Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
In a further sign of the importance it attaches to its strategic nuclear deterrent, the Russian military has loaded a "Yars" ballistic missile into a silo launcher in the Kaluga region.
The Ministry of Defense released video to mark the event, just ahead of Russia's "Day of Strategic Missile Forces."
It said that an "intercontinental ballistic missile of the Yars complex was loaded into a silo launcher at the Kozelsky missile formation in the Kaluga region."
"The importance of this operation lies in the fact that the missile will be on combat duty as planned. The Motherland will receive another sample of nuclear missile weapons, which will allow us to solve any tasks at the strategic level," said Alexei Sokolov, commander of the Kozelsky missile formation, in a video shared by the ministry together with the statement.
Patriot defense system: The announcement of Russia's intercontinental missile installation comes after reports that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send an advanced long-range air defense system to Ukraine to help counter Moscow's attacks.
The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send an advanced long-range air defense system to Ukraine to help counter Moscow's attacks, US officials told CNN.
Here are some of the latest developments:
- "Saboteurs" take out utility substation in Russian-occupied city: The Russian-appointed head of the occupied city of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine said more than 10,000 customers are without electricity after Ukrainian "saboteurs" blew up a substation.
- Russian citizen indicted in smuggling case: The US Justice Department released an indictment that said Russian citizen Vadim Konoshchenok was arrested in Estonia last week after attempting to smuggle 20 cases of US-made sniper rifle ammunition into Russia in late November.
- Moscow targets Kyiv: President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine's air defense shot down “all 13” drones used to strike the capital on Wednesday. The assaults were “aimed at the critical infrastructure of the region and capital," according to a local official.
- American included in prisoner swap: An American named as 35-year-old Suedi Mureksezi was part of a 65-person prisoner swap in Ukraine on Wednesday, according to the Ukrainian presidential office.
- "Children are facing a bleak winter": Russian strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine have put the physical and mental health of almost all seven million children in the country "at desperate risk," UNICEF warned Wednesday.
- Russian commander cites nuclear weapons: Russia can't “defeat the NATO bloc” in Ukraine without using nuclear weapons, Commander Alexander Khodakovsky of the Russian militia in the eastern Donetsk region said on state television.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said Wednesday it had carried out searches of premises belonging to a branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in nine regions — finding Russian passports, propagandist literature and "passes of the occupiers."
Part of the church in Ukraine — which split earlier this year — remains loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate (MP).
"The Security Service completed counter-intelligence (security) measures at UOC (MP) facilities in Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, Rivne, Volyn, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Lviv, Zhytomyr and Kherson regions," the SBU said.
It said it found Russian passports, St. George's ribbons — which are popular among pro-Russian separatists — symbols of the banned pro-Russian party "Opposition Platform For Life" and "manuals for spreading enemy propaganda through the faithful" on the territory of the dioceses.
In addition, intelligence officers found books by Ivan Ilyin, who is often called "Putin's philosopher," it said.
In the village of Chornobaivka in Kherson region, the SBU said it had discovered passes of the pro-Russian occupiers during the inspection of the church premises.
It said photographs of Russian documents "on ensuring cooperation with the military commissariats of the Russian Federation" were found in the diocese of the Lviv region.
The SBU also said it had found a monk with a Russian passport and contacts in the Russian Federation on the territory of one of the monasteries of the Rivne region in western Ukraine.
"His possible involvement in intelligence and subversive activities for the benefit of the Russian special services is currently being investigated," it said.
The Lviv diocese said in a statement on Facebook that the SBU had inspected premises and that "no anti-Ukrainian items and literature were found."
The SBU has stepped up a campaign of raids against parts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in recent weeks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that if US Patriot missiles are sent to Ukraine, they would be legitimate targets for Russian forces.
But he added that the US plan had not been confirmed.
Peskov was asked by CNN if he held the same view as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has said that the missiles "would immediately become a legitimate target of our armed forces."
"Certainly," Peskov responded, in remarks later picked up by official Russian news agency TASS. But he added, "I would refrain from comment for now, though, because these are just media reports."
CNN reported exclusively Tuesday that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, with a decision possibly announced as soon as this week, according to two US officials and a senior administration official.
The Pentagon's plan still needs to be approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin before it is sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. The three officials told CNN that approval is expected.
It is not clear how many missile launchers will be sent, but a typical Patriot battery includes a radar set that detects and tracks targets, computers, power generating equipment, an engagement control station and up to eight launchers, each holding four ready-to-fire missiles.
Once the plans are finalized, the Patriots are expected to ship quickly in the coming days and Ukrainians will be trained to use them at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, officials told CNN.
Russian officials have repeatedly said that all Western systems sent to Ukraine — including the HIMARS anti-air defenses — will be targeted.
Ukrainian authorities have been seeking Patriot batteries for months but have not confirmed that the US has agreed to dispatch them. On Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said only that a meeting of the military's General Staff had talked about the "protection of the sky."
"We are constantly strengthening our air and anti-drone defense. And we are doing everything to get more modern and more powerful systems for Ukraine," he said.
CNN's Barbara Starr contributed reporting to this post.
The detention of Russian citizen Vadim Konoshchenok in Estonia at the request of the United States is "unacceptable," according to Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov, who vowed that there will be a response.
The US Justice Department released an indictment Tuesday that said Konoshchenok was arrested in Estonia last week after attempting to smuggle 20 cases of US-made sniper rifle ammunition into Russia in late November.
According to the indictment, Konoshchenok was also stopped by police at the Estonian border with thousands of additional US-made bullets, as well as “semiconductors and other electronic components,” some of which were controlled by the US government “for reasons of anti-terrorism.”
Konoshchenok, who the Justice Department believes is an officer for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), is one of a group of seven people indicted, including five Russian citizens and two US citizens. Four of the seven remain at large.
"Konoshchenok – who is suspected to be an FSB officer – would ship or physically smuggle U.S.-origin items from Estonia to Russia, including dual-use electronics, military-grade tactical ammunition and other export-controlled items," according to the statement published by the US Department of Justice.
Ivanov told Russian state media RIA Novosti on Wednesday that "we will not tolerate this, this is not the first time this has happened, this is an unacceptable practice — the detention of our citizens abroad, and every time we will respond to this."
He added the Russian side "so far has no information, except for some statements; so far no papers have been seen."
According to the 16-count indictment, the defendants were associated with two Moscow companies that worked with the FSB to purchase and smuggle sanctioned items — including semiconductors and other electronic equipment — from the US to the Russian military.
An embassy staff member in Estonia visited Konoshchenok on Wednesday, the Russian diplomatic mission in Tallin told state media RIA Novosti.
According to RIA, the Russian diplomatic mission also said that Konoshchenok has a lawyer and "denies accusations of illegal activity."
"The Estonian court has to make a decision on his possible deportation to the United States within the next 60 days," according to the statement.
CNN's Holmes Lybrand contributed reporting to this post.
US National Security Council special coordinator for communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday that any discussions on whether it’s time to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an end to the war in Ukraine should be left “to President Zelensky, not the United States,” while acknowledging that initial assessments that the war could end by year’s end seem unlikely.
“We certainly would love to see it end, if not today, then before the end of this year, which is, of course, fast approaching. I think just given what we’re seeing in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, it’s difficult to conclude that this war will be over by year’s end,” Kirby told CNN’s MJ Lee in a virtual gaggle.
He continued: “And both sides are still in violent fighting in the Donbas, particularly in and around Bakhmut – a small area comparatively speaking to some of the other battles of Ukraine over the last nine months, but very intense fighting-- and the Russians are in defensive positions all throughout the South, while the Ukrainians continue to try to press. So, there is active fighting going on right now, we would expect that that would continue for some time going forward.”
Kirby said that while military analysts have suggested winter freezes may cause a lull in skirmishes as conditions become less ideal for fighting in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, “we have no expectation that the fighting will stop in the winter months to come.”
“So, no indications, certainly no expectations that, by the year’s end, there’ll be an end of war — that doesn’t mean, however, after your word, aspiration, that we wouldn’t love to see that, it’s just that none of the indicators are pointing in that direction,” he added.
The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) said the owner of a fleet of buses in Kherson has been arrested for providing transportation to Russian troops while the region was occupied.
The SBU said in a statement that the man "provided buses to transport occupiers from Crimea to Kherson" in southern Ukraine.
It said more than 50 buses were used to transport occupying troops.
The man had later tried to leave Ukraine for Moldova but was detained as he attempted to cross the border.
"According to the investigation, the suspect is the head of a large transport company specializing in passenger transportation, in particular to the EU states. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion, he supported the invaders and ‘rearranged’ his business in favor of the aggressor state," the SBU alleged. He had also opened bank accounts in Russia, it said.
"In exchange for cooperation, the enemy promised not to interfere in his business," it said.
Security Services disclose raids: The SBU also said that it carried out raids on premises of two banned pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine: the Communist Party and "Rus Yedyna."
The raids took place in Kyiv, Dnipro and Kryvyi Rih. The SBU said that "weapons, St. George ribbons [frequently used by pro-Russian separatists] and flags of the aggressor country were found. In addition, warehouses with pro-Kremlin literature, propaganda leaflets with the symbols of the totalitarian regime of the USSR and 'manuals' of Russian propagandists were found."
The SBU alleged that "Communist Party officials planned to use the whole 'arsenal' of propaganda tools to conduct agitation and mass events in support of the enemy in case of capture of Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk region."
In recent weeks, the SBU has also stepped up raids against parts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church seen as sympathetic to Russia.
The Russian-appointed head of the occupied city of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine said more than 10,000 customers are without electricity after Ukrainian "saboteurs" blew up a substation.
Alexander Saulenko, the acting head of the administration of Berdyansk, said "the explosion of a transformer substation carried out by Ukrainian saboteurs" had taken place Tuesday night. The official said the explosive device had been planted.
Berdyansk is on the Sea of Azov, in Zaporizhzhia region.
On Monday night, a key bridge for the resupply of Russian armed forces in Melitopol — also in Zaporizhzhia — was targeted according to both Ukrainian and Russian sources.
The bridge connects the main part of the city of Melitopol to a suburb.
Ukraine's strikes in the area: Kyiv's attacks deep in occupied territory in Zaporizhzhia have grown in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military reported that Ukrainian strikes destroyed the command post of the Russian 58th Combined Arms Army in Melitopol, and further strikes against Enerhodar, Tokmak, and Hulyaipole cumulatively wounded 150 personnel and destroyed three artillery installations.
The Institute for the Study of War, which follows the conflict closely, notes "increased reports of Ukrainian strikes against Russian military assets near Melitopol within the past few days."
One Russian military blogger suggested this week that the tactic in Zaporizhzhia is reminiscent of targeting carried out by the Ukrainians against Russian forces in Kherson before the Ukrainian military advanced there last month.