December 12, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Aditi Sangal and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 12:50 a.m. ET, December 13, 2022
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2:41 a.m. ET, December 12, 2022

Ukraine's counteroffensive will resume after ground freezes, defense minister says

From CNN's Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Sunday said Ukrainian forces will resume “active counteroffensive actions” when the ground freezes and “becomes firmer for easier passage of equipment”, at a press conference with his Swedish counterpart, Defense Minister Pal Jonson, in Odesa.

"The weather conditions, the transition from a dry autumn to a not-yet-freezing winter...we encountered rain and very difficult conditions for attacks from either side. Because the soil is wet, and wheeled vehicles can hardly pass through,” Reznikov said. “I think this decrease in activity is due to weather conditions.” 

Reznikov also vowed that “the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not intend to stop.” 

“Therefore, we are taking advantage of the moment when the ground becomes firmer,” he continued.” I am convinced that we will continue our counterattacks, the campaign to liberate our territories." 

The Defense Minister called Ukraine's plan "very simple.” “It is the liberation of all temporarily-occupied territories of Ukraine as they were in 1991, when Ukraine's borders were internationally recognized," he said. 

Reznikov said he believes Russians "are fighting civilians in order to persuade the Ukrainian government to start negotiating on Russia’s terms, but they will not succeed in it."

3:28 a.m. ET, December 12, 2022

Biden and Zelensky speak by phone to discuss recent US assistance for air defense

From CNN's Sam Fossum and Jack Forrest

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with US President Joe Biden from his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 12.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with US President Joe Biden from his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on December 12. (President of Ukraine)

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on Sunday to discuss Russia’s invasion and recent US efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses.

Zelensky thanked Biden for an additional $275 million in security assistance, which the Pentagon announced Friday, as well as for the wider and “unprecedented” US support of Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression, according to a statement published on the website of Ukraine’s Presidency.

The package announced last week includes weapons and artillery rounds, as well as equipment to help Ukraine boost its air defense.

“(Biden) reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to continue providing Ukraine with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance, holding Russia accountable for its war crimes and atrocities, and imposing costs on Russia for its aggression,” the White House said in a statement.

Zelensky said the “unprecedented defense and financial assistance” from the US helped “not only to succeed on the battlefield,” but also to “maintain the stability of our nation’s economy,” according to the Ukrainian statement.

He told the American president that “Russian missile terror” has led to the destruction of about 50% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, while thanking the US for allocating aid specifically for the reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy systems.

Biden also highlighted the $53 million package announced late last month to support Ukraine’s electrical system as it faces a barrage of attacks from Russia, according to the White House statement.

Read more here.

11:26 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Trump says he rejected deal to free American held in Russia since 2018

From CNN's Kristen Holmes

Former US President Donald Trump on Sunday said he turned down a deal with Russia while he was in office to free detained American Paul Whelan in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. 

Whelan has been held in Moscow since 2018, when Trump was President.

On his social media platform, Trump said he “wouldn’t have made the deal for a hundred people in exchange for someone who has killed untold numbers of people with his arms deals,” referring to Bout.

Bout was freed by the United States last week in a prisoner exchange for basketball star Brittney Griner — a deal Trump called “crazy and bad.”

Without explaining how, Trump added that he “would have gotten Paul [Whelan] out.”

On Sunday, Fiona Hill, a former national security official under Trump, said a deal to exchange Bout for Whelan was a possibility during his tenure.

“[Trump] was not particularly interested in Paul’s case in the way that one would have thought he would be,” Hill told CBS.

7:42 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Ukraine launches missile attack on Russian-occupied Melitopol, explosions reported in Donetsk and Crimea

From CNN's Josh Pennington, Julia Kesaieva, Tim Lister and Mariya Knight

Multiple explosions have been reported in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine, in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and in annexed Crimea — including at a Russian military barracks.

The explosions in Melitopol came amid reports from officials on both sides that Ukraine had launched a missile attack on the city on Saturday, while Russian state media said 20 missiles hit the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic on Sunday morning.

Separately, reports also emerged of multiple explosions in Russian-annexed Crimea, including at a military barracks in Sovietske.

Melitopol’s Moscow-installed administrators said four missiles hit the city, killing two and injuring 10, while Melitopol’s mayor reported several explosions, including at a church occupied by Russian forces.

However, Ukrainian officials have not commented on the explosions in Crimea or in the Donetsk People’s Republic and CNN is unable to verify the cause of the blasts or the extent of the damage.

Read more here.

3:31 a.m. ET, December 12, 2022

Eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut is "holding on" as fighting rages all around it, military says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian artillerymen from the 24th brigade load an ammunition inside of a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer at a position along the front line in the vicinity of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on December 10.
Ukrainian artillerymen from the 24th brigade load an ammunition inside of a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer at a position along the front line in the vicinity of Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on December 10. (Ihor Tkachov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's forces are clinging to the eastern town of Bakhmut as fighting rages all around it, the military said. 

“Bakhmut is Ukraine. Bakhmut is standing, Bakhmut is holding on,” a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Ukraine wrote on Telegram. 

Speaking about Russian troops, the Ukrainian military said: “You have not entered anywhere, you will not enter anywhere. You will never take Bakhmut.” 

The military added: “No matter what they say, no matter what they write, Bakhmut was, is and will be Ukraine.” 

Some context: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this week that the situation is very difficult for his troops along the front line in the country's Donbas region.

Bakhmut is located in Donetsk, which is part of the Donbas and was among the four territories of Ukraine annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in violation of international law.

8:09 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

Situation in Odesa is "controlled, although not easy" amid power outage, mayor says

From CNN's Mia Alberti

Power and water supplies are gradually being restored around the key port of Odesa after the region was hit by drone strikes, the city's Mayor Hennadii Trukhanov said in a statement on Telegram.

The number of people without power in the region decreased from 1.5 million on Saturday to 300,000 on Sunday.

"The situation is quite controlled, although not easy," he said.

Trukhanov said his administration is re-launching pumping stations and delivering water by truck to zones where shortages continue. Regarding power supply and heating, the official said 43 out of 140 boiler houses are still not working. 

"Power engineers are working to ensure that the electricity returns to the homes of Odesa residents as soon as possible," the mayor said.

The head of Odesa regional state administration, Maksym Marchenko, said in a statement that "power is gradually returning to Odesa".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that the damage was done by Iranian-made drones, which Russia launched overnight Friday into Saturday.

Why Odesa's stability is so important: The port of Odesa is Ukraine's key to exporting vital food products, including through its "Grain from Ukraine" initiative, which is aimed at addressing the global hunger crisis.

7:28 p.m. ET, December 11, 2022

US hostage affairs official details Brittney Griner's flight back to US

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The top US hostage affairs official on Sunday reflected on conducting the prisoner swap that led to Brittney Griner’s release, saying the WNBA star immediately thanked the crew returning her to the United States.

“When she finally got on to the US plane, I said, ‘Brittney, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here’s your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We’ll give you your space,’” Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“And she said, ‘Oh no. I’ve been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk. But first of all, who are these guys?’ And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands and asked about them and got their names, making a personal connection with them. It was really amazing,” Carstens recalled. “And then later on, on an 18 hour flight, she probably spent 12 hours just talking and we talked about everything under the sun.”

Carstens, who led the mission to the UAE, provided CNN with new details about Griner’s trip home. Griner, who he described as “an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person, but above all, authentic,” seemed healthy and full of energy during the trip.

She was given a sense, he said, that she would be going home that day, and it felt real the moment he was able to board the other plane and tell her that “on behalf of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, I’m here to take you home.”

Read more here.