June 2, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Christian Edwards, Ivana Kottasová, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 10:06 p.m. ET, June 2, 2023
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7:52 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Biden administration hopes to bring Russia to the table for nuclear arms control talks

From CNN’s Kiley Atwood

The Biden administration is seeking to draw Russia to the negotiating table to discuss nuclear arms control, after President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the agreement earlier this year. 

The US is hoping to reimplement the deal and negotiate a follow-on agreement after it expires in 2026. So far these efforts have been rebuffed.

However, the US will on Friday couple a major speech by national security adviser Jake Sullivan with a move to withhold information from Russia that would have been shared as part of the key nuclear arms control agreement between the two countries.

“We're hoping in the aggregate, this sort of communication we're doing through this speech, the countermeasures, and any sort of potential follow up bilaterally is going to lead to the discussion,” a senior administration official told reporters.
“Of course, that takes two to tango.”

The official said the Biden administration was willing to engage in talks with Russia without preconditions. 

The countermeasures that the US is putting into place on Friday include: US withholding notifications under the treaty such as the location of missiles and launchers included in the treaty and some day-to-day notifications movements of US nuclear forces. 

The State Department on Thursday expressed the US’ willingness to reverse the actions taken if Russia came back into compliance with the treaty.

The Biden administration’s efforts to focus on nuclear nonproliferation come as some Republican lawmakers have urged the administration to evaluate the current and planned US nuclear force. For now, the US has not made any announcements about changing the size of its nuclear force. 

Some context: Putin announced in February that he would suspend his country’s participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, which imperiled the last remaining pact that regulates the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in early 2021 for five years, meaning the two sides would soon need to begin negotiating on another arms control agreement.

Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, though inspections had been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But only hours after Putin announced his decision in a speech, Russia’s foreign ministry said the decision to suspend participation in the treaty was reversible.

Recent developments: Since then, however, Putin said he plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the neighboring ally from which he staged part of his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow will complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by the end of July, Putin told state broadcaster Russia 1 last week.

7:10 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Who is the Russian private military boss taking center stage in the war in Ukraine?

From CNN's Melissa Bell

Head of PMC "Wagner" Yevgeny Prigozhin during a meeting with journalist in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on May 30.
Head of PMC "Wagner" Yevgeny Prigozhin during a meeting with journalist in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on May 30. Marina Moldavskaja/Kommersant/Sipa USA/AP

Yevgeny Prigozhin has been leading the charge in Ukraine – and stealing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s limelight for months.

Initially a shadowy figure operating under a lower profile in the early months of the war, Prigozhin's growing power on the ground has translated into a far more open political confrontation with Moscow.

He previously accused Russia’s military leadership of sitting “like fat cats” while his troops died in Bakhmut. This week, he berated them after drone attacks on Moscow brought the war far too close to home.

“You are the ministry of defense. You didn’t do a damn thing to stamp this out. Why are you allowing these drones to fly to Moscow?”

Rarely can Russians issue such direct criticism of their government and emerge unscathed.

After securing Russia’s only meaningful gains in Ukraine in months, has Prigozhin’s authority become unassailable?

Watch the full report here.

7:28 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Meet the French street artist whose heart “belongs to the Ukrainian people”

From CNN's Mariya Knight

The artist's depiction of Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Matsiyevsky.
The artist's depiction of Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Matsiyevsky. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine

On the side of a building in Kyiv, the haggard face of a soldier stares into the distance. The mural, around five stories tall, is of captured Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Matsiyevsky, executed by Russian forces last year after he shouted the words “Glory to Ukraine.”

The mural is the work of French street artist Christian Guemy, known as C215, and is one of many works he has created to mark Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

Before he completed the mural, he met with Matsiyevsky’s widow and mother.

“As with everything I do for Ukraine I did it for free and with enthusiasm,” Guemy told CNN.

“I am proud and humbled by this mural. Facing a real giant, who refused proudly to betray Ukraine by saying ‘Glory to Ukraine’ …can just make you feel small.”

“I am just an artist, kind of a painting tool, and my commitment is to support Ukraine with my skills,” he added.

Based in Paris, Guemy has collaborated with British artist Banksy — who has also created works in Ukraine — in the past. But he says their styles are different. “Being French gives a proper sense of tragedy, not irony.”

Guemy now frequently visits Ukraine, but he has also brought the country’s struggle to the streets of the French capital.

See more of his work here.

7:31 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Explosions heard in Russian-occupied city of Berdiansk

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

A view of an explosion in Berdiansk in Russian-controlled Ukraine released on June 2.
A view of an explosion in Berdiansk in Russian-controlled Ukraine released on June 2. Reuters

Multiple explosions rocked the Russian-occupied port city of Berdiansk in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region on Friday, according to both Russian-appointed and Ukrainian local officials.

Ukrainian officials from the city military administration said on Telegram there have been “hits on the positions of the occupiers” in Berdiansk, adding:

We are grateful to the Ukrainian Armed Forces for bringing the liberation of the city closer.”

They said they were awaiting details and confirmation from the Ukrainian military’s General Staff. “According to preliminary reports, ships that recently entered the port of Berdiansk to steal Ukrainian grain and scrap metal are escaping,” they added.

Meanwhile, Russian-appointed official Vladimir Rogov, who is a member of the council of the civil-military administration of Zaporizhzhia region, said the seaport was hit at around midday local time. He said the strike on "peaceful Berdiansk was carried out by the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] militants."

“According to preliminary information, there were no casualties or damage,” he wrote on Telegram.

Some background: Berdiansk is a port city on Sea of Azov on Ukraine's southern coast. It has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the conflict. Its port has previously been targeted by Ukrainian forces. The city lies along the coast from Mariupol, an area that is believed to be among the sites Ukraine will attempt to reclaim in its counteroffensive.

Last week, Russian officials claimed that Ukrainian forces launched a “massive strike” on the city. Rogov speculated that the strike may have been with “British Storm Shadow missiles” -- a long-range cruise missile with stealth capabilities that the United Kingdom recently provided to Ukraine.

Berdiansk is deep in Russian-controlled territory, around 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) from the front line. That means that if Ukraine was behind the alleged strike, the use of Storm Shadow missiles would be a likely option.

More explosions were heard in and around Berdiansk and Mariupol last weekend, according to Ukrainian officials. Russian authorities again claimed that two Storm Shadow missiles had been fired on the region.

7:48 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Two dead in shelling of Russia’s Belgorod border region, governor says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova, Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Sarah Dean in London

Shelling in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, has killed two women, the region's governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post Friday.

He blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling, saying they had fired at a road in the village of Maslova Pristan, in the Shebekino district. Ukraine has not commented on the claim.

“Shell fragments hit cars passing by. Two women were traveling in one of them. They died on the spot from their injuries,” Gladkov said.

He said two men travelling in a separate car were injured by shrapnel and were taken to hospital.

Meanwhile, anti-Putin Russian fighters from the Freedom for Russia Legion, who claim to be fighting in Belgorod, said Russian troops “destroyed a Renault car with civilians, mistaking it for one with our sabotage group” near the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka, which is approximately a 20-minute drive from Maslova Pristan.

“At least two civilians were killed and this is a direct consequence of the unprofessionalism of Putin's army,” the group said.

CNN cannot independently verify the claims.

The Freedom for Russia Legion also claimed Friday there is “active fighting on the outskirts of the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka."

"Unfortunately, there are wounded legionaries, but freedom is gained through blood. All the wounded have already been taken to hospital,” it said.

Although the Freedom for Russia Legion is aligned with the Ukrainian defense forces, Kyiv has previously stated they act as “independent entities” when operating in Russia.

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Thursday that Ukraine “does not have any responsibility” over the Russian dissident groups who have claimed to be fighting inside Russian territory.

Amid the intensified violence in the region, Gladkov said Thursday that evacuations were underway, and that 2,500 people have been moved to temporary accommodation.

5:55 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Chinese envoy says Ukraine-Russia peace talks may be “difficult” but neither has “shut the door”

From CNN's Beijing bureau

Chinese Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui gives a press briefing, in Beijing, China, on June 2.
Chinese Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui gives a press briefing, in Beijing, China, on June 2. Thomas Peter/Reuters

Li Hui, China's special representative on Eurasian affairs, said Friday that while he believes there are "a lot of difficulties" for Ukraine and Russia to sit down and negotiate, neither side has shut the door to talks. 

The crisis in Ukraine "may now face a lot of difficulties for the parties to sit down and negotiate, but we should also see that on the other hand, the parties are not completely without consensus," Li said in a rare press conference in Beijing following his visit to Europe, which included stops in Kyiv and Moscow.  

"The Russian side, for example, has said that Russia has never opposed peace talks and has always supported a political solution… The Ukrainian side also said that it cherishes and desires peace, and I feel that the two sides have not shut the door to peace talks," he added.

The Chinese envoy, who previously served as China's ambassador to Russia, also said that the "risk of escalation" remains high and that while he was in Kyiv, he heard air raid sirens every day and the Ukrainian capital experienced two massive airstrikes.

"The conflict is in a stalemate and the battlefield is fraught with uncertainty. This situation is worrying," Li said, stressing the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

"If the war continues to go on there will only be more disasters and suffering as long as there is a glimmer of hope for peace we should work actively toward it, instead of allowing the conflict to continue and spread," he said.

Li also reiterated China's rejection of the Wall Street Journal report that said China called on European nations to accept a ceasefire that would leave Russia in possession of parts of Ukraine. 

"The report is not in line with the facts," Li told reporters, adding "this practice of spreading false information by advocating confrontation for political self-interest is immoral and very dangerous."

Li also stressed the importance of the Black Sea grain deal, calling it an initiative of "great significance" to ensuring global food security, and emphasized China's position towards promoting peace talks and its 12-point proposal for a political settlement on the conflict.

Some context: China has repeatedly attempted to portray itself as a peacemaker in the grinding conflict, despite its close ties with Russia.

Li met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in May. He was the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to Ukraine since the start of the war. He said at the time that “there is no panacea in resolving the crisis.”

“All parties need to start from themselves, accumulate mutual trust, and create conditions for ending the war and engaging in peace talks,” Li said.

However, some western analysts have questioned whether China’s efforts to promote peace are genuine – and whether its vision of how the conflict might end aligns with Kyiv’s.

During Li’s visit, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba stressed that peace negotiations must be “based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Ukraine does not accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict,” Kuleba said.

5:04 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Analysis: NATO is scrambling to avoid a huge embarrassment

From CNN's Luke McGee

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson look at each other as they address a joint press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 7.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson look at each other as they address a joint press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 7. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

NATO officials are in a race against time to avoid the embarrassment of seeing the alliance miss its own stated aim of admitting Sweden into its ranks by July 11.

Both Sweden and its neighbor Finland stated their intent to join NATO through its open-door policy in May last year, just weeks after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Finland was finally accepted in April of this year, doubling the alliance’s border with Russia, but Sweden’s accession is currently blocked.

It is generally accepted that Sweden’s armed forces are compatible with NATO. Sweden has a permanent delegation at NATO and is considered a close partner to the alliance, meaning joining should be relatively straightforward. 

So why can’t Sweden join? 

The problem is Turkey – a strategically important NATO member due to its geographical location in both the Middle East and Europe, and the alliance’s second-largest military power – which is blocking Sweden’s accession for a number of reasons.

First, Turkey claims that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate in Sweden. Sweden changed its terrorism laws earlier this year, making it a crime to be part of these groups, though it’s still unclear if this is enough for Ankara.

Second, Turkey holds the Swedish government complicit in far-right protests where demonstrators burned copies of the Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Finally, there are concerns at how willing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to describe himself as a friend of Putin’s. Shortly before his re-election last week, he told CNN that he and Putin share a “special relationship.”

NATO officials are becoming concerned that missing the July 11 deadline would send a dangerous message to the alliance’s adversaries.

Read the full analysis here.

4:57 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Drone attack damaged buildings but caused no casualties, Russian official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Damage to a building in Kursk, Russia, on June 2.
Damage to a building in Kursk, Russia, on June 2. Governor of Kursk region

An overnight Ukrainian drone attack on the western Russian region of Kursk has damaged several buildings, Gov. Roman Starovoyt said Friday.

“The entrance of a high-rise building and several other private houses were damaged. We are completing calculations of the cost of damage — we will provide everyone with the fastest possible help. The main thing — there were no casualties,” he said. 

Earlier on Friday, Starovoyt had urged residents to stay calm, saying Russia's air defense system had shot down several of Ukrainian drones.

The governor is one of a number of Russian officials to report attacks on their regions Friday as the war spills over from Ukraine's borders into Russian territory.

4:27 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Ukraine war hasn't changed China's thinking around possible attack on Taiwan, report says

From CNN's Simone McCarthy in Hong Kong

China remains the “leading long-term challenge” to the existing international order and there is no evidence that Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine has changed Beijing’s thinking around “the timescale or methodology” for any potential attack on Taiwan, a top strategic think tank said ahead of a regional security summit in Singapore.

The grinding conflict in Europe may also accelerate trends in the Asia-Pacific region toward increased military spending and efforts to develop military capabilities, said a report released Friday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which hosts its annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this weekend.

The war and its reverberations in the Asia-Pacific region — as well as the growing contest between the United States and China — will be overarching themes at the security summit, the sidelines of which have long provided a platform for top security officials to meet face-to-face.

Attendees are expected to include US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Read the full story here.