also very grateful for the support that Japan is providing, also using the planes and the cargo capabilities."

Japan has provided nonlethal aid to Ukraine in the form of drones, bulletproof vests, helmets, tents and medical supplies. However, due to defense guidelines that effectively ban weapons exports, Tokyo has not delivered weapons.

Stoltenberg arrived in Tokyo on Monday from South Korea, where he had urged Seoul to increase its military support for Ukraine.

Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol became the first leaders from their countries to attend a NATO summit last year, joining alliance leaders as observers.

6:42 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Ukrainian forces turned Russian trenches into "grave" near Bakhmut, Ukraine's Border Guard says

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

As the battle for the key eastern city of Bakhmut continues, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy Russian trenches on the outskirts of the city, turning them into a "grave," the Ukrainian Border Guard said Tuesday on its official Telegram channel.

"The rifle unit of the Russian Federation set up an improvised dugout in the forest strip. Our fighters tracked down the hiding place of the enemy infantry and hit it with mortars," the Ukrainian Border Guard said.

The Border Guard reported that five "invaders" were buried under rubble and another four occupants were wounded after the attack destroyed the structure.

The city of Bakhmut has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent days, as Russian forces try to take control of the Kostiantynivka-Bakhmut highway and disrupt supplies to Bakhmut. Keeping the city under Ukrainian control would represent a symbolic victory for Kyiv but if the city is taken by Russian forces it would give them an opportunity to advance further to the strategically important cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Fighters from the Russian mercenary company Wagner have been leading the fight against Ukrainian forces in and around Bakhmut but on Monday, Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of the "Svoboda" battalion of the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade of Ukraine's National Guard, said in an interview on Ukrainian television that it seemed Wagner fighters have now been replaced by Russian paratroopers.

A post published Tuesday on the official Telegram channel of Dmytro Kukharchuk, commander of the 2nd assault battalion of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, says the claimed invincibility of the Wagner military unit is now a "myth."

"I have to admit that in some areas they do manage to carry out the tactics of a creeping offensive. In their opinion, it is successful, in my opinion - absolutely not, because the round-the-clock bombardment of our positions with corpses, which results in rare cases in advancement of 50 meters, can hardly be called a success," the post reads.

CNN is unable to independently verify these claims.

"Ultimately, the war is not about territories, but about people who will then liberate even more territories, as it happened in Kharkiv or Kherson. Their attitude towards people has not changed since [Red Army General] Zhukov's time," the post continues.

6:02 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

International Olympic Committee rejects "defamatory statements" by Ukrainian presidential aide

From CNN's Sammy Mngqosini

Adviser to the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, gives an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 10.
Adviser to the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, gives an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 10. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it rejects “defamatory statements” by Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak following the committee's decision to consider ways for Russian athletes to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games.

Podolyak posted a strongly worded tweet Monday criticizing the IOC's stance on Russia.

“The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms this and other defamatory statements. They cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion. Therefore, the IOC will not further comment on them,” an IOC spokesperson told CNN in a statement Tuesday.

The IOC has indicated that Russian and Belarusian athletes could be allowed to “participate in competitions as ‘neutral athletes’ and in no way represent their state or any other organisation in their country, as is already happening in professional leagues, particularly in Europe, the United States and Canada, and in some individual professional sports.”

During his nightly address Saturday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said he “wrote a letter to the presidents of the International Sports Federations with a call to reconsider the decision of the International Olympic Committee to return Russian athletes to international competitions.”

According to Zelensky, once “Russian athletes appear at international competitions, it is only a matter of time before they start justifying Russia's aggression and using the symbols of terror.” He called the IOC decision “an unprincipled flexibility.”

7:35 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Intense battles in Donetsk region continue, situation in Bakhmut remains "difficult"

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

A general view shows the frontline city of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on January 26.
A general view shows the frontline city of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on January 26. (Yan Dobronosov/Reuters)

Intense fighting continues around Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region, as Russian forces continue their offensive towards the key eastern city, the Ukrainian military said Tuesday.

Over the past 24 hours, a number of cities and towns in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have seen shelling by Russian forces, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said, adding that Russian forces "continue shelling settlements near the state border, causing civilian casualties and destruction of private property."

Donetsk region

Over the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military repelled attacks near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Vuhledar and other towns in the region, where the situation remains "difficult," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and regional authorities said.

Chaotic isolated attacks continued along the defense line around the city of Avdiivka throughout the night, the regional military administration said Tuesday.

Shelling was also reported in several other towns and communities across the region causing damage to residential buildings. Three civilians were wounded across the region over the past 24 hours, the regional military administration said.

Luhansk region

The situation in Luhansk region also remains "difficult," the Luhansk regional military administration said Tuesday.

Over the past day, Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in the areas of Novoselivske and Bilohorivka, regional authorities said.

In the city of Luhansk, Russian forces are using the maternity wards of two hospitals to treat wounded servicemen, the Ukrainian military said.

"The enemy continues to suffer heavy losses and has begun to use additional civilian medical facilities to accommodate the wounded Russian invaders," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.

"Due to the enemy's use of two maternity hospitals to treat wounded Russians in the city, it is possible to deliver babies only in the Luhansk Regional Perinatal Center, which is severely lacking in space and creates risks and unfavorable conditions for childbirth," it added.

Kharkiv region

A 62-year-old civilian man died in the town of Vovchansk as a result of shelling, the Kharkiv region military administration said Tuesday. An 83-year-old woman was wounded. Her condition is of moderate severity, regional authorities said.

The shelling also damaged the police department building, apartment buildings and warehouses.

In Kupyansk, a regional Ukrainian Railways building and private houses were damaged, regional authorities said.

5:07 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

An off-the-books mercenary army is gaining power in Putin’s Russia

Analysis by CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

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

Key points of the analysis include:

  • Brutal tactics for its fighters 
  • How it's gaining power over the Russian military
  • Wagner's growth, including in Africa 
  • How defectors live in fear. 

Read the full analysis here.

3:08 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Croatia's president criticizes West's decision to send tanks to Ukraine 

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Alex Stambaugh 

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic talks to the press in Petrinja, Croatia, on January 30.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic talks to the press in Petrinja, Croatia, on January 30. (N1 Croatia/Reuters)

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic on Monday criticized moves by NATO allies to provide tanks to Ukraine, calling it "mad," as he railed against Western support for Kyiv in repelling Russia's nearly year-long invasion.

"I am against sending any lethal arms there. It prolongs the war," Milanovic told reporters in the town of Petrinja.
"What is the goal? Disintegration of Russia, change of the government? There is also talk of tearing Russia apart. This is mad."

Milanovic, leader of the European Union's newest member nation, has repeatedly criticized the West's involvement in the war.

Last week, he reiterated his position that "Russia is settling accounts with the Americans via Ukraine," and that the war would be resolved between Washington and Moscow, CNN affiliate N1 reported.

His comments came after the United States and NATO allies including Germany last week said they would send modern tanks to Ukraine, unleashing powerful new tools in Kyiv's efforts to retake territory seized by Moscow.

In his defense as to why Zagreb would not provide military aid to Kyiv, Milanovic condemned Germany's decision to donate Leopard 2 tanks, telling reporters Monday: "German tanks in Russia — good luck with that." 

Crimea claim: Despite Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky's stated aim of returning Crimea to Kyiv's rule, Milanovic also said the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 would remain part of Russia.

“It is clear that Crimea will never again be part of Ukraine,” he claimed.
1:20 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Russia's deputy foreign minister foresees end to nuclear arms control with US in 2026

From CNN's Jonny Hallam and Josh Pennington

The last remaining element of a bilateral nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States could expire in three years without a replacement, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday.

Asked if Moscow could envisage there being no nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations when the extension of the 2011 New START Treaty comes to an end after 2026, Ryabkov said: "This is a very possible scenario."

"The dialogue on strategic stability and arms control was stopped not by us, but by the Americans and their satellites," he said, appearing to refer to Ukraine.

Ryabkov added that he believed Washington was betting on Moscow suffering a "strategic defeat" in its war with its neighbor, which is approaching the one-year mark.

Last week, the United States and NATO allies including Germany and the United Kingdom said they would send modern tanks to Ukraine, reversing their longstanding trepidation at providing Kyiv with offensive armored vehicles and unleashing powerful new tools in its efforts to retake territory seized by Moscow.

In his comments Monday, Ryabkov told RIA that recent US actions had violated the spirit of the bilateral arms control treaty in the "most flagrant and ridiculous way." 

Quoting from the preamble of the 2011 treaty, which calls for "mutual trust, openness, predictability and cooperation," Ryabkov claimed the US showed a disregard for the agreement by holding a "forwardly aggressive deterrence, teetering on the brink of a direct confrontation between the United States and NATO and Russia."

"The entire security situation, including arms control, has been held hostage by the line taken by the US to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia," Ryabkov said.
12:22 a.m. ET, January 31, 2023

Putin's former speechwriter says a military coup is becoming a possibility in Russia

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

A military coup is becoming a possibility in Russia as the war in Ukraine continues, President Vladimir Putin’s former speechwriter said Monday.

Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett, speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov said that as Russian losses mount in Ukraine and the country experiences hardship brought by Western sanctions, Russians will look for someone to blame.

"The Russian economy is deteriorating. The war is lost. There are more and more dead bodies returning to Russia, so Russians will be coming across more difficulties and they'll be trying to find explanation why this is happening, looking around to the political process and they'll be answering themselves: 'Well, this is because our country is governed by an old tyrant, an old dictator,'" Gallyamov said, referring to Putin.

“At this moment, I think a military coup will become possible.”

That moment may come in the next 12 months, he said.

“So in one year when the political situation changes and there's a really hated unpopular president at the head of the country and the war is really unpopular, and they need to shed blood for this, at this moment, a coup becomes a real possibility,” he added.

Gallyamov also said he believes Putin may cancel presidential elections scheduled to be held in March 2024.

“Judging by his actions, when he is escalating on something without necessity, he might really cancel the elections. Without victory over Ukraine, he'll face difficulty with the Russians. Russians don't need him if he's not strong. He might really declare the martial law and cancel the elections,” Gallyamov said.