December 22, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Jack Guy, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 12:23 a.m. ET, December 23, 2022
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1:20 p.m. ET, December 22, 2022

US will begin Patriot missile training for Ukrainian troops very soon, official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

U.S. Army MIM-104 Patriots, surface-to-air missile system launchers, are pictured at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland on March 24.
U.S. Army MIM-104 Patriots, surface-to-air missile system launchers, are pictured at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland on March 24. (Stringer/Reuters)

The US has trained approximately 3,100 Ukrainian troops to date on different systems, with training on the newly announced Patriot missile systems set to begin “very soon,” a senior defense official said.

Nearly half of those troops have been trained on M777 howitzers or HIMARS rocket launchers, two of the systems that have been critical to Ukrainian operations so far. Ukrainian forces have also been trained on vehicles, various forms of artillery, drones and other systems. 

The Pentagon will soon begin training Ukrainian personnel on how to operate and maintain the Patriot missile system, officially announced yesterday during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.

Though the Pentagon would not specify exactly when the training would begin or how long it would take for Ukrainians to master the complex system, a senior defense official said Wednesday it would start “very soon” and would take “several months.”

The Patriot system costs between $450 and $550 million, the Pentagon said, depending on the configuration of the platform. Each missile costs approximately $4 million.

The US will also soon start an expanded training program for Ukrainian forces, including joint maneuver and combined arms training. This program will train approximately 500 soldiers per month on larger combat operations.

12:21 p.m. ET, December 22, 2022

US believes Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group is expanding influence and took delivery of North Korean arms

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

An interior view shows PMC Wagner Centre, a project implemented by Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 4.
An interior view shows PMC Wagner Centre, a project implemented by Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 4. (Igor Russak/Reuters)

Newly downgraded US intelligence suggests the Russian mercenary group Wagner has assumed expanded influence and is recruiting convicts — including some with serious medical conditions — from prisons to supplement Moscow’s flagging military.

The group recently took delivery of arms from North Korea, a top US official said, a sign of its growing role in the war in Ukraine.

And the US believes Wagner could be locked in a power battle with the Russian military itself as it jockeys for influence with the Kremlin.

“In certain instances, Russian military officials are actually subordinate to Wagner's command,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council. “It's pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”

The revelations about the Wagner Group came a day after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s historic visit to Washington, where he thanked the United States for its military assistance and said more was needed to fend off Russian advances.

Some background: Wagner has emerged as a key player in the 10-month conflict. The group is often described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014, and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.

Kirby said the US estimates Wager currently has about 50,000 personnel deployed inside Ukraine, of which 40,00 could be convicts recruited from Russian prisons. He said the group was spending $100 million per month to fund its operations in Ukraine. 

The group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has even traveled personally to Russian prisons to recruit convicts himself to go to the front lines and fight. Some of them suffer from “serious medical conditions,” Kirby said.

“It seems as though Mr. Prigozhin is willing to just throw Russian bodies into the meat grinder, in Bakhmut. In fact, about 1,000 Wagner fighters have been killed in the fighting in just recent weeks, and we believe that 90% of those 1,000 fighters were in fact convicts,” Kirby said.

Prigozhin, who has sometimes been referred to as “Putin’s chef,” already has close ties to the Russian president. But Kirby suggested he was working to strengthen those ties through his efforts to bolster Russian forces through his mercenary recruitment.

“It's all about how good he looks to Mr. Putin, and how well he's regarded at the Kremlin,” he said. “In fact, we would go so far as to say that his influence is expanding.”

Last month, Wagner received a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea, Kirby said, an indication of how Russia and its military partners continue to seek ways around Western sanctions and export controls.

Wagner, not the Russian government, paid for the equipment. The US doesn’t believe it will significantly change the battlefield dynamic in Ukraine — but suggested North Korea could be planning to deliver further material.

11:49 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

US issues new sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

US President Joe Biden's administration rolled out new sanctions on 10 Russian naval entities after Russian operations against Ukrainian ports, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday.

“We are committed to imposing additional severe consequences on President Putin and his enablers for Russia’s unconscionable war against Ukraine. In the wake of Russian naval operations against Ukrainian ports, including those that are providing much-needed food and grain to the world, the United States today is imposing sanctions on Russian naval entities,” Blinken said. 

The entities sanctioned include companies that produce different aspects of Russia’s naval capability. One of the sanctioned companies is a battery company, Rigel, that has been a supplier to the Russian navy for more than 15 years, the US State Department said. Also sanctioned was a central institute for scientific research, Elektropribor, which produces a navigation system for Russian combat ships. 

“The United States remains determined to use all appropriate measures to deter Russia’s attacks on Ukraine – whether those attacks be from the air, land, or sea. These accountability measures underscore a simple message: the Kremlin must end its brutal campaign against Ukraine,” Blinken said.

11:34 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

Zelensky says he is returning from Washington "with good results"

From Yulia Kesavia in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his first video message since leaving Washington, DC, on Wednesday that he is returning to his country with "good results." 

In a selfie-style message on Telegram, the Ukrainian president said, “I am coming back from Washington. Coming with good results, that will really help.”

He also thanked US President Joe Biden for his “assistance and for international leadership and for his commitment to victory."

"I thank the US Congress, to both Houses, to all Parties who support Ukraine, to all those who wish us Victory as much as we wish it,” he added.

Zelensky said that “we are bringing to Ukraine, to Donbas, to Bakhmut and to the South, solutions that our Defence Forces have been waiting for."

11:36 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

Putin says Patriot missile defense systems are "old" and Russia will "always find the antidote" 

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Patriot missile defense systems are "old" systems and Russia will "always find the antidote." 

"In regards to Patriots, this is quite an old system and it doesn't work as well as our S-300," Putin said, when asked by a reporter to comment on the United States' decision to provide a Patriot system to Ukraine. 

"Those who oppose us think this is a defensive weapon, that's what they say," Putin said. "But that's in their own mind and we'll always find the antidote." 

"So those doing it are just wasting their time, it's just delaying the conflict," Putin said. 

Some background: The Patriot’s radar system combines “surveillance, tracking, and engagement functions in one unit,” a description from the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) says, which makes it stand out among other air defense systems. The system’s engagements with incoming aerial threats are “nearly autonomous” aside from needing a “final launch decision” from the humans operating it.

10:21 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

G7 nations "prepared to do more as needed" on Ukraine economic assistance

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris and Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

The Group of Seven nations “are prepared to do more as needed on budget and economic support” for Ukraine in the year ahead, according to a joint statement from the group’s finance ministers Thursday.

For 2023, the group has mobilized “up to $32 billion US dollars of budget and economic support for Ukraine and continue to make further progress,” said the statement published by the German government.

“We also strongly encourage other donors to step up their support,” the finance ministers added.

In 2022, the G7 mobilized $32.7 billion US dollars of budget support to the Ukrainian government, some $18 billion dollars of which came from the European Union, according to the G7.

“We have a moral imperative to help Ukraine resist Russia’s unprovoked assault,” the statement said.

Remember: The G7, or Group of Seven, is made up of allied leaders from some of the world’s largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

10:11 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

Zelensky meets with Polish president on his way back to Kyiv

From Yulia Kesavia in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Dudain in Rzeszow, Poland on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Dudain in Rzeszow, Poland on Thursday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Polish President Andrzej Duda while returning to Ukraine from the US. 

Zelensky posted a photo of him on Telegram meeting with Duda and said, “We summed up the year, which brought historic challenges due to a full-scale war."

"Also we discussed strategic plans for the future, bilateral relations and interactions at the international level in 2023,” he added.

From the video accompanying the post, Zelensky is seen disembarking from a plane at Rzeszow airport. It is unclear what time he arrived in Poland. 

9:47 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

Ukrainian officials express optimism about swift training on Patriot missile defense system

From CNN's Seb Shukla in London and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov reacts during a press conference in Lviv on August 18.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov reacts during a press conference in Lviv on August 18. (Mykola Tys/SOPA Images/Sipa/AP)

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he held a phone call with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Washington, DC, and the announcement that the US will provide the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.

Reznikov tweeted that “PATRIOTic soldiers will master these systems quickly,” capitalizing part of the word in reference to the defense system.

Reznikov said he was “grateful for another package of security assistance, especially for the new capabilities to defend out skies from Russia’s brutal attacks.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said he thinks the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot missile defense system “will be accelerated.” 

He added that the training is taken “very seriously” by the Americans and that the training is “done strictly according to the rules.” 

Ihnat said on Ukrainian television that he hoped the one unit “should be just the beginning” and that the Patriot can help protect “important strategic objects” such as infrastructure and headquarters locations. 

8:34 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022

Iran warns Zelensky that "patience for baseless accusations is not limitless"

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem and Omid Shams

Iran clapped back at Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and warned of limited “patience for baseless accusations.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said the speech delivered by Zelensky from the United States Capitol repeated “accusations and indecent statements.” 

“We have always respected the territorial integrity of countries, including Ukraine, and Mr. Zelensky should know that Iran's strategic patience for baseless accusations is limited,” a published statement by Kanaani said. 

"Mr. Zelensky should learn from the fate of some leaders of countries who relied on America's support," the statement said. 

In his speech to the US Congress, Zelensky said that hundreds of deadly drones sent by Iran to Russia have become a threat to “critical infrastructure.” 

Some background: The Iranian government acknowledged last month that it had sent a limited number of drones to Russia in the months before the start of its invasion of Ukraine, but has denied supplying military equipment for use in the war in Ukraine.

Russia, Zelensky argued in strong terms, has “found an ally” in Iran.

“That is how one terrorist has found the other,” Zelensky said. 

“It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now.”