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Latest Developments in Ukraine: Sept. 16

Ukrainian paratroopers with the Ukrainian flag drive on the pontoon bridge across Siverskiy-Donets river in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine, Sept. 14, 2022.
Ukrainian paratroopers with the Ukrainian flag drive on the pontoon bridge across Siverskiy-Donets river in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine, Sept. 14, 2022.

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EDT.

10:02 p.m.:

9:09 p.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday he would only back the idea of reopening Russian ammonia exports through Ukraine if Moscow handed back prisoners of war (POWs), an idea the Kremlin quickly rejected.

In an interview, Zelenskyy told Reuters he had proposed the arrangement to the United Nations, which has suggested resuming Russian ammonia across Ukraine to ease a global shortage of fertilizer.

"I am against supplying ammonia from the Russian Federation through our territory. I would only do it in exchange for our prisoners. This is what I offered the UN," he said in an interview at his presidential office.

8:27 p.m.: The speed and efficiency of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the northeastern region of Kharkiv came as a stunning surprise to the Russian military. Ukraine went to great lengths to keep its counteroffensive secret, including deliberately deceiving Russian forces about its military maneuvers. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty spoke to some of the soldiers involved, who described their tactics in this video.

7:17 p.m.: The United States has no plans "at this time" to meet with Russian diplomats next week during the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday, according to Reuters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to travel to New York for the high-level U.N. General Assembly meeting. U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are also attending the U.N. gathering.

"We will be having meetings with the Ukrainians. There are no plans at this time to have meetings with the Russians. They have not indicated that they have an interest in diplomacy," Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.

Russia's February invasion of Ukraine has triggered the most serious crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

6:27 p.m.:

5:33 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Friday to press his attack on Ukraine despite Ukraine’s latest counteroffensive and warned that Moscow could ramp up its strikes on the country’s vital infrastructure if Ukrainian forces target facilities in Russia, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking to reporters Friday after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, Putin said the “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal and that he sees no need to revise it.

“We aren’t in a rush,” the Russian leader said, adding that Russia has only deployed volunteer soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

Russia was forced to pull back its forces from large swaths of northeastern Ukraine last week after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukraine’s move to reclaim control of several Russian-occupied cities and villages marked the largest military setback for Moscow since its forces had to retreat from areas near the capital early in the war.

Asked about the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin replied: “Let’s see how it develops and how it ends.” He noted that Ukraine has tried to strike civilian infrastructure in Russia and “we so far have responded with restraint, but just yet.”

4:39 p.m.:

3:55 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied Russia had anything to do with Europe's energy crisis, saying that if the European Union wanted more gas it should lift sanctions preventing the opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Reuters reported.

Speaking to reporters after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan, Putin blamed what he called "the green agenda" for the energy crisis, and insisted that Russia would fulfill its energy obligations.

"The bottom line is, if you have an urge, if it's so hard for you, just lift the sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which is 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year, just push the button and everything will get going," Putin said.

Nord Stream 2, which lays on the bed of the Baltic Sea almost in parallel to Nord Stream 1, was built a year ago, but Germany decided not to proceed with it just days before Russia sent its troops into Ukraine on February 24.

European gas prices more than doubled from the start of the year amid a decline in Russian supplies. This year's price surge has squeezed struggling already consumers and forced some industries to halt production.

3 p.m.:

2:10 p.m.: President Vladimir Putin on Friday brushed off a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive with a smile but warned that Russia would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure, Reuters reported.

Speaking after a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Uzbek city of Samarkand, Putin cast the invasion as a necessary step to prevent what he said was a Western plot to break Russia apart.

Moscow, he said, was in no hurry in Ukraine. And its goals remained unchanged.

"The Kiev authorities announced that they have launched and are conducting an active counter-offensive operation. Well, let's see how it develops, how it ends up," Putin said with a grin.

1:55 p.m.: Reports of a mass grave of more than 440 bodies in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium that was recaptured from Russian forces are "horrifying," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Friday, according to Reuters.

1:45 p.m.: The top U.S. general on Friday said war crimes in Ukraine cannot be hidden, as Kyiv leveled fresh accusations against Russia following the discovery of a mass burial site in northeastern territory recaptured from Russian forces, Reuters reported.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he would reserve judgment as media reports emerged indicating that at the site in Izium, some bodies were found with hands tied behind their backs.

"In terms of the totality of the scale (of potential war crimes), I don't know. But I would tell you that the world will discover that. War crimes cannot be hidden, especially things like mass graves," Milley told reporters traveling with him after arriving in Estonia for a NATO gathering.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Reuters in an interview that the mass burial site in Izium was proof of Russian war crimes and evidence was being collected. "There is some evidence, and assessments are being conducted, Ukrainian and international, and this is very important for us, for the world to recognize this," he said.

Moscow has not commented on the mass burial site in Izium, which was a Russian frontline stronghold before Ukraine's counter-offensive forced its forces to flee.

1:30 p.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reacted Friday to news of mass graves discovered in the northeastern Ukrainian town of Izium, after Russian forces were recently forced out of the area. VOA’s State Department Correspondent Nike Ching shared details on Twitter.

1:10 p.m.: The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) on Friday voted to allow Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak in a video message to the forum next week, VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer reported. An amendment proposed by Belarus to allow anyone to speak by video was rejected.

World leaders are set to address the UNGA annual session in person again starting next week, after two years of travel restrictions were imposed due to the COVID pandemic. However, Zelenskyy said he could not travel to U.N. headquarters in New York City because of the ongoing war in his country, Reuters reported.

Richard Gowan, who oversees the International Crisis Group’s advocacy work at the United Nations, predicted that Zelenskyy’s speech will make a noticeable impact, VOA’s White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara reported.

"Although President Zelenskyy will be speaking by video, I think he's going to get 1000 times more attention than most of the presidents and prime ministers who are speaking at the General Assembly in person,” Gowan said. “But he has to be careful too. He has to show that he understands global concerns about food security, and Ukraine wants to help the rest of the world deal with those problems too."

12:55 p.m.: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous day at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan had been "normal," Reuters reported.

Speaking to reporters after the summit, Putin said he had discussed measures to boost Russia-China trade during his meeting with Xi, whose "concerns" about the war in Ukraine Putin publicly acknowledged for the first time during the session.

12:40 p.m.: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday was asked, “Recently, we’ve seen leaders of China and India express their concern about the war in Ukraine directly to Vladimir Putin. Do you see this as a significant shift for Russia on the international stage?” Blinken responded by saying that Russia’s aggression is causing concern in “countries and people across the entire planet.” He added, “It’s an aggression against the very principles of international relations.” VOA’s State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching shared more of Blinken’s reactions on Twitter.

11:55 a.m.: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that now was not the time for war, directly assailing the Kremlin chief in public over the nearly seven-month-long conflict in Ukraine, according to Reuters.

Locked in a confrontation with the West over the war, Putin has repeatedly said Russia is not isolated because it can look eastwards to major Asian powers such as China and India.

But at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), concerns spilled out into the open.

"I know that today's era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this," Modi told Putin at a televised meeting in the ancient Uzbek Silk Road city of Samarkand.

As Modi made the remark, Russia's paramount leader since 1999 pursed his lips, glanced at Modi and then looked down before touching the hair on the back of his head.

Putin told Modi that he understood the Indian leader had concerns about Ukraine, but that Moscow was doing everything it could to end the conflict.

11:45 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his Central Asian neighbors on Friday not to allow outsiders to destabilize them with “color revolutions” and offered to set up a regional counterterrorism training center, The Associated Press reported.

Xi’s comments at a security summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders from Central Asia, India and Iran reflect official Chinese anxiety that Western support for pro-democracy and human rights activists is a plot to undermine Xi’s ruling Communist Party and other authoritarian governments.

“We should prevent external forces from instigating a color revolution,” Xi said in a speech to leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, referring to protests that toppled unpopular regimes in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Xi offered to train 2,000 police officers, to set up a regional counterterrorism training center and to “strengthen law enforcement capacity building.” He gave no details.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was formed by Russia and China as a counterweight to U.S. influence. The summit is part of Xi’s first trip abroad since shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began 2 1/2 years ago, highlighting the importance to Beijing of asserting itself as a regional leader.

11:30 a.m.: At a time of increasing animosity with the West, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in person for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war to showcase their strong ties. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published this news analysis about what their meeting means for the Russia-China partnership, going forward.

11:15 a.m.: Ukrainian authorities unearthed bodies, some they said bore hallmarks of torture, from a mass burial site Friday in an area recently recaptured from Russian forces, The Associated Press reported.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cited the site as an example of “what the Russian occupation has led to.”

Digging in the rain, workers hauled body after body out of the sandy soil in a pine forest near Izium that police said contained 445 graves. Protected by full body suits and rubber gloves, they gently felt through the decomposing remains of their clothing, seemingly looking for things that might identify them.

Ukrainian forces got access to the site after recapturing the northeastern city and much of the wider Kharkiv region in a counteroffensive that suddenly shifted the momentum in the nearly seven-month war.

Some of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs and ropes around their necks, said the region’s chief prosecutor, Oleksandr Filchakov. Ukrainian officials said they also found evidence of torture elsewhere in the region.

Associated Press journalists who visited the site saw graves amid the pine trees, marked with simple wooden crosses. Most were numbered — and the count went into the 400s.

10:50 a.m.:

10:25 a.m.: Around 200 wooden crosses were seen on Friday at a site near Izium in northeastern Ukraine, Reuters witnesses said, after authorities announced the discovery of a mass grave in the area recaptured in recent days by Ukrainian forces.

Men in white overalls have begun exhuming bodies at the site, located on the edge of a cemetery in the northwest of Izium, the witnesses said. Some 20 white body bags were visible.

9:55 a.m.: Faced with a record $32 billion shortfall in humanitarian aid funding, the United Nations is dipping deep into its emergency fund to support critical programs in 11 countries including Myanmar and Mali, Reuters reported.

Donors have given more than ever in 2022 for crises across the world but the needs have also soared amid unprecedented floods in Pakistan and famine warnings in Somalia, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says.

The money will go to life-saving programs including in Myanmar and Mali which are only 18%- and 28%-funded. In contrast, Ukraine is one of just a handful of dozens of countries where programs are more than half funded, at 66%, according to OCHA.

9:20 a.m.: The U.N. food chief has warned that the world is facing “a global emergency of unprecedented magnitude,” with up to 345 million people marching toward starvation — and 70 million pushed closer to starvation by the war in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported Friday.

David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council September 15 that the 345 million people facing acute food insecurity in the 82 countries where the agency operates is 2½ times the number of acutely food insecure people before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

He said it is incredibly troubling that 50 million of those people in 45 countries are suffering from very acute malnutrition and are “knocking on famine’s door.”

“What was a wave of hunger is now a tsunami of hunger,” he said, pointing to rising conflict, the pandemic’s economic ripple effects, climate change, rising fuel prices and the war in Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24, Beasley said, soaring food, fuel and fertilizer costs have driven 70 million people closer to starvation.

Despite the agreement in July allowing Ukrainian grain to be shipped from three Black Sea ports that had been blockaded by Russia and continuing efforts to get Russian fertilizer back to global markets, “there is a real and dangerous risk of multiple famines this year,” he said. “And in 2023, the current food price crisis could develop into a food availability crisis if we don’t act.”

8:45 a.m.: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter Friday that he welcomed a European Parliament resolution on human rights, saying Russia must be held accountable for its actions in Ukraine.

8:20 a.m.: Russian-backed separatists in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson said Ukrainian forces had bombarded government buildings on Friday, killing at least one person and wounding others, Reuters reported.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy head of the Kherson region, told Russian state TV that one wing of the administration's building in Kherson had been practically destroyed in the strike, which he said involved U.S.-made HIMARS rockets.

Reuters could not verify reports from the conflict zones.

Stremousov said it was too early to give an exact number of casualties, but that several people had been killed and wounded. Another Russian-installed official said the strike had coincided with a meeting of local heads of Russian-installed city and district administrations in the building.

Russian forces seized the city of Kherson, along with the surrounding Ukrainian province of the same name, shortly after beginning their invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

8:10 a.m.: The prosecutor-general of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) in eastern Ukraine and his deputy were killed by a bomb blast at their offices on Friday, the head of the LPR administration said, according to Reuters.

"Today, as a result of a terrorist act, Prosecutor-General of the LPR Sergei Gorenko and his deputy Ekaterina Steglenko were killed," Leonid Pasechnik said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Other local officials and the emergency services had previously told Russian news agencies that a bomb had exploded at the offices of the prosecutor general.

Pasechnik blamed Kyiv for the attack and called Ukraine a "terrorist state" under its current leadership. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.

7:50 a.m.:

7:25 a.m.: U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday said Ukraine must win the war against Russia and that Russia must be held accountable for the conflict, Reuters reported.

Pelosi was speaking at a Group of Seven (G7) countries meeting in Berlin. She is due to travel to Armenia on the weekend amid another flare-up in hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

7:15 a.m.:

U.S. President Joe Biden and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are set to meet Friday at the White House for talks on Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate issues, trade and more, The Associated Press reported.

Ramaphosa is among African leaders who have maintained a neutral stance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with South Africa abstaining from a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions and calling for a mediated settlement.

The Biden administration has been disappointed that South Africa and much of the continent have declined to follow the U.S. in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has sought to underscore that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has led to scarcities in grain, cooking oil and fertilizer — resulting in disproportionate impact on Africans.

South Africa’s neutral position is largely because of the support the Soviet Union gave during the Cold War era to Ramaphosa’s African National Congress in its fight to end apartheid, South Africa’s regime of repression against the Black majority that ended in 1994. South Africa is seen as a leader of the several African countries that will not side against Russia.

Despite the differences on the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent’s natural resources markets. Improving relations with South Africa — one of the continent’s biggest economies — is central to the U.S. effort.

Despite the differences on the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration recognizes the importance of strengthening relations in Africa as China has spent decades entrenching itself in the continent’s natural resources markets. Improving relations with South Africa — one of the continent’s biggest economies — is central to the U.S. effort.

7:05 a.m.: The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Friday that it has helped 70,000 people in Ukraine by providing a special hotline for social services.

6:50 a.m.: Most of the people buried in a mass grave discovered in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izium are civilians, Ukraine’s police chief said on Friday, based on a preliminary estimate, Reuters reported.

Earlier, Ukrainian authorities said they had found a mass grave containing 440 bodies in Izium, a former Russian frontline stronghold, and said this was proof of war crimes carried out by the invaders.

Russia has not publicly commented on the matter. Its forces fled Izium during a major Ukrainian counter-offensive that retook most of the northeastern Kharkiv region in the past week.

Asked if the Izium site contained mainly civilians or soldiers, police chief Ihor Klymenko told a news conference: “On a preliminary estimate, civilians. Although we have information that there are soldiers there too, we haven’t recovered a single one yet.”

6:35 a.m.:

6:15 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that he welcomed the U.S. pledge to allocate another defense aid package for Ukraine. “Ukraine strives for freedom. And with the solidarity and sincere support of partners, it amazes the whole world. Together we’ll win!” he said on Twitter.

The Biden administration announced Thursday it will send another $600 million in military aid to Ukraine, as the U.S. rushes more weapons to fuel Kyiv’s counteroffensive that has reclaimed large stretches of the embattled country and forced Russian troops to retreat, The Associated Press reported.

The White House said it was the 21st time that the Defense Department has pulled weapons and other equipment off the shelves to deliver to Ukraine.

The package will include more of the same types of ammunition and equipment that have helped Ukrainian forces beat back the Russian forces in portions of the east and south.

“With admirable grit and determination, the people of Ukraine are defending their homeland and fighting for their future,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The capabilities we are delivering are carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table when the time is right,” he said in a statement.

The decision to move on new aid quickly — on the heels of a nearly $2.9 billion infusion of aid and financing support announced last week and more than $3 billion announced in late August — underscore the U.S. intent to ensure that Ukraine can sustain its stunning counterattack that was launched early this month.

6:05 a.m.: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday Ukraine's counter-attack against Russian troops had been very effective but warned nations should prepare for the long haul as this did not signal the beginning of the end of the war, Reuters reported.

"It is of course extremely encouraging to see that Ukrainian armed forces have been able to take back territory and also strike behind Russian lines," Stoltenberg told BBC radio.

"At the same time, we need to understand that this is not the beginning of the end of the war, we need to be prepared for the long haul."

5:50 a.m.:

5:33 a.m.: In its latest Ukraine assessment, the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin, meanwhile, is responding to the defeat around Kharkiv Oblast by doubling down on crypto-mobilization, rather than setting conditions for general mobilization.

4:23 a.m.: The latest intelligence update from the U.K. defense ministry said Russian military academies are shortening training courses and bringing cadets graduation dates forwards. This is almost certainly so cadets can be deployed to support the Ukraine operation. The impact of Russia's manpower challenge has become increasingly severe, the update said.

3:12 a.m.: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday his war-scarred country wants to join the European single market ahead of a decision on whether to grant Kyiv full EU membership, Agence France-Presse reported.

Zelenskyy was speaking at a press conference with EU president Ursula von der Leyen who came to Kyiv to work out a roadmap for Ukraine's long-standing aspiration to join the union.

Ukraine applied for EU membership just five days after Russia's Feb. 24 invasion. The EU formally accepted Ukraine's candidacy to join the 27-nation bloc on June 23, in a strong signal of support.

Zelenskyy and von der Leyen spoke about Ukrainian energy facilities repeatedly hit by Russian forces and a European energy crisis as Moscow halts of disrupts vital supplies.

2:19 a.m.: Pope Francis said Thursday that it was morally legitimate for nations to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian aggression.

Speaking to reporters, including Reuters, aboard a plane returning from a three-day trip to Kazakhstan, Francis also urged Kyiv to be open to eventual dialog, even though it may be difficult for the Ukrainian side.

The war in Ukraine, which Russia invaded on Feb. 24, provided the backdrop to the pope's visit to Kazakhstan, where he attended a congress of religious leaders from around the world.

In a 45-minute airborne news conference, a reporter asked if it was morally right for countries to send weapons to Ukraine.

"This is a political decision, which it can be moral, morally acceptable, if it is done under conditions of morality," Francis said.

He expounded on the Roman Catholic Church's "Just War" principles, which allow for the proportional use of deadly weapons for self-defense against an aggressor nation.

1:17 a.m.: The European Union is prepared to extend a suspension of import duties on Ukrainian products, the bloc's trade commissioner said Thursday, seeking to support the country's hard-hit economy following Russia's invasion.

"If the situation required it, we would be ready to extend" it, Valdis Dombrovskis told Agence France-Presse in an interview. The EU introduced the suspension of duties in May, to last for a year.

Dombrovskis, from Latvia, was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of G-7 trade ministers at Neuhardenberg castle, in eastern Germany.

Ukraine's Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko, also present at the talks, had requested an extension of the measure, said the commissioner.

Germany, Europe's top economy, had indicated it was ready to support an extension, he added.

12:02 a.m.:

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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