July 13, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Kathleen Magramo, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 2:51 a.m. ET, July 14, 2022
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8:42 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Kremlin declines to comment on US accusation it intends to buy Iranian drones

From CNN's Anna Chernova

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks in Moscow in 2021.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks in Moscow in 2021. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kremlin says an alleged purchase of Iranian drones by Russia will not be discussed when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Iran next week.

On Tuesday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told journalists the US had information indicating that Iran is preparing to supply Russia with drones -- including weapons-capable drones -- and begin training Russian forces on how to operate them as early as this month.

When asked about the accusations during a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian presidency had “no comments on this matter.”

He later added the topic would not be discussed when Putin travels to Iran on Tuesday. 

The Kremlin also commented on US President Joe Biden's visit to the Middle East, with Peskov saying that he hopes Biden's "oil diplomacy" will not turn Saudi Arabia against Russia.

“We appreciate the work we are able to do with our partners [within the framework of the OPEC+ agreements], including with leading partners such as Saudi Arabia,” Peskov said. 

“We highly value our interests and our interaction with Riyadh. Of course, we hope that the development of Riyadh's relations with other world capitals will not be directed against us,” he added.

Biden will meet with the Saudi leadership during his trip to Saudi Arabia this week with an aim to strengthen partnership between the countries, and he will also hold bilateral meetings with a number of other Middle Eastern leaders before closing the trip with the GCC+3 Summit, according to Sullivan.

8:10 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Catch up on the latest developments in Russia's war in Ukraine

If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know about the latest developments in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic opens embassy in Moscow: The flag of the Russia-backed separatist-held region was on display outside the embassy following the official opening in Moscow on July 12. The opening of the embassy took place without any senior Russian government figures in attendance. "We can't celebrate here when our countrymen are dying," DPR Ambassador Olga Makeyeva said.

The death toll in Chasiv Yar's building strike climbs to 47: The number has been steadily climbing since a Russian rocket struck a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Chasiv Yar on Saturday. The rescue operation is still ongoing, according to authorities.

Hearing of convicted a Russian soldier is underway in Kyiv court: The 21-year-old Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin is expected to challenge the court decision handed to him in May. He was found guilty of killing a 62-year-old civilian during his deployment with the Russian army in the early days of the war, and he was sentenced to life in prison on May 23.

Here's a look at the Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine:

7:52 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

US-sanctioned Putin ally calls for investigation into Russian journalists

A close ally of President Vladimir Putin, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, has asked Russia’s Investigative Committee to open a criminal case against two journalists of the independent Russian publication Meduza over its investigation into the involvement of Russian mercenaries in the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin-owned company Concord said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as Putin’s "chef," is thought to be the driving force behind the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries and was one of the members of Putin's elite sanctioned by the US in March after the invasion of Ukraine.

In the statement, Prigozhin says he asked the Investigative Committee to open a case against Meduza’s editorial director Tatiana Yershova, as well as journalist Lilia Yapparova, for disseminating "fake news" about the Russian army and treason, based on the questions they sent to him about the participation of the Wagner Group in the war in Ukraine.

UK and US officials said in March that the private Wagner Group was active in eastern Ukraine.

“The questions asked by the authors contain their initial information that a certain private military company Wagner is directly involved in the special operation carried out by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine,” Prigozhin said in an appeal to the Russian Investigative Committee.

“From them we can conclude that Lilia Yapparova, as well as employees of Meduza unknown to me, are preparing mass informational provocations against Russia, that is why I ask you to initiate criminal proceedings against the above persons,” he added.

Meduza published a deep dive into the inner workings of the Russian government on Wednesday, suggesting the relationship between Prigozhin and the Kremlin had allegedly soured shortly before the invasion of Ukraine. One of the questions submitted by Meduza to the businessman and released by his company Concord specifically addresses Prigozhin’s relationship with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. 

Meduza also published an investigation into a special military unit allegedly formed in Moscow to recruit mercenaries from Russian regions to participate in Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. According to Meduza, this unit is at least partially financed from the budget of Moscow and is often referred to as the “Sobyanin’s Regiment” -- a reference to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.

When asked by CNN on a regular conference call Wednesday about that military unit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment, saying “We don’t know anything about it.”

8:40 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Will negotiations in Turkey break the deadlock over Ukrainian grain supplies?

From CNN's Lianne Kolirin

Turkey is hosting talks on Wednesday to try and break the deadlock surrounding the export of grain shipments from Ukraine. 

Military representatives from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine are meeting with a UN delegation to discuss the “safe shipment of grain waiting in Ukrainian ports to international markets by sea," Turkish Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday.

Europe's breadbasket

While the conflict remains confined to within Ukraine’s borders, the impact it is having on food security is truly global. 

The Black Sea basin is one of the world’s most important areas for grain and agricultural production, according to the World Food Programme. As such the consequences of the conflict have increased pressure on resources and access to food for countries all over the world. 

Known as the “breadbasket of Europe," Ukraine was the fifth largest exporter of wheat onto the global market last year. According to a report published by the World Food Programme (WFP) earlier this month, Ukraine’s export capacity is now around a sixth of what it was before the war.

The WFP said it is “closely coordinating with key actors (EU member states and IFIs) on ways to optimize the export of grain from Ukraine using all options: road, rail, river and sea.”

Last month the WFP warned that the “ripple effects” of the conflict would “push millions of people in countries across the world into poverty and hunger.”

The crisis is having a devastating impact on impoverished countries such as Egypt and Somalia, which get around 80% and 90% respectively of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine and have seen huge price increases since the start of the conflict.

The report published by the WFP and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on June 6 said that “the war in Ukraine has exacerbated the already steadily rising food and energy prices worldwide, which are already affecting economic stability across all regions.”

The invasion

Russia’s invasion on February 24 came after the winter crop of wheat was planted, meaning it is now ready to harvest. But the agricultural industry has been crippled by numerous factors. 

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by the war, which has massive implications for manpower. Meanwhile the farmers that remain face numerous challenges. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Moscow of engaging in scorched earth tactics which have destroyed vast quantities of crops, storage and machinery, while there is also the danger of unexploded missiles and ordnance that scatter the fields. 

Dozens of silos and some of the biggest export terminals have been destroyed by Russian bombardment. One of the largest -- in the southern city of Mykolaiv -- contained some 250,000 tons of grain before being burned in June.

Additionally, some analysts say there are challenges in obtaining diesel fuel because of the destruction of refineries, meaning some crops cannot be harvested. 

Russia has blockaded Black Sea ports, meaning grain already harvested cannot be exported internationally. The UN has said that the blockade has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in parts of the world.   

According to the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry, around 80% of Ukraine’s grain was exported from its Black Sea ports before the invasion. Now exports exit the country exclusively through the Danube River, access to which was made possible after Ukrainian forces retook Snake Island from Russian forces in June. Ukraine is hoping to speed up exports via this route.

Ukraine has also accused Russia of removing supplies by stealth and passing them off as Russian grain. Russian operators are transferring grain at sea in an apparent effort to disguise its origin, according to satellite imagery reviewed by CNN, and merchant ships are turning off their transponders. Russia has repeatedly denied stealing grain or blocking ports.

Some of what would have been Ukrainian produce is now in territory held by the Russians and their allies in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR). The leader of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, said recently that the wheat harvest there would be much higher than in 2021.

What are the aims of the talks?

Specific details have not yet been released. However Reuters has spoken to unnamed diplomats who have suggested that elements of the plan under discussion include Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters; Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move; and Turkey -- supported by the United Nations -- inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.

Ukraine's foreign ministry on Tuesday stressed the role of the United Nations in the talks and the need for "a solution that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of our country," spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko told Reuters.

Reporting from Tim Lister, Petro Zadorozhnyy, Vasco Cotovio and Isil Sariyuce

8:40 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Opinion: How Putin's stranglehold of wheat ripples across the globe

Opinion by Tim Benton, director of the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House

As farmers across Ukraine attempt to bring in their wheat harvests in the coming weeks, it could be make-or-break for global food supplies.

Last year, Ukraine was the fifth largest exporter of wheat onto the global market. The invasion in February followed the planting of the winter wheat crop, which, despite the incursion of Russian tanks, is now ready for harvest.

But this harvest will be markedly different as the war continues to rage. Those farmers who have stayed are wary of unexploded missiles and ordnance that lie scattered in their fields. Some are musing burning crops rather than risk losing their combine harvesters and tractors -- or their lives -- bringing them in.

Adding to the crisis, Russia's deliberate blockade of Odesa's ports is preventing the grain harvested last year being shipped from Ukraine to import-dependent countries like Egypt, Libya and Somalia -- all now in desperate need.

In occupied areas of Ukraine, there are reports of grain being illegally trucked to ports in Crimea, or even to Russia -- and shipped out as Russian produce. The Ukrainian government claims over $100 million worth of grain (roughly 500,000 tons) has been stolen.

The conflict has simultaneously highlighted the reliance of developing countries on food imports and sparked a global price escalation, affecting both rich and poor countries alike and exposing what some have long feared: That our interconnected global food systems are far too fragile to cope with such shocks.

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia were together supplying 100% of Somalia's wheat imports, 80% of Egypt's and 75% of Sudan's. If Ukrainian ports remain blocked, grain silos won't be emptied and the new harvest may simply rot on the fields while millions go hungry.

Read the full article here:

4:20 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Analysis: Two exhausted armies are battling for eastern Ukraine. Can either of them strike a decisive blow?

Analysis from CNN's Rob Picheta

Russian troops ride on top of an armored personnel carrier in the city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine, on July 4.
Russian troops ride on top of an armored personnel carrier in the city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine, on July 4. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

When Vladimir Putin refocused his war in Ukraine on the country's east three months ago, he did so bruised by the failures of his initial lunge towards Kyiv and desperate for a face-saving success.

After a slow and bloody march through Luhansk was finalized with the capture of the city of Lysychansk, the Russian President might consider himself halfway there.

But the war has arrived at another crossroads and fighters on both sides are steeling themselves for a third act of fighting that could tip the balance of the conflict.

"It's a very attritional struggle," said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for Airpower and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), describing the tone of the war after three months of fighting in Donbas.
"It's a struggle between two armies, both of whom have taken huge losses and are very close to exhaustion."

Ukrainian servicemen ride on a military vehicle as they tow an M777 155 mm howitzer near the front line in the Donbas region, Ukraine, on July 12.
Ukrainian servicemen ride on a military vehicle as they tow an M777 155 mm howitzer near the front line in the Donbas region, Ukraine, on July 12. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Putin's next move is anticipated to be a drive into Donetsk, which if captured would fulfill the Kremlin's primary objective: overrunning the entire Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has housed Russian-backed separatist factions since 2014.

But when and how that takes place is unclear. While Russia has continued intense airstrikes on various fronts in Ukraine, the US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Sunday that Russian ground troops were in the middle of an operational pause to "rest, refit, and reconstitute."

That could give Ukraine's army time to prepare to defend the parts of Donetsk it still holds; chiefly the industrial belt running south from the city of Sloviansk. And the threat of Ukrainian counter-offensives elsewhere in the country, including the key southern city of Kherson, remains.

The next phase of full-scale fighting, when it does break out, may not be the last. But it may determine the future of Ukraine's heartland region — and analysts say it will go some considerable way to determining the war's results.

Read the full analysis here.

7:50 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Chasiv Yar death toll climbs to 47

From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnyy

Firefighters remove a body from a building amid search and rescue operations in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 11.
Firefighters remove a body from a building amid search and rescue operations in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 11. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The death toll has risen to 47 following a Russian rocket strike on a residential building in Chasiv Yar over the weekend, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the office of the President of Ukraine.

The rescue operation in the eastern city is ongoing, he said on Wednesday.

The building was hit on Saturday evening as Russia once again ramped up its assault on cities and towns in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to take control over the entire Donbas area.

3:37 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Ukraine claims intense Russian shelling, airstrikes in Donetsk region

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

Russian forces targeted Bakhmut and Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region overnight, carrying out airstrikes and an intense shelling campaign, the Ukrainian military said on Wednesday. 

"In the Kramatorsk direction, the enemy did not conduct active operations, but carried out shelling from barrel artillery and mortars in the areas of the settlements of Tetianivka, Mykolaivka, Kryva Luka, Siversk, Serebrianka, and Spirne," the Ukrainian General staff said, adding that an airstrike was carried out near Verkhniokamianske.

According to the Donetsk region military administration, residential buildings and public infrastructure were hit. Early reports suggest there were no fatalities but authorities are still assessing the situation. 

Several districts were also shelled in the Bakhmut area, the General Staff said. Air and missile strikes were also carried out. 

"The enemy carried out missile and air strikes on Toretsk and Rayske and airstrikes near Berestove," it said. 

3:27 a.m. ET, July 13, 2022

Self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic opens embassy in Moscow 

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Manveena Suri

The flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on display outside the embassy following the official opening in Moscow on July 12.
The flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on display outside the embassy following the official opening in Moscow on July 12. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on Tuesday opened an embassy in Russia.

Ambassador Olga Makeyeva and Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova told journalists that diplomats representing the Russia-backed DPR have already received "a huge number" of petitions from citizens, with the intention to address their problems, according to a report in Russian daily Kommersant. 

Donetsk lies in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has seen a heavy Russian offensive in recent months. In a move denounced by the West and Ukraine, Russia recognized the self-proclaimed independence of the DPR and the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) — another breakaway entity in the Donbas — on Feb. 21, three days before Russia launched its invasion.

The opening of the embassy in Moscow on Tuesday took place without any senior Russian government figures in attendance. "We can't celebrate here when our countrymen are dying," Makeyeva said.

Ambassador of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, Olga Makeeva, left, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Natalia Nikonorova, right, outside the DPR embassy in Moscow on July 12.
Ambassador of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) to Russia, Olga Makeeva, left, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Natalia Nikonorova, right, outside the DPR embassy in Moscow on July 12. (Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The diplomats also plan to "provide truthful information about the events in the DPR" and increase the number of countries that recognize its independence, Kommersant reported.

Syria is the only country other than Russia that officially recognizes the DPR. According to Nikonorova, recognition talks are underway with North Korea.

Makeeva said in addition to working with citizens, her approximately 20 staff members will also address political issues.

"We have to work with diplomatic missions represented in Moscow. But we will also have to convey truthful information about what is happening in the Republic and, of course, implement the foreign policy of the DNR in Russia," Makeeva said.