September 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2351 GMT (0751 HKT) September 15, 2022
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7:50 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

Follow the latest news on Russia's war in Ukraine here and read more about today's developments in the posts below.

6:15 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

Pope says selling weapons to Ukraine is morally acceptable if they are used for self-defense

From CNN's Delia Gallagher in Rome

Pope Francis said Thursday it could be morally acceptable to sell weapons to Ukraine if they were used in self-defense.

“To defend oneself is not only legitimate, it’s also an expression of love for one’s country,” Francis said during an in-flight news conference on the plane returning from Kazakhstan. 

Asked by a journalist if it was right to sell weapons to Ukraine, the Pope said, “It’s a political decision. It could be morally acceptable if done morally.”

“It is immoral if it’s done with the intention of provoking more war, or to sell weapons, or to get rid of weapons that are no longer needed,” Francis said.  

“Morality is defined by motivation,” the Pope said.  

In answer to a question about Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Pope said that dialogue is important, “even if you have to hold your nose.”

“I don’t exclude dialogue with any power that is at war,” the Pope said, “even if it is the aggressor.” 

“It may smell but one has to do it,” Francis said.

6:58 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

Mass burial site discovered in Izium after Russian forces fled the city, Zelensky says

From CNN's Jonny Hallam and Yulia Kesaieva 

A Ukrainian serviceman uses a metal detector to inspect a mass grave in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine,on Thursday, September 15.
A Ukrainian serviceman uses a metal detector to inspect a mass grave in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine,on Thursday, September 15. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday a mass burial site has been discovered in the Ukrainian city of Izium after the area was re-captured last weekend from Russian forces.

"In Izium, Kharkiv region, a mass burial of people was found. The necessary procedural actions have already started there, more information — clear and verified — should be available tomorrow," Zelensky said in his nightly address.

He added that Ukrainian and international journalists will visit Izium Friday to see what they have uncovered.

"We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to," Zelensky said. 

"Bucha, Mariupol and now, unfortunately, Izium... Russia leaves death everywhere. And must be responsible for it. The world must hold Russia to real responsibility for this war. We will do everything for this," he added.

5:22 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

"Movement but not breakthrough" to bring Whelan and Griner home, US senior administration official says

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

There has been “movement but not breakthrough” in the efforts to free detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, a senior administration official told CNN on Thursday.

The US has urged Russia to present “a serious counteroffer” to the proposal on the table to secure the release of the two, but “we've not gotten a serious response back.”

“We’ve gotten back a repeated demand for something that we are not capable as a government of delivering on. I don't mean not inclined to, I mean not capable of delivering on. It's not something within our power to deliver. And I think anyone would see that as a non-serious counteroffer,” the official said without going into specifics.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday that “there have been discussions with the Russian government,” but acknowledged the negotiations process “certainly hasn't moved with the speed we would like.” He said he wouldn’t call the process “stalled.”

Tomorrow: President Joe Biden is expected to meet with the Griner and Whelan families on Friday — something officials say has “been in the works for a little while now,” but he doesn’t have a specific development to share with the families.

3:39 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

Ukraine military says Russians are still trying to advance in Donetsk region

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian servicemen drive atop a self-propelled artillery vehicle in the recently retaken area of Dolyna, in the Donetsk region on Sept. 14.
Ukrainian servicemen drive atop a self-propelled artillery vehicle in the recently retaken area of Dolyna, in the Donetsk region on Sept. 14. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Ukraine's military said Thursday that Russian efforts to advance in Donetsk region continue but have been thwarted. It also claimed that some Russian units retreating in the Kharkiv region have been disbanded.

CNN could not verify the claims by the General Staff of the Armed Forces.

"The enemy continues to focus its efforts on attempts to fully occupy the Donetsk region... The enemy is shelling our positions along the contact line, is trying to take measures to regroup troops in separate directions," the military said.

There has been little movement on the Donetsk front lines since late June. Recent Ukrainian gains in the neighboring Kharkiv region have complicated Russian objectives.

3:19 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

US sanctions a neo-Nazi paramilitary group as well as others allegedly involved in Russia's campaign in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The US on Thursday unveiled new sanctions on 22 individuals and two entities for their role in Russia’s aggression in Ukraine both prior to and during the war. 

Among those sanctioned is “Task Force Rusich, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group that has participated in combat alongside Russia’s military in Ukraine, as well as two of its senior leaders,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. 

In addition, the sanctions target a Russian official who “has led Russia’s efforts to deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia,” seven individuals working for Russia in occupied Crimea, and four individuals the US said were involved with attempted sanctions evasion.

The US also re-designated Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, three of his wives, three of his daughters, and his cousin.

According to the Treasury Department, Kadyrov “has mobilized Chechens to fight in Ukraine.”

“Publicly describing himself as Putin’s ‘foot soldier,’ Kadyrov was promoted to the rank of ‘lieutenant-general’ for his role in Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine. Chechen units allied to Kadyrov have operated in Bucha, where Russia’s troops committed atrocities and destroyed homes. Kadyrov has recruited for Russia’s war efforts through mixed martial arts clubs, which enables him and his units to continue their activity in Ukraine,” the Treasury statement said.

Kadyrov today urged Russian regions to "self-mobilize," according to his Telegram.

3:03 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

IAEA board voted to request Russian forces leave Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Polish delegation says

From Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

The Polish delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said the agency's governing board has passed a resolution requesting the withdrawal of Russian forces from around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. 

The delegation tweeted that the "Polish- Canadian IAEA resolution requesting withdrawal of Russian Armed Forces from Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was adopted by great majority of Board of Governors' members." 

Earlier the delegation had posted that Poland introduced the resolution on nuclear safety and security in Ukraine "as a result of the aggression of Russia. Presence of Russian soldiers and Russian military equipment creates big risk for Zaporizhzhia NPP and may result in nuclear accident," it tweeted. 

The IAEA itself has not published the result of the vote, nor the text of the resolution.

Herman Halushchenko, the Ukrainian Energy Minister, welcomed the vote.

"The resolution of the IAEA Board of Governors demanding Russia to de-occupy the ZNPP is an illustrative example of an adequate response of an international institution to the actions of a terrorist country," Halushchenko said on Facebook.

CNN is seeking a response from the Russian government.

2:59 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

State Dept. announces new sanctions, including on those "supporting or enabling" theft of Ukraine’s grain

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to the press before boarding a train during his visit in Kyiv on September 8.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to the press before boarding a train during his visit in Kyiv on September 8. (Genya Savilov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

The US State Department on Thursday announced a slew of new sanctions, including against five individuals for “supporting or enabling the theft of Ukraine’s grain” on behalf of Russia. 

“Today’s action includes the designation of 22 Russian proxy officials, including five that have overseen the seizure or theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain, exacerbating food insecurity around the globe,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The top US diplomat also said more actions would be taken “against major Russian defense entities, key advanced-technology firms that support Russia’s defense industrial base, and financial infrastructure,” as well as against a “Russian military intelligence agency and against individuals connected to human rights abuses, both in the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine and within Russia itself.”

The State Department sanctions were among a series of actions taken by the Biden administration against Russia on Thursday. According to a State Department fact sheet, the individuals sanctions for their role in grain theft had been appointed to leadership roles in some of occupied regions of Ukraine. As CNN reported in May, Russian forces have stolen farm equipment and thousands of tons of grain from areas they were occupying.'

Some context: The new sanctions come the week before the United Nations General Assembly when the Biden administration is expected to urge world leaders – once again – to double down on stepping up to support the global food crisis that has been triggered in part due to the war in Ukraine.

2:06 p.m. ET, September 15, 2022

Russia has used hypersonic weapons "to almost no effect" in Ukraine, US deputy defense secretary says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Russia has “already used some hypersonic weapons in the Ukraine war almost to no effect,” according to US Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.

Hicks made the remarks during a fireside chat at the AFCEA/Intelligence and National Security Alliance 2022 Intelligence and National Security Summit on Thursday.

CNN has previously reported that Russia had used hypersonics in Ukraine.

Some context: Essentially, all missiles are hypersonic — which means they travel at least five times the speed of sound. Almost any warhead released from a rocket miles in the atmosphere will reach this speed heading to its target. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin downplayed the effectiveness of the missile in March, telling CBS that he "would not see it as a game-changer."