Putin meets Chechen leader, dispelling health rumors; NATO head visits Kyiv

This has been CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine. Follow the latest updates here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in the Kremlin Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported.

The meeting comes after unconfirmed reports in some Ukrainian and social media that Putin-ally Kadyrov was in a coma and fighting for his life. At the time, the Kremlin said it had no information on Kadyrov's health.

In this pool photograph distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) attends a meeting with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (R) in Moscow on September 28, 2023.
Mikhail Metzel | Afp | Getty Images

Elsewhere, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv needs more weaponry to combat Russian air strikes just as its allies start to look more closely at their own depleted arms stocks.

"Our warriors need more means of destroying Russian missiles, [Iranian-made] 'Shaheds' and other combat drones, as well as Russian aircraft," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

The president added that he was "grateful to everyone in the world who is already helping and is willing to ramp up assistance to our country with the means that can provide more protection against Russian terror."

There are concerns that the appetite among international allies to continue supplies of weaponry is waning. Elections in Slovakia, Poland in the next week, and in the U.S. next year, could herald seismic political shifts that change how much weaponry Ukraine receives.

French defense minister in Kyiv to 'reaffirm' support

French Armies Minister Sebastien Lecornu (C) addresses the press next to the St. Michael's Golden-Domed cathedral during the Minister's visit in Kyiv on September 28, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu was another high-profile visitor to Kyiv on Thursday, along with  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.

"In Kyiv to reaffirm France's long-term support," Lecornu wrote on social media platform X, per a Google translation. "By mobilizing our defense industry for ambitious partnerships with Ukrainian industry."

France and the U.K. are key supporters of the Ukrainian military, with the U.K. set to spend £4.6 billion ($5.62 billion) across 2022 and 2023, and France supplying a variety of weaponry and training along with contributing to EU support funds.

— Jenni Reid

Kazakhstan won't help Russia evade sanctions, president tells Germany

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 28: Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (L), and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Berlin, Germany on September 28, 2023.
Cuneyt Karadag | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Germany should not fear that Kazakhstan will try to help Russia circumvent Western sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine, Kazakh President Tokayev said on Thursday after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

Tokayev said Kazakhstan continued to call for talks between Russia and Ukraine on ending the war, now in its 20th month, and that it had no concerns about Moscow threatening its own territorial integrity.

The large former Soviet state in Central Asia shares a long border with Russia and is home to a large ethnic Russian minority.

— Reuters

Zelenskyy, NATO's Stoltenberg discuss Ukraine air defense

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a joint meeting with the press with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following their negotiations, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.NO USE RUSSIA. NO USE BELARUS. (Photo by Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ukrinform | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he discussed the need to strengthen the country's air defenses with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during his visit to Kyiv Thursday.

"Substantial talks, as they should be between de facto allies. It is only a matter of time before Ukraine becomes a de jure one as well," Zelenskyy said on social media platform X.

NATO helps to coordinate requests for assistance from Ukraine and supports delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid, while NATO members have provided billions in military aid.

Kyiv applied for fast-track NATO membership in September 2022. The alliance in 2023 said it was committed to eventual Ukraine membership under certain conditions, including "democratic and security sector reforms," but has not developed any timeline.

— Jenni Reid

Ukrainian forces are 'gradually gaining ground,' NATO chief says

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on an unannounced visit to Kyiv, said on Thursday that Ukrainian forces were "gradually gaining ground" in their counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Stoltenberg also said Russian troops were fighting for Moscow's "imperial delusions".

Stoltenberg announced that NATO now had over-arching framework contracts in place with arms companies worth 2.4 billion euros ($2.53 billion) for key ammunition, including 1 billion euros in firm orders.

U.S. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images

He said such contracts would allow NATO members to replenish their depleted stockpiles while also continuing to provide Ukraine with ammunition, a key factor in the war.

Stoltenberg also condemned Russian strikes near Ukraine's border with NATO member Romania. He said there was no evidence such strikes were a deliberate attack on Romania but branded them "reckless" and "destabilizing."

— Reuters

Putin meets Chechen leader Kadyrov in the Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 13, 2023.
Mikhail Klimentyev | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in the Kremlin Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported.

"The President noted the personal contribution of the head of Chechnya to the dynamic development of the republic," Tass said, adding that "Putin conveyed his best wishes to the Northern Military District soldiers from Chechnya who are fighting heroically on the front line."

TASS' report featured a video clip of Putin entering an office and greeting a Khaki-clad Kadyrov, congratulating him on Chechnya's development under his leadership.

The meeting comes after unconfirmed reports in some Ukrainian and social media that Putin-ally Kadyrov was in a coma and fighting for his life. At the time, the Kremlin said it had no information on Kadyrov's health.

Then, on Sept. 17, two videos were posted on Kadyrov's Telegram account showing him smiling and taking a walk. It's unknown when or where the videos were taken.

A comment accompanying the post said: "I strongly recommend that everyone who cannot distinguish the truth from lies on the internet go for a walk, get some fresh air and put their thoughts in order."

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia May 9, 2022. 
Chingis Kondarov | Reuters

Chechnya was once a sworn enemy of Russia and the nations fought wars against each other in the 1990s and 2000s, but have since become allies.

Kadyrov is the son of former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, a fighter for Chechen independence who switched sides in the Second Chechen War and was appointed president before his assassination in 2004. His son Ramzan became head of the Chechen Republic in 2007 and has remained close to Putin, sending thousands of Chechen troops to fight in Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

As winter approaches, Ukraine and UK focus on air defenses

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv Wednesday, with talks focusing on how Ukraine's air defenses can be bolstered before winter, the Ukraine presidency office said.

There are concerns that Russia will once again target Ukraine's critical energy infrastructure, putting further pressure on civilian life and Ukraine's resources.

Posting on Telegram, President Zelenskyy described the meeting as "meaningful" and thanked the U.K. for the "powerful financial, defence, and humanitarian support of Ukraine. Our cooperation in the military sphere significantly expands the capabilities of Ukrainian soldiers on the battlefield."

The talks were also attended by Ukraine's intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov and British Chief of the Defense Staff Tony Radakin.

The U.K. is one of Ukraine's leading military backers, providing £2.3 billion worth of funding in 2022 and committing to maintain that support in 2023. It was the first country to donate modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, air defence missiles, self-propelled artillery, and more than 200,000 pieces of non-lethal equipment.

Ukrainian personnel on top of a Challenger 2 tank during training at Bovington Camp, near Wool in southwestern Britain, on Feb. 22, 2023.
Toby Melville | Reuters

Last week, the U.K. said it had delivered its 300,000th artillery shell to Ukraine and added it was committed to sending tens of thousands more artillery shells this year.

"To ensure Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself as we approach winter, we have also set out how the UK will go further in the coming months in our priority support areas, including air defence and long-range strike capabilities, and training," Shapps said in a government statement last week.

Britain supplied long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine earlier this year, enabling its armed forces to effectively target Russian-occupied territory.

Last week's strike on Russia's Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, was performed using Storm Shadow missiles, blowing a hole in the roof of the building. Ukraine claimed the strike had killed the fleet's commander and 33 other officers information that has not been verified.

— Holly Ellyatt

Black Sea coastal regions targeted in wave of Russian drone attacks

Ukraine said its air defense systems shot down 34 out of 44 Shahed drones that Russia launched overnight, targeting regions predominantly along the Black Sea.

Ukraine's air force said on Telegram Thursday that Russia had attacked the southern, coastal regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv overnight with 44 Iranian-made "Shahed" drones but that 34 of those had been shot down and no casualties were reported.

Parts of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles): Orlan-10, Granat-3 , Shahed-136, Eleron-3-SV, used by the Russia against Ukraine, are seen during a media briefing of the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine in Kyiv, Ukraine on 15 December 2022.
Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials reported that the southern region of Kherson, and its regional capital of the same name, were shelled over 100 times with various types of weaponry, with residential areas and critical infrastructure hit. Two civilians had died in the attacks and one was injured, regional head Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.

Elsewhere, 27 settlements along the contact line of the Zaporizhzhia region were shelled overnight, according to Yuriy Malashko, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, with residential areas and infrastructure objects hit.

Ukraine's northern operational command team said the northern regions of Chernihiv and Sumy were shelled 10 times over the past 24 hours, noting that villages and settlements next to the Russian border were affected but no casualties were reported.

Russia has repeatedly claimed that it does not target civilian infrastructure.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia likely exhausting aircraft lifespan more quickly than expected

It's "highly likely" that Russia is exhausting its aircraft stock more quickly than expected, the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence said Thursday.

"Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) have lost approximately 90 fixed-wing aircraft in combat since February 2022," the ministry said in an intelligence update on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"It has also been flying some of its combat aircraft types far more intensively than in peace time."

The ministry noted that "all aircraft have a projected lifespan, in flying hours. It is highly likely that with this extra wartime use, Russia is eating into many of its airframes' lifespans far more quickly than the VKS planned for."

Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets take part in the Allied Resolve 2022 joint military drills held by Belarusian and Russian troops at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground. The military exercise is being held from February 10 to 20 as part of the second phase of testing response forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Peter Kovalev | TASS | Getty Images

The ministry noted that the need for extra maintenance has been complicated by a shortage of spare parts because of increasing demand and international sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine last year.

The U.K. noted that the VKS "maintains the ability to surge sortie rates over occupied Ukraine" but that "as the war continues much longer than the Russian Ministry of Defence originally planned for, wear and tear of airframes is likely to have reduced the viability of the VKS's long-term tactical air power."

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine needs more means to destroy Russian missiles, drones and aircraft, Kyiv says

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told international partners that its armed forces need more weaponry in his nightly address Wednesday.

"Our warriors need more means of destroying Russian missiles, [Iranian-made] 'Shaheds' and other combat drones, as well as Russian aircraft," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

The president added that he was "grateful to everyone in the world who is already helping and is willing to ramp up assistance to our country with the means that can provide more protection against Russian terror."

There are concerns that the appetite among international allies to continue supplies of weaponry is waning. Elections in Slovakia, Poland in the next week, and in the U.S. next year, could herald seismic political shifts that change how much weaponry Ukraine receives, threatening its ability to fight back against Russia's invasion.

A Ukrainian soldier of the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade, named after King Danylo, operates the test flight a new FPV drone in the training area as soldiers test their new military equipment as Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 03, 2023. 
Wojciech Grzedzinski | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

So far, Ukraine's allies have remained steadfast in their commitment to help Ukraine with financial, military and humanitarian aid, saying they will do so for "as long as it takes." Nonetheless, questions are also being asked over depleted NATO weapons stocks.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told Voice of America's Ukrainian service Wednesday that the alliance will increase the production of ammunition both for Ukraine and for NATO member states that have donated a significant share of their weaponry to Ukraine.

"We've seen cases where NATO allies have provided the Ukrainians with everything they can, bilaterally, which has created some shortages in their own stocks," she said, according to comments translated by Ukrinform.

"So NATO has started what we call the Defense Production Action Plan, focusing on munitions shortages, both for Ukrainians and for some NATO members who provided aid to Ukraine, which led to their own shortages," Smith said.

— Holly Ellyatt

How surging trade with China is boosting Russia’s war

A Ukrainian serviceman of an air reconnaissance squad of the 45th Brigade prepares to launch a Leleka reconnaissance UAV on a position in Donetsk region on June 27, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Genya SAVILOV / AFP via Getty Images

Chinese firms are playing an increasingly critical role in supplementing Russia's war-torn economy and boosting its military capabilities, new analysis by CNBC shows.

Russian customs data filed as recently as August 2023 point to the import of drones, helmets, vests and radios from China, providing a lifeline for President Vladimir Putin's over 18-month war of attrition.

At the same time, the emergence of "underappreciated" trade flows are providing direct and indirect support to Russia's offensive, according to analysts.

Read more on the story here: How surging trade with China is boosting Russia's war

— Karen Gilchrist

'We will do whatever is necessary' to win the war: Kremlin

A New Year decoration stylized as the "Kremlin Star," a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, in Moscow, on Jan. 2, 2023.
Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

The Kremlin told CNBC Wednesday it will do "whatever is necessary" to win the war in Ukraine.

When asked specifically if it would look to exploit divisions that have emerged between Ukraine and its global allies recently and particularly ahead of potential political shifts with elections in eastern Europe and the U.S. on the horizon the Kremlin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said:

"We continue [the] SVO," referring to the "special military operation" as Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine.

"We need to achieve our goals. To achieve this, we will do whatever is necessary," he said in written comments to CNBC, translated by Google.

Ukraine is trying hard to keep its international backers close as diplomatic gaffes, war fatigue and elections threaten to upset its alliances and damage public support for its cause.

Recent awkward moments with its NATO allies, and most recently with close ally and neighbor Poland, have threatened to upset its international partners while opinion polls show support for continued military funding for Ukraine is declining.

There are fears that Russia is smelling blood as it watches the public's attitude toward the war shifting, and could look to exploit weaknesses and fractures in Ukraine's partnerships.

Analysts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing a "waiting game" and hoping that Donald Trump, or at least a Republican administration, will enter the White House after elections next year. Republican opposition to continued and increasing funding for Ukraine has become more vocal in recent months.

— Holly Ellyatt

Pro-war Russian journalists reportedly sent severed pigs' heads

At least three pro-war Russian journalists have received severed pigs' heads from unknown senders over the past week, the Moscow Times reported Wednesday, citing various media sources.

The recipients, who include state media columnist Timofey Sergeitsev, military expert Konstantin Sivkov and TASS news agency photojournalist Mikhail Tereshchenko, have previously reported receiving death threats, according to the report.

Sergeitsev, who last year wrote an article calling for the murder of Ukrainian civilians, was said to have found the pig's head inside a black bag on his doorstep on Tuesday evening.

No suspects were named in the report and CNBC was unable to independently verify the claims.

— Karen Gilchrist

Russia accuses U.S., UK agencies of helping to plan attack on Black Sea Fleet

Russia accused American and British intelligence services of helping Ukraine to plan and conduct last Friday's missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea.

"On September 22, Sevastopol came under attack again; there is not the slightest doubt that this attack was pre-planned using Western intelligence assets, NATO satellite equipment, reconnaissance aircraft and was carried out at the instigation and in close coordination with the American and British intelligence services," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing in comments published by Russian news agency TASS.

"The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.
Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

"The obvious goal of such terrorist acts is to divert attention from the failed attempts of a counter-offensive by the Ukrainian armed forces and to intimidate people and sow panic in our society," Zakharova said.

Moscow has repeatedly accused Ukraine's NATO allies of actively participating in the war by supplying intelligence to Kyiv as well as weaponry that is used to attack Russia.

The U.K. and U.S. have not commented on the most recent attack on Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea last Friday.

— Holly Ellyatt

Second video emerges showing Russian naval commander alive

A television station run by Russia's Defense Ministry on Wednesday published a video interview with Black Sea Fleet commander Viktor Sokolov, whose status is unknown after Ukraine claimed he had been killed in a strike on Russian naval base in Crimea.

The channel, Zvezda, posted the video on Telegram Wednesday, calling it an "exclusive." Posting an excerpt from the interview and attributing the comments to Sokolov, it said:

"The Black Sea Fleet is successfully carrying out the tasks the command has set to us, this includes the surface and underwater forces, the sea aviation, the coastal troops. You know these reports which are almost constantly on TV telling about the heroic deeds of our marines." The post was translated by NBC.

It is the second video the ministry has released now purportedly showing admiral Sokolov alive after Ukraine claimed on Monday that he was killed in a missile strike on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea last Friday.  

It's unclear from the clip when it was filmed — before or after Ukraine's strike on the headquarters.

Ukraine said it was trying to clarify information on the attack last Friday, conceding on Tuesday that Sokolov's death had not been confirmed.

—‎ Holly Ellyatt

Video showing 'dead' Russian naval commander 'alive' puts Kyiv in a tricky position

The emergence of the video purportedly showing a Russian naval commander alive after Ukraine said he had died in a strike on Russia's naval headquarters in Crimea is an awkward moment for Kyiv.

The video, released by Russia's Ministry of Defense, appeared to directly contradict Ukraine's claims on Monday that its strikes on the Black Sea Fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol Friday had killed the commander, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, and 33 other naval officers, as well as injuring over 100 other personnel.

Still, we don't know when the video was filmed or when the meeting took place. Questions have also been asked as to why Ukraine's claims over Sokolov's apparent death were not referenced in the meeting, given that it would have been a ripe opportunity for Russia to do so.

Commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet Viktor Sokolov (Bottom L), who has been claimed to be killed in the September 22 strike on the Navy headquarters in the city of Sevastopol, appears on the screen at the meeting that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu holds with Ministry officials in Moscow, Russia on September 26, 2023.
Russian Defense Ministry | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Close followers of the war say the episode could reflect badly on Ukraine because it could cast doubts on other information it publishes or claims it makes in the war.

Sam Ramani, a geopolitical analyst and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, noted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that while many Ukrainian sources claimed that Sokolov was dead, Ukraine's military intelligence chief Kirill Budanov had been more cautious in his analysis "and focused on injuries to other key personnel."

It now looked "like Budanov's cautious approach was correct," Ramani said.

The Institute for the Study of War said in analysis Tuesday that "the situation remains unclear at this time" and that it was "unprepared at this time to make an assessment about the authenticity of the Russian MoD's footage of Sokolov or about Sokolov's status on Earth."

Read more on the story here: Dead or alive? Mystery surrounds the fate of Russia's Black Sea Fleet commander

— Holly Ellyatt

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