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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8:46 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Russia has deployed special forces unit to its Belgorod region, Ukraine claims

From Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Sarah Dean in London

A Russian special forces unit has been deployed to Russia’s Belgorod border region because of “partisan” activity, Ukraine’s National Resistance Center – an official body — said Friday.

“Because of the need to fight the partisan movement, the detachment of the 322nd center of the Russian SOF ‘Senezh’ arrived on the territory of the Belgorod region,” the centre said.
“The Russians are so afraid of partisans that they urgently stopped all operations of this elite unit and instead placed it in the border settlements of the Belgorod region. The task of the unit is to conduct anti-sabotage activities on the Russian border,” they added.
CNN cannot independently verify this claim.

It comes after the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video showing Russian forces purportedly hitting targets in Belgorod. Russian combat aircraft "delivered nine strikes against retreating Ukrainian formations and enemy reserves," the ministry added. Earlier, this week the Kremlin said it is concerned about the situation in Belgorod.

Recent developments: Shelling in the Belgorod region, 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.

9:28 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

Russia’s drone and missile strikes on Kyiv continued into Friday as air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian officials reported attacks on several regions including Kursk and Belgorod.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Airstrikes on Kyiv: Ukrainian air defenses shot down 36 drones and missiles over Kyiv overnight into Friday, according to the head of Kyiv’s military administration Serhiy Popko. Two people were injured by falling debris. The latest strikes come a day after three people were killed in a drone attack after being unable to enter a closed bomb shelter.
  • Shelling of Belgorod: Fighting has continued in the Russian region of Belgorod, more than a week after a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals aligned with Ukraine launched a cross-border assault on their motherland. Ukrainian shelling of the region killed two women, according to governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in a Telegram post Friday. Ukraine has not commented on the claim.
  • Explosions in Berdiansk: Multiple explosions shook the Russian-occupied port city of Berdiansk in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia on Friday, according to both Russian-appointed and Ukrainian local authorities. Ukrainian officials from the city administration said they are “grateful to the Ukrainian Armed Forces for bringing the liberation of the city closer.”
  • China plays peacemaker: China’s special representative on Eurasian affairs Li Hui said Friday that neither Russia nor Ukraine has “shut the door” to peace talks, claiming that “the parties are not completely without consensus.” However, Ukraine has repeatedly stated it would not involve a settlement that would involve the loss of any of its territories – conditions that Russia has shown no sign of consenting to.
  • Sweden’s NATO scramble: 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. Turkey, which has criticized some recent actions of the Swedish government, may block Sweden from joining – in what would be a boost to Putin, with whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergodan told CNN he shared a “special relationship.”
  • Russian death toll: About 208,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has claimed. CNN has not been able to independently confirm this figure. The Biden administration said in May that Russia had suffered more than 100,000 casualties – meaning both those killed and wounded – since December.

8:03 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Zelensky orders audit of all bomb shelters in Ukraine 

From Olga Voitovych and Sarah Dean

A man sits next to the body of his granddaughter who was killed during a Russian missile strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 1.
A man sits next to the body of his granddaughter who was killed during a Russian missile strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 1. Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered an audit of all bomb shelters in Ukraine after three people were killed Thursday when they were unable to access a closed shelter in Kyiv.

Participants of a high-level government security meeting "reacted harshly to the people's deaths near a closed bomb shelter," he said in a statement Friday, adding that he has instructed a Ukrainian minister, Alexander Kamyshin, to "conduct a full audit of all Kyiv's defense structures" and deliver a report in 10 days.

Another minister, Ihor Klymenko, is tasked with doing the same for the whole of Ukraine, Zelensky added.

7:46 a.m. ET, June 2, 2023

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been a "strategic failure," top US diplomat says

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls in London

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a speech at the Helsinki City Hall, in Helsinki, Finland, on June 2.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a speech at the Helsinki City Hall, in Helsinki, Finland, on June 2. Lehtikuva/Reuters

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been a "strategic failure" that has diminished the country's influence and interests "for years to come," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Helsinki, Finland, on Friday.

“There is no question,” he added, “Russia is significantly worse off today than it was before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine – militarily, economically, geopolitically.”

Reiterating US support for Ukraine and its commitment to "just and lasting peace," he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has only strengthened large-scale international resolve.

“Where Putin aimed to project strength, he’s revealed weakness,” Blinken said, “Where he sought to divide, he’s united. What he tried to prevent, he’s precipitated.”

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.