Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the word "war" on Thursday while talking to reporters about the fighting in Ukraine.
The former KGB officer, who chooses his words carefully, has often referred to the war in Ukraine as a "special military operation."
"Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war," Putin told reporters in Moscow after attending a State Council meeting on youth policy.
"We have been and will continue to strive for this," he continued.
After attending the meeting, Putin took questions from reporters on various topics, including the fighting in Ukraine, the US shipment of a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine and the Russian economy.
The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Thursday claims by the United States that his group took weapons deliveries from North Korea are "nothing more than gossip and speculation."
"Everyone knows that it's been a long time since North Korea has supplied weapons to the Russian Federation," Prigozhin said in a statement published on his Telegram channel. "And no other such attempts have even been made. Therefore, these arms deliveries from the DPRK are nothing more than gossip and speculation."
"On our behalf, I want to stress that - and I've already answered this question today - we buy quite a lot of American weapons. And that is why my lawyers will more than likely take an active part in the process to lift the U.S. sanctions on the supply of weapons to the Wagner PMC," he said.
"We believe these restrictions are completely unfair, due to the fact that Wagner PMC has never violated international trade rules when buying the US weapons," Prigozhin said.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby makes a lot of statements based on speculation," Prigozhin said in response to remarks by the strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council John Kirby.
Earlier Thursday Kirby said that "it's pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian Ministries” and that it is recruiting convicts, including some with serious medical conditions.
Russian citizens are crowdfunding to equip soldiers deployed to Ukraine as winter closes in on the battlefield.
Troops have complained they are short of basic equipment – and the message has reached Russian President Vladimir Putin. He and other officials say they are working to overcome issues with supplying newly mobilized troops, partially blaming supply chain issues.
But the Kremlin has also stepped up pressure on those who dare to complain – and is increasingly framing the invasion of Ukraine as a patriotic and almost existential cause.
Local campaigns are raising funds for soldiers in both Russia and the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine.
One, dubbed “Together is Warmer,” has raised 3 million rubles (about $45,000) to provide basic equipment and clothing for Russian soldiers.
A Telegram channel detailed last month how citizens helped supply the DPR’s 6th Motorized Rifles, a company of 74 men.
The channel listed what the citizens bought: Uniforms, thermal underwear, socks, hats, balaclavas, sweaters, berets, a generator, power banks, medicines, clothes, boots and even two wheelchairs, which the company took to the hospital.
In the Chuvashia region, where the mobilization prompted protests in the fall, Telegram channels said that families had gone into debt buying equipment.
“From officials there, all they got was parting words and three sacks of potatoes,” one said.
Many of the public crowdfunding appeals focus on preventing hypothermia among soldiers fighting without adequate clothing and shelter in sub-zero temperatures. In the central Russian city of Tambov, for example, 8th grade schoolchildren raised money for socks for the troops.
But some also try to source thermal imagery devices, two-way radios, body armor or even drones.
Maxim Samorukov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine last week: “Ordinary Russians are expected to help their friends and relatives who have had the misfortune of being drafted. Indeed, they have little option but to cover the deficiencies in state provisions out of their own pockets simply to protect their loved ones.”
Read more on the Russian supply issues — and Moscow's official response — here.
In a roughly 25-minute speech, six minutes were dedicated to the situation in and around the city. Members of Congress stood and applauded four times as Zelensky recounted Bakhmut's fate.
Here's why the city has become a rallying point for Ukrainian fortitude:
Months of fierce fighting: Bakhmut rests in the gentle rolling hillocks of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. It lies on the road to the much bigger and more strategically important cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
During the past 10 months of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the city has risen to infamy. It's regularly referred to as the most contested and kinetic area of the conflict. Zelensky's advisers and generals have called the battles for Bakhmut “fierce,” “hot” and “difficult.”
The fire and brimstone unleashed by the Russian advance has left it in ruins, a smoking shell of its former self. This fate has burnished Bakhmut’s power as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. In the face of devastating Russian attacks, it is still holding on.
On the ground in Bakhmut: Various CNN teams have visited the city in recent months. They witnessed the devastation and dereliction. They saw firsthand the impact it was having on the Ukrainian soldiers there, and the shellshock affecting the hardy residents who remained.
Despite all that, Ukraine has held off Moscow's troops from overtaking the city, allowing Kyiv to fortify important surrounding cities and lessening the blow if Russia ever does prevail there.
In the meantime, Bakhmut has become more than just a city fighting for survival – it is now the beating heart and one of the most powerful emblems of the country’s resistance.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed Kyiv's peace proposal with his Group of Seven colleagues this morning after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.
“I can just tell you that we’re looking at what he’s put forward. I was just on the — the video with our G7 partners this morning. And this is one of the things that we talked about,” Blinken told CNN’s Kylie Atwood.
Blinken called Zelensky’s peace proposals “a good start.”
“They’re things that everyone should be able to, in one way or another, to rally to,” he said.
Blinken would not say how long it would take for the US and Ukraine to evaluate the plan together. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the two sides agreed to reviewing the plan yesterday in the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Zelensky.
What borders would Ukraine accept in a peace deal? Blinken said the US and Ukraine agreed on the overall peace effort underway. He did not respond more directly to a question of whether Kyiv would accept a goal of reclaiming territory up to its borders before the Feb. 24 invasion. Blinken has previously said that's the US focus, while Zelensky has outlined broader visions for retaking the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.
“What’s clear from all of our conversations with Ukraine, including the conversations just yesterday between President Biden and President Zelensky, is that we have the same objectives, the same goals: a free and independent, a prosperous, a democratic Ukraine, one that demonstrates that the principles of the United Nations charter are being upheld, including on territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence, and that’s something the president reiterated yesterday,” Blinken said.
Blinken said Ukraine has told the US that it is currently focused on taking back its eastern and southern territory that has been occupied since February.
“But that doesn’t prejudge in any way where this goes, where it settles,” said Blinken at his year-end news conference, emphasizing that it would be up to Ukraine to decide what a “just and durable” peace looks like.
Blinken also reiterated that Russia has shown “no meaningful interest” in diplomacy to end the war.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his administration has always been open to talks and that "it was the Ukrainian leadership that refused itself to conduct negotiations.”
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 Thursday.
Here are more of the latest developments:
- Patriot missile systems training: 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.
- Russian mercenary firm's expanding influence: 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, in a sign of its growing role in the war in Ukraine.
- Zelensky meets Polish president on return to Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Polish President Andrzej Duda while heading back to Ukraine from the US.
- Lukashenko denies "conspiracy" to enter war: The recent movement of Belarusian armed forces is not part of a plan to get involved in Russia's war in Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday. Ongoing military exercises "are more extensive because of the current situation and threats. Therefore, we are conducting exercises on our territory," Lukashenko said. "That's it. No other intent, no conspiracy."
- Ukrainian public hails Zelensky: CNN spoke to members of the public throughout Ukraine to gauge their reaction to Zelensky's overseas trip and the way he was received by US lawmakers. Mariya Hrachova, a marketing director in Kyiv, said she is always moved by Zelensky's speeches, and Wednesday was no different. "When he spoke to the House of Representatives, the way he looked, he didn't wear a suit, he was himself," she said. "He spoke the truth, he said what he wanted, what he had to say, I admire that."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s amendment related to seized Russian oligarch’s assets and transferring them to the people of Ukraine passed by voice vote.
It’s the fourth amendment to be approved Thursday to the US government funding bill.
“This amendment would allow the Department of Justice through the Secretary of State to transfer proceeds from seized oligarch’s assets or other sanctioned entities to the people of Ukraine,” Graham said. “It will be a god send to the long suffering people of the Ukraine. It will be a relief to the American taxpayer… It will be a bad day for oligarchs.”
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.