October 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 1:53 a.m. ET, October 21, 2022
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8:51 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Biden casts doubt on future US aid for Ukraine if GOP makes gains in midterm elections

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Sam Fossum

President Joe Biden speaks to the press during a visit to Primanti Bros sandwich shop in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 20.
President Joe Biden speaks to the press during a visit to Primanti Bros sandwich shop in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 20. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Image

President Joe Biden seized on comments from several Republicans, including House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, calling into question future Ukraine aid, framing the position as undermining the US role – and leadership – in an increasingly volatile world.

"You heard what they said today?" Biden asked at a fundraiser in Philadelphia for Senate candidate John Fetterman, according to the press pool. "They said that if they win, they're not likely to fund – to help – continue to fund Ukraine, the Ukrainian war against the Russians. These guys don't get it. It's a lot bigger than Ukraine – it's Eastern Europe, it's NATO. It's real, serious, serious consequential outcomes. They have no sense of American foreign policy." 

Biden sought to broaden the implications for Republican opposition or reluctance, tying it to palpable concerns from allies after former President Donald Trump’s four years in office that the US was receding from its role in the world. Biden noted it was something that raised the stakes for the midterm elections even further, and explicitly tied in the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol – and the GOP’s response – as an element driving anxiety for allies. 

“These guys on the other team don’t get it. They don’t get it that how America does is going to determine how the rest of the world does," Biden said, according to the pool. “They look to us as a leader. They look to us … because they’re not as big or as powerful." 

The President also repeated his story about how at his first G7 meeting when he said he told leaders “America’s back and one of the other heads of state turned to me and said ‘For how long’?”

On the Jan. 6 insurrection, Biden said that it was “a bunch of thugs attacked the United States Capitol,” continuing, “then they come along and they’re called patriots and heroes.”

“The rest of the world is looking at this election as well, both the good guys and the bad guys out there to see what, they want to see what’s going to happen," Biden said, according to the pool. 

6:54 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

White House: Iran's military gave Russia hands-on training with drones used to strike civilian targets

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The White House says Iranian military personnel have visited Crimea to assist with Russian drone strikes targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said Iran's training visit was evidence of Tehran's direct engagement in the conflict.

"We can confirm that Russian military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs, using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv," Kirby said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles.

CNN previously reported that Iranian military personnel had been sent to Crimea to train Russian forces.

"Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted with these operations," he said. "Russia has received dozens of UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future."

The US has said that Russia was obtaining drones from Iran, but has not previously said that Iranian personnel were on the ground.

Kirby said it was a "relatively small number" of Iranian personnel on the ground.

"Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine," he said.

Kirby said the Russians weren't familiar with the use of the drones and needed Iranian training to use them.

He added that the US is now concerned that Russia will seek additional weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles, from Iran.

Some background: Iran has repeatedly denied supplying Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine, saying last week that it “has not and will not” do so.

A Russian representative to the UN also insisted that drones used against Ukraine have all been Russian — not Iranian. He called claims to the contrary a “disinformation campaign."

That hasn't convinced Ukraine's Western allies. The European Union just agreed on new sanctions against Iran over the drone allegations.

"They can lie to the world but they certainly can’t hide the facts," Kirby said Thursday.

5:32 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Ukraine's foreign minister says he told Israel's PM about "unspeakable suffering" caused by missile attacks

From CNN's Tim Lister and Jen Deaton

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he has spoken to Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid to tell him about the “unspeakable suffering” caused by Russian missiles and Iranian-made drones.

It's the latest appeal Ukraine has made to Israel to help it acquire modern air defense systems.

“I spoke to Israeli Prime Minister @YairLapid and informed him on unspeakable suffering, loss of life, and destruction caused by Russian missiles and Iranian-made drones. We discussed in detail Ukraine’s request for Israel to provide air and missile defense systems and technology," the Ukrainian foreign minister tweeted Thursday.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded to Ukraine’s request on Wednesday, saying that Israel would help Ukraine develop an air defense alert system, but had no plans to deliver weapon systems.

“We have sent a request to the Ukrainians to share information about their needs for air defense alerts. Once we gain this information, we will be able to assist in the development of a life-saving civilian early-warning system,” Gantz said.

View Kuleba's tweet here:

4:42 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Biden says he's concerned about the future of US aid to Ukraine if Republicans win the House

From CNN's Sam Fossum and Maegan Vazquez

US President Joe Biden speaks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Thursday.
US President Joe Biden speaks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Thursday. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden said he's worried the US commitment to supporting Ukraine could waver if Republicans retake control of the House of Representatives.

Biden made the remark to reporters on the midterms campaign trail, days after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said if the GOP wins the chamber they may not be as forthcoming with aid to the embattled nation.

"Yeah, I am worried about that because they said they'll cut it," Biden told reporters while visiting a sandwich shop in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. He was touring with Senate candidate John Fetterman.

What McCarthy said: The minority leader's comments were published by the political news outlet Punchbowl News on Tuesday.

“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it. … It’s not a free blank check," he said. "And then there’s the things [the Biden administration] is not doing domestically. Not doing the border and people begin to weigh that. Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.”
5:05 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Russia orders arrest of state television employee who protested the invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Josh Pennington

A former employee of state television network Channel One in Russia has been ordered under arrest in absentia for “spreading misinformation” about the war in Ukraine, according to state news agency TASS.

In March, journalist Marina Ovsyannikova appeared in the background during a live broadcast on Channel One holding a sign that read “Stop the war!” and “They’re lying to you!”

Ovsyannikova was fined twice and placed under house arrest. In early October, she and her family fled Russia to Europe while Russian authorities continued to investigate her.

Ovsyannikova joins a growing list of journalists, including Alexander Nevzorov and Dmitry Gordon, who Russia has ordered arrested in absentia for criticizing the state.

Soon after Russia’s invasion, the State Duma passed a law imposing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone knowingly spreading “fake news” that discredits Russia’s Armed Forces and the “special military operation," which is how it refers to the war in Ukraine.

4:31 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

More parts of Ukraine face blackouts. Here is what else you need to know

As the Kremlin steps up its military assault, Ukrainian energy officials said they had no choice but to introduce emergency and scheduled blackouts Thursday. Days of devastating Russian attacks on energy infrastructure have caused the nation to lose at least 40% of its power-generating capacity. 

Meantime, fighting is escalating in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region where authorities are attempting to “relocate” up to 60,000 civilians, despite humanitarian bodies warning such a strategy could constitute human rights violations.

Here are the latest developments in Russia’s war in Ukraine:

  • Blackouts: Ukraine’s state energy company extended its temporary electricity restrictions beyond Kyiv and other central regions. Kharkiv, Sumy and Poltava were added to the list of areas under a “temporary controlled restriction,” according to Ukrenergo, the energy agency.
  • Calling on international allies: Ukraine's foreign ministry said diplomats have appealed to several dozen international and non-governmental organizations and private companies with a request for generators and equipment for the gas transportation system to combat blackouts and damaged infrastructure.
  • Kherson relocations: So far, around 15,000 civilians in the Kherson region have been “relocated” away from the frontline, Kirill Stremousov, a regional leader backed by Moscow said Thursday. Ukraine officials have dismissed the relocation as a “propaganda show” and accused Moscow of trying to intimidate residents.
  • Russian coordination with Belarus: A senior Ukrainian military official says there is a growing danger that Russia will open a new front in the war through its coordination with Belarus, using it to cut military supplies to Ukraine. Belarusian authorities have denied any plans for mobilization but have held a high number of training and readiness exercises this year and recently announced a joint force with Russian troops.
  • US weighs in on Russia-Iran relations: The US State Department said there is “abundant evidence” Moscow is using Iranian drones to strike Ukraine, a claim Tehran has repeatedly denied. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Iran of taking “blood money” from Russia, while the UK and EU separately announced sanctions against Tehran over the drones.
  • Global food crisis: Russia’s foreign ministry has said it is ready to export food and fertilizer products to prevent a global food security crisis but blamed the US for “making it very difficult” for Moscow to do so. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the global food crisis.
3:28 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Zelensky alleges Russia mined a critical dam on Dnipro river in Kherson region

From CNN's Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva and Katerina Krebs

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky alleged that Russian forces have mined a critical dam on the Dnipro river in the southern Kherson region, as well as the adjacent hydroelectric plant.

"We have information that Russian terrorists have mined the dam and units of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant," Zelensky told the Council of Europe during a video address.

CNN has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for a response to the allegations.

The dam and hydroelectric plant have been working at much-reduced capacity as the area was captured by Russian forces in March. Ukrainian forces are some 40 kilometers (more than 24 miles) north of the dam. Over the past four months, they have launched several strikes against the bridge that forms part of the dam to prevent its use by the Russian military.

Separately, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's office, said on Twitter Thursday that Russia planned to mine the dam and transformers, forcing the deportation of Ukrainian civilians from Kherson and flooding territory to stop the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. The land to the south and east of the river is low-lying.

"Russia is preparing a man-made catastrophe," Podolyak said.

What pro-Moscow officials are saying: The Russian-appointed head of the Nova Kakhovka administrative district, Vladimir Leontiev, told Russian state media TASS that it makes no sense for Russia to destroy the dam of the power station.

"What is the point for Russia to destroy it now? Even from a formal point of view, this is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense," Leontiev said.

"First of all, you need to think about who benefits from it: it is only beneficial for Ukraine to destroy the dam, the hydroelectric power station, to disrupt logistics, to sow fear and panic, to stop the possibility of supplying water through the North Crimean Canal to the territory of Crimea," he said, according to TASS.

3:21 p.m. ET, October 20, 2022

Ukrainian missile strikes Russian military convoy in Luhansk, new video shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Tim Lister

From Telegram
From Telegram

A Russian military convoy near Stara Krasnyanka in the eastern region of Luhansk was struck by a Ukrainian missile, new video shows. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the video, which was posted on Thursday. The video is a compilation of a series of videos taken by a drone that shows five military vehicles, first traveling east on a road in eastern Kreminna. 

Later, the convoy is seen turning around in Stara Krasnyanka and returning to Kreminna. As the convoy nears a set of train tracks, it moves into a wooded area just outside of Stara Krasnyanka. 

They are then targeted by a Ukrainian missile salvo, and a number of explosions are seen. The resulting fire appears to explode the munitions that are being carried by the vehicles. Later, the burnt husks of the convoy are seen.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly hit Russian positions in the town of Kreminna, located just west of Severodonetsk.