June 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Hafsa Khalil, Jeevan Ravindran, Aditi Sangal, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:43 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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7:20 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian foreign minister blames Kyiv for grain crisis

From CNN's Anna Chernova

(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ukrainian grain export crisis would have already been resolved had Kyiv and its Western allies demined the Black sea ports, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian Thrusday.

“The attempts of Turkey and the UN Secretary-General would have been successful long ago had Ukraine and its Western masters resolved the issue of demining in the Black sea,” Lavrov said.

“Attempts to organize an international coalition for demining ports in the Black Sea are aimed solely at intervening in the affairs of the Black Sea region under the auspices of the UN,” Lavrov added.

Earlier on Thursday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday it is "urgent" to solve the Ukraine grain crisis within the next month to avoid "devastating" consequences.

Speaking in Ankara alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Truss once again accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "weaponizing hunger" and stressed that if this difficult situation is not resolved, it will likely lead to "a huge hunger across the globe."

"He [Putin] blocked the Ukrainian ports and is stopping 20 million tones of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom," Truss said, who is in Turkey to discuss the plan to get the grain out, supported by the UN.

7:12 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian gas supply cuts have hit 12 countries, says EU climate chief 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and James Frater in London

Pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lubmin, Germany, on June 21
Pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lubmin, Germany, on June 21 (Stefan Sauer/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Twelve European Union countries have been affected by cuts to the gas supply from Russia, the EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

"Russia has weaponized energy, and we have seen further gas disruptions announced in recent days. All this is part of Russia's strategy to undermine our unity," Timmermans said in the European Parliament.

"In total twelve Member States are now affected by Russian unilateral supply cuts. Ten Member States have issued an early warning under the gas security of supply regulation," he said. 

"The risk of full gas disruption is now more real than ever before," he stressed, adding this is why it is important to adopt gas storage regulation alongside other measures of preparedness.

The twelve EU countries that are partially or totally affected by Russian gas disruptions are: Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The EU countries that have issued early warning declarations as a precautionary move are: Italy (26/02), Latvia (09/03), Croatia (25/04), Germany (30/03), Austria (30/03), Finland (06/05), Estonia (18/05), Denmark (20/06), the Netherlands (20/06) and Sweden (21/06).

Germany has just announced, and informed the EU Commission, that it is moving to step 2 of the EU SoS regulation, the “alert” level, a EU Commission spokesperson told CNN via email.

The “early warning” is the lowest level of crisis notification under the bloc's Gas Security of Supply Regulation, accelerating the monitoring and information exchange requirements in the Member State concerned. According to this regulation, the natural gas undertakings concerned shall make technical information available, on a daily basis, to the competent authority of the Member State.

6:57 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Zelensky says joining EU is Ukraine's chosen future

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that EU membership is Ukraine's "choice of our future vision."

"Today or tomorrow, and I know you know this, we have a big chance to receive a candidate status for EU membership," Zelensky said during a questions and answers session following his virtual address to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Ukraine has made its own choice, ... a future closer to the European Union and soon we will be part of that family. We have sacrificed a lot for that," he said. "But most importantly, this is our choice -- choice of our future vision."

Zelensky said after the war ends, Ukraine will focus on "building a European state which will be part of the EU" but the threat from Russia will remain.

"We will understand very clearly that our neighbor is Russia, and that Russia, even if we finish the war and we win, in 10 or 20 years Russia may attack us again. I am not saying that this will happen, but there is a possibility."

Zelensky said developing Ukraine's security institutions will be an important part of the rebuilding process. "Security in all public spaces -- starting from the borders of our country down to the very center," he said.

"We have prepared a lot of draft laws, a lot of reforms," he added.

6:19 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

UK applies new round of trade sanctions on Russia 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

The UK government has imposed a tranche of new trade sanctions on Russia, placing prohibitions on the export of a range of goods to Russia.

Details of the sanctions which were imposed Wednesday were posted in an update on the UK government website Thursday morning. 

The UK government announced prohibitions on the export of "internal repression goods and technology, goods and technology relating to chemical and biological weapons, maritime goods and technology, additional oil refining goods and technology, additional critical industry goods and technology."

The export of jet fuel and fuel additives to Russia was also prohibited as part of the new sanctions, the update announced. 

Finally, a prohibition was placed on the export of Sterling or European Union denominated bank notes to Russia, according to the update. 

The UK government responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 by immediately imposing sanctions on the same day.

Recent hits to Russia's imports came when Lithuania announced banning the passage of sanctioned goods through their territory from Kaliningrad -- Russia's enclave on the Baltic coast -- which has the support of the EU behind it.

6:45 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

The battle for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has "entered its climax": Ukrainian presidential adviser

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian President's Office, said on national television that "the fight for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has entered its climax."

This phase looks terrifying from a military point of view," he said.

Arestovych compared the situation to the "18th round" of a boxing bout. "Any side that sends two battalions of artillery there wins this fight. Let's see who sends. Who has [those battalions] -- only the military command on both sides knows."

5:46 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Ukraine's grain crisis must be solved in a month to avoid "devastating consequences": UK minister

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara, Turkey, on June 23.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, left, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu give a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara, Turkey, on June 23. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Thursday it is "urgent" to solve the Ukraine grain crisis within the next month to avoid a "devastating" outcome.

Speaking in Ankara alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Truss once again accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "weaponizing hunger" and stressed that if this difficult situation is not resolved, it will likely lead to "a huge hunger across the globe."

"He [Putin] blocked the Ukrainian ports and is stopping 20 million tones of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom," said Truss, who is in Turkey to discuss the plan to get the grain out, supported by the United Nations.

"We are clear the commercial vessels need to have safe passage to be able to leave Ukrainian ports, and that Ukrainian ports should be protected from Russian attacks," she said, adding that, "Russia cannot be allowed to delay and prevaricate."

We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent and it needs to be solved within the next month, otherwise we could see devastating consequences," Truss said.
5:41 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Ukraine faces an urgent dilemma in Luhansk: take on Russia's huge firepower or tactically withdraw

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian servicemen ride a bus to their positions in the Luhansk area, Ukraine, on June 19.
Ukrainian servicemen ride a bus to their positions in the Luhansk area, Ukraine, on June 19. (Oleksander Ratushniak/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

As Russian forces close in on the city of Lysychansk, Ukrainian military commanders have an unenviable choice. They can defend the city, block by block, against vastly superior firepower -- or they can withdraw to take up new defensive positions further west.

Defending the city would inevitably mean heavy casualties among both soldiers and the thousands of civilians who are still sheltering there. The Russian bombardment of the city -- like that of neighboring Severodonetsk -- has been largely indiscriminate.

Additionally, the resupply corridor along the T1302 highway to Bakhmut might be cut off, leaving Ukrainian troops surrounded. 

In some places, Russian units advancing from the south are within five kilometers (three miles) of the highway. While other resupply routes are available, they would be difficult and vulnerable. The Institute for the Study of War, in its latest assessment, says; "Russian forces will likely continue to regroup and intensify operations in the area between Bakhmut and Lysychansk to advance toward Lysychansk from an additional axis, sever Ukrainian supply lines, and attempt to consolidate control of the entire Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area in the coming days."

On the other hand, one advantage of staying and fighting in Lysychansk is that it is on higher ground than surrounding areas, and Ukrainian forces would likely to be able to hold back and inflict damage on Russian units for some time -- perhaps weeks. Lysychansk would potentially become another Mariupol. By sucking in Russian units, the city's defenders would probably relieve the pressure on other fronts, such as around Sloviansk. 

The dilemma for the Ukrainian military is an urgent one. As the pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk regions that they defend shrinks, the option of a tactical withdrawal to new lines of defense may not last long. 

5:20 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Germany faces gas supply crisis, as minister declares "alarm level"

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Robert Habeck Federal Minister for the Economy and Climate Protection, speaks on energy and supply security in Berlin, Germany, on June 23.
Robert Habeck Federal Minister for the Economy and Climate Protection, speaks on energy and supply security in Berlin, Germany, on June 23. (Michael Kappeler/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany has activated the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies, the country's Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck announced Thursday.

Gas is from now on in short supply in Germany," Habeck told reporters at a press conference in Berlin.

Habeck called on Germans to reduce their fuel use as part of a national effort. ''We are now calling to reduce gas consumption,'' particularly looking ''ahead to the upcoming winter months."

The minister said the government's decision to raise the level to "alarm'' follows the cuts to Russian deliveries made since June 14 and the continued high market price for gas. Habeck said the third and highest stage is the "emergency'' level.

Germany is heavily reliant on Moscow's gas to power its homes and heavy industry, but has managed to whittle Moscow's share of its imports down to 35% from 55% before the start of the war in Ukraine.

Habeck said security of supply was currently guaranteed in spite of a "worsened situation on the gas market" in recent days. Soaring prices were "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's strategy to unsettle us, drive up prices and divide us," Habeck said.

We are in an economic confrontation with Russia," Habeck said.

Habeck said while gas storage facilities are currently filled to 58% capacity -- higher than at this time last year -- the goal of reaching 90% by December won't be achievable without further measures.

4:38 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

There's extensive shelling in multiple regions of Ukraine, say authorities

From CNN's Tim Lister

Besides the bombardment of Ukrainian defenses in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, officials say there's been shelling by Russian forces on various other fronts, causing a number of civilian casualties.

In Donetsk, authorities say several settlements came under fire, including the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut. Dozens of settlements in the region are without water or electricity.

The government said Thursday that four districts in the Sumy region in north-eastern Ukraine had again been hit by cross border shelling.

There were about a hundred incoming artillery shells from the Russian side. One man died as a result of a munition dropped from an enemy drone," said one official.

Five people were injured and one died as a result of a mine blast in the Okhtyrka district of Sumy, regional authorities said. 

In the south, the district of Kryvyi Rih was shelled, leaving two people wounded. The regional administration said that the town of Apostolove was now littered with cluster munitions. CNN can't verify the claim. 

Authorities said that Russian shelling of villages behind the frontline that runs along the Kherson-Mykolaiv border continued and that inside Kherson the situation was critical in several settlements.