July 17, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, July 18, 2023
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4:09 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russia's decision to withdraw from Black Sea grain deal is "unconscionable," US secretary of state says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to reporters in the press briefing room at the State Department Harry S. Truman headquarters building on July 17, in Washington, DC. 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talks to reporters in the press briefing room at the State Department Harry S. Truman headquarters building on July 17, in Washington, DC.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal “unconscionable" and said the agreement should be "restored as quickly as possible."

“I hope that every country is watching this very closely. They will see that Russia is responsible for denying food to people who desperately need it around the world and to contribute to rising prices at a time when many countries continue to experience very difficult inflation,” he said Monday at the State Department.

The top US diplomat said Monday that the deal should not have been necessary in the first place, and only became so after Russia launched its war in Ukraine. 

Blinken said the Ukrainians, the US and others will look to see if there are “any other options” to transit grain safely through the Black Sea onto the market, such as by rail and by road, but said there are challenges in trying to find alternatives.

“The challenge is this: if Russia is ending this initiative and sending a message that grain cannot and other food products cannot leave Ukraine unimpeded, even if there are other options, I think it will likely have a profound chilling effect on the ability to pursue them, as other countries, companies, shippers, etc., will be very concerned about what happens to their ships and to their personnel if Russia is opposing any export of food products from Ukraine,” Blinken said.

“The whole point of this was to have a voluntary agreement that involved all of the relevant parties that was endorsed by the United Nations to make sure there was safety, security, predictability, in moving food out of Ukraine into places that were desperately in need of it,” he said.

4:18 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Crimean bridge was struck by "naval drones," Ukrainian minister says

From Maria Kostento and Vasco Cotovio

This video grab shows the section of a road split and sloping to one side following an alleged attack on the Crimea Bridge, that connects the Russian mainland with the Crimean peninsula across the Kerch Strait, on July 17.
This video grab shows the section of a road split and sloping to one side following an alleged attack on the Crimea Bridge, that connects the Russian mainland with the Crimean peninsula across the Kerch Strait, on July 17. Stringer/Reuters

The Kerch Bridge was struck by “naval drones,” the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said on Telegram on Monday.

“Today the Crimean bridge was blown up by naval drones,” Fedorov said.

The key bridge links the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland and serves as a vital supply line for Moscow's war effort in Ukraine.

The minister also said design of the equipment as well as production facilities would be kept under secrecy. “It is better to act, not to reveal photos of our own production facilities and to supply the Defense Forces,” Fedorov said. “Production has already increased by over 100 times in some categories compared to last year.”

“We need even more drones. And there will be more,” he added. 

Earlier Monday, a source in Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) told CNN the attack was a joint operation of the SBU and Ukraine’s naval forces. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not received authorization to speak on the record.

5:01 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Russia has assembled more than 100,000 soldiers in the Kupyansk area, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Maria Kostento and Vasco Cotovio

A residential building destroyed during the bombardment by Russian aircraft in the village of Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi, Ukraine on June 28.
A residential building destroyed during the bombardment by Russian aircraft in the village of Kupyansk-Vuzlovyi, Ukraine on June 28. Sofiia Bobok/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images/FILE

Russa has concentrated more than 100,000 soldiers in the Kupyansk area to try and break Kyiv’s defenses, Serhii Cherevatyi, Ukrainian Deputy Commander for Strategic Communications of the Eastern Military Grouping, said on Monday. 

“The enemy has concentrated a very powerful grouping on the Lyman-Kupyansk direction, with over 100,000 personnel, over 900 tanks, and over 370 MLRS,” Cherevatyi said. “The enemy deployed airborne units, the best motorised infantry units there. As additional support, there are the combat army reserve, territorial troops, Storm-Z companies.”

He added Russian forces are "putting everything into breaking through our defense. Our soldiers are standing firm in defense."

Cherevatyi said the Russian push in the area was to try and achieve some success after Ukraine seized the momentum around Bakhmut. 

“(Russians) need to show at least some success, so they have put maximum effort into this area, doing everything they can and cannot, to show offensive actions,” he said. 

Cherevatyi went on to say Russian forces remained on the back foot in Bakhmut, adding their casualties were increasing. 

“The enemy's losses are already approaching those that were at the peak of the fighting with the Wagner,” he said. “The Russians are continuously renewing their combat staff, sending paratroopers there first and foremost in the hope of stopping our offensive.”

“We are being very cautious and deliberate in order to preserve our forces and people as much as possible,” he added.

4:29 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Pope's Ukraine peace envoy is traveling to Washington this week, Vatican says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London 

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi presided over Celebration of Mass during the 77th CEI General Assembly, in Vatican City, on May 25.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi presided over Celebration of Mass during the 77th CEI General Assembly, in Vatican City, on May 25. Massimo Valicchia/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Pope Francis' Ukraine peace envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is heading to Washington, DC, for a three-day visit this week as part of a peace mission for Ukraine, the Vatican said on Monday.

"We inform you that from 17 to 19 July 2023, Card. Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, accompanied by an Official of the Secretariat of State, will travel to Washington as Envoy of the Holy Father Francis," the Vatican said in a statement.

The visit will take place "in the context of the peace promotion mission in Ukraine and aims to exchange ideas and views on the current tragic situation and to support humanitarian initiatives to alleviate the suffering of the most affected and most fragile people, especially the children," the statement also reads.

The visit comes after Zuppi's previous visits to Kyiv and Moscow in the past few weeks.

At the end of June, Zuppi paid a visit to Moscow that was "aimed at identifying humanitarian initiatives, which can open paths for the achievement of peace," the Vatican had said in an official communiqué.

Zuppi met with top officials during the visit including Yuri Ushakov, Russian presidential aide, and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian commissioner for children's rights. 

"During the talks, the humanitarian aspect of the initiative was strongly emphasized, as well as the need to be able to achieve the much-desired peace," the Vatican had said, adding that Zuppi also had a "fruitful" meeting with Patriarch of Moscow Kirill.

On June 5 and June 6, Zuppi traveled to Kyiv to talk with Ukrainian authorities about "the possible ways to achieve a just peace and support gestures of humanity that contribute to easing tensions."

In May, Pope Francis appointed Zuppi to lead a peace mission in Ukraine to help address tensions in the conflict.

1:53 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Traffic on Kerch Bridge will resume on September 15, official says 

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Vasco Cotovio

Traffic on the Kerch Bridge, which links the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland, will resume in one lane only on September 15, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said.

“Two-way traffic will be open for one lane only by September 15. Then two-way traffic in both lanes will open Nov 1,” he said in a remote meeting with officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, televised on Monday. “One way on the railway bridge sustained insignificant damage that is not impacting the operation of trains."

Two strikes were reportedly carried out around 3 a.m. local time Monday (8 p.m. ET Sunday), damaging part of the bridge, according to Telegram channel Grey Zone, which supports the Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.

A source in Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) told CNN this attack was a joint operation of the SBU and Ukraine’s naval forces. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not received authorization to speak on the record.

Khusnullin said that ferries for civilian and commercial transportation will be available. The railway bridge is operating as normal.

CNN's Alex Stambaugh, Brad Lendon and Christian Edwards contributed reporting to this post. 

1:40 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Putin calls Crimea bridge strike a "terrorist attack" and urges Russian authorities to investigate incident

From CNN's Katherina Krebs and Vasco Cotovio in London

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 called a Ukrainian strike on the Kerch Bridge a “terrorist attack.” The key bridge links the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland and serves as a vital supply line for Moscow's war effort in Ukraine.

“Tonight another terrorist attack took place against the bridge,” he said in a meeting with officials Monday. “Due to the terrorist attack, the roadway on several spans of the Crimean bridge was seriously damaged. As a result, both car and railway traffic were temporarily stopped.”

The Russian president called on his country’s authorities, including the FSB, to investigate the incident and asked for measures to secure the "strategically important transport facility" from future strikes.

“It is necessary to comprehensively assess the damage caused and start restoration work as quickly as possible," he added.

Putin said that there will be a Russian response to the strike. "The Ministry of Defense is preparing relevant proposals,” he said during a meeting with officials.

Putin also claimed there was no military significance to hitting the bridge. 

“This is a senseless crime from the point of view of no significance since the Crimean bridge has long not been used for military transport and brutal since innocent civilians have been killed,” he said.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said Monday that the supports of the Kerch straight bridge were not damaged by the blast. Divers were completing the inspection of the bridge and the decision on the possibility of launching car traffic will be made within two hours, he claimed.

Earlier Monday, a source from Ukraine's security service (SBU) said that an attack on the Crimean Bridge was a joint operation of the SBU and Ukraine’s naval forces. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not received authorization to speak on the record.

1:15 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

US ambassador to UN meets with Ukrainian foreign minister in New York City

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

USA Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the press encounter along with the ambassadors of UK, France, Albania, Ukraine ahead of the Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters on June 23.
USA Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the press encounter along with the ambassadors of UK, France, Albania, Ukraine ahead of the Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters on June 23. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in New York City on Monday.

Thomas-Greenfield and Kuleba “discussed their deep disappointment in Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will worsen food insecurity and harm millions of vulnerable people around the world,” according to a readout from Nate Evans, the spokesperson for the US Mission to the UN.

“Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield expressed continued solidarity with the Ukrainian people and commended them for courageously defending their country against Russia’s war of aggression,” Evans said. “She reiterated the United States’ commitment to a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in Ukraine, rooted in the principles of the UN Charter, and to stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

In a statement earlier Monday, the White House warned that Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Ukraine grain deal “will worsen food insecurity and harm millions of vulnerable people around the world” and urged Russia to “immediately reverse its decision.”  

11:53 a.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Belarus intercepts Ukrainian reconnaissance drone, border agency says

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Belarus State Border Committee said on Monday that a Ukrainian reconnaissance drone was intercepted on Sunday in the Bragin district of the Gomel region, according to a statement published by the agency. 

“The border detachment, which performed the tasks of protecting the border on the Dnipro river, discovered an unmanned aerial vehicle that illegally crossed the border from the territory of Ukraine. The reconnaissance of the border territory of the Republic of Belarus was carried out with the help of the drone,” the statement read. 

According to the agency, the border guards used an electronic gun and forcibly landed the drone on the water. The incident is being investigated.

Some background: Ukraine shares a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) frontier with Belarus, a country that has played a key role in aiding Russia’s attack.

6:11 p.m. ET, July 17, 2023

Ukraine acknowledges "difficult" conditions in the east and says Russia is redeploying forces around Bakhmut

From Maria Kostenko and Vasco Cotovio

A Ukrainian infantry soldier catches a ride to a fighting position near Kupyansk, Ukraine, after being treated due to shrapnel wounding on the back during an attack, on July 12.
A Ukrainian infantry soldier catches a ride to a fighting position near Kupyansk, Ukraine, after being treated due to shrapnel wounding on the back during an attack, on July 12. Daniel Carde/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A top Ukrainian general has acknowledged his country is facing “difficult” conditions on the eastern front and said Russian forces are redeploying around the embattled city of Bakhmut to try and stop Kyiv’s offensive. 

“The enemy is intensely redeploying additional forces and means to this area, mainly airborne troops, in order to stop the offensive of our troops in the Bakhmut area,” Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of the land forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Monday, according to the country’s Military Media Center.

Syrskyi went on to say conditions on the eastern front were “challenging."

“The operational situation in the eastern sector remains difficult,” Gen. Syrskyi went on to say. “At the same time, the enemy launched an offensive in the Kupyansk direction, aiming to defeat our troops in the Kupyansk area and continue the offensive deep into our combat formations.”

“Amid such challenging conditions, I visited the combat brigades of our grouping and met with unit commanders to adjust our plans and resolve problematic issues on the spot,” he added.

More on the front lines: On Sunday, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the positions on both sides are "changing dynamically" along the eastern front as fighting there has "somewhat escalated."

"In Bakhmut itself, we are shelling the enemy, and the enemy is shelling us," she added.