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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3:42 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.

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

US announces steps to ramp up NATO security against Russian threat

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez give a press press conference at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid on June 28.
US President Joe Biden and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez give a press press conference at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid on June 28. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the United States will send two new destroyers to the Rota Naval Station in Spain. This brings the total number of US destroyers based there to six.

"As I said before the war started, if Putin attacked Ukraine, the United States would enhance our force posture in Europe and respond to the reality of a new European security environment," he said alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. "Together, the new commitments will constitute an impressive display of allied unity and resolve and NATO's 360 degree approach to our security."

The move comes as the US is expected to make specific announcements during this week's NATO summit in Madrid to ramp up the American force posture as it looks to counter a "more acute and aggravated Russian threat," according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

"The United States will be making specific announcements tomorrow on land, sea and air on additional force posture commitments over the long term beyond the duration of this crisis, for however long it goes on," Sullivan said aboard Air Force One as Biden was flying to Madrid. "Those will help increases the United States’ and NATO’s maritime presence."

"By the end of the summit what you will see is a more robust, more effective, more combat credible, more capable and more determined force posture to take account of a more acute and aggravated Russian threat," he added.

He said the whole of the NATO alliance was also planning to agree on specific targets for increased funding for NATO from their national budgets.

This follows after NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced Monday the US-led military alliance will enhance its battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance up to brigade levels, saying it would be the "biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defense since the Cold War."

"We will increase the number of high readiness forces to well over 300,000," he said, adding it will include "more pre-positioned equipment, and stockpiles of military supplies; more forward-deployed capabilities, like air defense; strengthened command and control; and upgraded defense plans, with forces pre-assigned to defend specific allies."

According to the NATO website, the NATO Response Force comprises around 40,000 troops.

"These troops will exercise together with home defense forces. And they will become familiar with local terrain, facilities, and our new pre-positioned stocks so that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency," Stoltenberg added.

With previous reporting from CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

11:32 a.m. ET, June 28, 2022

US Defense Dept. watchdog to evaluate intelligence sharing with European partners in support of Ukraine

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The US Department of Defense's watchdog announced it would begin an evaluation of the extent to which the DoD carried out intelligence sharing with European partners in support of Ukraine.

The goal of the evaluation is to look at how the DoD “developed, planned, and executed cross-domain intelligence sharing” with European partners, the DoD Inspector General wrote in a memo announcing the project.

The Inspector General will perform the evaluation at US European Command headquarters, Special Operations Command headquarters, the EUCOM Joint Analysis Center, as well as other locations. The evaluation begins this month.

The announcement comes one week after the Inspector General launched an evaluation of the DoD’s plans to restock its own stocks of weapons and equipment as it maintains an ongoing transfer of supplies to Ukraine.

The Inspector General also has a number of other projects already underway related to Ukraine, including an evaluation of plans to provide and account for security assistance and intelligence to Ukraine, examining the DoD process for tracking the use of funds to support Ukraine, and more.

11:07 a.m. ET, June 28, 2022

Video footage shows second missile hit vicinity of Kremenchuk factory

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Sebastian Shukla, Katie Polglase, Tim Lister and Julia Presniskova

Additional footage of strikes on Kremenchuk, which were geolocated by CNN, showed one of the two missiles that hit the city on Monday landed on the edge of a city park, close to a road machines factory.

The park is about 500 meters (about 1,640 feet) away from the mall where a missile strike killed at least 18 people.

Earlier Tuesday, the Russian defense ministry said its forces had targeted the road machines plant.

"Aerospace Forces launched a strike with high-precision air-based weapons on hangars with weapons and ammunition received from the United States and European countries," the ministry said. "As a result of a high-precision strike, Western-made weapons and ammunition, concentrated in the storage area for further shipment to the Ukrainian group of troops in Donbas, were hit."

Ukrainian authorities have denied the plant was housing military equipment.

"The plant provided services for asphalt laying, road repair and manufactured special equipment for this purpose," the head of the Kremenchuk district military administration, Oleh Liednik, told CNN Tuesday. "The factory was built in 1984 and since then, there has been no manufacture or repair of military equipment; there was no technological cycle for this."

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the missile strike on the Kremenchuk mall had been deliberate, and rejected the notion it had been an accident.

“This is not a mistaken hit of missiles,” Zelensky said. “This is a planned Russian strike at this shopping center.”