Russia's war in Ukraine

By Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Lianne Kolirin and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 6:49 p.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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9:01 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian forces under orders to blockade two major Ukrainian ports and are mining the Black Sea, US says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The United States has information that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy "is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv," a US official told CNN, citing what was described as recently declassified intelligence.

According to this official, that intelligence also revealed indications that Russian forces are deploying mines in the Black Sea and have previously mined the Dnipro River.

Western officials have accused Moscow of "weaponizing" food supplies as leaders and experts warn of a looming food crisis with millions of tons of Ukrainian grain unable to reach to global market due to the war. 

"We can confirm that despite Russia’s public claims that it is not mining the northwestern Black Sea, Russia actually is deploying mines in the Black Sea near Ochakiv," the US official told CNN Thursday.

The Guardian first reported on the findings of the newly declassified intelligence. 

Moscow has claimed it is not impeding agricultural shipments from Ukraine and has said Kyiv must de-mine the waters for the ships to transit.

"The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships or vessels. We are not preventing anything," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in early June.

On a call with reporters Thursday, hosted by the US State Department's Africa Regional Media Hub, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, "We shouldn’t be buying the argument that it’s Ukraine who blocked the sea with its mines in order not to allow the shipment or the vessels to come in and out."

"Russia was mining the sea. We were mining the sea to defend ourselves. The Russians were mining it to — not to allow — to destroy our ships," he said. "The real issue is what happens when the harbor is demined.  Who will ensure and how it can be ensured that Russia will not abuse open harbor and attack Odesa from the sea?  This is the question that everyone is rattling their minds on: how to make sure that Russia doesn’t attack Odessa from the sea."
2:29 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

EU says it will "swiftly work on a further increase of military support" to Ukraine

From CNN's Chris Liakos

The European Union says it will “swiftly” work on increasing military support to Ukraine and will work on further financial assistance.

In a news release following the first day of the two-day EU Summit, the European Council said, “The European Union remains strongly committed to providing further military support to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence against the Russian aggression and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. To this end, the European Council calls on the Council to swiftly work on a further increase of military support.”

Leaders of the European Union (EU) attend day one of the EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.
Leaders of the European Union (EU) attend day one of the EU leaders summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The European Council also urged Russia to “immediately stop targeting agricultural facilities and removing cereals, and to unblock the Black Sea, in particular the port of Odesa, so as to allow the export of grain and commercial shipping operations,” blaming Russia for the global food security crisis.

“Russia, by weaponising food in its war against Ukraine, is solely responsible for the global food security crisis it has provoked,” it said.

The European Council also condemned “Russia’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” adding that “international humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, must be respected.”

“Russia, Belarus and all those responsible for war crimes and the other most serious crimes will be held to account for their actions, in accordance with international law,” it said.
2:24 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Ukraine's EU hopes get shot in the arm as bloc's leaders approve candidate status

From CNN's Luke McGee

European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.
European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Ukraine's long-term goal of joining the European Union has received its latest shot in the arm, after the bloc's 27 member states agreed Thursday that the country should be given candidate status — a significant step on the path to full membership. 

"Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. Leaders also agreed to approve Moldova's candidacy.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said he "sincerely commends" the European Council's decision, calling it "a unique and historical moment in EU/Ukraine relations."

The decision, made at an EU Council summit, comes a week after President of the European Commission Ursula von Der Leyen said it was the opinion of the bloc's executive body that Ukraine deserved candidate status because it "has clearly demonstrated the country's aspiration and the country's determination to live up to European values and standards."

However, it is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from the 27 member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip. 

Read more here.

2:21 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

BRICS countries — which include Russia — support Ukraine-Russia talks in joint declaration

From CNN’s Chris Liakos and Arnaud Siad

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a keynote speech in virtual format at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum in Beijing, China, on June 22.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a keynote speech in virtual format at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum in Beijing, China, on June 22. (Yin Gang/Xinhua/AP)

BRICS countries said they support talks between Russia and Ukraine in a joint statement published on the Kremlin's website on Thursday.

The BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“We have discussed the situation in Ukraine and recall our national positions as expressed at the appropriate fora, namely the UN [Security Council] and UN [General Assembly]. We support talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the statement read.

“We have also discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine and expressed our support to efforts of the UN Secretary-General, UN Agencies and ICRC to provide humanitarian assistance in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality established in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182,” they added.

The BRICS summit, hosted virtually by Beijing, marks Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first international forum with other heads of major economies since he launched his invasion in Ukraine back in February. 

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has previously indicated he is willing to hold direct talks with Putin.

9:48 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022

Situation in Severodonetsk "difficult" but "stable," Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

The situation in the city of Severodonetsk is “difficult” but “stable,” according to Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces.

“As of now, the situation is difficult, stable, the fighting is ongoing,” Hromov told reporters in a briefing Thursday. 

“Our servicemen have weapons at their disposal and are supported by artillery units, but unfortunately the enemy has the fire advantage,” he said. “[Russia] has enough artillery systems, enough munition, they inflict massive fire strikes, but our servicemen skillfully maneuver among the fortified positions.”

Hromov conceded that Russia had damaged Ukraine’s supply routes into the city, but he said military leadership had found alternative ways to send ammunition in and bring out the wounded. 

In neighboring Lysychansk, “there is no safe place” left, Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Thursday.

The “whole of Lysychansk is being shelled with large caliber and air strikes,” he said.

Authorities continue to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid, he added.

8:24 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russia is gaining advantage in eastern Ukraine as forces learn from earlier mistakes, US officials say

From CNN's Jim Sciutto

Russian forces are gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine as they learn from mistakes made during the earlier stages of their invasion of the country, including better coordinating air and ground attacks and improving logistics and supply lines, two US officials with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments told CNN.

The US does not expect new weapons systems recently supplied to Ukrainian forces, including the HIMARS multiple rocket launch system, to immediately change the situation on the battlefield in part because those systems are so far being sent with both a limited range and a limited number of rockets to ensure they are not fired into Russian territory. Additionally, Russian forces have been able to destroy some of the new Western-supplied weapons, including M777 howitzers, in targeted attacks.

The US assessments, which increasingly envision a long and punishing battle in eastern Ukraine, come as the months-long war there has reached a pivotal moment in recent days. Ukraine's military has been burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems, and Western governments are facing a tough decision on whether they want to continue increasing their assistance to the country.

The US assessments paint a dismal image of the future of the war, with high personnel and equipment losses on both sides. US officials believe that Russian forces plan to maintain intense attacks in the east, characterized by heavy artillery and missile strikes, with the intention of wearing down Ukrainian forces and NATO resolve over time.

Read more here.