Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
June 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news
By Aditi Sangal, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Kathleen Magramo and Hafsa Khalil, CNN
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink visited the Ukrainian government’s main cybersecurity agency Wednesday and pledged support for Kyiv’s “crucial work’ in defending against Russian hacking threats.
The meeting with Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection (SSSCIP) comes just weeks after Brink was confirmed as the top US diplomat in Kyiv. Ukrainian cyber defenses have held up fairly well against a barrage of alleged Russian hacks during the war.
Brink’s meeting with the SSSCIP included discussion of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) program aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s cyber defenses, according to Brink and Ukrainian officials.
USAID initiated the four-year, $38-million program in 2020 to build out Ukraine’s cybersecurity workforce and make the country’s infrastructure more resilient to Russian hacks.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the program focused on linking US technical experts with Ukrainian government agencies and critical infrastructure operators “to operators to identify malware and restore systems after an incident has occurred,” according to a USAID statement.
“We have common cyber enemies and that unites us,” Yurii Shchyhol, who leads the SSSCIP, said in a statement Wednesday.
Two Americans fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv in Ukraine have been missing for nearly a week and there are fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.
The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.
A man who wished to remain nameless for security reasons, who is acting as the team’s sergeant, provided CNN with photos of both men’s passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine.
The man said that their unit was fighting under the command of Ukraine’s 92nd mechanized brigade on June 9, near the town of Izbytske.
He said that Drueke and Huynh went missing during the battle, and subsequent search missions failed to find any remains. A post the following day on a Russian propaganda channel on Telegram claimed that two Americans had been captured near Kharkiv.
“It was absolute chaos,” he told CNN. “There was about a hundred plus infantry advancing on our positions. We had a T72 firing on people from 30, 40 meters away.”
Bunny Drueke, Alex’s mother, told CNN that “they are presumed to be prisoners of war, but that has not been confirmed.” She said that the US Embassy to Ukraine has not been able to verify whether her son has been captured.
“They have not been able to verify that he’s with the Russians. All that they can verify is that he is missing at this point,” she said. “They stay in close touch with me, and I have every confidence that they are working on the situation.”
Joy Black, Huynh’s fiancé, age 21, told CNN: “We don’t want to make assumptions about what might have happened at this time. Obviously, they’re looking at several scenarios. And one of them is that they might have been captured. But we don’t have absolute confirmation of that at this time.”
Both Bunny Drueke and Black told CNN that their last communication with their loved ones was June 8, when the men told them that they would be going offline for a few days, for a mission.
“It was a pretty normal conversation actually: I told him I was getting food with my friends at our favorite restaurant,” Black said. “And he said, ‘I love you very much.’ And then I said, ‘I’ll be unavailable for two to three days.’ Which I found out was for the operation they were doing.”
They got engaged in March, not long before he left for Ukraine, she said.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to get married or get engaged before he left. And we decided on just getting engaged so that when he came back we could get married and enjoy it and not be apart right after we got married.”
Now, she said, she is “very fragile.”
“Even though not great stuff has happened, I’m still very proud of Andy for being strong.”
Black, too, said that she has “ups and downs.”
“I’m trying to stay calm and brave, because losing everything will not help Alex in the least. So I’m just trying to stay calm.”
What the US is saying: A State Department spokesperson Wednesday said that they “are aware of unconfirmed reports of two US citizens captured in Ukraine.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the spokesperson said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
The White House said it cannot confirm reports regarding the two, National Security Council coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday, adding that “if it's true, we'll do everything we can to get them safely back home.”
Pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during Wednesday’s White House briefing, Kirby said the administration will “do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it,” adding, “that this is an important point in time to remind that we discourage Americans from going to Ukraine and fighting in Ukraine.”
“It is a war zone. It's combat,” Kirby said. “And if you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there's any number of other ways to do that, that are safer and just as effective. We just — Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling.”
Kirby was unable to say if US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the reports.
CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting to this post.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley downplayed criticisms that the United States is not providing Ukraine with all of the weapons it is requesting, saying that "in warfare, no weapons system is a silver bullet, ever."
"So no weapons system, singular weapons system ever, quote unquote turns the balance," Milley said at a news conference in Brussels alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Milley said that if the Ukrainians use the weapons systems the US and other allies are providing properly, "they ought to be able to take out a significant amount of targets."
He also complimented them as "top-notch gunners" on the Triple 7 Howitzers, and he expected them to also be very good on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, a lighter wheeled system capable of firing many of the same types of ammunition as MLRS.
Milley said he believes Ukraine will be able to sustain the fight, despite media reports that say around 100 Ukrainian forces are killed and another 100 to 300 people are wounded each day.
“Your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties, is directly proportional to the object to be attained. And if the object to be attained is survival of your country, then you’re going to sustain it,” Milley said.
He said that he believed Ukraine would continue to fight “as long as they have leadership, and they have the means by which to fight,” such as “ammunition, artillery tubes, et cetera.”
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that despite Russian forces outnumbering and outgunning the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, Russian consolidation of their control in eastern Ukraine was “not a done deal.”
“There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns. So I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitability,” said Milley, before granting that “the numbers clearly favor the Russians.”
Milley said that the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk “is probably three quarters taken or so by Russian forces,” but that “the Ukrainians are fighting them street by street, house by house.”
He also characterized the current phase of the war as a “very severe battle of attrition, almost World War I-like,” noting how Russian progress in the region has been “very slow, a very tough slog.”
“The Russians have run into a lot of problems. They’ve got command and control issues, logistics issues. They’ve got morale issues, leadership issues and a wide variety of other issues,” said Milley. “And the Russians have suffered tremendous amounts of casualties.”
The US Defense Department has detailed the latest security assistance package the US is sending to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion — totaling approximately $1 billion. It includes a number of additional howitzers, ammunition, as well as Harpoon coastal defense systems.
“The United States has now committed approximately $6.3 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $5.6 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24,” Pentagon spokesperson J. Todd Breasseale said in a statement.
As part of the 12th “presidential drawdown” worth approximately $350 million, the US is sending 18 additional howitzers with tactical vehicles to tow them, 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition for the howitzers, as well as spare parts and other equipment for the artillery.
The drawdown also includes ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS, and tactical vehicles “to recover equipment.”
As part of a $650 million package under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), the US is sending two Harpoon coastal defense systems, as well as thousands of “secure radios” and thousands of night vision devices, thermal sights, and “other optics.”
The USAI package also includes funding “for training, maintenance, sustainment, transportation, and administrative costs.”
Here's the full breakdown from the Pentagon of what is in the package:
The presidential drawdown authority (PDA) authorization is the twelfth drawdown of equipment from Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine since August 2021. Capabilities in this package include:
- 18 155mm howitzers
- 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition
- 18 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems;
- Four Tactical Vehicles to recover equipment
- Spare parts and other equipment
Under USAI, the Department of Defense will provide Ukraine with near-term priority capabilities to defend against Russian aggression. Included in this package are:
- Two Harpoon coastal defense systems
- Thousands of secure radios
- Thousands of Night Vision devices, thermal sights, and other optics
- Funding for training, maintenance, sustainment, transportation, and administrative costs.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba "to share updates on U.S. assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war."
Their conversation came ahead of US President Joe Biden's public announcement of an additional $1 billion in US security assistance to Ukraine.
Blinken and Kuleba "discussed steps to expedite the delivery of heavy weaponry to Ukraine and bolster the Ukrainian economy, including efforts to ensure that Ukrainian agricultural products reach international markets," according to a readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
"The Secretary underscored the United States’ diplomatic efforts to solve the global food security crisis caused by President Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine and previewed U.S. objectives for the upcoming G7 and NATO Summits," Price said.
US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday ahead of an announcement of $1 billion in security assistance and other humanitarian assistance for Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing invasion.
“I reaffirmed my commitment that the United States will stand by Ukraine as it defends its democracy and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression,” Biden said in a statement.
He continued: “I informed President Zelenskyy that the United States is providing another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems that the Ukrainians need to support their defensive operations in the Donbas. We also discussed Secretary Austin’s efforts in Brussels today to coordinate additional international support for the Ukrainian armed forces.”
The US will also provide $225 million in humanitarian assistance, which Biden said will go toward “supplying safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.”
The two last spoke by phone in April.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that joining the European Union "can’t be the only answer to the stability" of neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
"First of all, because it is a process that is rightly demanding, and because we must also continue to simplify our Europe so that it is more efficient,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Wednesday in Moldova's capital of Chișinău.
He stressed the importance of building a broader European political community to cooperate over key issues such as defense and security, which would not be a substitute for adhesion.
EU leaders will gather at the end of June in Brussels to discuss the candidacy applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This will be the last EU summit held under the French presidency.
“My role is to build consensus,” Macron said.
France has also taken the initiative to lead the European Moldova Support Platform, which promises the eastern European country 650 million euros ($675 million) of aid, according to Macron.