June 28, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Aditi Sangal, Lianne Kolirin and Hafsa Khalil, CNN

Updated 2:47 a.m. ET, June 29, 2022
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3:52 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Ukraine targets arms depot within Moscow-controlled Luhansk, Russian backed forces say HIMARS was used

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Kostan Nechyporenko

Ukrainian forces were able to strike an arms depot well within Moscow-controlled territory in the Luhansk region, with Russian-backed separatist forces in Luhansk saying Kyiv used the US-donated HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) to do it.

“The first case of the use of the American MLRS M142HIMARS, which was so advertised, was detected in the LPR today [Tuesday],” the spokesman for the People’s Militia of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), Lieutenant Colonel Andrey Marochko said in an interview with state broadcaster Russia 1.

“At 7:20 a.m., from the direction of the settlement of Artemovsk [the Ukrainian side calls the city Bakhmut], there was as strike on Perevalsk.”

“This is the deep rear,” he added. “I also think this shows a lot right now, about what Ukraine is doing, because, firstly, we confirmed that these systems are in the Donbas.”

Pictures of the aftermath of the strike, posted by Russian affiliated accounts, showed the remains of what looked like a Western-made missile.

Commenting on the reports Ukrainian forces had used the HIMARS to target Russian forces far from the front lines, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhiy Hayday said: “There is good news in this regard, because warehouses and barracks with personnel explode and burn.”

“This may slow down their advance towards Lysychansk,” Hayday added without providing additional details on the strike.

CNN has been unable to independently verify the claims the HIMARS was used to target Russian or Russian-backed forces in the Luhansk region, but Ukrainian and US officials have acknowledged the US-made MLRS has been deployed and used near the front lines.

3:39 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Turkey signs trilateral memorandum with Finland and Sweden

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

Turkey confirmed it signed a trilateral memorandum with Finland and Sweden Tuesday supporting their NATO membership bids, agreeing Helsinki and Stockholm will not provide support to the Kurdish People's Protection Units, also known as YPG, which Turkey views as a terrorist organization, according to the Turkish presidency.

Turkey said it extends its full support to Finland and Sweden against threats to their national security.

The Turkish statement said Finland and Sweden also confirmed the separatist militant Kurdistan's Workers Party, also known as PKK, which Turkey, the US and EU consider a terrorist organization, is a "proscribed terrorist organization" and commit to prevent activities" of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions"

Turkey added the three countries agreed on not having national arms embargoes between them.

Turkey, Finland and Sweden committed to establishing an intelligence sharing mechanism to scale up counterterrorism operations and to combat organized crime. The countries agreed Finland and Sweden will address Turkey's pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects "expeditiously and thoroughly."

Finland and Sweden agreed to investigate and interdict any financing and recruitment activities of the PKK -considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

"Turkey confirms its long-standing support for NATO's Open Door policy, and agrees to support at the 2022 Madrid Summit the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO," the memorandum signed by Turkey read.

3:25 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Turkey has agreed to support Finnish and Swedish NATO membership bids. Here's what happens next

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, thirdf left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, right, next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, second right, after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain on June 28.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, thirdf left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, right, next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, second right, after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain on June 28. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Finland and Sweden are poised to end decades of neutrality by joining NATO, a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The two Nordic nations had long kept the military alliance at an arm's length, even while eying Russia to their east with caution.

But Moscow's assault on Ukraine has sparked renewed security concern across the region, and the leaders of each country have signaled their desire to join the bloc after more than 75 years of military nonalignment.

Here's what you need to know about how the war in Ukraine caused the shift, and what comes next.

NATO has what it calls an "open door policy" on new members — any European country can request to join, so long as they meet certain criteria and all existing members agree.

A country does not technically "apply" to join; Article 10 of its founding treaty states once a nation has expressed interest, the existing member states "may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty ... to accede."

NATO diplomats told Reuters ratification of new members could take a year, as the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new applicants.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements for membership, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treating minority populations fairly; committing to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and committing to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

The process was not without hurdles; Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he was not looking at both countries joining NATO "positively," accusing them of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations." But on Tuesday, he threw his support behind the nations' bids at the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain.

The United States and the United Kingdom have both expressed their support for their membership bid.

What does NATO membership entail?

The reason most countries join NATO is because of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which stipulates all signatories consider an attack on one an attack against all.

Article 5 has been a cornerstone of the alliance since NATO was founded in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

The point of the treaty, and Article 5 specifically, was to deter the Soviets from attacking liberal democracies lacking military strength. Article 5 guarantees the resources of the whole alliance — including the massive US military — can be used to protect any single member nation, such as smaller countries who would be defenseless without their allies. Iceland, for example, has no standing army.

Former Swedish leader Carl Bildt told CNN he doesn't see new big military bases being built in either country should they join NATO. He said joining the alliance would likely mean more joint military training and planning between Finland, Sweden and NATO's 30 current members. Swedish and Finnish forces could also participate in other NATO operations around the globe, such as those in the Baltic States, where several bases have multinational troops.

It's worth noting Russia has lambasted the decision by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Its deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday the move would be a "mistake" with "far-reaching consequences," according to state news agency TASS.

Russia currently shares about 755 miles of land border with five NATO members, according to the alliance. Finland's accession would mean a nation with which Russia shares an 830-mile border would become formally militarily aligned with the United States.

The addition of Finland and Sweden would also benefit the alliance, which would frustrate Russia. Both are serious military powers, despite their small populations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday "Russia has no problems with these states," adding the expansion of NATO "does not pose a direct threat to Russia."

"But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response," he added at the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Moscow. "We will see what it will be based on the threats that will be created for us."

Read the full report here.

CNN's Rob Picheta, Luke McGee, Nic Robertson, Paul LeBlanc, Per Bergfors Nyberg and Niamh Kennedy and Reuters contributed to this report

3:42 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

NATO chief says he is "confident" of Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO after Turkey's support 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives at a press conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives at a press conference during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he is "confident" Finland and Sweden will be able to successfully join NATO after Turkey signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding with Sweden and Finland Tuesday.

"I'm pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey's concerns, including around arms exports, and the fight against terrorism," Stoltenberg said, speaking to journalists in Madrid following the signing of the memorandum.

On Wednesday, allied leaders will then decide whether to invite Finland and Sweden to join NATO, he said, adding after the decision, a ratification process will need to take place in all NATO capitals.

The NATO chief said following the signing of the trilateral memorandum, however, he was "confident" Sweden and Finland becoming NATO members is "something that will take place."

Stoltenberg said the military alliance's "open door policy" has been an "historic success," after Turkey agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids.

NATO has what it calls an "open door policy" on new members: Any European country can request to join, so long as they meet certain criteria and all existing members agree.

"In NATO, we have always shown that whatever our differences, we can always sit down, find common ground and resolve any issues. NATO's open door policy has been an historic success," Stoltenberg said, speaking to journalists in Madrid.

"Welcoming Finland and Sweden into the alliance will make them safer, NATO stronger and the Euro Atlantic area more secure. This is vital as we face the biggest security crisis in decades," he added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Tuesday welcomed Turkey's decision to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids, calling it "fantastic news."

"Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO Summit. Sweden and Finland's membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer," Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Read how a country can join NATO here.

3:39 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Situation in Lysychansk "very difficult" as Russian forces try to storm city, local official says

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko and Vasco Cotovio

A man walks in front of damaged residential building on a street of the town of Lysychansk on June 21.
A man walks in front of damaged residential building on a street of the town of Lysychansk on June 21. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

The situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk is “very difficult” as it suffers increased bombardments from Russia forces trying to storm the population center.

“The situation [in and] around Lysychansk is now very difficult. There is no central water supply, no gas, no electricity,” the head of the Luhansk regional military administration Serhiy Hayday said on Tuesday. “The combat action constantly goes on.”

Hayday said Russian forces in the area are putting all their efforts into storming the city.

“This whole Russian horde is aimed at storming Lysychansk,” Hayday said, accusing Russia of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure. “Schools, kindergartens, cultural facilities, hospitals, State Emergency Service bases where people gather for evacuation, humanitarian headquarters, they completely destroy everything. They have a scorched-earth policy.”

Hayday also said Russian forces have suffered significant losses and have had to rely on older equipment to continue their assault.

“Today we already see that they use old weapons. That is, not only modern equipment like the T-80, but already the T-64 and even the T-62. These are already completely outdated models of tanks,” he said. “They use everything that's possible and impossible.”

 

2:44 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Turkey has agreed to support Finnish and Swedish NATO membership bids, Finland president says

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy and Sugam Pokharel in London 

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said Tuesday Turkey has agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids.

A joint memorandum on the matter was signed by Turkey, Finland and Sweden Tuesday in Madrid ahead of a NATO summit, Niinistö said in a statement.

The joint memorandum underscores the commitment of Finland, Sweden and Turkey "to extend their full support against threats to each other’s security," he added.  

"The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO Allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent," he added. 

2:24 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Captors of American fighters reportedly "willing to negotiate," a captive's mother says

From Mick Krever in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Jennifer Hansler in Washington.

US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right, went missing during a battle in Ukraine on June 9.
US citizens Alexander John-Robert Drueke, left, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, right, went missing during a battle in Ukraine on June 9. (Courtesy Bunny Drueke and Joy Black)

The pro-Russian captors of two Americans captured during a battle near Kharkiv, Ukraine, earlier this month are reportedly "willing to negotiate," one captive’s mother told CNN on Tuesday.

Bunny Drueke said her son, Alexander John-Robert Drueke, spoke in recent days – under duress – with an official from the U.S. State Department.

"What they said, they said, was that he was being held by the Donetsk People’s Republic, and that they were willing to make a deal for release," Drueke told CNN, characterizing what was relayed to her by the State Department.

Drueke said her State Department contact told her it was clear during the phone call her son was being told what to say. She was informed of the call on Saturday, but it is unclear when it took place.

A senior State Department official told CNN they could not speak to specifics given privacy considerations, "but we have a core mission to provide support to Americans in need, and we take that obligation seriously at all times and in all circumstances."

The so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) is a Russian-backed, self-declared republic which has governed a breakaway portion of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.

She said it was unclear what his captors were asking for in any negotiation with the U.S. Government: If they asked for something, "the State Department didn’t share it with me," she said.

"He said he had food and water, he was being treated well, and he sounded good," she said. She added he was being held separately from his fellow captive, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, but he had seen him a few days previously, and "he looked OK."

Last week, a pro-Russian Serbian nationalist YouTube channel, HelmCast, published a more than 50-minute edited video interview of Drueke and Huynh. 

In the interview, a man can be heard behind the camera revealing the location of their interview when he says "here in Donetsk" during a question to Drueke. 

Drueke was also asked in the interview if he had any objections to how he has been treated since his capture, and he revealed he has been beaten a few times.

Previous reporting from Jonny Hallam in Atlanta.

1:34 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Bulgaria expels 70 Russian embassy employees, foreign ministry says

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

Bulgaria said Tuesday it had asked Russia to withdraw 70 staff members from its embassy in Sofia by July 3, saying Russia should decrease the size of its embassy to match the Bulgarian diplomatic footprint in Moscow.

"[Russian] Ambassador Eleanora Mitrofanova was informed of the Bulgarian decision to reduce the number of staff of Russian delegations in the Republic of Bulgaria within borders not exceeding the number of Bulgarian delegations" in Russia, a statement from the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry read.

The ministry said its request was based on "reciprocity" and activities that are "a threat to national security," and incompatible with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

1:04 p.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Zelensky expected to address UN Security Council emergency meeting today

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to address the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council today, expected to be held in the 3 p.m. ET hour, two UN diplomats tell CNN.

Ukraine called for the meeting in response to a Russian missile attack on a shopping mall filled with civilians, and the recent Russian shelling across Ukraine, the diplomats said.