December 20, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Eliza Mackintosh, Jack Guy, Rhea Mogul, Aditi Sangal and Leinz Vales, CNN

Updated 12:46 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022
5 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
6:53 a.m. ET, December 20, 2022

Putin makes rare visit to ally Belarus, as the countries conduct joint military exercises

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh, Radina Gigova and Uliana Pavlova

Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands before a press conference in Minsk on Monday.
Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands before a press conference in Minsk on Monday. (Stringer/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare trip to Belarus on Monday to meet with the country's president, close regional ally Aleksandr Lukashenko, who backed Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and is under increasing pressure to provide more support to the war effort.

In a statement after their talks in Minsk, the pair said they had agreed to continue joint military exercises and cooperate closely in the military sphere, exchanging and developing equipment and weapons, to protect "the safety of our countries," without putting a fine point on what that would look like.

Putin added that "such measures are necessary" because of the tense situation "on the outer borders of the Union state [of Russia and Belarus]." But neither leader mentioned Ukraine in their public statements.

Both emphasized the challenges of Western economic sanctions pressure, underlining the need to support each other. Putin said he expected trade between the two countries to reach a record this year, at the equivalent of $40 billion.

Lukashenko said that, despite "some rough edges," Belarus and Russia would find answers to all threats; and expressed the hope that the West will "listen to the voice of reason" so a dialogue on security could resume.

Some background: Lukashenko allowed Putin to use Belarus, which shares a 674-mile border with Ukraine, as a staging ground for his invasion. In early February, Russia sent some 30,000 troops ostensibly for joint military exercises with Belarus — the biggest deployment to the former Soviet state since the end of the Cold War. Weeks later, when Putin declared his “special military operation” on February 24, he sent missiles, paratroopers and a huge armored column of soldiers rolling south from Belarusian soil.

Unraveling the role that Belarus has played in the Ukraine war has taken on new urgency since Lukashenko announced in October that Russian soldiers would deploy to the country to form a new, “regional grouping” and carry out new joint exercises with Belarusian troops, raising fears that he might draw the country more directly into the conflict.

Putin has been laying the groundwork to transform Belarus into a vassal state for some time. After a rigged presidential election in 2020 cemented Lukashenko’s long reign, triggering widespread pro-democracy protests, he clung to power with the help of Putin. Russia backed the ruthless crackdown on demonstrations, and gave Belarus a $1.5 billion lifeline to evade the brunt of sanctions, but it came with strings attached.

Beholden to the Kremlin, Lukashenko has supported Russia’s military actions from the sidelines, so far avoiding sending his own troops into the fray. But he may be forced to shift his position, as Putin racks up losses.

2:10 a.m. ET, December 20, 2022

Ukraine struggles to restore power amid outages lasting hours and months

From CNN's Tim Lister and Denis Lapin

A long-exposure photo shows a view of a road in Kyiv during a power outage on Monday.
A long-exposure photo shows a view of a road in Kyiv during a power outage on Monday. (Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Across Ukraine, power engineers are engaged in their daily battle to restore electricity to homes and public buildings after Russian missile and drone attacks — but they are also tackling much longer outages.

In the far north of Ukraine, the villagers of Tsirkuny in Kharkiv region have electricity for the first time since the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February. The regional power company said 100 consumers in the village are back online.

"As a result of hostilities, the damage to power grids and equipment here is enormous," the company said. "Transformer substations, poles, wires are damaged. The work is also complicated by the large amount of work on demining the territory. We have already replaced two power transformers, which allowed us to supply the first consumers. Another 10 transformers need to be replaced."

Elsewhere, more recent damage is being tackled.

Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia military administration, told a briefing that the situation in the region is currently difficult. 

"Our power engineers have managed to restore the basic vital systems. People have warm radiators, water supply, the sewage system works. Electricity is supplied according to schedules," Starukh said.

"Critical issues have been resolved, except for the destroyed infrastructure, which requires time to restore. Equipment needs to be purchased and installed, it will take some time."

The energy crunch is exacerbated by the lack of nuclear generation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where all six units are out of operation. "They are in partially cold and partially hot shutdown mode," Starukh said.

The plant has been occupied by the Russians since early March. Russian-appointed officials have repeatedly declared plans to connect the plant to the Russian grid through Crimea.

Earlier Monday, state electricity company Ukrenergo said that "during the whole night, enemy UAVs have been trying at breaking through to power facilities across the country."

Several facilities had been hit, it said, with the most difficult situations in the central, eastern and Dnipro regions. 

7:54 p.m. ET, December 19, 2022

Moscow says it shot down 4 US-made missiles over southern Russia

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Sebastian Shukla

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Monday that its forces had shot down four US-made anti-radiation missiles over a region in southern Russia bordering Ukraine, one of the first such claims to be made by Moscow since it launched the war nine months ago.

“Four American anti-radar ‘HARM’ missiles were shot down in the airspace of the Belgorod region,” said Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry, in his daily briefing.

The "HARM," an air-to-surface, high-speed anti-radiation missile, is designed to "seek and destroy" radar-equipped air defense systems, according to the US Air Force.

Separately, on Sunday, shelling struck the Belgorod region, hitting residential and industrial buildings, according to its governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, who said one person had died and 10 more were injured in the attacks.

“Yesterday was an extremely difficult day. There was shelling from the Ukrainian Armed Forces," said Gladkov in a post on the messaging app Telegram on Monday.  

7:53 p.m. ET, December 19, 2022

US Patriot missile defense system "would help us a lot," says Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Seb Shukla

Ukraine would be better able to defend itself from drone and missile attacks by Russian forces if it were provided with fighter aircraft and Patriot missile defense systems, according to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force.

Speaking on Ukrainian television on Monday following a wave of drone attacks on the country, Yurii Ihnat said that “F-15 and F-16 aircrafts could effectively fight the threats that we have today — missile attacks and attacks by Shaheds (Iranian-made drones used by Russian forces)."

"Fighter aircraft can effectively destroy such targets," he added. "Aircraft, aircraft platforms, Patriot systems would help us a lot."

Some background: Last week, CNN exclusively revealed that the US was finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.

Ukraine has been calling for the US to send the Patriot, the US' most advanced ground-based air defense system, which is highly effective at intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles, as it comes under a barrage of Russian attacks that have destroyed key infrastructure across the country.

It would be the most effective long-range defensive weapons system sent to Ukraine, and officials say it will help secure airspace for NATO nations in eastern Europe.

7:32 p.m. ET, December 19, 2022

Russian drones attack Kyiv as Moscow takes another swipe at Ukraine’s power grid

From CNN's Maria Kostenko, Rob Picheta and Seb Shukla

At least two people were hurt and key infrastructure has been damaged in a Russian drone assault on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the latest attempt by Moscow to ravage Ukraine’s power supplies.

Explosions and air raid sirens were heard around the city early Monday, with alerts sounding from 2 a.m. until after 5 a.m. local time.

The Ukrainian Air Force claimed to have shot down 30 out of 35 drones launched from Sunday night into Monday, but those that got around air defenses damaged power systems and civilian targets.

The Iranian-made, self-detonating Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 drones were launched from the “eastern coast of the Sea of Azov,” the Air Force said in a statement on Facebook.

Many of the drones targeted Kyiv, according to the city’s military administration, which said 18 out of 23 spotted in the sky over the capital were intercepted. There were no deaths recorded, but authorities said that one critical infrastructure facility was hit. Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said that emergency services were working to limit the consequences of the attack.

Read more here.