June 2, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Aditi Sangal and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 3, 2022
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2:29 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

NATO chief says he believes war will "end at the negotiation table" after meeting with Biden

From CNN's Betsy Klein

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media following a meeting with President Joe Biden on June 2, in Washington, DC.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media following a meeting with President Joe Biden on June 2, in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he had a “great meeting” with US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Stoltenberg commended the US for its leadership and support of Ukraine and leadership in support of the Transatlantic alliance. US support is “making a difference on the battlefield every day,” he said. 

“President Putin wanted less NATO and therefore he invaded Ukraine, but he’s getting more,” Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting. 

They also discussed preparations for the late June NATO summit in Madrid, which he said “takes place at a pivotal time for security.” He said he looked forward to welcoming Biden to Spain. 

Asked by CNN’s MJ Lee about his assessment of the endgame of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, he said, “wars are, by nature, unpredictable and therefore we just have to be prepared for the long haul.” He added that it has become a “war of attrition,” where the Ukrainians are “paying a hard price for defending their country on the battlefield” but also “Russia is taking high casualties.” 

He said he believes the war will “end at the negotiation table,” and Ukraine continues to need NATO’s support. 

When asked about Turkey’s block on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications, Stoltenberg expressed confidence it will get resolved.

“When an ally, Turkey, raises concerns, we have to do what we always do and that is to sit down, address those concerns, then find a united way forward. We are in close contact with Ankara, leadership there,” he said, as well as close contact with Sweden and Finland. 

Stoltenberg said he would be convening a meeting with senior officials from Stockholm, Helsinki and Ankara in the coming days. 

Turkey, he noted, is an “important ally.” 

4:09 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Ukrainian military reports heavy fighting north of Sloviansk as Russians continue bombardments

From CNN's Tim Lister

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that fighting continues in multiple parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, with Russian forces trying to advance from several directions as they seek to take more of the area. 

Much of the fighting has been on the approaches to the city of Sloviansk. The nearby town of Sviatohirsk — which is home to a historic monastery on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets river — was shelled, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said three monks were killed. 

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that three other settlements in the area were under fire, and there was fighting underway in several more places. The locations named by the Ukrainians — Studenok, Sosnove and Yarova — suggest that Russian forces have made modest progress toward reaching the river. Observers said, however, that Ukrainian forces have prepared defenses around Sloviansk.

The military said that "in the Severodonetsk direction, the occupiers continue to fire on the Armed Forces positions in the districts of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk."

There has also been Russian airstrikes in adjacent communities. Ukrainian troops continue to hold the western edges of Severodonetsk, but the rest of the city is now in Russian hands.

The military said Russians were also continuing efforts to close in on the town of Bakhmut, a supply hub for Ukrainian forces, and fighting continued around settlements to the east and south of the town.

Oleksandr Zaika, head of Lysychansk City Military-Civil Administration, said that Thursday was "very difficult" in the city, which is across the Siverskiy Donets river from Severodonetsk. 

"The shelling has become more powerful. They are firing all over the city. They are firing continuously. Almost every minute, something arrives, so the situation is very difficult," Zaika told Ukrainian television.

He said that the highway linking Lysychansk with Bakhmut is under Ukrainian control, but said "they fire there all time, so it is very difficult to drive there, but it is possible. There is an alternative road on which you can move, but it is also dangerous."

He said 80,000 people — out of a population of about 100,000 — had left Lysychansk, and that 60% of the infrastructure and housing had been destroyed.

1:06 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Russian invasion could contribute to 1970s-style energy crisis, current and former energy officials say

From CNN's Matt Egan

The world is grappling with gravity-defying energy price spikes on everything from gasoline and natural gas to coal. Some fear this may just be the beginning.

Current and former energy officials tell CNN they worry that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the wake of years of underinvestment in the energy sector have sent the world careening into a crisis that will rival or even exceed the oil crises of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Unlike those infamous episodes, this one is not contained to oil.

“Now we have an oil crisis, a gas crisis and an electricity crisis at the same time,” Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency watchdog group, told Der Spiegel in an interview published this week. “This energy crisis is much bigger than the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s. And it will probably last longer.”

The global economy has largely been able to withstand surging energy prices so far. But prices could continue to rise to unsustainable levels as Europe attempts to wean itself off Russian oil and, potentially, gas. Supply shortages could lead to some difficult choices in Europe, including rationing.

Joe McMonigle, secretary general of the International Energy Forum, said he agrees with this depressing forecast from the IEA.

“We have a serious problem around the world that I think policymakers are just waking up to. It’s kind of a perfect storm,” McMonigle, whose group serves as a go-between for energy producing and consuming nations, told CNN in a phone interview.

The extent of that perfect storm — underinvestment, strong demand and supply disruptions from the war — will have wide-reaching consequences, potentially threatening the economic recovery from Covid-19, exacerbating inflation, fueling social unrest and undermining efforts to save the planet from global warming.

Birol warned of supply bottlenecks of gasoline and diesel, especially in Europe, as well as rationing of natural gas next winter in Europe.

“It is a crisis for which the world is woefully unprepared,” said Robert McNally, who served as a top energy adviser to former US President George W. Bush.

Continue reading the full story here:

11:58 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022

African Union chief will hold talks with Putin on Friday over food security

From CNN's Benjamin Brown and Niamh Kennedy in London and Bethlehem Feleke in Nairobi 

Senegalese President Macky Sall speaks during a press conference on May 1.
Senegalese President Macky Sall speaks during a press conference on May 1. (John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images)

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also the head of the African Union, is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Friday to discuss the "liberation of the stocks of grain and fertilizers," Sall's office said Thursday. 

Sall is traveling to Russia as "the blockage of [grain and fertilizer exports] particularly affects African countries," his office added. The talks were also set to center on the African Union's efforts "to contribute to the lull of the war in Ukraine." 

The Kremlin said that Sall and Putin would discuss Russia's interaction with the African Union, "including the expansion of political dialogue and economic and humanitarian cooperation." 

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that 22 million tons of grain, accounting for nearly half of Ukraine's grain export supply, was being held up by Russia's blockade of the main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.   

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it has blocked grain supplies from Ukraine and has accused the West of actions that have led to this crisis.   

5:53 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Ukrainian military says there are no immediate plans for withdrawing forces from Severodonetsk

From Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

A senior officer in the Ukrainian military said that fierce fighting continues in the city of Severodonetsk in Luhansk region. 

Speaking at a briefing in Kyiv, Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff, said, "Regarding the withdrawal of our troops. At the moment, our troops, which are engaged in the defense of Severodonetsk, do not face such a task. The units will carry out tasks with all the available forces and means, with the available resources."

Hromov acknowledged that the danger of Severodonetsk falling to the enemy exists. "In case of the taking of Severodonetsk, we will be forced to defend along the river bank and will also fight from urban areas." The river Siverskiy Donets runs close to Severodonetsk, dividing it from the nearby city of Lysychansk. 

"The enemy is trying to encircle our troops," Hromov said. "All activities, all actions carried out by both military personnel and units as a whole, consist in the implementation of a single plan. At this time, in the plans of the command, the General Staff, there is no need for our military units to withdraw from the [Severodonetsk] area."

10:50 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Resistance in Russian-occupied Melitopol is growing, according to Ukrainian mayor

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

Underground resistance in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine is growing, Mayor Ivan Fedorov said, adding that a number of Russian soldiers have been killed.

Fedorov is no longer in the city himself but said that according to intelligence data, more than 100 Russians had been "eliminated by the Melitopol guerrilla movement and special services cooperation. But I’m sure that this number is higher."

There is no way to verify the figure, and there has been no visual confirmation of Russians being killed in Melitopol.

Fedorov claimed on Ukrainian television that, according to information he received, the Russians "abduct people and hold them captive, and very few people know how people are being treated while held captive."

Since the beginning of the occupation, around 500 people had been detained by Russian forces — some for weeks — Fedorov said.

"If we try to categorize those who are under the threat of captivity — first of all, these are the dissidents, those who do not want to become part of Russia, those who condemn the occupation and those who simply disagree. Some people voice their disagreement, some only talk about it in their kitchens at home, but everyone is under threat," he said.

He noted that people held by the Russians were forced to sign documents saying that they would no longer attend rallies against the occupation or make statements in support of Russian forces.

Some had been tortured, he claimed. "It’s not just dangerous to go out for the pro-Ukrainian rallies — it’s dangerous to simply stay in the city. So as of today, over 50% of residents have left Melitopol. That’s over 70,000 people."

The latest theft by occupying forces was of Melitopol's cherry harvest, Fedorov said.

"They are taking it from our farmers, promising that one day they will give them some money in exchange. They also tell our farmers, that according to Russian legislation, one cannot have more than four hectares of fruit trees; anything in excess, they will confiscate," he said.

10:43 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022

US targets Russian elite, along with yachts and aircraft belonging to Putin associates, in latest sanctions

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Betsy Klein

The White House on Thursday announced the latest round of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting Russian government officials and elites with a slew of new financial and diplomatic sanctions. 

The latest sanctions, issued by the Treasury and State departments, take aim at the luxury assets of several prominent Russian elites – including several yachts and aircraft belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates – and “luxury asset management and service companies” working to evade US sanctions, according to a White House statement. The Commerce Department also issued new sanctions restricting Russia’s ability to secure military technologies. 

The sanctions target several prominent Russian elites and government officials, including Russian businessman God Nisanov, whom US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls “one of the richest men in Europe and a close associate of several Russian officials” and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova. 

The White House said in a statement that the latest sanctions are designed “to crack down on evasion and tighten our sanctions to enhance enforcement and increase pressure on Putin and his enablers.” 

“President Putin’s war against Ukraine is also an attack on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, enshrined in the UN Charter. Ukraine is fighting valiantly to defend its people and its independence with unprecedented assistance from the United States and countries around the world. The United States will continue to support the people of Ukraine while promoting accountability for President Putin and those enabling Russian aggression,” Blinken said in a statement announcing the sanctions. 

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control identified two yachts, the “Russia-flagged Graceful and the Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia,” as “blocked property in which President Vladimir Putin has an interest.”  

Putin, according to Treasury, has “taken numerous trips” on the yachts as recently as last year. It also designated several management companies and other owners associated with the yachts, as well as other yacht brokerage companies associated with Putin. 

The sanctions also target two other yachts, the Shellest and the Nega, both owned by Russian companies. 

“Shellest periodically travels to the coast where President Putin’s infamous Black Sea Palace is located, and President Putin uses Nega for travel in Russia’s North,” the Department of Treasury said. 

Thursday’s sanctions also take aim at a “close friend” of Putin, Sergei Pavlovich Roldugin, who, according to the Treasury Department, is “the godfather to one of Putin’s daughters,” as well as Roldugin’s wife, Elena Yuryevna Mirtova. Roldugin is the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House and Mirtova is a soprano opera singer. 

The administration also sanctioned a series of other yachts and aircraft belonging to Putin associates. 

Five additional Russian government officials were placed on the Department of Treasury’s sanctions list, including Yury Slyusar, the president of a Russian state-owned aircraft company; Vitaly Savelyev, the minister of transport; Maxim Reshentnikov, the minister of economic development; Irek Envarovich Faizullin, the minister of construction, housing, and utilities; and Dmitriy Yuryevich Grigorenko, the deputy prime minister. 

Severgroup, a “multi-billion-dollar Russia’s investment company with holdings and subsidiaries in metallurgy, engineering, mining, tourism, banking, technology, media, and finance, among other sectors” is also being sanctioned, along with its leader Alexey Mordashov and three members of his family.

10:09 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Ukrainian helicopter pilot describes risky mission to fly into Azovstal plant to rescue the wounded

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10.
Smoke rises from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

A Ukrainian helicopter pilot has given a detailed account of a daring mission to fly deep into Russian-held territory and rescue some of the injured in Mariupol's Azovstal plant.

The steel plant became the last bastion of resistance by Ukrainian forces in the eastern port city, but dozens of badly wounded people were trapped there for weeks.

The pilot, in an interview released by the Ukrainian military, said that there had been a number of flights to deliver badly needed supplies to Azovstal — and in some cases, the crews had received just a few hours notice. 

He said the main difficulty was layers of anti-aircraft defenses.

"There were three different anti-aircraft missile systems that covered the landing area," he said, and according to all calculations, the missions should have been impossible.

The pilot, whose identity is disguised during the interview, added that, like President Volodymyr Zelensky said, "In 90% of cases, everyone understands that they will not come back … But we all realized what was going on there. That people didn't even have medicine there to provide some basic care, there was no ammunition. It was extremely necessary to do it. That is why everyone took this risk.'"

Video of one mission showed views from the helicopter flight deck as the aircraft flew very low over the sea and Mariupol's docks, as well as a brief shot of a helicopter on the ground at the Azovstal plant. 

"At that moment, when we were already in Mariupol, and there was a landing, unloading of people and cargo, there was such a feeling of euphoria," the pilot said.

However, the pilot said that three minutes after takeoff on the return journey, his helicopter was hit by a man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) missile and one engine failed. But he decided against making an emergency landing with 20 wounded on board. "How to pick them up, how to evacuate them? We would need another helicopter," he said.

The pilot said he managed to fly to the designated landing site.

"Unfortunately, the other helicopter behind was less fortunate and the whole crew died," he said. 

More: A video was published Wednesday by a Telegram channel linked to the Ukrainian security services that showed helicopters flying supplies into Azovstal.  

"This unique special operation was carried out by specialists of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense and the Azov Regiment. 16 Mi-8 military helicopters loaded with the necessary equipment flew to the defenders of Mariupol blocked by Russia in Azovstal," it said.

"There were 7 such missions in total. Each time, helicopters successfully delivered food, drinking water, medicines and ammunition to the defenders of the city to a depth of more than 100 kilometers [from Ukrainian-held areas]," it added.

Zelensky referred to the previously undisclosed missions on May 20: "Unfortunately, a large number of people died, our pilots. Absolutely heroic people who knew that it was difficult, that it was almost impossible to fly to Azovstal and bring there medicine, food, water, pick up the bodies of the wounded."

"A large number of weeks pilots on helicopters [flew], knowing that 90% of them will not come back. Imagine what these people were doing — they were flying there. We lost a lot of pilots," Zelensky said. 

9:26 a.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Russian blockade could lead to famine in some regions of the world, Ukraine's foreign ministry warns

From CNN's Victoria Butenko and Bex Wright

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian seaports “could lead to a global food crisis and, in some regions, a famine,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on Thursday.

“About 22 million tons of grain are stuck in ports and cannot reach consumers, especially in Africa and Asia,” Nikolenko said, adding that land routes alone won’t solve the problem.

Russia is also “stealing Ukrainian grain in the occupied territories in order to sell it illegally to third countries,” Nikolenko said.

CNN has previously reported on multiple Russian ships carrying stolen Ukrainian grain.

“The Russian army has mined areas of the sea and is constantly trying to break through the defense of Odesa and other coastal cities on the Black Sea,” Nikolenko claimed.

The foreign ministry called on Russia to “withdraw its forces from the territorial waters of Ukraine” and provide security guarantees against attacks on ports and ships.

“We call on countries whose food security may suffer most from Russia's aggression against Ukraine to use their contacts with Moscow to force it to lift the blockade of Ukrainian seaports and end the war,” Nikolenko said.

Ukraine is also discussing with partners “ways to establish an international mission” under the United Nations to “take over the functioning of maritime routes,” Nikolenko said.