Additional bodies of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers to be repatriated in exchange, official says
From CNN's Oleksandra Ochman, Olga Voitovych, Yulia Kesaieva and Karen Smith
As part of an exchange, the bodies of 56 Russian soldiers are being repatriated to Russia by Ukraine’s government, Oleh Kotenko, Ukraine's commissioner for Persons Missing in Special Circumstances, tells CNN.
The bodies of another 64 Ukrainian soldiers who died defending the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, southeast Ukraine, have been repatriated to government-controlled territory, Ukraine's Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories said Tuesday.
Ukraine and Russia have committed to an exchange of bodies as part of the agreement that ended that siege according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories. This is the third exchange of bodies to have taken place, Kotenko said. He added similar exchanges are planned in the future and the timings of the next exchange will depend on the identification of the bodies on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides.
Olena Tolkachova, chief of the Azov regiment Patronage Services, told CNN she has been working in a morgue to help identify soldiers and civilians from Mariupol, including the 64 soldiers who were from the Azovstal steel plant who were repatriated. She tells CNN the Ukrainian bodies are being gathered by the Russians and loaded into their refrigerator and then the bodies are reloaded into the morgue’s refrigerator.
She said oftentimes those who work at the morgue recognize the bodies by their tattoos or personal belongings because they are soldiers from within their regiment. Tolkachova said getting DNA to confirm the bodies with relatives is a complicated process that takes up to three months.
CNN did not immediately hear back from its request for comment from Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
12:28 p.m. ET, June 14, 2022
US expects more announcements of weapons to Ukraine during key meeting Wednesday of nearly 50 countries
From CNN's Oren Liebermann
The US expects more announcements of weapons and equipment packages to Ukraine during a key meeting of nearly 50 countries known as the Ukraine Contact Group on Wednesday, according to a senior US defense official.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is gaining ground in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, specifically in the city of Severodonestk, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting recently. Without an influx of more weapons, some Ukrainian officials have said it will be increasingly difficult to halt Russia’s incremental progress or reclaim occupied ground in the region.
“We hear what they’re saying, we absolutely hear what they’re saying,” said the senior defense official, who spoke of the “urgency” of the group’s meeting Thursday in Brussels.
The official would not detail what countries would be announcing new security packages or what those shipments would include but noted that the US works “very closely” with other countries to figure out what Ukraine’s armed forces need and then find those systems to send over.
The official would also not say whether the US would have a new package to announce, but said US President Biden's administration is already working on the next package.
“It’s a constant drumbeat because it’s a constant battle” with “constantly evolving urgent requirements,” the official told a group of reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The Biden administration announced the last weapons package on June 1st, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS), a system capable of launching a barrage of rockets and missiles that Ukraine had urgently requested for weeks. The $700 million package was the first time the administration had drawn from the new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, which received bipartisan support in Congress.
A small group of Ukrainian soldiers began training on HiMARS almost immediately after the weapons package was announced. But the system, which requires three weeks of training, has not yet entered the fight. The senior defense official would only say that it will enter Ukraine “soon.”
The US has taken on “some risk” to its own military readiness in sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said earlier this month, but it was “not an unacceptable level of risk at all.”
The senior defense official said the US and it allies had a significant amount of equipment still available to send to Ukraine.
“We have far from exhausted the resource and the multi-country security assistance for this battle on Ukrainian territory,” the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in his evening speech on Monday that Ukraine would liberate all of the territories occupied by Russia, even the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed shortly after its takeover in 2014. But that could only happen, he said, with more weapons for Ukraine.
“It only takes enough weapons to make it happen. The partners have it. In sufficient quantities. And we work every day for the political will to give us these weapons to appear,” Zelensky said.
Ukrainian officials have said 100 to 200 soldiers a day are dying in the fighting, a number that raises some doubts about the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to sustain such losses. The US official didn’t doubt the casualty figures.
“The numbers are not out of line with what you would expect for this kind of artillery battle,” the official said. “It’s not surprising that the numbers the Ukrainians are reporting are that serious.”
But the official said the US has not seen a flagging of Ukrainian morale to remain in the fight, even as the conflict becomes a grinding, brutal battle of artillery that may favor the firepower and manpower of Russia’s military. The official sounded a more optimistic note about the state of the fight, even as Russia appears to be gaining momentum in the Donbas region.
Problems of morale, poor command, and supply issues have plagued the Russian military since the beginning of the invasion. Russia was able to paper over some of those issues when the focus shifted to eastern Ukraine, since the battlefield bordered Russia, making it much easier to send supplies the short distance to units on the front line.
A lot of Russia’s high-end equipment has already been destroyed, the official said, forcing them to rely on older models. At the same time, Russia’s stock of precision munitions are dwindling, leading to the use of more artillery, which has had devastating consequences with its lack of precision. Sanctions and export restrictions have also made it higher to resupply their high end capabilities, the official said.
Despite all the challenges the Russians have faced — both self-made and a result of Ukraine’s counter-attacks — Russia still retains its biggest advantage, the sheer size of its military. But that doesn’t mean Russia is guaranteed victory, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no indication that he is considering scaling back his goals.
“It’s not so clear where the advantages and disadvantages fall. There are strains on both sides," the official said.
12:21 p.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Russia bans 49 UK citizens, including 29 journalists
From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Karen Smith
Russia published on Tuesday an updated “stop list” banning a total of 49 UK citizens from entering the country.
The updated list includes 29 journalists and 20 UK citizens who Russia believes to be associated with the UK defense industry, according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry says the “stop list” was updated following the British government’s introduction of personal sanctions against leading Russian journalists and on heads of companies of the domestic defense complex.
Those added to the “stop list” include journalists from the Guardian, the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Sky News, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Times, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Financial Times.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said, “The British journalists included in the list are involved in the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information about Russia and the events in Ukraine and Donbas. With their biased assessments, they also contribute to fueling Russophobia in British society.”
Among the UK citizens associated with the UK defense industry on the list are UK military officials, defense contractors and members of parliament.
10:34 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Germany will introduce assets register to strengthen sanctions against Russian oligarchs
From CNN’s Inke Kappeler in Berlin
Germany plans to introduce an assets register to make sanctions against money of unclear origin more effective — including Russian oligarch assets — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced during a speech at a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) conference on money laundering.
“Russia's aggression against Ukraine has exposed that sanctions need to be more effective, especially against oligarchs abroad," Scholz said on Tuesday in Berlin.
Germany will facilitate whistleblowing by establishing a special hotline, Scholz said.
“Russia's war against Ukraine marks a watershed for all of us because it threatens the global order itself,” Scholz reiterated.
9:27 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Russia calls on Ukrainian fighters to lay down their arms in Severodonetsk
From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Mick Krever
Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Tuesday called on Ukrainian fighters in Severodonetsk to lay down their arms “as has already happened to your comrades who previously surrendered in Mariupol.”
“We call on the official authorities in Kiev to show prudence and give appropriate instructions to the militants to stop their senseless resistance and withdraw from the territory of Azot plant,” the ministry said in a news statement.
The ministry said that it was prepared to conduct a “humanitarian operation” on Wednesday to evacuate civilians from the Ukrainian-held Azot chemical plant to Russian-held territory to the north.
“The Russian military announced their readiness to conduct a humanitarian operation to evacuate civilians from Azot in the northern direction,” towards the town of Svatove, in Russian-occupied territory, the ministry said, adding that Russia will open an evacuation corridor for civilians on Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Moscow time.
The Ukrainian head of the Severodonetsk military administration said Tuesday that just over 500 civilians continued to shelter in the Azot chemical plant, which is still under Ukrainian control, and which authorities say has been the target of intense shelling by Russian forces.
Russia's Ministry of Defense claimed that Ukraine had requested a corridor to evacuate civilians to Ukrainian-held territory, in Lysychansk, but that “it is not possible to safely evacuate in this direction” because all three major bridges are impassable.
CNN has reached out to Ukrainian authorities for comment.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said Monday that crossing between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk was now “difficult, but not impossible,” and Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that evacuations were slow because of the constant bombardment but still possible.
In calling for Ukrainian fighters to surrender, Russia's Ministry of Defense said that it would guarantee “the preservation of lives and the observance of all norms of the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war, as happened to your comrades who previously surrendered in Mariupol.”
CNN's Olga Voitovych, Julia Presniakova Yulia Kesaieva, and Jen Deaton contributed to this report.
8:45 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Bodies of another 64 Ukrainian soldiers who died in Mariupol steel plant have been repatriated, Ukraine says
From CNN's Yulia Kasaieva and Mick Krever
The bodies of another 64 Ukrainian soldiers who died defending the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — located southeast of Ukraine — have been repatriated to government-controlled territory, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories said Tuesday.
“Ukraine has returned the bodies of 64 heroic Azovstal defenders for their dignified burial,” the statement read. “The process of returning the bodies of the dead Ukrainian soldiers continues.”
The ministry said that the bodies were repatriated in an “exchange.” CNN is seeking clarification on this statement.
8:44 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Zelensky calls on Germany to reject "balancing act" with Russia
From CNN's Victoria Butenko, Irina Morgan, and Mick Krever
Germany must reject a “balancing act” between Ukraine and Russia and provide certainty about its support for Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF.
“I think there is a certain amount of skepticism in the German leadership's relationship with Ukraine,” Zelensky said. “And I don't think this skepticism came with Olaf Scholz. I don't think this is something new.”
“I believe this skepticism towards us is mainly about our future membership of the European Union or NATO. All this skepticism was there before Mr Scholz. Unfortunately, this was the attitude. And I believe this attitude will change. Right now, it is what it is on this issue," he continued.
Germany has pledged heavy weaponry to Ukraine but has faced sustained criticism from Ukrainian leadership for alleged equivocation and slow delivery.
“We need Chancellor Scholz to give us certainty that they will support Ukraine," Zelensky said in a transcript distributed by his office.
“He and his government must choose not to do a balancing act between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, but to choose which is their priority. I feel that the people of Germany have made this choice, but it is always difficult for the leadership because there are many different challenges. I understand it. Nevertheless, I am counting on this very much," he added.
8:51 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
Ukraine's Zelensky says Russia will "go further" than Donbas if given the opportunity
From CNN's Mick Krever
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday that he believes that Russia, if given the opportunity, will expand its ambitions in Ukraine beyond the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the country’s east, known as the Donbas.
“I am sure that if Ukraine is not strong enough, they will go further,” he said during a virtual press conference with Danish journalists. “We have shown to them our strength. And it is important for this strength to be also demonstrated together with us by our Western partners as well.”
Zelensky once again appealed for more weaponry from Western nations. He said he was grateful for what had already been sent, but “it has to come quicker” if Ukraine’s allies want to stymie Russia’s territorial ambitions.
At the beginning of the invasion, Russian forces attacked and occupied multiple Kyiv suburbs before the Kremlin withdrew its forces from around the capital to concentrate on the east of the country. And in early June, Russia fired five cruise missiles toward the capital Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian military.
“They have already been to Kyiv,” Zelensky said of the Russians. “They have seen our welcome, and our ‘hospitality’ there. And of course they have the idea of occupying the whole country. They demonstrated this in the first weeks of the war. This is their objective.”
8:51 a.m. ET, June 14, 2022
NATO preparing for Madrid summit as Zelensky repeats calls for more heavy weapons
From CNN's Jack Guy, Al Goodman, Sarah Diab, Victoria Butenko and Jen Deaton
Members of the NATO military alliance are preparing for the organization's latest summit from June 28 to 30, with the war in Ukraine top of the agenda.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made repeated calls for greater support to face down Russian attacks in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine – and will be hoping to secure promises of more weapons supplies for Ukraine from NATO states.
The summit will take place in Spain's capital, Madrid, as the country is this year marking 40 years since it joined the alliance.
At a ceremony to mark the anniversary on May 30, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that NATO’s support for Ukraine was “unbreakable.”
Speaking at the same event, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looked ahead to the June summit in what he described as a “very different context” from the last NATO summit that Spain hosted in 1997.
“These challenge our security and our democratic way of life at the Madrid Summit. We will chart the way ahead for the next decade. We will reset our deterrence and defense for a more dangerous world,” Stoltenberg said.
“We will deepen our cooperation with like-minded countries and organizations, including the European Union and countries in the Indo-Pacific," he added. "We will also be joined by Finland and Sweden that just made historic applications to join our alliance.”
Further weapons supplies to Ukraine will likely be on the agenda at the meeting, after Stoltenberg underlined why Ukraine must continue to receive support.
If Putin wins the war, then “the price we have to pay would be higher than to now invest in support for Ukraine," said Stoltenberg on June 1.
The battle in the Donbas “will surely go down in military history as one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe,” said Zelensky in his nightly address Monday, adding that Ukrainian forces face the “significant advantage of the Russians in the amount of equipment, and especially – artillery systems.”
“The price of this battle for us is very high. It’s just scary," he added. "And we draw the attention of our partners on a daily basis to the fact that only a sufficient number of modern artillery for Ukraine will ensure our advantage and finally the end of Russian torture of the Ukrainian Donbas."