June 29, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Elizabeth Wolfe, Jason Hanna, Sophie Tanno, Caolán Magee, Ivana Kottasová, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 30, 2023
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1:51 p.m. ET, June 29, 2023

After the short-lived mutiny, questions swirl over top Russian commander and Prigozhin

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Jo Shelley, Anna Chernova and Sophie Tanno

Sergey Surovikin, left, and Yevgeny Prigozhin
Sergey Surovikin, left, and Yevgeny Prigozhin AP

One is known as “General Armageddon,” the other as “Putin’s chef.” Both have a checkered past and a reputation for brutality. One launched the insurrection, the other reportedly knew about it in advance. And right now, both are nowhere to be found.

The commander of the Russian air force Sergey Surovikin and the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin have not been seen in public in days as questions swirl about the role Surovikin may have played in Prigozhin’s short-lived mutiny.

Kremlin has remained silent on the topic, embarking instead on an aggressive campaign to reassert the authority of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what we know about the two men in the spotlight.

Why is everyone talking about Surovikin?

Surovikin has been the subject of intense speculation over his role in the mutiny after the New York Times reported on Wednesday that the general “had advance knowledge of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plans to rebel against Russia’s military leadership.” The paper cited US officials who it said were briefed on US intelligence.

Surovikin released a video last Friday, just as the rebellion was starting, appealing to Prigozhin to halt the mutiny soon after it began. The video message made it clear he sided with Putin. But the footage raised more questions than answers about Surovikin’s whereabouts and his state of mind – he appeared unshaven and with a halting delivery, as if reading from a script.

Asked about the New York Times story, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “There will be now a lot of speculation and rumors surrounding these events. I believe this is just another example of it.

On Wednesday, the Russian-language version of the independent Moscow Times cited two anonymous defense sources as saying that Surovikin had been arrested in relation to the failed mutiny. CNN has been unable to independently verify that claim.

A popular blogger going by the name Rybar noted on Wednesday that “Surovikin has not been seen since Saturday” and said nobody knew for certain where he was. “There is a version that he is under interrogation,” he added.

A well-known Russian journalist Alexey Venediktov – former editor of the now-shuttered Echo of Moscow radio station – also claimed Wednesday that Surovikin had not been in contact with his family for three days.

But other Russian commentators suggested the general was not in custody. A former Russian member of Parliament Sergey Markov said on Telegram that Surovikin had attended a meeting in Rostov on Thursday, but did not say how he knew this.

“The rumors about the arrest of Surovikin are dispersing the topic of rebellion in order to promote political instability in Russia,” he said.

Adding further to the speculation, Russian Telegram channel Baza has posted what it says is a brief interview with Surovikin’s daughter, in which she claimed to be in contact with her father and insists that he has not been detained. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the recording. The commander of the Russian air force has not been seen in public since overnight on Friday when he issued the video.

And what about Prigozhin? The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Western officials believe Prigozhin planned to capture Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and top army general Valery Gerasimov. When asked about the report, two European security sources told CNN that while it was likely Prigozhin would have expressed a desire to capture Russian military leaders, there was no assessment as to whether he had a credible plan to do so.

Prigozhin was last spotted leaving the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday, after abruptly calling off his troops’ march on Moscow.

He released an audio message Monday, explaining his decision to turn his troops back. The Kremlin and the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed on Saturday that Prigozhin agreed to leave Russia for Belarus.

Lukashenko said he brokered a deal that would see Prigozhin exiled in Belarus without facing criminal charges. According to Lukashenko, the Wagner chief arrived in Belarus Tuesday. While there are no videos or photos showing Prigozhin in Belarus, satellite imagery of an airbase outside Minsk showed two planes linked to Prigozhin landed there on Tuesday morning.

Read more here.

1:31 p.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Ukraine reports advances on positions around Bakhmut and says Russia is bringing in additional forces

From CNN's Tim Lister, Mariya Knight, Julia Kesaieva and Victoria Butenko

A Ukrainian military spokesperson says the Eastern Group of forces has made progress against Russian positions around Bakhmut, while a Russian military blogger has acknowledged heavy fighting in the area.

Serhii Cherevatyi told CNN Thursday that Ukrainian units had advanced by more than one kilometer towards the village Klishchiivka, and by about 1.5 kilometers (less than a mile) towards the village of Kurdiumivka, on Bakhmut’s southern flank. “We are moving forward every day,” Cherevatyi said.

He also claimed that the Russians were moving additional units toward Bakhmut, including an airborne unit from a sector further north. “This proves they are willing to hold Bakhmut at any cost. The enemy is also deploying additional anti-tank missile systems.”

A commander in the area, Denis Yaroslavsky, claimed that Ukrainian troops have “practically taken Klishchiivka under total control, it is a strategic point from where the offensive actions will kick off to the south of Bakhmut.”

Ukrainian advances: He said there had also been gains north of the city. “As of today, we can say that the enemy is retreating from the northern streets of Bakhmut.”

Maksym Zhorin, the acting commander of the Third Assault Brigade, which has been heavily involved in attack operations around Bakhmut, said that “both on the flanks and in the town itself, there are round-the-clock battles…Now the fighting on our side is mostly offensive.”

Zhorin claimed: “In the area of responsibility of the 3rd Brigade, under the pressure of our assault units, the enemy is forced to abandon their positions and retreat almost every day…Ukrainian forces are now moving to control all the necessary heights on the flanks of Bakhmut.”

It is difficult to verify such claims but recently geolocated video shows Ukrainian units targeting Russian positions around Bakhmut.

What Russia's military blogger says: Russian blogger War Gonzo said heavy fighting is currently taking place near Klishchiivka. He said the Ukrainians had made a number of attacks in recent days, “but today's assault, according to reports from the field, is particularly strong.”

“On several occasions, attempts to advance enemy infantry and armored vehicles from Kurdiumivka were recorded, which were suppressed by Russian troops,” he said.

Other Russian military bloggers in recent days have reported a broader Ukrainian assault against Russian flanks both south and north of the ruined city, where thousands of Russian soldiers are now stationed.

What Ukraine says: Further north, along the front lines between Lyman and Kupyansk, Cherevatyi said the Russians were on the attack, and had carried out 14 assaults and more than 449 shellings in the past 24 hours, according to Cherevatyi.

In another hotspot, the ruined city of Avdiivka some 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Donetsk city, the National Guard of Ukraine said their soldiers still occupied the city’s tall buildings.

A soldier with Ukraine’s 47th Brigade – which is involved in the counter-offensive in the south, told CNN that “the offensive is slow, but it is advancing steadily, each step is taken carefully. All the nuances of this area, which is heavily mined, are taken into account.”

The soldier, call-sign "Legion," is a master-sergeant in the 47th.

He told CNN: “The density of mines here is so high that I have never actually seen so many mines in any direction in all my years of service... We work gradually and take the territory tree by tree every day.” 

Legion acknowledged that the Russians “knew that this area is where the main attack will take place, so they prepared thoroughly.”

“The intensity of the fighting here is comparable to what it was like in Bakhmut during the hottest phase. Now the same thing is happening in this area," he added.

11:00 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Planes linked to Wagner Group founder continue flying as his whereabouts remain unknown

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Alexander Marquardt and Natasha Bertrand

Wagner Group CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin's exact whereabouts remain unclear, but two planes linked to him are continuing to travel around Russia and Belarus.

Prigozhin hasn't been seen in any videos or photos since he left the Rostov-on-Don Russian military headquarters on Saturday evening.

On Tuesday, both planes were caught on a BlackSky satellite image sitting on the tarmac at Machulishchy air base, just outside of the Belarusian capital of Minsk. That same day, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that Prigozhin was "in Belarus.”

Flight tracking data from FlightRadar24 indicates that the planes left the airbase at 10:45 p.m. local time Tuesday.  One plane — RA-02795 (an Embraer Legacy) — traveled to Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, the other — RA-02878 (a Bae-125) — to St. Petersburg's Pulkovo international airport.  

RA-02795 spent just over two hours in Moscow before it took off for St. Petersburg at 2 a.m. on Wednesday.

Both planes were in St. Petersburg for about nine hours on Wednesday, before RA-02878 left for Moscow's Zhukovsky International Airport.

CNN has previously reported that US and European intelligence officials have been tracking the planes’ movements, but could not say for sure on Thursday whether Prigozhin has been on board. 

"He uses it as a deception tactic," a US official told CNN about why Prigozhin's exact whereabouts are hard to track by plane.

12:09 p.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Search and rescue operations finish in Kramatorsk as death toll rises to 12

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Alex Stambaugh

Rescue works in the center of the impact of a Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on June 29.
Rescue works in the center of the impact of a Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Ukraine on June 29. Celestino Arce/NurPhoto/Reuters

The death toll from Tuesday's Russian missile strike on a busy area of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk has risen to 12, Ukrainian officials said Thursday.

Search and rescue operations amidst the rubble have ended as of Thursday morning, Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said. 

Three children were among the 12 people that died, Ukraine's State Emergency Service said. The strike hit a popular city center lined with restaurants, businesses and apartment buildings. 

Thursday's announcements came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said police detained a person suspected of coordinating the deadly attack.

What Russia says: The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the target hit in the strike was a temporary command post of a Ukrainian army unit.

11:34 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in unannounced trip to Ukraine

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualrsi

Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in unannounced trip to Ukraine on June 29.
Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in unannounced trip to Ukraine on June 29. Pool


Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday visited Ukraine, a show of support for the European nation under attack from Russia as Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination have been divided over America’s role in the ongoing conflict.

Pence met privately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky behind closed doors at the presidential palace in Kyiv, telling the Ukrainian leader that his resolve was stronger than ever to support the country.

While in the capital city, Pence visited a children’s center caring for Ukrainian youth who were from occupied territories or had been forcefully taken to Russia, paid his respects to the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine, and toured the St. Michael’s Orthodox church.

Pence also made stops at three different cities and villages — Bucha, Irpin and Moschun — outside of Kyiv that had seen heavy destruction from shelling and gruesome violence against civilians under Russian occupation last year. He toured the wreckage, met with locals and laid flowers at memorials for those killed in the war.

“The American people are praying with you, supporting you in Ukraine,” he told families that he met in Irpin. 

The former vice president has been a strong advocate for US support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, arguing that it’s in America’s best interests. The issue has created a rift among the 2024 Republican candidates. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott have also urged continued US backing for Ukraine, while former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the top polling candidates in the primary field, have questioned US aid for Ukraine.  

Pence’s visit on Thursday isn’t the first time he has traveled to the country since the war started. In March 2022, long before he announced his candidacy, Pence went to the Ukrainian border and met with refugees displaced from their homes in escaping the violence. 

Both trips were organized by Samaritan’s Purse, an American evangelical disaster relief charity that’s run by pastor Franklin Graham. Pence and his wife, former second lady Karen Pence, have volunteered before with the organization.

The war in Ukraine has raged on for more than a year now. Kyiv’s counteroffensive is underway while Russia deals with the aftermath of a short-lived mutiny by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group, that had posed the greatest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power in more than two decades. Russian missiles this week struck the eastern city of Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and a nearby village, killing at least 11 people and injuring dozens. 

Pence has warned that Russia may not stop at Ukraine and threaten NATO allies, resulting in America having to send military troops. 

“Make no mistake: This is not America's war. But if we falter in our commitment to providing the support to the people of Ukraine to defend their freedom, our sons and daughters may soon be called upon to defend ours,” he said in a February speech at the University of Texas at Austin on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He has also called Putin a “war criminal” and said there’s “no room for Putin apologists in the Republican Party.”

10:17 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Ukraine launches emergency exercises to prepare for “possible terrorist attack” at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

The Ukrainian authorities have launched large-scale emergency response exercises in four regions to prepare for “a possible terrorist attack” at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the energy ministry announced in a Facebook post on Thursday. 

Experts from Ukraine's state-owned energy firm Energoatom have, “developed several possible scenarios of events at the ZNPP, which will be practiced during the exercise,” the post read. 

The governor of the Kherson region, Oleksandr Prokudin, confirmed that the drills had been launched there and asked the public to refrain from posting pictures online. 

The Kremlin has previously denied a claim made by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia is “considering” a “terrorist attack” at the power plant, with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov describing it as, “another lie.”

Some background: The nuclear power plant, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. It was mostly built in the Soviet era and became Ukrainian property after its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The power plant is located on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in Ukraine. The area, and the nuclear complex, have been under Russian control since the beginning of the war, but the plant is still mostly operated by Ukrainian workers.

8:38 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

"Putin has lost the monopoly of force," EU's foreign policy chief says

From CNN’s James Frater

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the media as he arrives for a European Council Summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 29.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell talks to the media as he arrives for a European Council Summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 29. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been weakened by the Wagner rebellion over the weekend which shows that he is "not the only master in town” and “has lost the monopoly of force,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief said Thursday.

The global community has to be "very much aware of the consequences,” Josep Borrell cautioned as he spoke to journalists at a scheduled high-level meeting of European leaders in Brussels.

“A weaker Putin is a greater danger,” he added, explaining why an unstable Russia is also "a risk."

“Until now, we were looking at Russia as a threat because it was force,” Borrell said. “Now we have to look at Russia as at risk because of the internal instability.”

Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš said Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s presence in Belarus, with which the NATO member shares a border, poses a potential threat in terms of "attempted infiltration into Europe for unknown purposes."

“So that means we need to heighten our border awareness,” he added, reiterating the importance of adopting new NATO plans to strengthen the eastern flank.

9:07 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Questions swirl over whereabouts of top Russian commander and Prigozhin. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Questions are swirling over the whereabouts of General Sergey Surovikin and Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, both of whom have not been seen in public for days amid reports about the potential role of the air force leader in the mutiny.

Meanwhile, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been "weakened” following the 24-hour rebellion by Wagner.

Below are the latest updates:

  • Putin changes tactic: For the past three years, the Russian leader was rarely seen in public. He stayed in near complete seclusion during the pandemic. When he did appear, he was usually seen sitting at a huge desk, far away from anyone around. But after facing the biggest-ever challenge to his authority over the weekend, Putin is back in the public eye. The Kremlin is now going to great lengths to reassert Putin’s authority, with meetings and public events designed to show the unity and solidarity of the state and the military under his leadership.
  • "Cracks and divisions": A failed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group in Russia over the weekend shows “cracks and divisions” within the country, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday. “At the same time, it is important to underline that these are internal Russian matters and it's too early to draw any final conclusions,” he said, speaking before a two-day European Council summit in Brussels that will take place on Thursday and Friday.
  • Prigozhin's location unknown: The owner of the Wagner private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has not been seen in public since late on Saturday night. He released an audio message on Monday, but has not appeared in any videos or photos that would confirm his whereabouts. According to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the Wagner chief arrived in Belarus Tuesday. Satellite imagery showed two planes linked to Prigozhin landed at an airbase outside the country’s capital.
  • Sergey Surovikin: Surovikin, the commander of the Russian air force, has not been seen in public since overnight on Friday when he issued a video appeal to Prigozhin to cease his rebellion. Questions about his whereabouts — and his potential role in the short-lived insurrection — have been swirling in recent days. On Wednesday, the Russian-language version of the Moscow Times cited two anonymous defense sources as saying that Surovikin had been arrested in relation to the failed mutiny. CNN has not been able to independently verify that claim. 
8:11 a.m. ET, June 29, 2023

Prior to revolt, Prigozhin was told his mercenaries could no longer fight in Ukraine, Russian media reports

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Before Wagner mercenaries attempted to stage a military insurrection, their boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had been informed that his private military company would no longer be allowed to participate in Russia’s "special military operation" in Ukraine, two Russian state news agencies reported on Thursday. 

The decision was made because Prigozhin refused to follow an order from Russia’s defense ministry that said all mercenary groups fighting in Ukraine had to sign contracts with the department, Andrey Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Defense Committee, said in comments reported by the TASS and RIA outlets. 

Prigozhin had been told Wagner would no longer receive defense ministry funding, Kartapolov said.