December 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine and Zelensky news

By Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Hannah Strange, Sophie Tanno, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 11:14 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
38 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
12:56 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky has arrived in the US 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and MJ Lee

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in the United States, a source familiar with his travels tells CNN. 

Zelensky landed at Joint Base Andrews, a separate source familiar said.

He will visit the Oval Office this afternoon for extended talks with US President Joe Biden, who will announce he is sending nearly $2 billion in additional security assistance to Ukraine, including a sophisticated new air defense system.

The two will convene a White House news conference before Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in prime time.


1:03 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Tight security enforced around Zelensky’s US trip, source says

From CNN’s Matthew Chance

Tight security has been enforced around the short visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the US amid concerns that Russia wants to incapacitate the president, a source close to the Ukrainian leader told CNN on Wednesday.

According to the source, because of that ongoing threat, senior top government officials as well as embassy staff in the US were not informed about the schedule of Zelensky’s visit.

The source added that Zelensky had wanted to travel to the US for a few months, but certain factors had to be considered.

According to the source, the military risk had to be calculated to allow the Ukrainian president to make the short overseas trip without jeopardizing the military situation in the country. 

Scheduling also had to be worked out with the White House to assess availability for it to happen, the source added.

The source told CNN that Zelensky did not want to travel if there had not been a significant development in the bilateral relationship between Ukraine and the United States. After confirmation of the Biden administration’s plan to send a new defense assistance package to Ukraine — which includes the Patriot missile defense systems — Zelensky viewed it as a major shift in the relationship between the two allies.

12:37 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

US secretary of state: Patriot air defense system included in $1.85 billion security assistance for Ukraine

Form CNN's Kylie Atwood

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 12.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 12. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including the first transfer of the Patriot missile defense system.

“Pursuant to a delegation of authority from the President, today I am authorizing our twenty-eighth drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine since August 2021. This $1 billion drawdown will provide Ukraine with expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities, as well as additional munitions and critical equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself on the battlefield,” Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken added that the Pentagon will also announce $850 million of new security assistance for Ukraine today. His statement followed a similar statement from the White House, all coming the same day as President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington. 

The top US diplomat said that this new support comes as the Kremlin “has tried and failed to wipe Ukraine off the map” and is now seeking to “weaponize winter” with strikes on infrastructure.

The Patriot system is an advanced long-range air defense system that is highly effective at intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles. 

“Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems,” Blinken said. 

Blinken reiterated that the US will continue “to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, so that Kyiv can continue to defend itself and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table when the time comes.”

11:50 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Kyiv residents are optimistic as Zelensky makes surprise trip to Washington

From Svitlana Vlasova and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first wartime trip overseas comes after 10 months of relentless Russian attacks.

But Ukrainians in Kyiv are cautiously optimistic that the visit to the US — announced just hours before Zelensky was due to arrive in Washington, DC — could boost Ukraine's efforts and send a signal to the world.

“It’s (a) very unexpected visit for us. And the expectations are really high,” Natalia Dmytieva said while playing with her grandson in a Kyiv playground that was hit by a Russian missile strike in October.

Natalia Dmytieva playing with her grandson in a Kyiv playground.
Natalia Dmytieva playing with her grandson in a Kyiv playground. (Svitlana Vlasova/CNN)

“This is not the war anymore; this is terrorism,” she said of Russia’s repeated attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid. “Ukraine shouldn’t live in darkness.”

“The world is preparing for Christmas holidays, but we are not able to do the same this year,” she said. “It’s so difficult to explain to children why we don’t have a tree, why we can’t have fun as being shown on TV,” she told CNN.

An officer in the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces who declined to provide his name added that he was “pleasantly surprised” by news of the visit.

“Probably the importance of the visit is so high that he decided to do it personally. So I welcome it,” he said. 

The officer hoped that Zelensky used the trip to keep global attention on the conflict. “If I were the president, I would say, 'Imagine if Hitler could be stopped at the first stages'" of World War II. “We are fighting not only for our freedom, but also for theirs.”

Ruslan Zakharchenko, a law student, praised Zelensky for leading Ukraine’s war response for 10 uninterrupted months. “He stayed here in the most difficulties time and never left us,” he said.

But he said Zelensky’s departure to go to the US is a “justified step” in shoring up Washington’s support.

“The aim should be ... to win in this war,” he added. “In order to achieve this, we need fast delivery of weapon and military equipment.”

Several Kyiv residents said they hoped the US would commit to send more weapons to Ukraine, bolster its air defenses and pursue even stronger punishments against Russia. 

Yet while some residents are hopeful, others said the trip is unlikely to mark a turning point.

Andriy in Kyiv.
Andriy in Kyiv. (Svitlana Vlasova/CNN)

“We shouldn’t expect anything from the United States,” said Andriy, who previously worked with the Ukrainian military and declined to provide his last name. “The worst thing is to hope for some assistance and to be disappointed when it doesn’t come.”

“Zelensky may want something that USA don’t want to give us, or vice versa,” he said.

10:59 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Analysis: How Biden's expected $1.8 billion weapons deal could impact the war in Ukraine

Analysis from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh

MIM-104 Patriot short-range anti-aircraft missile systems for defense against aircraft, cruise missiles and medium-range tactical ballistic missiles at Rzeszow Airport, Poland, on July 24.
MIM-104 Patriot short-range anti-aircraft missile systems for defense against aircraft, cruise missiles and medium-range tactical ballistic missiles at Rzeszow Airport, Poland, on July 24. (Christophe Gateau/picture alliance/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden is expected to announce an additional $1.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the White House. The significant boost in aid is expected to be headlined by the Patriot missile defense systems that are included in the package, a US official told CNN.

Details of the expected weapons deal: There are two key headline deliverables: first, the Patriot missile defense systems. Complex, accurate, and expensive, they have been described as the US’s “gold standard” of air defense. NATO preciously guards them, and they require the personnel who operate them – almost 100 in a battalion for each weapon – to be properly trained.

The second are precision-guided munitions for Ukrainian jets. Ukraine, and Russia, largely are equipped with munitions that are “dumb” – fired roughly toward a target. Ukraine has been provided with more and more Western standard precision artillery and missiles, like Howitzers and HIMARS respectively.

What difference could it make to the war? These two headline packages alone could impact the course of the war. Russia’s most potent threat now is the constant bombardment of energy infrastructure. It is making winter colder and unbearable for some, plunging cities into darkness of up 12 hours a day and sometimes longer, in the hope of sapping high Ukrainian morale.

Patriot air defense systems could intercept a large number of Russia’s missiles and attack drones – although Ukraine already claims a high success rate; on Monday, for example, it said 30 out of 35 missiles had been stopped. The Patriot is also a sign NATO’s best technology is on the table to help Ukraine win the war — or at least hold Russia back.

Read more — including about Russia's expected reaction — here.

11:12 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

US eyeing new "aggressor state" label for Russia instead of "state sponsor of terrorism," sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood and Kristin Wilson 

The Biden administration has been working with Congress over the last several months on legislation that would formally designate Russia as an “aggressor state,” multiple sources familiar with the deliberations tell CNN, and lawmakers are waiting to see if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky endorses the proposal when he addresses Congress in person on Wednesday night.

If he does, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may introduce the legislation as a standalone bill this week, sources familiar with the deliberations told CNN. But it is unclear how both chambers could get it passed before they gavel out for recess, which would mark the end of the 117th Congress. Republicans take over the House chamber when Congress returns in January. 

The “aggressor state” label is less hawkish than the “state sponsor of terrorism” label that many lawmakers, including Pelosi, had been pushing the Biden administration to impose on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. 

But the White House has long resisted designating Russia as a state sponsor of terror, citing the negative consequences such a label could have on the ongoing diplomacy between the US and Russia on issues like prisoner swaps, the United Nations-brokered deal to allow grain out of Ukraine, cross-border aid to Syria and other humanitarian efforts. 

“We’re working with Congress right now on legislation that would help us get around some of the challenges of using the 'state sponsor of terrorism' designation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a CNN interview earlier this month, adding that the label has “some unintended consequences.”

Sources familiar with the deliberations said the administration shared a white paper with lawmakers and staffers in the fall outlining potential solutions, including the aggressor state designation. 

A senior administration official confirmed to CNN that “we are in contact with Congress on new accountability mechanisms it is working on – ones that would not come with the unintended, harmful global consequences of an SST designation and actually address the case of Russia’s atrocities and aggression in an effective way.”

A draft of the proposal obtained by CNN calls for imposing tough new sanctions on senior Russian government officials that the president determines are complicit in “aggressor state” tactics, including undermining Ukraine’s democratic processes, threatening its territorial sovereignty, misappropriating Ukraine’s assets and asserting authority over any Ukrainian territory without Kyiv’s authorization. 

Why some are opposed: But Republican lawmakers and congressional aides opposed to the proposed legislation expressed concern that it would give the administration greater leeway to remove sanctions unilaterally should Russia signal an openness to peace talks with Ukraine, and they complained that the label does not have any real teeth to hold Russia accountable.  

“The proposed ‘Aggressor State’ designation is a poor substitute for what Ukraine has called for: a State Sponsor of Terror designation for Russia,” Republican Rep. Michael McCaul said in a tweet on Tuesday. “This new designation fails to hold Putin accountable for his heinous war crimes and unprovoked war against Ukraine.” 

The aides told CNN that GOP staffers have told Zelensky’s office that they believe the designation is inconsequential.

10:47 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

US lawmakers may miss Zelensky's speech because of weather and flights, senator says

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a rally with health care providers and the March Fourth Coalition outside the U.S. Capitol on December 7.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a rally with health care providers and the March Fourth Coalition outside the U.S. Capitol on December 7. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech may not be well attended by senators who had been planning to leave town later today assuming they can get an agreement to move to final passage on the $1.7 trillion omnibus.

If the votes happen before Zelensky's speech, many senators will be racing to catch their flights home to avoid the winter storm barreling into much of the US.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who is co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and is the No. 2 in his caucus, told CNN that he is uncertain if he can attend. 

Durbin indicated he was not looped into the planning of Zelensky's visit to the Capitol, which was coordinated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

"No indication that this would be happening," Durbin said. "And I really feel bad because I admire this man so much and he’s coming at a very challenging time."

Durbin said it's a "shame" many senators may not be able to attend.

"And I’m struggling myself with the reality of getting home and struggling of trying to attend something like this. It depends on the schedule in the Senate more than anything."

It's also unclear how many House members will be in attendance. The House has not been in session this week until Wednesday, so many members will either be traveling back to Washington today, may wait to come back to the Capitol tomorrow or may decide to vote by proxy and stay home to avoid the snowstorm.

10:01 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

How Zelensky's visit to the US will unfold today

Here's the expected timing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on Wednesday:

  • 2 p.m. ET: Biden welcomes Zelensky to the White House
  • 2:30 p.m. ET: Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Zelensky
  • 4:30 p.m. ET: Biden hosts a joint press conference with Zelensky
  • 6:15 p.m. ET: Zelensky arrives on Capitol Hill
  • 7:30 p.m. ET: Zelensky gives an address to a joint meeting of Congress

Zelensky is currently en route to the US on an American military aircraft. It is Zelensky's first overseas visit since Russia invaded his country in late February.

9:58 a.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Putin says Russia's mobilization effort revealed "problems"

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said that mobilization efforts must be modernized and digitalized after the "partial mobilization" in the fall revealed issues. 

"The partial mobilization carried out revealed certain problems, it is well known to everyone, which should be promptly addressed,” Putin said during a meeting with Russian defense chiefs on 2023 objectives. 

“I know that the necessary measures are being taken, but still we need to pay attention to this and build this system in a modern way. First of all, we need to modernize the system of military commissariats," he said. Those are regional offices in charge of recruitment.

On Tuesday, Putin signed a decree to create a working group that will coordinate various authorities in handling issues related to mobilization.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said there is no need for a second phase of mobilization. The initial phase ended in October.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also proposed raising the conscription age for Russian mandatory military service from 18 to 21 years while increasing the limit to 30 years. 

Currently, Russian men aged between 18-27 can be conscripted for mandatory military service. Shoigu also called for the digitalization of enlistment offices.