July 8, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Hafsa Khalil, Aditi Sangal, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 7:13 p.m. ET, July 8, 2022
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9:31 p.m. ET, July 7, 2022

Putin says war could continue until "last Ukrainian is left standing"

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday issued a warning to the West and Ukraine, saying the war might drag on until the “last Ukrainian is left standing.”

“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try,” Putin said during a meeting with the heads of the State Duma party factions that aired on state-run television channel Russia-24. 

"We have continuously heard that the West is ready to fight with us until the last Ukrainian is left standing. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. However, it seems like everything is going towards this," he said. 

Putin has also blamed the West for “encouraging and justifying genocide against people in Donbas.” 

"We are not refusing peace negotiations. But those who do refuse should know that the further [the conflict continues], the more difficult it will be for them to negotiate with us," Putin said. 

The eastern Donbas region has became the key centerpiece of Putin’s military ambition in Ukraine after his troops failed to take over the Ukrainian capital Kyiv earlier this year.

2:37 a.m. ET, July 8, 2022

Brittney Griner pleads guilty to drug charges in Russian court

From CNN's Anna Chernova, Abby Phillip, Dakin Andone and Alaa Elassar

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, Russia, on July 7.
US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, Russia, on July 7. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court near Moscow, her lawyers confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

Griner, whom the US State Department has classified as wrongfully detained, faces up to 10 years in prison under the charge. Supporters of the Phoenix Mercury player have called for her release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Griner's lawyers expect the court to take into account the 31-year-old athlete's guilty plea and hope for leniency, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina told journalists Thursday.

Samples taken from Griner did not show any traces of drugs, Boykov added. "She was clean, and she was tested," the lawyer said.

It was her decision to plead guilty, Griner's Russian legal team said in a statement, adding that she "sets an example of being brave."

"She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people," their statement read.
"Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG's personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence."

Her lawyers said they expect the trial to end around the beginning of the August.

Griner left the courtroom Thursday without giving any comment to reporters. Her next hearing is set for July 14.

Read more here.

2:39 a.m. ET, July 8, 2022

Ukraine angered by release of ship carrying allegedly stolen grain

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

The Russian-flagged cargo ship 'Zhibek Zholy' anchored on the Black Sea, Turkey, on July 5.
The Russian-flagged cargo ship 'Zhibek Zholy' anchored on the Black Sea, Turkey, on July 5. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

The release of a Russian ship allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain from Turkish waters is "unacceptable," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey ignored a request to arrest the vessel and cargo and the ship was released on July 6, according to a ministry statement on Thursday.

It expressed "deep disappointment and appeals to the Turkish side with an urgent request to conduct an investigation ... and provide a full response to the requests of the relevant authorities of Ukraine."

The Russian merchant ship, Zhibek Zholy, had carried the grain from the occupied port of Berdiansk to the Turkish port of Karasu.

"In relation to the unacceptable situation, the ambassador of Turkey in Kyiv was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," the ministry added.

CNN has reached out to the Turkish government for comment. 

The Russian news agency TASS said Thursday that the Zhibek Zholy, "which is anchored in Turkey, plans to leave due to idle time and ship grain to a storage vessel."

"It is planned to go to the accumulative (storage) vessel and trans-ship," TASS said, citing one of the ship's crew members. "Then, when the large vessel is loaded, (it) goes to ports and unloads."

Shipping monitoring data Thursday showed the transponder of the Zhibek Zholy no longer active at its recent anchorage outside Karasu.  

Satellite imagery shows that Russian ships frequently offload their cargoes to other vessels in the Black Sea.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar previously told CNN the Zhibek Zholy was at anchor near Karasu as "it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port."

"Now we are waiting for the decision of the relevant authorities of Turkey regarding the actions that the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine insist on," he added.

Some background: For months, Ukraine and allied countries have been trying to mitigate a growing food crisis caused by Russia’s months-long blockade of Ukrainian ports, with Moscow being accused of using food as a weapon of war.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said up to 60 million tons of grain could be stuck in the country by the fall if it continues to face blocked exports.

The UN has said Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in some parts of the world. 

Russia has repeatedly denied it is blocking the ports or stealing grain.