June 19, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Rob Picheta, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 20, 2023
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4:15 p.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Russia heavily mined areas along the southern front, Ukrainian military general says 

From CNN’s Maria Kostenko in Kyiv and Jo Shelley in London 

Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a session of the Ukrainian Parliament, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2022.
Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi during a session of the Ukrainian Parliament, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout/Reuters

Russian troops heavily mined areas along Ukraine’s southern frontline and sent considerable numbers of reservists into the fight there, the commander of the Ukrainian armed forces claimed. 

“The adversary is trying to prevent the advance of our units. To this end, they have deployed a system of fortifications with dense minefields and a significant number of reserves,” General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said in a post on Facebook. “The operation continues as planned,” he added. 

Zaluzhnyi posted a video of himself alongside the commander of Ukraine’s southern forces, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavsky, whose units Ukraine said earlier Monday had liberated eight settlements in the south over the past two weeks. 

Russia’s actions in the south were further outlined by one Ukrainian deputy unit commander on the ground. 

Kostiantyn Denysov, a fighter with Ukraine’s Legion of Liberty, told state television Monday that Russian troops had “dug in really well” and unleashed “massive firepower” to prevent any Ukrainian advance.

“We’re liberating some of the settlements, but it is here on the ground that we see at what cost. Guys with heavy wounds, with contusions. This is the price of fighting for freedom,” Denysov said. 

“There are several areas on the frontline where constant fighting is ongoing. We have to admit that the enemy has dug in well. They have brought in here regular Russian army. There are also some mobilized, including those from the Moscow region,” he continued. “The enemy has a lot of artillery. They are shelling our guys from everything. They are using drones to adjust their fire. They have got a lot of drones, which is a big problem. They are attacking not only our guys, but also civilian infrastructure from the air.” 

Denysov said that Russian units had built, “concrete trenches and minefields… setting traps for our guys on the temporary fortifications” and making it difficult for Ukraine to recapture its territory. 

“Unfortunately, there is nothing left of some settlements except for the name,” he said.

6:23 p.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Russia is transferring resources to Zaporizhzhia from other parts of Ukraine, multiple authorities say

From CNN's Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych and Maria Kostenko

A Russian serviceman stands guard at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15.
A Russian serviceman stands guard at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15. Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Russia appears to be moving its personnel and heavy military equipment from other parts of Ukraine to support its front line in the Zaporizhzhia area, Ukrainian and UK officials say.

The Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported this transfer from the Nova Kakhovka and Kakhovka area in Kherson to the Zaporizhzhia front line via Melitopol.

The UK Defense Ministry, in its intelligence assessment Monday, also reported it is "highly likely" Russia has started relocating "elements of its Dnipro Group of Forces (DGF) from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River to reinforce the Zaporizhzhia and Bakhmut sectors" over the last 10 days.

"This potentially involves several thousand troops from the 49th Army, including its 34th Separate Motorised Brigade, as well as Airborne Forces (VDV) and Naval Infantry units," the ministry said, adding that it was likely because of "Russia’s perception that a major Ukrainian attack across the Dnipro is now less likely following the collapse of Kakhovka Dam and the resulting flooding."

Ukraine deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said the situation in the eastern areas of Donetsk and Kharkiv remains difficult, with Russia pulling in its forces to attack Lyman and Kupyansk, but the forces are not allowing Russians to advance.

"The enemy has not given up their plans to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They have concentrated a significant number of their units in the east, including airborne assault units," Maliar said.

Ukrainian officials have claimed limited advances in parts of Donetsk, including around Avdiivka, which has been under attack by Russian and Russian-backed groups since the start of the invasion.

Some analysts perceive a slow-down in Ukrainian offensive operations in the south, as various parts of the long frontline see heavy combat.

"Ukrainian forces may be temporarily pausing counteroffensive operations to reevaluate their tactics for future operations," according to the Institute for the Study of War.

The institute said Sunday it "has previously noted that Ukraine has not yet committed the majority of its available forces to counteroffensive operations and has not yet launched its main effort."

12:47 p.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Moldovan court declares pro-Russian party "unconstitutional" and demands immediate dissolution

From CNN’s Cristiana Moisescu in London and Xiaofei Xu in Paris

President of The Constitutional Court of Moldova, Judge Nicolae Rosca, reads the decision of the Court to outlaw the opposition "Shor" party of fugitive pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Shor, in Chisinau, on June 19.
President of The Constitutional Court of Moldova, Judge Nicolae Rosca, reads the decision of the Court to outlaw the opposition "Shor" party of fugitive pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Shor, in Chisinau, on June 19. Elena Covalenco/AFP/Getty Images

A pro-Russian Party in Moldova has been banned by the country’s constitutional court.

“The SHOR political party is considered dissolved from this moment on,” Nicolae Roșca, president of the Moldovan constitutional court said at a publicly broadcasted hearing.

The party is named after its current leader Ilan Shor and is subject to sanctions by western powers such as the United States and Canada.

It was the leading force in organizing anti-government and pro-Russia protests in Moldova since 2022.

This decision of the court is definitive and can’t be appealed, according to the ruling, which said the Ministry of Justice will set up a dissolution committee.

Party representatives could serve out the rest of their terms as individual members and have no right to join another party, according to the court.

The SHOR Party currently has five members in the 101-member Moldovan Parliament.

More context: Tensions are mounting in Moldova, a small country on Ukraine’s southwestern border, where Russia has been accused of laying the groundwork for a coup that could drag the nation into the Kremlin’s war.

Moldova’s President, Maia Sandu, has accused Russia of using “saboteurs” disguised as civilians to stoke unrest amid a period of political instability, echoing similar warnings from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has meanwhile baselessly accused Kyiv of planning its own assault on a pro-Russian territory in Moldova where Moscow has a military foothold, heightening fears that he is creating a pretext for a Crimea-style annexation.

Earlier this year, Zelensky warned that Ukrainian intelligence intercepted a Russian plan to destabilize an already volatile political situation in Moldova.

11:01 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Navalny announces campaign to turn Russians against war in Ukraine

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Law enforcement officers look at a screen during a video link to an external hearing of the Moscow City Court in a new criminal case against Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, at IK-6 penal colony in the Vladimir region, Russia, on June 19.
Law enforcement officers look at a screen during a video link to an external hearing of the Moscow City Court in a new criminal case against Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, at IK-6 penal colony in the Vladimir region, Russia, on June 19. Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

Alexey Navalny, the jailed Russian opposition leader, announced on Monday the start of a campaign aimed at turning Russians against the war in Ukraine, according to a statement published on his official website.

"Today begins another trial, which will greatly add to my term. But I want to use this day not to arouse sympathy for myself and other political prisoners. I want to call everyone to action and use this day to announce our new, very important project. Big agitation machine. Truth machine. We do not just want to do it, but we will definitely do it in order to join forces in the fight against Putin's lies and Kremlin hypocrisy," said Navalny, according to the statement.

"We will conduct an election campaign against the war. And against Putin. Exactly. A long, stubborn, exhausting, but fundamentally important campaign, where we will turn people against the war," he added.

According to the statement, the agitators will conduct telephone surveys, communicate with Russians on instant messenger apps and “Kremlin-controlled social networks" in order to convince Russians to vote against the war.

Some more context: The statement was published as another court hearing was heard on extremism charges faced by Navalny. If convicted, Navalny could face an even longer jail term.

Navalny, already serving sentences totaling 11-and-a-half years in a maximum security facility, was charged in 2021 with the alleged “creation of an extremist community,” according to a report that year from Russian state media TASS.

He and his supporters claim that his arrest and imprisonment were politically motivated, intended to silence his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to recent opinion surveys, most Russians remain supportive of the so-called special military operation in Ukraine.

"Three in four Russians (76%) continue to say they support the military operation," said a joint Chicago Council-Levada Center survey report published last week.

11:17 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Both Ukraine and Russia claim successes as fighting in Zaporizhzhia continues

From CNN's Tim Lister, Olga Voitovych and Maria Kostenko

Soldiers of the 68th Jaeger Brigade walk in the newly liberated village of Blahodatne, Ukraine on June 10. The village is located on the border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts.
Soldiers of the 68th Jaeger Brigade walk in the newly liberated village of Blahodatne, Ukraine on June 10. The village is located on the border between Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts. Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

The Ukrainian and Russian militaries have given starkly different accounts of the ongoing fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region, where Ukrainian forces are into the second week of offensive operations.

What Ukraine says: Ukraine conducted 1,298 missions over the last day, that killed or wounded more than two companies, which typically comprises 100 to 200 troops in a Russian army, according to Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, a Brigadier General who commands Ukrainian forces in the area.

Tarnavskyi also claimed "progress and notable advances" in the assault operations, which he said, destroyed six Russian ammunition storage sites and three Russian tanks as well as howitzers and an electronic warfare system.

What Russia says: Meanwhile, Russia claimed it repelled two Ukrainian attacks near the village of Novodonetske and destroyed a tank, armored fighting vehicles and more than half of the advancing manpower. Another attack near the key Russian-held village of Rivnopil had also been rebuffed, according to the spokesman for the Vostok [East] Group.

Ukraine also attacked the village of Novodanylivka, the Russian group said, adding attacks in the same area, near the village of Mala Tokmachka and further east at Makarivka, were also repelled.

Russia claims that Ukraine has lost more than 100 Ukrainian servicemen, three tanks, 10 infantry fighting vehicles, 14 armored combat vehicles, and howitzers in the past day.

Remember: There is no way to verify the dueling claims of each side. Geolocated videos suggest that Ukrainian forces have made limited gains over the past week along the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia border, but have not committed sizable forces to offensive operations.

9:43 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

Russia-installed official injured in Crimea car explosion, local authorities say

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

A Russian-installed official was injured in a car explosion in Crimea on Monday, according to Russian-backed authorities in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Vladimir Yepifanov, the assistant to the so-called "deputy prime minister" of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region, was in the car with two passengers when an explosion occurred in the vehicle on a highway in Crimea, according to local Russian-appointed official, Vladimir Rogov. All three were injured and sustained severe burns, Rogov said on Telegram. 

"Early this morning (at about 4 a.m.) a car exploded on the Yevpatoria highway in Simferopol, in which the assistant to the deputy prime minister for economic development of the Zaporizhzhia region and also a candidate for parliament from the 'United Russia' Vladimir Yepifanov was traveling," Rogov wrote. 

In his Telegram post, Rogov noted that the official cause of the explosion has not yet been established. However, he said that the gas cylinder had been checked at the service station in Simferopol on Sunday.

Some background: Several Russia-installed officials have been injured in targeted attacks with explosive devices in occupied parts of Ukraine, and a Russian commander was killed in a car explosion in March in Mariupol.

9:39 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

New UK legislation allows Russian sanctions to remain in place until compensation is paid to Kyiv

From CNN's Eve Brennan in London 

Britain's James Cleverly delivers a statement during an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers in Oslo, Norway, on June 1.
Britain's James Cleverly delivers a statement during an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers in Oslo, Norway, on June 1. Hanna Johre/NTB/AFP/Getty Images

The UK has introduced new legislation allowing Russian sanctions to remain in place until Moscow pays compensation to Kyiv, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said in a news release Monday.  

The new legislation will also allow sanctioned individuals to donate frozen funds to reconstructing Ukraine. 

The government department said they will also mandate that persons and entities who are designated under the Russia financial sanctions regime must disclose assets they hold in the UK. 

“These new measures mark a major strengthening in the UK’s sanctions approach against Russia as Putin and his cronies continue their illegal war and as Ukraine embarks on its counter-offensive,” the FCDO said.  

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, “Through our new measures today, we’re strengthening the UK’s sanctions approach, affirming that the UK is prepared to use sanctions to ensure Russia pays to repair the country it has so recklessly attacked."

 

7:55 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

NATO won't formally invite Ukraine to its July summit

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg brief the media after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on June 19.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg brief the media after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on June 19. Markus Schreiber/AP

NATO will not issue a formal invitation to Ukraine to join the military alliance during a high-profile summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in July, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Monday. 

“At the Vilnius summit and in the preparations for the summit, we're not discussing to issue a formal invitation. What we are discussing is how to move Ukraine closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg told journalists during a joint press conference alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

The secretary general added that although consultations are ongoing regarding Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, he is “not in a position to pre-empt the outcome of these consultations.” 

“What I can say is that the Allies actually already agree on a lot,” Stoltenberg remarked, referencing NATO’s membership invitations to Finland and Sweden as an example. 

“We also agree on what we stated in 2008 that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance. We also agree that is not for Russia, but for Ukraine and NATO allies, to decide when the time is right to invite Ukraine,” Stoltenberg added. 

Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, has pressed Stoltenberg on previous occasions to commit to a timeframe for Ukraine’s membership bid. 

During a visit to Moldova in early June, Zelensky stressed that Ukraine “is ready to be in NATO and is merely “waiting [for] when NATO will be ready.”

10:33 a.m. ET, June 19, 2023

China has assured US it will not provide lethal aid to Russia, top US diplomat says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing, China, on June 19.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing, China, on June 19. Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

China has assured that it has not and will not provide lethal aid to Russia, but the United States remains concerned that Chinese companies may do so, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.

Blinked said the assurance is appreciated and there is no evidence to contradict them.

"What we do have ongoing concerns about, though, are Chinese firms — companies that may be providing technology that Russia can use to advance its aggression in Ukraine. And we've asked the Chinese government to be very vigilant about that," Blinken said.

Some context: China's assurance was not newly made to him during his visit, Blinken said in response to a question from CNN's Kylie Atwood. "This is something that China has said in recent weeks, and has repeatedly said not only to us, but to many other countries that have raised this concern."