December 2, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Amy Woodyatt, Hannah Strange and Heather Chen, CNN

Updated 9:00 p.m. ET, December 2, 2022
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7:39 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

Ukrainian embassies abroad targeted by letter bombs and threats

From CNN's Eve Brennan and Lindsay Isaac

Spanish policemen stand next to an Ukrainian flag while securing the area after a letter bomb explosion at the Ukraine's embassy in Madrid, Spain, on November 30.
Spanish policemen stand next to an Ukrainian flag while securing the area after a letter bomb explosion at the Ukraine's embassy in Madrid, Spain, on November 30. (Oscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine has put all embassies and consulates abroad under enhanced security measures after a series of incidents involving threatening packages, letter bombs and vandalism at its diplomatic missions. This week Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Austria, the consulates general in Naples and Krakow, and the consulate in Brno have received bloody packages, containing animal eyes, Oleh Nikolenko, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said Friday on Facebook.

"The packages were “soaked in a liquid of a characteristic colour and had a corresponding smell. We are examining the meaning of this message,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, a package sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid, addressed to the country’s ambassador to Spain, Serhiy Pohoreltsev, exploded upon opening.

“We have reason to believe that there is a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukrainian embassies and consulates. Unable to stop Ukraine on the diplomatic front, they are trying to intimidate us,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

He called on foreign governments to guarantee maximum protection of Ukrainian diplomatic institutions in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

In addition to the suspicious packages, Nikolenko reported other incidents including vandalism of the entrance to the Ukrainian ambassador's residence in the Vatican.

Czech police evacuate consulate: Czech police tweeted Friday that the Ukrainian Consulate in Brno, a city in the southeast of Czech Republic consulate and its immediate surroundings, including a kindergarten were evacuated. After investigating the package, the police said it did not contain any explosives, adding that they had no information to indicate people at the consulate or within its vicinity were at any danger.

“Initial analysis suggest the package contained animal tissue. A detailed analysis of will be conducted in laboratories now,” the police tweeted.

7:52 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

The Kremlin warns Washington's refusal to accept annexed regions as part of Russia complicates possible Putin-Biden talks

From Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, with Ukrainian separatist regional leaders Vladimir Saldo, left, Yevgeniy Balitsky, second left, Leonid Pasechnik, right, and Denis Pushilin, second right, seen during the annexation ceremony of four Ukrainian regions at the Grand Kremlin Palace, September 30, in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, with Ukrainian separatist regional leaders Vladimir Saldo, left, Yevgeniy Balitsky, second left, Leonid Pasechnik, right, and Denis Pushilin, second right, seen during the annexation ceremony of four Ukrainian regions at the Grand Kremlin Palace, September 30, in Moscow, Russia. (Getty Images)

The fact that Washington doesn't recognize annexed Ukrainian regions as part of Russia would complicate possible talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.

“The United States still does not recognize new territories as part of the Russian Federation, and this complicates the search for common ground for negotiations,” Peskov said during a regular call with journalists, when asked whether Moscow sees any prospects for negotiations with Washington.

In September, Moscow illegally declared four Ukrainian regions to be Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk -- home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics where fighting has been ongoing since 2014 -- as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, two areas in southern Ukraine that had been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began.

The illegal annexations followed sham referendums in these southern and eastern regions. Russian troops have since withdrawn from a swathe of the Kherson region, including the regional capital Kherson city.

Here's some background: On Thursday, Biden told reporters during a joint White House news conference with French President Emmanual Macron that he “has no immediate plans” to contact Putin, but added that he’s prepared to speak with the Russian leader if he’s looking for a way to end the war in Ukraine. Biden also clarified that Putin has not done so yet.

“He’s just miscalculated across the board,” Biden said of Putin following his bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the French president. “And so the question is … how does he get himself out of the circumstances in? I’m prepared, if he’s willing to talk, to find out what he’s willing to do, but I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own.”

Peskov said Moscow has always been open to negotiations to ensure its interests but Putin's initiative to discuss security guarantees with the US, NATO and the OSCE “was not reciprocated.”

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed those remarks, saying that Moscow "never avoids contacts" but there haven't been "substantial ideas" when it comes to a possible meeting between Biden and Putin.

6:17 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

People with reduced mobility to be evacuated from Kakhovka, says Russian-installed administration

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

Some people with reduced mobility will be evacuated from the Russian-occupied town of Kakhovka on the east bank of the Dnipro river, Russian-installed authorities said on Friday.

“On Saturday, December 3, the evacuation of bedridden and disabled citizens from Kakhovka to one of the boarding houses of the Henichesk district begins,” the Russian-installed administration said via its Telegram channel.

Earlier this week, Serhii Khlan, a member of Kherson regional council, told a news conference that pro-Russian administrators had left the east bank towns and set up an administration in the city of Henichesk, closer to Crimea.

"They defined it as the center of the occupation region, and now all supporters and collaborators are there," he said.

Khlan said that Russian forces are shelling "all settlements" along the west bank of the Dnipro river in recently liberated areas of Kherson.

He added that the bulk of Russian forces were positioned some 15 to 20 kilometers (9.3 to 12.4 miles) from the east bank of the river, but that personnel of the Russian security service (FSB) occupied observation posts close to the river, in towns like Kakhovka and Nova Kakhovka. They were exerting pressure on the remaining civilian population to leave, he said.

Khlan said that he expected people already in temporary accommodation would be forced to leave for Russia.

5:46 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

New law would ban religious groups in Ukraine associated with Russia

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) servicemen check documents of visitors to Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kyiv on November 22.
Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) servicemen check documents of visitors to Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kyiv on November 22. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's parliament will vote on a new law that would ban the operation of religious organizations “affiliated with centers of influence” in Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday, in an effort to prevent an "opportunity to manipulate" Ukrainians.

"Unfortunately, even Russian terror and full-scale war did not convince some figures that it is worth overcoming the temptation of evil. Well, we have to create conditions where no actors dependent on the aggressor state will have an opportunity to manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within," the Ukrainian president said in a statement.

"The National Security and Defense Council instructed the Government to submit to the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine's parliament] a draft law on making it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in the Russian Federation to operate in Ukraine," he said.

Here's some background: The proposed law comes after the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) raided a historic Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, on November 22 as part of an effort to counter suspected “subversive activities" by Russia's special services.

The raid was aimed at preventing the “use of Ukrainian Orthodox Church premises for hiding sabotage and reconnaissance groups, foreign citizens, storing weapons," SBU said.

"All bodies responsible for ensuring national security must intensify measures to identify and counter the subversive activities of Russian special services in the religious environment of Ukraine. And apply personal sanctions -- the surnames will be made public soon," Zelensky said on Thursday.

In his statement, Zelensky also said "a religious examination" of the Management Statute of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be conducted "for the presence of a church-canonical connection with the Moscow Patriarchate and, if necessary, to take measures provided for by law."

These and other decisions are aimed at guaranteeing "Ukraine's spiritual independence," Zelensky said.

In May, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially broke allegiance with the Russian Orthodox Church and its leader Patriarch Kirill over the war, saying it considers the invasion "a violation of God’s commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'."

Kirill is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has supported the war in Ukraine.

5:38 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

Between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian troops killed, says Zelensky adviser -- a number far lower than US estimates

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London

Soldiers attend the farewell ceremony for senior sergeant Yuriy Chernenko in Lviv, Ukraine on November 24.
Soldiers attend the farewell ceremony for senior sergeant Yuriy Chernenko in Lviv, Ukraine on November 24. (Pavlo Palamarchuk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the war in Ukraine, according to Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

This figure is much lower than estimates suggested by the United States.

"We have official figures from the General Staff, official figures from the high command, and according to them we have between 10,000 and 12,500 to 13,000 killed," Podolyak said speaking on national TV on Thursday.

On November 10, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Russia has suffered more than 100,000 killed and wounded soldiers as a result of the war in Ukraine and that Kyiv is probably looking at similar numbers.

There is no confirmed number of troop casualties on either side for the war in Ukraine.

CNN has contacted the Ukrainian military for comment. However, Bohdan Senyk, head of the public relations department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine previously declined to confirm Ukrainian army losses.

3:21 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

Russian military starts census in parts of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian mayor says

From CNN's Sarah Dean

Russia's military has begun conducting a census in parts of occupied territory in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, according to the Ukrainian mayor-in-exile of the city of Melitopol.

"Over the past few days, the Russians have been in a fuss," Ivan Fedorov said in a televised broadcast Friday. "First, they were taking the wounded out of the hospital. Then they started a census in the towns of Mykhailivka and Burchak to allegedly prepare for evacuation."

Melitopol has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the invasion and analysts have suggested the next offensive front for Ukrainian forces was likely to be a thrust southward toward the city.

Fedorov added that hospitals in the cities of Tokmak and Mykhailivka were also "turned into military hospitals for Russian forces."

"[Russians] are massively treating thousands of their wounded there," Fedrov said. "Only one hospital in Melitopol city, an ambulance hospital, provides assistance to civilians."

New Russian military bases had also been set up, he claimed, noting there were now "tens of thousands of Russian manpower in the territory of Melitopol."

Last month, Fedorov highlighted difficulties civilians faced to leave the city.

It comes after the Ukrainian military claimed some Russian troops are withdrawing from their positions in the Zaporizhzhia region. CNN is unable to confirm the claims made by the General Staff.

3:39 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

Russia told US about Brittney Griner's transfer to penal colony weeks after she was moved

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Penal colony IK-2in the town of Yavas in Mordovia, central Russia, where Brittney Griner is being held, on November 19.
Penal colony IK-2in the town of Yavas in Mordovia, central Russia, where Brittney Griner is being held, on November 19. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian government formally told the US Embassy last week about Brittney Griner’s transfer to a remote penal colony, weeks after the wrongfully detained WNBA star had been moved, according to the Biden administration.

“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow was formally notified by the Russian government of Ms. Griner’s transfer on November 23, more than two weeks after she was moved from a prison in Moscow to IK-2 in Mordovia,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN Thursday.
“We are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team and aware that they were able to visit her this week,” the spokesperson said.

Read more here.

7:37 p.m. ET, December 1, 2022

Biden and Macron diverge on willingness to engage with Putin

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez, Donald Judd, Betsy Klein and Sam Fossum

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday demonstrated a united front in addressing the ongoing war in Ukraine but offered divergent answers over their willingness to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relaying that they spent much their recent meeting discussing the invasion.

Biden told reporters during a joint White House news conference with Macron that he “has no immediate plans” to contact Putin, but added that he’s prepared to speak with the Russian leader if he’s looking for a way to end the war in Ukraine. Biden also clarified that Putin has not done so yet.

“He’s just miscalculated across the board,” Biden said of Putin following his bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the French president. “And so the question is … how does he get himself out of the circumstances in? I’m prepared, if he’s willing to talk, to find out what he’s willing to do, but I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own.”

Macron said that once Ukraine sets conditions for a peace agreement, he’s willing to speak with Putin. The French leader told ABC’s “Good Morning America” earlier Thursday that he intends to speak with the Russian president in the coming days.

Read more here.

3:46 a.m. ET, December 2, 2022

Ukraine claims some Russian units in Zaporizhzhia are withdrawing as it strikes ammunition and troop depots

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

A Russian service member sits near an automatic grenade launcher at a combat position on the left bank of the Dnipro river in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on November 26.
A Russian service member sits near an automatic grenade launcher at a combat position on the left bank of the Dnipro river in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on November 26. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Ukrainian military claims that some Russian troops are withdrawing from their positions in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

It also says that the Russians are preparing the evacuation of "the personnel of the occupation administrations" in the Zaporizhzhia region.

In its daily update, the military's General Staff said Russian units had left the settlements of Mykhailivka, Polohy and Inzhenerne, all towns south of the city of Zaporizhzhia. Front lines in the region run for 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) across rolling farmland. Geolocated footage posted on Wednesday shows the aftermath of strikes on buildings in Polohy.

The General Staff said that in the settlement of Burchak, the occupation authorities are conducting a census for the so-called voluntary evacuation of the population.

The Ukrainians appear to be repeating actions they undertook in Kherson — striking bridges, supply hubs and Russian troop concentrations behind the front lines. The General Staff said that in recent days strikes about half a dozen places had wounded more than 230 Russian soldiers and destroyed ammunition and equipment.

CNN is unable to confirm the claims made by the General Staff.

What could happen next: Analysts have suggested that the next offensive front for the Ukrainians is likely to be a thrust south toward the occupied city of Melitopol. 

The General Staff said that elsewhere Russian forces continued to defend their positions in eastern Luhansk region using tanks, mortars and artillery to prevent further advances of Ukrainian forces.

Russian units were also shelling several settlements in recently liberated parts of Kherson region. But Brig. Gen. Oleksii Hromov claimed that last week Russian forces had accidentally fired on their own unit near the village of Tsukury in Kherson, killing 14 servicemen. CNN cannot verify the claim.

Hromov said Russian forces had gathered in the city of Dzankhoi in Crimea, which had "actually turned into the largest military base on the territory... from where the Russian occupation troops and weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces are redeployed."