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Latest news from Russia and the war in Ukraine

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Latest news from Russia and the war in Ukraine

White House hints that it’s preparing a new military aid package for Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen taking part in the armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk region of the country attend the handover ceremony of military heavy weapons and equipment in Kiev on November 15, 2018.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The White House hinted that it is preparing another military aid package for Ukraine.

“I fully expect that and I think you’re going to see another one relatively soon. I’m a little hesitant to stamp the date on the calendar but I think you can expect to see another announcement on the security assistance support very soon,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“I don’t want to preview what’s in the package just yet,” he said. “But I do think that in general terms, you can expect to see things in line with the kinds of security assistance you’ve seen in the past.”

The upcoming package, the 17th such installment, would bring U.S. commitment to Ukraine to more than $8 billion since the war started in late February.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken pushes Russia’s Lavrov to release Griner and Whelan, uphold grain export deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had a “frank and direct” conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The call, the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, follows a U.S. proposal to free detained WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner. I also emphasize that the world expects Russia to fulfill its commitments under the deal that was reached with Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations on grain shipments from Ukraine,” Blinken said alongside Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

Blinken also said that he warned Lavrov of additional sanctions should Russia annex more of Ukraine.

“Those plans would never be accepted. The world will not recognize annexations. We will impose additional significant costs on Russia if it moves forward with its plans,” Blinken said.

— Amanda Macias

‘Russia has effectively set the UN Charter on fire,’ U.S. ambassador to the UN says

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on June 08, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations slammed Russia’s war in Ukraine as the conflict heads into its sixth month.

“Russia has effectively set the U.N. Charter on fire,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the international forum’s Security Council.

“Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the world has witnessed Russia’s flagrant violations of international law and complete disregard for the U.N. Charter and the principles of peace,” she added.

Thomas-Greenfield said that there are substantial reports of Russian forces committing human rights abuses, including the forced transfers of people to Russian territory.

She also said U.S. intelligence indicates that Russia is taking steps to annex large parts of Ukraine.

“This is galling. The acquisition of territory by force is about as clear a violation of the U.N. Charter as you can get,” she added.

“We cannot, we will not stand by and let it happen,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

— Amanda Macias

Lavrov to propose a date for a call with Blinken, their first since Russia invaded Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 8, 2022.

Alexander Zemlianichenko | Afp | Getty Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would soon propose a date for a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, their first discussion since Russia invaded Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Blinken said he will discuss the U.S. proposal to free detained WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan with Lavrov “in the coming days.”

Later on Wednesday, the Kremlin said it has not yet received a request for a phone call between Lavrov and Blinken.

— Amanda Macias

More than 400 attacks have hit Ukraine’s healthcare facilities, UN says

Civilians receive medical treatment at a hospital on April 3, 2022, in Chuhuiv town, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine.

Wolfgang Schwan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia’s use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area has taken a heavy toll on Ukraine’s health sector, a top United Nations official said.

“As of 25 July, there have been 414 attacks on health care in Ukraine, resulting in 85 deaths and 100 injuries,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said before the United Nations Security Council.

Access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health for women, and access to affordable child health care have also deteriorated, she said.

“The impact of the war globally is glaringly clear, consequences will only become more pronounced the longer conflict lasts particularly with the onset of winter,” DiCarlo added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine ready for grain shipments, Zelenskky says

A view shows silos of grain from Odesa Black Sea port, before a shipment of grain as the government of Ukraine awaits signal from UN and Turkey to start grain shipments, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine July 29, 2022.

Nacho Doce | Reuters

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that his country is ready to ship grain exports from the Black Sea ports in the south.

Earlier this month, Russia and Ukraine signed a U.N.-backed deal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain. Millions of tons of wheat have been stuck in the war-torn nation. Grain exporters in Ukrainian port cities like Odesa have been unable to ship their goods due to the conflict, fueling a global shortage of the commodity and pushing up food prices.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov visit a sea port before restarting grain export, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine July 29, 2022.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

“Our side is fully prepared. We sent all the signals to our partners — the U.N. and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation,” Zelenskyy reportedly said Friday.

“The infrastructure minister is in direct contact with the Turkish side and the U.N. We are waiting for a signal from them that we can start.”

—Matt Clinch

Ukraine denies carrying out missile strike on prisoner camp

Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed Friday that 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded in a strike on a detention center in the town of Olenivka, in Russian-controlled Donetsk.

NBC News was not able to immediately verify the Russian claim.

Ukraine officials have denied the claim, saying they did not carry out the missile strike. The officials said that Russia is trying to cover up the “torture and murder” of Ukrainian prisoners.

“The armed forces of the Russian Federation carried out targeted artillery shelling of a correctional institution in the settlement of Olenivka, Donetsk oblast, where Ukrainian prisoners were also held,” the general staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement.

Russia has repeatedly denied carrying out war crimes.

—Matt Clinch

Russian forces launch missile attack on the Kyiv area

For the first time in weeks, Russian forces launched a missile attack on the Kyiv area on Thursday as Ukrainian troops concentrate on the south of the country.

Ukrainian officials said that Russia had attacked the northern Chernihiv region as well, to the northeast of Kyiv and close to the Belarus border.

Kyiv regional Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram, according to Reuters, that 15 people had been injured with missiles hitting military installations in the Vyshhorod district, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

— Matt Clinch

Wagner Group given front-line duties by Moscow, UK says

Notorious Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has been assigned responsibility for specific sectors on the front line in Ukraine, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry.

“This is a significant change from the previous employment of the group since 2015, when it typically undertook missions distinct from overt, large-scale regular Russian military activity,” the ministry said in a tweet.

“Wagner’s role has probably changed because the Russian MoD has a major shortage of combat infantry.”

Wagner Group has long been implicated in conflicts in unstable countries around the world including Mali, Libya, Syria, Mozambique and the Central African Republic. Human rights groups accuse its mercenaries of perpetrating civilian massacres and other human rights abuses. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any connection to Wagner.

Although its structure and even existence is disputed, Wagner is believed to have first emerged during Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The name has since become a catch-all term for an opaque and expansive network of businesses and entities.

— Elliot Smith and Matt Clinch

The hacktivist group Anonymous is ’embarrassing and demoralizing’ the Kremlin, says cybersecurity specialist

Large data leaks performed in the name of the hacktivist group Anonymous are exposing Russia’s cybersecurity defenses to be weaker than previously thought, say cybersecurity specialists.

Though Russia remains strong in its offensive capabilities, data leaks of the Central Bank of Russia, the space agency Roscosmos, several of Russia’s largest oil and gas companies and other Russian companies, have “disappointed” the cyber community, said Shmuel Gihon, a security researcher at the threat intelligence company Cyberint.

“We expected to see more strength from the Russian government,” said Gihon, “at least when it comes to their strategic assets, such as banks and TV channels, and especially the government entities.”

Anonymous has claimed responsibility for hacking more than 2,500 Russian and Belarusian sites, said Jeremiah Fowler, co-founder of the cybersecurity company Security Discovery.  

The data leaked online is so large it will take years to review, he said.

The decentralized collective of hackers has pulled the veil off Russia’s cybersecurity practices, said Fowler, which is “both embarrassing and demoralizing for the Kremlin.”

— Monica Pitrelli

White House declines to provide update on U.S. proposal to Russia for release of Griner and Whelan

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 26, 2022. 

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images

The White House declined to give an update on talks with Russia on a U.S. offer for the immediate release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

“I really cannot go into more detail just for the privacy and safety of the process. We are sharing that we did put a substantial offer on the table,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a daily news briefing.

Earlier in the day, the Kremlin said that so far “there are no agreements” on a U.S. request to release Griner and Whelan from Russian custody.

The Kremlin said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will address a phone call request by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he has the time, according to a report by Interfax.

— Amanda Macias

47 million more people could face acute food insecurity if Russia’s war continues, UN says

Wheat grain pours from a machine into a storage silo on Monday, July 8, 2013. Temporary silos will be built along the border with Ukraine to help export more grain to address a growing global food crisis, U.S. President Joe Biden said, according to Reuters.

Vincent Mundy | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.N.’s World Food Program estimates that up to 47 million more people could face acute food insecurity this year if Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.

Last week, representatives from the U.N., Turkey, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement to reopen three Ukrainian ports, an apparent breakthrough as the Kremlin’s war on its ex-Soviet neighbor marches into its fifth month.

The deal follows a months-long blockade of dozens of Ukrainian ports sprinkled along the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Less than 24 hours after the deal was signed though, Russian missiles rained down on Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port.

The United Nations Secretary-General has previously warned that the armed conflict in Ukraine is threatening to unleash “an unprecedented wave of hunger and destitution, leaving social and economic chaos in its wake.”

— Amanda Macias

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'Everything was going fine between us' Putin says of NATO expansion; Russian forces withdraw from Snake Island – CNBC

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Russian troops have withdrawn from Snake Island

Ukrainian officials said that Russian troops have evacuated Snake Island, a remote island off the south of Ukraine that was occupied by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense also confirmed the withdrawal has taken place from the island, which is locally known as Zmiinyi Island, describing it as an act “of goodwill.”

Andriy Yermak, President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, tweeted this morning that there were no Russian troops on Snake Island anymore while an official message from Ukraine’s southern operational command said Russian forces had “hastily evacuated” the island which is a strategic outpost in the Black Sea.

“During the night, as a result of the successful next stage of the military operation with strikes by our missile and artillery units on Snake Island, the enemy hastily evacuated the remnants of the garrison with two speed boats and, presumably, left the island,” the operational command said on Facebook.

It added that currently, Snake island “is covered in fire, explosions are heard” with the final outcome of the operation still being investigated.

In a briefing by Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Thursday, it confirmed the withdrawal, stating:

“On June 30, as a step of goodwill, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation completed the fulfillment of their tasks on Zmeiny Island and withdrew the garrison stationed there.”

It said the move “demonstrated to the world community that the Russian Federation does not hinder the efforts of the UN to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine.”

Russia said the decision “will not allow Kyiv to speculate on the impending food crisis, referring to the impossibility of exporting grain due to Russia’s total control of the northwestern part of the Black Sea.”

It said it was “now it is up to the Ukrainian side” to clear the Black Sea coast of mines — which both sides have accused each other of planting in the sea, and blaming these for hindering exports of vital produce.

Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s forces must avoid being encircled by Russians, UK says

Britain’s Ministry of Defense has given its latest intelligence update on the state of fighting in Ukraine, noting that the country’s armed forces continue to hold their positions in the city of Lysychansk following their withdrawal from Severodonetsk.

Russian forces, meanwhile, continue to pursue an approach of “creeping envelopment” from the Popasna direction, due south from Lysychansk, removing the need to force a major new crossing of the Siverskyi Donets river (which separates Severodonetsk from Lysychansk), the U.K. noted in its update on Twitter on Thursday.

The ministry said it is highly likely “that Ukrainian forces’ ability to continue fighting delaying battles, and then withdraw troops in good order before they are encircled, will continue to be a key factor in the outcome of the campaign.”

Current ground combat is likely focused around the Lyschansk oil refinery, 10 kilometers southwest of the city center, the U.K. added, backing up similar information from Ukraine’s armed forces this morning.

“At the operational level, Russian forces continue to make limited progress as they attempt to encircle Ukrainian defenders in northern Donetsk province via advances from Izium.”

— Holly Ellyatt

City of Lysychansk under ‘constant shelling’ as battle rages to control wider region

Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern Luhansk region on June 23, 2022. On Wednesday, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region where the fighting is most severe, said that the city of Lysychansk is under “constant shelling.”

Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

While global attention has been on the NATO summit taking place this week in Spain, in Ukraine, the battle for control of the Donbas in the east continues to rage.

On Wednesday, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region where the fighting is most severe, said that the city of Lysychansk is under “constant shelling.”

“Orcs are constantly trying to storm Lysychansk, fighting continues on the outskirts, the city itself is under constant fire,” Haidai said in a post on Facebook last night. Ukrainian officials regularly describe Russian fighters as “orcs” after the brutish characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”

Lysychansk is the twin city across the Siverskyi Donets river from Severodonetsk, which was seized by Russian forces last weekend after a tactical retreat by Ukrainian fighters. Haidai said around 15,000 civilians remain in Lysychansk although a “quiet,” inconspicuous evacuation is taking place.

In its latest military update on the Russian invasion on Thursday morning, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Thursday that Russian troops are carrying out attacks and “battles are ongoing” in the area of the Lysychansk oil refinery.

“In Donetsk direction, the enemy, with the support of artillery, is trying to block the town of Lysychansk and take control of a section of Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway,” Ukraine said, adding that Russian forces were firing at civilian infrastructure in nearby settlements.

Russian forces are heavily focused on gaining territory in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that are part of the wider Donbas in east Ukraine. It is Russia’s expressed aim to control the territory, where two pro-Russian separatist “republics” are located.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on Wednesday that the so-called “liberation” of the Donbas was his main goal, as well as “the protection of these people [in the pro-Russian areas], and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself.”

‘Everything was going fine between us’: Putin expresses dismay at NATO expansion

“There’s nothing that might concern us in terms of Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members. If they want to then please, go ahead,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will “respond in kind” if NATO infrastructure and troops are deployed in Sweden and Finland when they join the alliance.

“There’s nothing that might concern us in terms of Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members. If they want to then please, go ahead,” he said on Wednesday.

“But they should clearly understand they didn’t face any threats before this. Now, if NATO infrastructure and troops are deployed we will be compelled to respond in kind and create the same threats for the territories where the threats towards us are created,” he added.

“It’s obvious — don’t they understand that? Everything was going fine between us but now there will be tensions. This is obvious and inevitable.”

Putin’s comments came as NATO leaders and their allies met in Madrid on Wednesday. At the summit, the alliance pledged to strengthen their support for Ukraine and called Russia a “direct threat” to its security. It also formally welcomed Sweden and Finland — historically non-aligned countries — to join the alliance.

The leaders of both Nordic countries said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the dial for them when it came to deciding to apply to join NATO. Russia is aggrieved by the expansion as its land border with NATO territories will now roughly double. It has a 830-mile border with prospective member Finland and borders five other NATO members: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Norway.

Holly Ellyatt

UK announces 1 billion pounds in military support to Ukraine

Azov Regiment soldiers fire weapons during target practice on June 28, 2022 in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine. The U.K. will provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, Reuters said citing the British government.

Paula Bronstein | Getty Images news | Getty Images

Russia has not shown meaningful attempt at diplomacy, Blinken says at NATO

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. has not seen meaningful Russian diplomacy in ending the war in Ukraine.

“We have not seen any interest on the part of Vladimir Putin in engaging in any kind of meaningful diplomatic initiative,” Blinken said during the NATO Madrid Summit. “But in any event, as we’ve said from the start, it’s really important that the Ukrainians define the terms of any potential negotiation,” he added.

America’s top diplomat said that the U.S. will continue to send security assistance to Ukraine in order to mitigate and repel Russian aggression.

“When a negotiating table eventually does emerge, which at some point it will, they [Ukraine] have the strongest possible hand to play at the negotiating table,” he said.

— Amanda Macias

‘If Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, NATO will inevitably be drawn into the war,’ Ukrainian official warns

A Ukrainian serviceman talks by phone as he walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak said that Russia will most likely push its war beyond Ukraine’s borders into NATO-member territory, according to an NBC news translation.

“History has taught us that the aggressor’s appetites grow with each concession,” Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on the Telegram messaging app.

“That is why the security of not only Europe but all of humanity is under threat. And we believe that if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, NATO will inevitably be drawn into the war,” he said, calling for more weapons and ammunition for Ukrainian forces.

“Russia is increasingly convinced that it cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield. That is why they increasingly resort to bloody terror and the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Biden thanks Erdogan for allowing Finland and Sweden to join NATO

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey May 18, 2022. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT

Murat Cetinmuhurdar | Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for agreeing to allow Sweden and Finland into the NATO military alliance.

“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together with the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden and all the incredible work you’re doing to try to get grain out of Ukraine, I was telling you, you’re doing a great job. I want to thank you,” Biden said alongside his Turkish counterpart.

Erdogan thanked Biden for renewed U.S. commitment to strengthening NATO and said the alliance will have to work together to resolve the mounting food crisis, Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports and issues related to oil and natural gas.

 — Amanda Macias

Ukraine releases dramatic footage of shopping mall strike

Ukraine’s government has released footage showing the missile that hit the Amstor shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk in central Ukraine on Monday, a strike that killed at least 20 people and injured 59 others.

The video, which shows CCTV footage from a machinery plant near the mall on Monday, was shown in Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy nightly address on Tuesday, and posted on Facebook.

CNBC has not been able to independently verify that the missile is a Kh-22 as stated in the tweet, and has been stated by several Ukrainian officials.

Kh-22 missiles are large, long-range anti-ship missiles that were developed by the Soviet Union and first used in the early 1960s, intended for use against U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in the Cold War.

The strike on the shopping mall was condemned as a war crime by Western leaders. For its part, Russia said it was targeting a depot of weapons donated by the U.S. and Europe that it said was located near the mall, a claim dismissed by Ukraine.

Holly Ellyatt

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