June 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Hafsa Khalil, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Elise Hammond, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 7:05 p.m. ET, June 17, 2022
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12:40 p.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Putin says "we have nothing against" Ukraine joining the EU

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia has "nothing against" Ukraine joining the European Union. 

“The EU is not a military-political bloc, unlike NATO, therefore we have always said and I have always said that our position here is consistent, understandable, we have nothing against it," Putin said during a panel discussion following his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. 

"It is the sovereign decision of any country to join or not to join economic associations, and it is up to this economic association to accept new states as its members or not. As far as it is expedient for the EU, let the EU countries themselves decide. Whether it will be for the benefit or to the detriment of Ukraine is also their business," Putin said. 

"This is the business of Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian current leadership, but the structure of the Ukrainian economy is such that it will require very large subsidies. Well, if you do not protect the internal market, Ukraine will turn into such a semi-colony, in my opinion. But, at the same time, it will receive quite significant support for current expenses. It is unlikely that this will lead to the restoration of the lost aircraft industry, shipbuilding and the electronics industry,” he added. 

More context: Ukraine's bid to join the European Union received a major boost on Friday morning, after the European Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc believed the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia's invasion.

Speaking in Brussels, von der Leyen said the commission recommends "that Ukraine is given candidate status," adding that "this is of course on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further reforms."

The Kremlin said Friday’s development about possible EU candidate status required Moscow’s “increased attention.”

“We all know about the intensification in Europe and discussions about strengthening the defense component of the EU. Therefore, there are different transformations that we observe,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a daily call with reporters.

Russia has lambasted the intention of Finland and Sweden, both EU member states, to join NATO due to the war in Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the move would be a “mistake” with “far-reaching consequences,” according to state news agency TASS.

CNN's Luke McGee contributed reporting to this post. 

12:24 p.m. ET, June 17, 2022

US President Biden briefed on Americans missing in Ukraine

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Biden has been briefed on the three Americans missing in Ukraine, and he strongly encouraged Americans not to travel there.
President Biden has been briefed on the three Americans missing in Ukraine, and he strongly encouraged Americans not to travel there. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said Friday he has been briefed on the three Americans missing in Ukraine and strongly encouraged Americans not to travel there. 

“I have been briefed. We don’t know where they are, but I want to reiterate: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. I’ll say it again: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now,” he said in response to a question from CNN’s MJ Lee before he departed the White House for a weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. 

Some background: The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.

In addition, the US State Department said Thursday that it was aware of reports that a third American who traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia had gone missing "in recent weeks."

"There are reports of one additional American whose whereabouts are unknown. I can't speak to the specifics of that case. Unfortunately we don't know the full details of that case," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price at a news briefing on Thursday.

Drueke and Huynh went missing during a battle on June 9 near the town of Izbytske, according to a man who is acting as the team's sergeant, and who provided CNN with photos of both men's passports and their entry stamps into Ukraine. He wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.

CNN's Mick Krever contributed reporting to this post.

11:35 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

"It's safer at home": Putin urges Russian elites to stay and invest in Russia as sanctions mount

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday urged Russian elites to not leave the country and invest in Russia. 

"Real success is possible only when you tie your future and your children's future to the motherland," he said at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, adding that "recent events have confirmed what I have always said before: it's safer at home. Those who didn't want to hear this message have lost millions of dollars."

In one of the first more substantial speeches since the invasion of Ukraine started, he said, Russia "has a huge potential and there's so much to do here, there is no end to it. Invest here."

This comes after Russian oligarchs face mounting sanctions and superyacht seizures from several western countries, including the US, UK and the European Union bloc.

12:36 p.m. ET, June 17, 2022

UK PM Boris Johnson makes second surprise visit to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky

From CNN's Julia Presniakova and Jonny Hallam

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting on Friday in Kyiv, Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting on Friday in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Friday to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky for a second time, according to Ukraine's Presidency. 

Video from the Presidency showed Zelensky warmly greeting Johnson before both men stepped inside a presidential building for a meeting. The two leaders were shown sitting at a table discussing Ukraine's need for heavy weapons to counter Russia's continuing aggression.

Zelensky said on Telegram:

"Many days of this war have proved that Great Britain's support for Ukraine is firm and resolute. Glad to see our country's great friend Boris Johnson in Kyiv again."

Johnson posted a picture of him and Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital on Friday on his official Twitter account.

 Zelensky met yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Kyiv.

11:00 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Putin blames the West for global food crisis as officials say Russia continues blockade of Ukrainian ports

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia's actions in Ukraine are not responsible for the global food crisis and accused the US of driving up food prices in his speech to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday. 

"Famine in the poorest countries will be on the conscience of the US administration and the Eurocrats," he said.  

Putin said Russia is ready to export more grain to balance the world food markets. Russia’s focus will be on supplying food to those countries that are at risk of facing famine, he said.

Some key context: Global leaders have strongly criticized Putin's actions in Ukraine, saying that Russia is using food as a weapon of war.

Russia is blocking maritime access to the Black Sea ports held by Ukraine, meaning that even the grain that is still under Ukrainian control cannot be exported to the many countries that rely on it. Russia’s blockade has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in parts of the world, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian authorities, and some international officials, have accused Russia of robbing the country of grain and other commodities in areas it occupies. Denys Marchuk, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council Public Union, said that Russia has “stolen about 600,000 tons of grain” from Ukrainian farmers.

Satellite photos of the Crimean port of Sevastopol provided by Maxar Technologies last month appeared to show Russian ships being loaded up with Ukrainian grain. Another set of satellite images revealed that one of the ships arrived in the Syrian port of Latakia last month, its second trip within four weeks.

Meanwhile: In his Friday speech, Putin also again blamed the West for “shifting the responsibility” to Russia for any problems in the global economy.  

Putin also said that Russia is not following the "path of isolation," adding that Moscow seeks "partnerships with anyone who wants to work with us, and there are many of those." 

The Russian leader said that any country who wants to work with Russia "experiences open pressure from the US and Europe including direct threats, but this blackmail means little when we talk about countries led by true leaders who understand what is someone else's interest and what is their interest." 

CNN's Ivana Kottasová contributed reporting to this post.

10:17 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Putin vows to accomplish all the "tasks" of Russia's invasion of Ukraine 

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to accomplish all the alleged "tasks" of Moscow's military action in Ukraine while speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday.

He called Russia's "special operation" in Ukraine "the decision of a sovereign country based on the right to defend its security." He vowed "all the tasks of the special operation will be met."

The Russian leader claimed that Russia was "forced" to conduct its "operation" in the eastern Donbas region. 

"It was difficult, but forced and necessary. And it was based on the UN charter to defend our security," Putin added.

Russian forces failed to take the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine in the earlier weeks of the war and have since been focused on the eastern part of the country.

Some context: The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine as a response to Kyiv’s growing diplomatic and security ties with the West. Last week, he hinted that his aim in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.

Another one of Putin's alleged goals in his invasion, which began in late February, includes a baseless battle for “denazification,” a description dismissed by historians and political observers alike.

In his Friday speech, Putin also called the attempts of the West to "crush" the Russian economy through punishing sanctions "not successful."

"The economic dynamics are stabilizing; the state finances are stable," he added. 

The Russian president also said “the era of the unipolar world is over,” referencing the United States, and stated that the European Union has "fully lost its political sovereignty."  

9:06 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Putin is now speaking after Kremlin claims cyberattacks delayed the speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on June 17. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the stage at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg and is now speaking.

The speech was supposed to start at 7 a.m. ET, but was delayed due to a “massive DDoS [distributed denial-of-service] attacks" on the SPIEF systems, the Kremlin said Friday.

“Unfortunately, today, due to massive DDoS attacks on the forum’s system, the base of accreditation and admission were disabled,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on an impromptu conference call.
8:47 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Ukraine scraps visa-free travel for Russians

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Ukraine’s cabinet has decided to get rid of visa-free travel for Russians, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has confirmed.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram that he suggested the change “in order to counteract the unprecedented threats to the national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of our state.”

He said that the change would come into effect on July 1.

9:08 a.m. ET, June 17, 2022

Ceasefire being negotiated for civilians at Azot plant in Severodonetsk, district leader says

From CNN's Mick Krever

Smoke rises above Severodonetsk's Azot Chemical Plant, in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 10.
Smoke rises above Severodonetsk's Azot Chemical Plant, in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, on June 10. (Oleksandr Ratushniak/Reuters)

Negotiations are underway to allow for the safe evacuation of hundreds of civilians sheltering at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk, the head of the district’s military administration told Ukrainian television.

“A ceasefire and a corridor are being negotiated, but there are a lot of Russian provocations and ‘games,’” Roman Vlasenko said, though made clear that he did was not personally involved in talks.

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 Ukraianian-held Lysychansk to the west.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the regional military administration, told CNN on Thursday that an evacuation would be possible only if there were a complete ceasefire, but that he was highly skeptical of any promises made by Russia. 

Vlasenko said that the situation at the Azot plant was “tense.”

“Bridges are all blown up, there is no direct access to Lysychansk,” he said. “We use creative approaches to communication and logistics.”

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