Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
December 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq and Ed Upright, CNN
Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid are targeting the entire population, casting people into darkness and cold, and pushing the US closer to sending the Patriot missile defense system long sought by Ukraine’s government.
Sending the Patriot missiles would be seen as an escalation by the US, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova added Thursday.
“Earlier, many experts, including those overseas, questioned the rationality of such a step which would lead to an escalation of the conflict and increase the risk of directly dragging the US army into combat,” Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow.
The Patriot system is expensive and complicated and requires intensive training for the multiple people it takes to operate it, but could help the country guard against Russian attacks that have left millions without power.
Asked Thursday about Russian warnings that the Patriot system would be “provocative,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said those comments would not influence US aid to Ukraine.
“I find it ironic and very telling that officials from a country that brutally attacked its neighbor in an illegal and unprovoked invasion … that they would choose to use words like provocative to describe defensive systems that are meant to save lives and protect civilians,” Ryder told reporters.
“Despite Russia’s propaganda to portray themselves as victims, it’s important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here,” he said.
However, he added, “The US is not at war with Russia, and we do not seek conflict. Our focus is on providing Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself.”
Ryder also said the US would amp up its training of Ukrainian armed forces with exercises in Europe.
Congress has passed a bipartisan $858 billion defense bill that would authorize $858 billion in national defense funding, which includes $800 million in support for Ukraine.
The Senate voted Thursday to pass the massive National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, with bipartisan support. It follows the House's bipartisan approval of the legislation last week.
The legislation now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The NDAA extends and modifies the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, as well as authorizes $800 million in funding in fiscal year 2023, which is $500 million more than was contained in last year’s defense bill.
The program provides funding for the federal government to pay industry to produce weapons and security assistance to send to Ukraine, rather than drawing directly from current US stockpiles of weapons.
The funding authorization is intended to supplement additional money for the initiative expected in a future federal spending package, according to Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who wrote the program into law in 2015.
Also, the defense bill would expedite the delivery of munitions to Ukraine and the replenishment of associated US stockpiles by streamlining acquisition requirements and authorizing multiyear procurement for certain munitions, according to the House Armed Services Committee.
One of the key concerns throughout the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been whether the industrial bases of the US and other allied nations can meet the demand required to support Ukraine.
This measure is focused on reducing bureaucratic red tape to help industry produce those weapons for Ukraine faster.
Poland’s police chief Jaroslaw Szymczyk was hospitalized with minor injuries on Wednesday after receiving a gift that exploded after his visit to Ukraine earlier this week, a statement from Poland’s Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
“Yesterday at 7:50 a.m., an explosion occurred in a room adjacent to the office of the Police Chief,” the statement said.
“During the Police Chief's working visit to Ukraine on December 11-12 this year, where he met with the heads of the Ukrainian Police and Emergency Situations Service, he received some gifts, one of which exploded.”
The statement alleged the gift came from one of the heads of Ukrainian services. CNN has reached out to Kyiv regional police and national police for comment but have not yet received a response.
The police chief was hospitalized for observation and a member of staff from the police headquarters also suffered minor injuries, but did not need hospitalization, the statement said.
The statement added that Poland has asked Ukraine to clarify what happened and a case was “immediately opened” with the prosecutor's office and corresponding services.
The incident comes after a slew of suspicious mail was sent to Ukrainian embassies in Europe, pushing Ukraine to put all of its overseas diplomatic stations under heightened security.
Kyiv’s embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Austria, and the consulates general in Naples and Krakow, have also received suspicious packages, Oleh Nikolenko, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said on Dec. 2 in a Facebook post.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia shelled Kherson more than 16 times, Thursday, and hit a Red Cross aid station.
"During another Russian shelling of Kherson today, a shell hit the Red Cross aid station. A woman — a paramedic, a volunteer — was killed. My condolences to the family... Only since the beginning of this day Russia has already shelled Kherson more than 16 times," Zelensky said during his nightly address.
The southern city was liberated by Ukrainian troops last month after eight months of occupation by Russian forces. The retreat across the Dnipro River was a major blow to Moscow as Kherson was the only regional capital Russian forces had captured since February’s invasion.
Zelensky also noted the ongoing battles in the eastern Donbas region.
"The occupants are throwing everyone and everything they have at the offensive. They cannot overcome our army, so they physically destroy every town and village so that there are no buildings, not even walls, that can be used for any defense," Zelensky said.
Social media video from Thursday night showed a large explosion light up the sky in the area of Irmino, a town in the Russian-occupied Luhansk region.
The cause of the explosion could not be confirmed, but video indicated at least two detonations, and showed a fireball reaching hundreds of feet into the air.
One local community Telegram channel said there had been multiple explosions in the area and suggested an ammunition depot had been struck.
CNN cannot confirm the location of the explosion.
Neither Ukrainian officials nor Russian-backed authorities in Luhansk have commented on the cause of the explosion.
But the Ukrainian military has made no secret of its intention to strike Russian ammunition depots and other critical military locations deep inside Luhansk as its forces try to push into the region.
It has previously said that troop concentrations, transport hubs and munitions dumps have been targeted in Luhansk.
The US will not "allow comments from Russia to dictate the security assistance" the Biden administration provides to Ukraine, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing with reporters on Thursday.
In a statement Wednesday, the Russian Embassy in Washington said a possible shipment of Patriot missile systems to Ukraine would "lead to unpredictable consequences" and threaten global security. CNN was first to report on Tuesday the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.
“I find it ironic and very telling that officials from a country that brutally attacked its neighbor in an illegal and unprovoked invasion through a campaign that is deliberately targeting and killing innocent civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, that they would choose to use words like provocative to describe defensive systems that are meant to save lives and protect civilians,” Ryder said at the briefing at the Pentagon.
Ryder reiterated Russia could de-escalate the ongoing conflict any moment if they wanted to, but they have chosen to “double down.”
“It’s important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here. And when it comes to escalation, they could de-escalate the situation today by withdrawing their forces and saving countless innocent lives, but clearly they’ve chosen to double down,” he added.
The US announced an expansion of training for Ukrainian armed forces in Europe “to include joint maneuver and combined arms operations training,” according to the Defense Department.
CNN first reported that the US was considering expanding both the type of training provided to the Ukrainian military as well as the number of forces trained.
“Combined arms maneuver training is a logical next step in our ongoing training efforts which began in 2014 to build the Ukrainian armed forces capacity,” said Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder at a news briefing.
Ryder said the program will train approximately 500 Ukrainians per month starting in January and will be conducted in Germany by US Army Europe and Africa Command’s 7th Army Training Command.
“As we move forward, we will stay flexible and adaptable based on our Ukrainian partners and the evolving situation in Ukraine,” said Ryder.
Ryder said he was “not aware” that the training would require additional US forces to be deployed.
“We have forces in place that have been conducting training, so to my knowledge, no significant increase in support,” he said.
The US had been providing this kind of training to the Ukrainian military prior to the Russian invasion, starting in 2014, according to Ryder.
“When Russia invaded, we withdrew our trainers from Ukraine, and so this is a continuation now of the training that we had previously provided,” Ryder said.
Ryder added that the training will include “live fire exercises, followed by squad, platoon and company-level training that will then culminate in battalion-level maneuver training.”
One of Ukraine's most senior military officers said that nearly 400 clashes have taken place between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the eastern regions of Ukraine this week.
Catch up on other key developments in the war:
- US issues new sanctions targeting Russians tied to Putin: US President Joe Biden's administration rolled out new sanctions on Thursday targeting Russian-appointed proxies in Ukraine, more than 20 Russian governors, and a wealthy Russian oligarch who is believed to be close with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the State Department and the Treasury Department announced on Thursday.
- Shelling wipes out energy in Kherson: The southern Ukrainian city is "completely disconnected" from power supplies amid Russian attacks, according to a local military official. Kherson has been hit with fatal shelling 86 times in the past 24 hours Yaroslav Yanushevych, regional head of the Kherson military administration, said.
- "Massive strike" on occupied Donetsk: Ukrainian forces carried out the biggest attack on the occupied Donetsk region of the country since 2014 on Thursday, according to a Russian-installed mayor. CNN cannot independently confirm Aleksey Kulemzin’s claims.
- US Patriot missile warning: Any shipment of US Patriot missiles to Ukraine could "lead to unpredictable consequences," the Russian Embassy in Washington said Wednesday, after US officials told CNN the White House is finalizing plans to bolster Ukraine's military arsenal. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Washington’s potential delivery would increase the risk of the US military’s direct involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, according to state news agency TASS.
- Possible next steps in Moscow's mobilization: Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian military's Main Operational Directorate, said Thursday that Russia is stepping up production of munitions and would likely bolster its mobilization with migrants. Hromov said Russia is increasing munitions "by reducing the quality of products, as well as by activating the conclusion of agreements with other countries."
- Russia publicizes intercontinental missile: In a further sign of the importance it attaches to its strategic nuclear deterrent, the Russian Ministry of Defense released video of a "Yars" ballistic missile loaded into a silo launcher in the Kaluga region, ahead of Russia's "Day of Strategic Missile Forces."
- Looking ahead to 2023: In a series of interviews with The Economist, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top commanders say they expect a new offensive by Russia early in the new year – but are in no mood to compromise on their ultimate goals. Zelensky repeated that Ukraine’s aim was to retrieve the land it held when it became independent in 1991 — including Crimea.