December 9, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Joshua Berlinger, Elise Hammond and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 9:29 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022
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9:22 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Our live coverage for the day has ended. Follow the latest Ukraine news here or read through the updates below. 

7:35 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

White House expresses concern about growing Iran-Russia defense partnership

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The White House is continuing to sound the alarm at the flourishing military partnership between Iran and Russia, saying Friday the US would work to "expose and disrupt" the exchange of weapons and know-how between the two countries.

"This is a fullscale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors and quite frankly to the international community," said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.

Kirby said the US was imposing new sanctions on three Russian entities involved in acquiring and using Russian drones. The US also authorized an additional $275 million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday.

He said the several hundred drones Iran is providing to Russia are being used to kill innocent Ukrainians and destroy civilian infrastructure. He said Iran was providing Russia with an "unprecedented level" of military and technical support, including the potential sale of ballistic missiles and a new joint production line.

In return, Russia is seeking to collaborate with Iran on weapons development and advanced military components, Kirby said, and could be providing Tehran with helicopters and air defense systems along with training pilots in Russia.

He called the Tehran-Moscow pipeline a "full-fledged defense partnership" that the US expects to grow in the coming months.

He said the US has warned other Middle East nations the alliance could pose a threat to their region, and said the US would "bring together like-minded countries" to discuss Iran-Russia cooperation.

8:13 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Paul Whelan’s brother hopeful US “will be creative” about possible prisoner swap

David Whelan
David Whelan (CNN)

The brother of Paul Whelan said he doesn't believe the US has run out of options when it comes to a possible prisoner swap involving his imprisoned sibling.

“Russia likes parity,” David Whelan told CNN on Friday. “They like getting equal things and it’s both when you hit them they want to hit you back and when you give them something, they want to give you the same thing only. So it’s a very careful and parsimonious view of the world.”

He said Moscow has labeled Paul a spy and speculated that the country could be "waiting for a Russian spy to be arrested somewhere else in the world, and then use Paul for that purpose.”

“But I think that the US government has shown that it can be creative and will be creative going forward,” he said.

Whelan said the previous days have been “pretty devastating” for his brother, and that his detainment has also been “very difficult” on their family.

“It’s hard to keep your own morale up,” he said. “You want to support Paul and keep his morale up, but you know that really each day is the clock ticking away.”

Some background: Russia refused to release Whelan — a former Marine convicted of espionage charges — alongside WNBA star Brittney Griner unless a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy imprisoned in Germany was also released, a U.S. official told CNN. 

The US was unable to deliver on the request for the ex-colonel, Vadim Krasikov, because he is serving out a life sentence for murder in Germany.

7:32 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Brittney Griner was able to call her dad on the plane back to the US, lawmaker says

From CNN’s Raja Razek

Brittney Griner, the American basketball released by Russia in a prisoner exchange, was able to call her dad from the plane while flying home, according to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

"I have spoken with a parent, and he was eagerly waiting for a call which was arranged, and so she was able to in midair call her dad. And I can assure you that made him more than ecstatic," Jackson Lee, who represents Texas' 18th Congressional District, told CNN.

"He is a veteran, which is what we kept saying as we pushed for the negotiations, that here is a veteran whose daughter has been taken by one the worst leaders in the world. So, he is happy obviously. They all want to see her and might even want to see her back here at home, but I know that was a happy phone reunion to hear his daughter's voice," she said.
5:21 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Infrastructure and military among priorities amid energy crunch in Ukraine, prime minister says

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

As Ukraine grapples with an energy crisis, the country will have to set priorities for electricity supply, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said.

"The first priority is critical infrastructure, in particular water and heat supply facilities and hospitals," Shmyhal told a government meeting. "The second priority is the military-industrial complex — facilities that work for the defense of the state. The principle, 'Everything for the front,' remains absolutely unchanged."

He said the third priority is businesses that produce essential products — for example, bakeries and dairies. And the residential sector was fourth.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, CEO of state electricity generator Ukrenergo, said that repairs were continuing after the last wave of Russian missile attacks on Monday.

Kudrytskyi said substations in southern Ukraine and power plants were damaged.

"Several power plants were forced to stop generating electricity after the damage. Now we are gradually trying to restore generation at thermal power plants, to bring them to the levels that existed on the eve of the last attack."

Kudrytskyi said that since Oct. 10, more than 1,000 heavy missiles and drones have been fired at energy infrastructure facilities. The major difficulties with electricity supply were currently in the Odesa region, Kherson region, and Kharkiv region.

Nuclear generation has provided a little more than half of Ukraine's needs in the recent past but Kudrytskyi said said the country needed other types of energy generation.

"There is not a single thermal power plant in Ukraine that was not damaged by the attacks," he said. "Similarly, almost all hydroelectric power plants have suffered some damage and have a limited ability to generate electricity."

He said as repairs continued, he hoped the country could transition to planned outages in the next few days. Much of Ukraine has also suffered emergency power cuts in recent weeks.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said more Russian targeting of infrastructure could be expected, and the energy supply might also be affected by heavy frosts.

"Ukraine has already received power equipment worth millions of euros. Our task today is not only to use the equipment for rapid restoration works but also to form a stock of equipment that may be urgently needed after the next shelling," he said.

3:59 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Catch up: Here's what you need to know about Russia's war in Ukraine today

From CNN staff

WNBA star Brittney Griner arrived at a Texas Army medical center Friday for a routine evaluation after she was released from Russian detention in a prisoner swap. 

And in Ukraine, some critical infrastructure for electricity is “totally destroyed” according to the country’s infrastructure minister. 

If you're just reading in now, here are the latest developments: 

  • Prisoner swap concerns: The Pentagon said Thursday that “there is a concern” Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was released from prison in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, may return to the illicit international arms trade.
  • Ukraine destruction: About half of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure for electricity has been “damaged more,” with some deemed “totally destroyed” by the country’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov. As for the country's energy, state supplier Ukrenergo maintains that the situation “remains difficult but under control."
  • Fighting in Ukraine: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday "the frontline situation remains very difficult in the key areas of Donbas — Bakhmut, Soledar, Mariinka, Kreminna." There's been heavy fighting in Donetsk for months, and the city has suffered extensive destruction.
  • Potential doctrine change: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday at a news conference that Russia may abandon its current doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. It's the second time this week Putin has floated the possibility.
  • Ukrainian aide: The Pentagon announced Friday that an additional $275 million in security assistance for Ukraine has been approved. According to the Defense Department, the US has provided more than $19 billion in aid to Ukraine since the start of the war in February. 
4:27 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Zelensky says frontline situation in east is "very difficult" as Ukrainian forces repel Russian assaults

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

(Office of the Ukrainian Presidency)
(Office of the Ukrainian Presidency)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged Friday that the military situation in parts of eastern Ukraine was "very difficult" but said Ukrainian forces continued to resist Russian attacks.

In his daily video address, Zelensky said, "The frontline situation remains very difficult in the key areas of Donbas — Bakhmut, Soledar, Mariinka, Kreminna."

The four towns are on the frontlines in Donetsk and Luhansk, which have moved little in the last three months.

"There is no living place left on the ground in these areas that is undamaged by shells and fire," Zelensky said. "The occupiers have actually destroyed Bakhmut — another city of Donbas, which the Russian army turned into scorched ruins."

Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were holding the front, repelling attacks and inflicting "tangible losses on the enemy in response to the hell that came to Ukraine under the Russian flag."

Situation on the frontline: There's been heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk for months. The city has suffered extensive destruction, as have dozens of settlements along the front lines in Donetsk.

Earlier Friday, an adviser to the president's office, Oleksiy Arestovych, said the Russians were making an unprecedented push towards Bakhmut. He also said that the situation around nearby Soledar "has worsened a little" with the Russians closing in on a village near an important highway.

In the Luhansk direction, Arestovych talked about dynamic front lines in which each side goes on the attack. But he said that at present, it was the Russians on the offensive, "meaning we are holding defenses."

2:24 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Russia demanded a spy held in Germany be freed in exchange for Paul Whelan

From Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood, Sean Lyngaas and Jennifer Hansler

Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow in 2019.
Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow in 2019. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Russia refused to release Paul Whelan alongside Brittney Griner unless a former colonel from Russia’s domestic spy currently in German custody was also released as part of any prisoner swap, US officials told CNN, even as the US offered up the names of several other Russian prisoners in US custody that they would be willing to trade.

The US was unable to deliver on the request for the ex-colonel, Vadim Krasikov, because he is serving out a life sentence for murder in Germany. 

CNN first reported exclusively in August that the Russians had requested that Krasikov be released along with Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence in the US, in exchange for Whelan and Griner. 

US officials made quiet inquiries to Germany about whether they might be willing to include Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN earlier this year. But ultimately, the US was not able to secure Krasikov’s release. 

The German government was not willing to seriously consider including Krasikov — who had assassinated a Georgian citizen in broad daylight in Berlin in 2019 — in a potential trade, the German source said.  

The US made several other offers to the Russians, sources said, to get them to agree to include Whelan in the swap. Among the names floated by the US was Alexander Vinnik, a Russian national extradited to the US in August on allegations of money laundering, hacking and extortion. 

The US also offered to trade Roman Seleznev, a convicted Russian cyber-criminal currently serving a 14-year sentence in the US, sources said. 

A lawyer for Seleznev did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Frédéric Bélot, a lawyer who represented Vinnik in France before his extradition to the US, told CNN Friday that he was not aware of any current discussions between Moscow and Washington over including Vinnik in a potential prisoner swap. 

1:44 p.m. ET, December 9, 2022

Putin floats possibility that Russia may abandon doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons

From CNN's Tim Lister

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on December 9.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting at the Congress Hall in Bishkek on December 9. (Sergei Bobylyob/AFP/Getty Images)

For the second time this week, President Vladimir Putin has floated the possibility that Russia may formally change its current doctrine that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. 

Putin noted that United States’ policy was not to exclude the possibility of a “disarming” nuclear strike. 

“They have it in their strategy, in the documents it is spelled out – a preventive blow. We don't. We, on the other hand, have formulated a retaliatory strike in our strategy," Putin said.

Even if Russia were to retaliate immediately on seeing the launch of nuclear missiles towards it, Putin said, “This means that the fall of the warheads of enemy missiles on the territory of the Russian Federation is inevitable – they will still fall.” 

“So if we're talking about this disarming strike, then maybe think about adopting the best practices of our American partners and their ideas for ensuring their security. We're just thinking about it. No one was shy when they talked about it out loud in previous times and years," he added. “If a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the theory of a preventive strike, and we do not, then this still makes us think about those threats that are posed to us.” 

Putin was speaking at a news conference in Bishkek. He described the preemptive nuclear strike as “applied to the control points, deprive the enemy of these control systems and so on,” implying that it could even prevent a retaliatory strike. 

Some background: On Wednesday, Putin acknowledged that the conflict is “going to take a while,” as he also warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war.

“As for the idea that Russia wouldn't use such weapons first under any circumstances, then it means we wouldn't be able to be the second to use them either — because the possibility to do so in case of an attack on our territory would be very limited," he said Wednesday.

Putin’s comments come as the war enters winter, with Russia continuing to shell eastern and southern parts of Ukraine – and facing attacks on its own soil.

Biden administration officials have previously said that Moscow has been warned at the highest levels of the consequences for use of nuclear weapon in the war.