July 14, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Brad Lendon, Sana Noor Haq, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 10:16 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023
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3:59 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

South Africa should follow international law if Putin visits, ICC's chief prosecutor says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters on July 13, in New York City.
International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters on July 13, in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

South Africa should do "the right thing" and follow international law if Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the BRICS bloc summit in Johannesburg next month in person, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan told CNN on Friday. 

The term BRIC was coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 to describe the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The BRIC bloc had its first summit in 2009 in Russia, and South Africa joined in 2010.

Some background: ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova in March over the war crime of unlawful deportation of children. Russia – like the US, Ukraine and China – is not a member of the ICC.

As the court does not conduct trials in absentia, Putin would either have to be handed over by Moscow or arrested outside of Russia. Most countries on Earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty, and the ICC statute states that all state parties have the legal obligation to cooperate with the court. It means that they’re obliged to execute arrest warrants.

However, South Africa — the host for this year's BRICS summit — has issued diplomatic immunity to all officials attending a summit in August, meaning Putin might be able to travel to the country despite the ICC warrant for his arrest.

South African officials insist that this is standard protocol and it may not override the ICC arrest warrant. South Africa has not received any confirmation as to whether Putin would attend the summit, according to Naledi Pandor, South Africa's Minister for International Relations.

"South Africa has felt a crime against humanity for decades, the crime of apartheid, I don't think they need lessons from me," he said. "They are voluntarily a state party to the ICC, they know what the law is, and I think they would do the right thing. And we will assess what actually happens at the BRICS summit and respond accordingly," Khan, the ICC prosecutor, told CNN.

"I am a prosecutor, I need to be prudent and prepared for different scenarios with the tools I have available," he added. "South Africa, and I've said it before, and I mean it, is a respective state party. Whenever I look at South Africa, I recall the greatness of the great Mandela. And I think all South Africans will look to him, not to me, about what would the great Nelson Mandela do."

3:18 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Putin has proposed a potential new Wagner commander. Here's what we know

From CNN's Lauren Kent, Pierre Bairin and Uliana Pavlova

Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Future Technologies Forum in Moscow on July 13.
Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Future Technologies Forum in Moscow on July 13. Alexander Kazakov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed to Wagner fighters that a senior mercenary named Andrey Troshev now command the private military group, according to comments the Russian leader made to the Kommersant newspaper that were published Friday.

Putin appears to have created a split between senior fighters from the mercenary group and its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin — whose whereabouts are currently publicly unknown — at least in terms of the narrative emerging from his comments to Kommersant. The paper was reporting on a meeting held by the Russian president five days after Wagner's short-lived rebellion collapsed at the end of June – a meeting also attended by Prigozhin and several dozen senior Wagner combatants.

Responding to a question from Kommersant, Putin said Wagner "does not exist" under Russian law, adding that the Russian government needs to determine how to handle the organization legally.

According to the paper, Putin outlined a number of options for the future of Wagner mercenaries, including continuing to fight under their direct commander, a man going by the call sign "Sedoy," meaning "Gray Hair."

So who is "Gray Hair"? Sedoy is the call sign of Andrey Troshev, a retired Russian colonel and a founding member and executive director of the Wagner Group, according to sanctions documents published by the European Union and France. He has also been sanctioned by Ukraine.

Troshev served as the group's chief of staff for its previous operations in Syria, according to EU sanctions from December 2021.

"He was particularly involved in the area of Deir ez-Zor," sanctions documents state, referring to an eastern city where Wagner fighters have had direct encounters with the US military during the Syrian civil war. "As such, he provides a crucial contribution to (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad’s war effort and therefore supports and benefits from the Syrian regime."

United Kingdom sanctions from June 2022 also identify Troshev as a chief executive with the private military group who "has repressed the civilian population in Syria." 

Troshev is associated with top Wagner Group leaders, including founder Dmitriy Utkin, a former Russian GRU military intelligence officer, according to EU sanctions.

"Gray Hair" is a veteran of the wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan, for which he was awarded several medals, according to Russian media. 

Troshev was among those invited to a reception at the Kremlin in December 2016. A photograph, believed to be from that 2016 reception, emerged in Russian media and shows Putin alongside Troshev and Utkin, who are both wearing several medals. 

Troshev was born in April 1953 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the former Soviet Union, according to sanctions documents. 

CNN's Andrew Carey and Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.

2:22 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Russia has increased intensity of shelling on Ukraine's northern border, Ukrainian border guard says

From Yulia Kesaieva 

A view of debris of apartment complex, where 54 people were killed by Russian shelling, in Izium, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on July 9.
A view of debris of apartment complex, where 54 people were killed by Russian shelling, in Izium, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on July 9. Gian Marco Benedetto/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Russia has greatly increased the intensity of shelling of Ukraine's northern border, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said on Friday.

The intensity of shelling near the Chernihiv-Sumy region "tripled" in June compared to May, according to Andrii Demchenko, a spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

"Since the beginning of this year, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions have been shelled by the enemy more than 1,000 times," Demchenko said, adding that Russia continues shelling the border areas on a daily basis. 

"The Sumy and Kharkiv regions have been the most frequently shelled," he added. 

Some background: The Ukrainian military had earlier advised residents of the northern Sumy region's border area to leave their homes in light of increased Russian shelling. Serhiy Naiev, commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, encouraged residents to evacuate, saying, "The Sumy direction remains the most dangerous in the Northern operational zone."

1:50 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Number of Russian military personnel in Belarus has decreased, Ukraine says

From Yulia Kesaieva and Lauren Kent

The number of Russian military personnel in Belarus has greatly decreased, according to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine on Friday. 

Ukraine recorded around 2,000 Russian military personnel stationed at Belarusian training grounds until recently, but at the moment "almost all Russian troops have been withdrawn from the territory of Belarus," said spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Andrii Demchenko.

"However, we cannot rule out the possibility that in some time, as part of the rotation, regular units may be brought back to the territory of Belarus," Demchenko noted in a media briefing while emphasizing that the situation on the border with Belarus "remains fully under control."

Ukraine's Border Guard Service also said they have not observed "the organized deployment of Russian mercenaries" in the territory of Belarus.

However, that comment follows the Belarusian Defense Ministry announcing on Friday that Wagner private mercenary group fighters are training Belarusian fighters near the town of Osipovichi, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of the capital Minsk.

12:54 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Alleged Russian saboteur gets 10-year prison sentence for foiled plot to blow up Ukrainian infrastructure

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Olga Voitovych

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said an alleged Russian saboteur has been given a 10-year prison sentence for a foiled plot to blow up transportation infrastructure in the western Ukrainian region of Rivne, according to a statement on Friday. 

The SBU said a Ukrainian court found the person guilty of “committing crimes against the state security of Ukraine.” 

According to the SBU, the unnamed saboteur was preparing to blow up two transport infrastructure facilities in the Rivne region when he was detained by security service officers carrying out a “multistage operation” in February.

“The aggressor hoped to disrupt the supply of foreign weapons and ammunition to the defense forces on the eastern and southern fronts,” the statement said. The man conducted reconnaissance missions around the infrastructure facilities, hoping to plant explosives in the “most vulnerable” locations along transportation routes before his plan was foiled, it added.

Ukrainian investigators identified him as a former militant who fought against Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine before Russia's full-scale invasion began.

The saboteur was a member of "terrorist groups" and the Russian military intelligence apparatus before the war, according to the SBU statement.

After the war broke out, the saboteur allegedly took an “active part” in fighting against Ukrainian troops in the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson before receiving “an assignment from a Russian GRU to covertly arrive in Rivne region to commit sabotage at transport infrastructure facilities.”

12:00 p.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Ukraine’s parliament moves to legalize medical cannabis to treat wounded fighters

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey in Kyiv

Cannabis might soon be a legal form of treatment for wounded Ukrainian soldiers, as well as other people with serious illnesses, after a bill to legalize its use for medical purposes passed its first hurdle in Ukraine’s parliament. 

Previous efforts to legalize cannabis in Ukraine have failed.

“Exactly two years ago, the vote on a similar initiative unfortunately failed. Today, the war dictates new realities and the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament), by a majority vote, is responding to them appropriately,” senior lawmaker David Arakhamia wrote on Telegram.

Myhalo Bakalyuk, a member of Ukraine’s 47th Brigade, is one of the soldiers who has appealed for a change in the law. He posted a written appeal on Facebook explaining how he had been seriously injured by an anti-personnel mine on the southern front, which resulted in him having his left leg amputated. 

The painkillers he received were only able to dampen the physical pain, he wrote, but could not relieve it. They also had an adverse effect on his cardiovascular system, central nervous system and internal organs, he said. 

“I ask you to consider the possibility of urgent … adoption of a law on medical cannabis. Medical use of such a drug as a painkiller will significantly reduce the pain and the impact on the body compared to existing chemicals,” he wrote.

Medical cannabis would also be used to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Olha Stefanishyna, a lawmaker who sits on the parliament’s health committee. Altogether, some 6 million people in Ukraine would benefit from the treatment, she said on Ukrainian television.

The bill needs one more vote in favor of it in parliament before becoming law.

If passed, it could also play a role in the country’s post-war regeneration, supporters say. Crimean officials in exile say cultivation of the cannabis plant on the peninsula — which has the warmest climate in Ukraine — could be part of the territory’s economic recovery in the event of its liberation from Russian occupation.

11:31 a.m. ET, July 14, 2023

US secretary of state: NATO's long-term commitments show Putin that he can't outlast Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

From left, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japan's Prime Minster Fumio Kishida, President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stand on stage during an event on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12, to announce a joint declaration of support for Ukraine.
From left, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japan's Prime Minster Fumio Kishida, President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stand on stage during an event on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12, to announce a joint declaration of support for Ukraine. Susan Walsh/AP

The long-term commitments made at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, this week might be the most effective way to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that he cannot win his war in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.

The NATO pledges “may be the best way to disabuse Vladimir Putin of the idea that he could somehow outlast Ukraine, and outlast the dozens of countries that are supporting Ukraine,” Blinken said at a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

"That's the quickest way, probably, to bring this war to an end," Blinken said. The top US diplomat predicted Putin will try to drag out the war "indefinitely," despite the "horrific costs that he's incurred on Russia itself."

“As long as he continues to believe that somehow he will prevail, he's likely to continue. He needs to be disabused of that notion. These long-term commitments to Ukraine’s security, but also to its economic well-being, as well as humanitarian assistance, are probably the best way to do that,” Blinken said. 

“The question now is exactly where and how this ends. Fundamentally, these decisions need to be up to Ukraine, because it's about its future,” Blinken said, repeating a common US refrain about leaving it up to Kyiv how and when to handle any peace negotiations with Russia.

“We haven't seen any signs from Russia that it's actually willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy and end the war that it started,” he added.

What NATO countries pledged to give Kyiv: While Ukraine, as expected, did not leave the Vilnius summit as a member of the military alliance, leading NATO nations gave Kyiv security guarantees and assurances that its future is in the alliance.

A joint declaration agreement from G7 countries committed to long-term investments in Ukraine's fighting forces, both to fend off Russia now and deter attacks in the future. The agreement also vowed to invest in Ukraine's economy and to provide immediate "technical and financial support" for pressing needs brought on by the war.

That came alongside assurances — in writing and in engagements with news media — from leading countries that Ukraine will eventually join NATO.

Remember: The Group of Seven, or G7, is an organization of leaders from some of the world’s largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

11:02 a.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Russian foreign minister showed no signs of compromise on Ukraine at meetings with Asian leaders, Blinken says

From CNN's Michael Conte

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 14.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 14. Dita Alangkara/AP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s position in meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying that the minister remained immovable in regard to his country's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Blinken said nothing he heard from Lavrov “suggested any change in direction when it comes to what Russia is doing in Ukraine.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming majority of global opinion, including in southeast Asia, stands strongly for … principles that are being violated every single day by Russia in its aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said.  

Blinken also criticized Russia for threatening the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday Russia could quit if his country's demands are not met. If the initiative is allowed to expire on Monday, it would affect food prices across the globe, Blinken said.

“The fact that Russia is now once again using that as a weapon and threatening to end it is targeting not just Ukraine but targeting people throughout this region and around the world,” said Blinken.

Blinken said Lavrov's engagements were “not constructive or productive on any issue.”

“He focused, unlike the United States and unlike many other countries, on a totally negative presentation, an agenda in which he effectively described every problem in the world to the United States,” said Blinken.

10:29 a.m. ET, July 14, 2023

Turkish president says he hopes Black Sea grain deal will be extended

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

The first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, Ukraine, on the Black Sea coast, on August 14.
The first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads more than 23,000 tonnes of grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, Ukraine, on the Black Sea coast, on August 14. Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is preparing to host Russian President Vladimir Putin in August and both countries agree the Black Sea grain deal should be extended, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a press conference in Istanbul on Friday, despite Russia's threats that it may quit the deal.

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “sent a letter to Mr. Putin. I hope that with this letter and the joint effort by us and Russia, the grain corridor will be extended," Erdogan added.

Remember: The deal is due to expire Monday. Putin said Thursday that Russia may quit the Black Sea grain deal if its demands are not met. A key Russian demand has been to allow access to international payments mechanisms currently out of bounds to Russian banks as part of an international sanctions regime.