June 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Ivana Kottasová, Sana Noor Haq, Hafsa Khalil, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 2:56 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022
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1:03 p.m. ET, June 16, 2022

EU "cannot delay" Ukraine membership process, Italian prime minister says

From CNN’s Hada Messia and Arnaud Siad

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi attends a joint news conference in Kyiv on June 16.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi attends a joint news conference in Kyiv on June 16. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi reaffirmed his support for Ukraine's hopes of joining the European Union and said the EU “cannot delay this process.”

He is in Kyiv on an official visit along with other European leaders.

“I want to say today that the most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union and wants Ukraine to have candidate status and will support this position in the next European Council,” Draghi said during a joint press conference Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his fellow European leaders French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

“The Ukrainian people defend every day the values of democracy and freedom that are the basis of the European project, of our project. We cannot delay this process,” Draghi added.

Zelensky understood the path from candidate to member of the EU was “a path, not a point,” the Italian prime minister also said, adding that “profound reforms” in the Ukrainian society had to be seen.

Draghi also warned that the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine “must not turn into a world catastrophe” and asked to “unlock the millions of tons of grain that are blocked in the Black Sea ports” through safe corridors.

“The only way forward is with a United Nations resolution, which regulates the creation of corridors in the Black Sea. Russia has so far rejected it,” Draghi said.

11:41 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Kirby says Ukraine is getting as much military aid "we can send as fast as we can send it"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The Biden administration will continue to provide significant military assistance to Ukraine “as fast as we can send it” for as its long as is necessary until Russia stops combat, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communication and retired Rear Admiral John Kirby told CNN on Thursday. 

“They’re getting as much as we can send as fast as we can send it,” Kirby said, pointing to Biden’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin’s meeting with counterparts in Brussels earlier this week.  

“So, we’re working this very, very hard,” he said, adding that assistance is getting in “at record speed” and the US is in “constant conversation” with Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin “has shown no inclination of stopping the combat” and negotiating in good faith, and until then, “We’re going to be committed to helping Ukraine’s armed forces defend themselves and try to take back the territory, particularly in the east, in the south, that they’re trying to take back now,” he added. 

Kirby reiterated that the conflict with Russia “could be a prolonged effort” but said additional aid from Congress is not necessary at this stage.  

“We’re not at a point right now where we believe, you know, we need to plan for another supplemental package. We’ve only just begun spending and producing off the supplemental package that they just approved,” he said.  

Kirby had no update on the two missing Americans that have been fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.

“We just are not in a position to confirm their whereabouts. Obviously, our thoughts are with the families who I’m sure are going through just this terrible anguish right now. But we’re not able to confirm what might have happened to these individuals,” he said. 

He stressed that Americans should not travel to Ukraine. 

“It is a useful reminder though, and we’ve been saying this for months: this is not the time to go to Ukraine, however altruistic one might be wanting to help Ukraine on the battlefield. This is not the time for American citizens to travel there.Stay away from Ukraine, it is an active war zone. And if you’re in Ukraine as an American, please leave immediately,” Kirby said.

He instead encouraged people to support Ukraine through other ways, including contributing to organizations like the Red Cross.

11:21 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Macron says European leaders are supportive of Ukraine gaining "immediate" candidate status to join EU

From CNN’s Dalal Mawad and Arnaud Siad

French President Emmanuel Macron told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that France, Italy, Germany and Romania support the candidacy of Ukraine for membership in the European Union, during an official visit of the four leaders in the country on Thursday.

“All four of us [France, Germany, Italy and Romania] support the status of immediate candidacy for membership. This status will be accompanied by a roadmap and will also imply that the situation of the Western Balkans and of the neighborhood, particularly of Moldova, is taken into account,” Macron told Zelensky.

"Europe is by your side, it will remain so as long as necessary, until the victory is achieved, a victory which will see the return of peace in a free and independent Ukraine,” Macron added.

Macron also said the current global food crisis was a “direct consequence of the war waged by Russia,” and he called on Russia “to accept that the United Nations organize the export of cereals, which requires the lifting of the Russian blockade and provide all security guarantees for Ukraine to allow the exit of these cereals on Ukrainian ports.”

11:22 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

German chancellor: "Ukraine belongs to the European family"

From Inke Kappeler in Berlin

From left: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a joint news conference on June 16 in Kyiv.
From left: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a joint news conference on June 16 in Kyiv. (Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Germany is in favor of a positive decision for Ukraine’s candidacy to the European Union, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, adding that Ukraine “belongs to the European family.”

“My colleagues and I have come here to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family. One milestone on what is likely to be a long European road is the status of an accession candidate. The member states of the European Union will be discussing this in the next few days. We know that unanimity is needed among the 27 EU countries," Scholz said during a joint news conference in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his fellow travelers French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

"Germany is in favor of a positive decision for Ukraine, including for the Republic of Moldova," Scholz said.

He added that all candidates had to fulfill ascension criteria concerning democracy and constitutional law.

“We also support Ukraine by supplying weapons, and we will continue to do so for as long as Ukraine needs our support. We are currently training the Ukrainian military in state-of-the-art weapons, the self-propelled Howitzer 2000 and the Gepard anti-aircraft tank. In addition, I have agreed to supply the modern Iris-T air defense system, which can defend an entire city against air attacks, and the special radar," Scholz said.

“We want to help ensure that Russia abandons its undertaking," he added.

Earlier today, German defense minister Christine Lambrecht announced the delivery of three German rocket launchers to Ukraine end of July or beginning of August. Training for Ukrainian soldiers could start in June the minister said upon arrival to a NATO-meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

11:20 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Deployment of heavy weapons is "key" for Ukraine, British defense secretary says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann and Chris Liakos

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that Russia is “in a very difficult place” and Ukrainian success could depend on how quickly it deploys heavier weapons to the frontline for a counteroffensive as opposed to a counterattack.

Speaking to CNN’s Oren Liebermann during the NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels, Wallace said:

“I think Russia, we're going to discover, is in a very, very difficult place, certainly in its depth of its reserves and its morale and that will make every meter they fight for even harder. And at the same time, we're now going to see some of these heavier weapons coming into the hands of Ukraine delivered into the country and that will again change the balance.”

Wallace added that Russia will be “desperately trying to find some form of victory no matter how small to make its morale feel a bit better,” but was not confident for how long Russia can sustain this offensive.

“Russia has been in the field for months; remember, they were predominantly deployed three months before the invasion. No army is designed to be [a] conscript army out in the field that way, badly equipped, suffering huge losses,” he said.

“I think the key here is how quickly will Ukraine deploy some of these heavier weapons and how quickly will they mount a counteroffensive as opposed to just counterattacks and how successful that’d be. That's why the West is very keen to help with their training and make sure that they apply those weapons in a way that makes that difference,” Wallace added.

He praised Ukraine’s determination, saying he is “cautiously optimistic” that with “that home advantage with the moral component with the fact the international community is absolutely determined to support them, Ukraine will start to push back in small ways Russia and make Russia have even more problems in its army.”

Asked on whether he worries the economic hardship cause by the war could shift public opinion against Ukraine and wear away NATO support, Wallace admitted that there is a cost-of-living crisis across Europe but said that “Russia has chosen to use food, use fuel as a weapon” and that “a lot of people's day-to-day problems they're facing is actually driven by Russia.”

“All governments have to manage public opinion and explain to their public why things are being done in their name,” he said.

10:31 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

US national security adviser says US has been in talks with Ukraine about "negotiated outcome" with Russia

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the United States has purposefully “refrained from laying out what we see as an end game” for the war in Ukraine and will “not be pressuring [Ukraine] to make territorial concessions” to Russia, but noted that the US has been in talks with Ukraine about what a settlement could look like.

In the discussion with the Center for a New American Security, Sullivan said that the US will continue “to support and consult” with Ukraine “about how they want to approach a negotiated outcome with the Russians."

"And for the time being, supporting them in that means supporting them through the steady provision of weapons and intelligence” in order to strengthen the country's hand at the negotiating table, he added.

CNN has previously reported that, staring down the prospect of an extended stalemate in Ukraine, the US and its allies are placing a renewed emphasis on the need for a negotiated settlement to end the war. In recent weeks, US officials have been meeting regularly with their British and European counterparts to discuss potential frameworks for a ceasefire and for ending the war through a negotiated settlement.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is interviewed by Economic Club of Washington Chair David Rubenstein at the JW Marriott on April 14, in Washington, DC.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is interviewed by Economic Club of Washington Chair David Rubenstein at the JW Marriott on April 14, in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Asked about the apparent discrepancy between how many HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) the US had provided to Ukraine versus how many Ukraine has asked for, Sullivan said:

“It’s the Ukrainians’ job to ask for as many as they can possibly get their hands on, and it’s our job to deliver them to the extent that we feel there are trained personnel and capacity to actually put those to use in an effective way.”

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this week that Ukraine needs around 300 of the systems, but the US has only provided four so far. 

“These are highly sophisticated systems that require real training,” Sullivan added. “We’ve trained an initial cadre of Ukrainians to be able to use them. But as you increase the number of systems, you obviously have to increase the number of personnel being prepared to use them. So that will be a process that unfolds over the course of the coming weeks and months.”

11:35 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

NATO's military assistance to Ukraine not a provocation, but support for independent state, Stoltenberg says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, June 16, 2022. NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday for talks focusing on bolstering forces and deterrence along the military alliance's eastern borders to dissuade Russia of planning further aggression.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, June 16, 2022. NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday for talks focusing on bolstering forces and deterrence along the military alliance's eastern borders to dissuade Russia of planning further aggression. (Olivier Matthys/AP)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that NATO's military assistance for Ukraine is not "a provocation" but rather support for an independent state. 

When asked to comment on remarks by Pope Francis published earlier this week that the war in Ukraine "was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented," Stoltenberg said that "NATO is a defensive alliance and the war is President Putin's war."

"This is a war that he has decided to conduct against an independent sovereign nation, and what NATO has been doing for many years is to support a sovereign independent nation in Europe — Ukraine," Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels after a meeting with defense ministers.

"This is not a provocation, and that is what we continue to do," he said. "It is President Putin and Moscow that is responsible for this brutal aggression against an independent country," he added.

On Tuesday, Italian newspaper La Stampa published the Pope's remarks, in which he said "we do not see the whole drama that is unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented."

10:05 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Evacuation from Azot plant in Severodonetsk now "impossible," according to regional leader

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mick Krever

Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, during fighting on June 14.
Smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk, Ukraine, during fighting on June 14. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of civilians sheltering at the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk are no longer able to evacuate because of the sustained Russian artillery barrages, the Luhansk regional military governor told CNN in a telephone interview on Thursday. 

“It is impossible to get out of there now,” Serhiy Hayday said. “I mean, it is physically possible, but it is very dangerous due to constant shelling and fighting.”

“If someone went out, they would have a 99% chance of dying," he added.

Hayday told CNN that 568 people, including 38 children, were currently taking refuge in the eastern Ukrainian plant.

The civilians sheltering at Azot have stocks of food, but they have not been resupplied in two weeks, head of the Severodonetsk district military administration Roman Vlasenko told CNN via text message on Wednesday. Most of those sheltering there are employees of the chemical plant, their families and some local residents, he said.

“They have been hiding there from the very beginning,” he told CNN. “There are real bomb shelters there.”

The Azot plant is a massive chemical manufacturer that before the war was one of the largest producers of ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertilizer, in the country. Group DF, a conglomerate run by the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, said that the plant had an annual capacity of over two million tons and also produced products such as ammonia.

Those compounds, of course, are highly explosive and harmful to human health. But Group DF said in March that it acted quickly to secure the plant when war broke out at the end of February and that it “poses no danger” to the surroundings and its residents.

“Following the outbreak of the war, the production was completely suspended,” the company said on its website. “The remainders of the finished products (fertilizers) and chemicals were completely removed from the territory of the enterprise beyond the Luhansk region.”  

Hayday told CNN that authorities had tried to convince the civilians sheltering there to leave the plant last month, before major bridges were destroyed, but that many were convinced that they would be safer to stay in place.

“They didn't want to go,” Hayday said. “They thought it was safer there for some reason. The last time we offered to evacuate them was a day or two before the first bridge was destroyed [on May 21]. My first deputy came to talk to them, but unfortunately they did not want to leave.”

He said that there have been several cases of civilians leaving shelter — for example, to cook — and then being injured or killed by incoming fire.

As of this this week, all three main bridges between Severodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are impassable. Hayday said that routes still existed between the cities, but they require more travel along the Siverskyi Donets river — and more exposure to incoming fire.

The fact that those routes exist at all, though, distinguish the Azot plant from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, where civilians and fighters sheltered for weeks earlier this year. In that case, the Ukrainians were surrounded by Russian forces on three sides and the Sea of Azov on the fourth side.

Russia earlier this week said that it would open a “humanitarian corridor” for civilians at the plant to evacuate, but only to Russian-controlled territory to the north, not to Ukrainian-held Lysychansk to the west.

Hayday said that an evacuation would be possible only if there were a complete ceasefire, but he was highly skeptical of any promises made by Russia.

At repeated points during the war, Ukrainian officials said, Russian forces have broken promises to open evacuation corridors, driven civilian evacuees onto their territory and failed to observe ceasefire agreements.

“I hear a lot of what they say, but 99% of it is just nonsense or a lie,” Hayday said. “If there is a complete ceasefire, then we can take people out. But I do not believe the Russians — as much as they lie, as much as they gave their word and did not keep it. There is a lot of such evidence.”

8:49 a.m. ET, June 16, 2022

Italy's Draghi after Irpin visit: "We will rebuild everything"

From CNN’s Hada Messia in Rome 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, center, visits in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, center, visits in Irpin, Ukraine, on June 16. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi vowed to “rebuild everything” after visiting Ukraine’s war-torn city of Irpin on Thursday.

“We will rebuild everything. They destroyed the kindergartens, they destroyed the children's gardens. Everything will be rebuilt. They have already started,” Draghi said. 

“They know exactly where the sites that need to be rebuilt are. Each family has an app where they describe what happened, and they are already in a very advanced state,” he added. 

During his visit to the Kyiv suburb, locals spoke to him “about rebuilding. Words of pain, of hope but also of what they will want to do in the future,” the Italian leader said.