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July 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Rob Picheta and Aditi Sangal, CNN
Oleksandr Klymenko — a detective who has taken part in several high-profile investigations — has been made the country's top anti-corruption official.
Klymenko, who is 35 years old, was chosen by a special commission in December but his appointment has only been confirmed now.
He became a detective with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2016. He has investigated embezzlement at Ukrainian railways and the alleged involvement of senior political figures in corruption.
Klymenko has had a rapid rise through law enforcement agencies since graduating from the National Law Academy.
The post is regarded as important by Ukraine's allies as part of its struggle with endemic corruption.
Also in the background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suspended two important figures in his government on Sunday, questioning their leadership qualities and accusing many of their subordinates of treason and collaborating with Russia.
The two high-ranking officials — Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and State Security Service (SBU) head Ivan Bakanov, a long-time associate of the President — are now subject to an investigation and have been temporarily replaced.
The United States has not received information yet to indicate that Russia has purchased Iranian drones for use in the war on Ukraine, John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said on Tuesday.
Earlier in July, the White House warned that Iran is expected to supply Russia with "hundreds" of drones — including weapons-capable drones — for use in the war in Ukraine and that Iran is preparing to begin training Russian forces on how to operate them as soon as this month.
“We don't have any indications that the sale has actually occurred. And so therefore, we wouldn't have any indications that there's been training done on them,” Kirby said at the White House press briefing.
“Now, a lot of it's going to depend on — how many does he buy, what kind of capabilities they have. But the Iranians have a domestic production capability of drones, and those drones have lethal capabilities,” he continued. “We've seen that for ourselves in the attacks that they have perpetrated in Iraq and in Syria against our own troops and against our own facilities there. So, we're watching this closely and we're taking it seriously.”
Iran began showcasing the Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones, also known as UAVs or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, to Russia at Kashan Airfield south of Tehran in June, US officials told CNN. Both types of drones are capable of carrying precision-guided missiles.
Kirby on Tuesday said it is "an indication of how much more desperate Mr. Putin is becoming in terms of his own defense industrial base, and the degree to which he wants to continue to prosecute this war,” he said.
The Biden administration is putting $100 million into a new program to provide Ukrainian farmers with vital supplies in order to maintain future harvests and alleviate the global food security crisis that has been exasperated by Russia's war on the country.
Some Ukrainian farms have turned into battlefields and farmers who have maintained their harvests have been unable to get machinery and other key supplies including fertilizer, seeds and storage bins that would typically arrive through Black Sea ports. Ukraine — the world's fourth-largest exporter of corn and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat — has also been largely unable to export their agricultural products due to Russia's invasion.
The initiative will also include financing for farmers who are facing rising prices at a time their incomes have been severely hit.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has already been working with more than 8,000 Ukrainian farmers to get the inputs they need to bolster their yields and the new Ukraine Agriculture Resilience Initiative (AGRI-Ukraine) effort will expend those efforts.
"AGRI-Ukraine will target Ukraine's immediate agricultural export challenges, while also simultaneously supporting the wider needs of Ukraine's agriculture sector and bolstering Ukraine's continued production of agricultural commodities through 2023. The Initiative will increase Ukrainian farmers' access to critical agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizer, equipment, and pesticides, enhance Ukrainian infrastructure capacity and capability to efficiently export agricultural goods, increase farmers' access to financing and expand the capacity of Ukrainian businesses to dry and temporarily store, and process agricultural commodities," USAID said in a news release on Tuesday.
USAID will work with banks, credit unions and governments to get the Ukrainian farmers "sustained finance to continue operations" given the challenges of risings costs of transportation, labor and other inputs, explained a USAID spokesperson.
"USAID will work to tailor storage to individual needs — working with farmer associations — to get the right solutions to the right places," the spokesperson said, noting that farmers in eastern Ukraine won't have the same needs as farmers on the western side of the country.
"In the east of Ukraine, farmers' high transport costs may result in some seeking to store grain until safer/cheaper alternatives are available. In the west of the country, farmers may need storage prior to loading their harvest on trains going across the border to Poland or Slovakia," the spokespersons said.
USAID will also be working to raise an additional $150 million from donors and the private sector to boost the fund.
The efforts to salvage at least some of Ukraine's agriculture sector are "critical for Ukraine's stabilization, recovery, and reconstruction," the spokesperson said.
Ukraine's economy has already fallen into a recession due to the ongoing war, and the country's GDP could almost half this year as a result of Russia's invasion, the World Bank said in April. Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat and sunflower oil before the war, and this year's planting season was disrupted by fighting. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has also warned that the ongoing crisis is only poised to get worse without efforts to bring relief.
Read more here.
The White House said Tuesday it has intelligence showing Russia plans to further annex parts of Ukraine, repeating a playbook it used in the 2014 annexation of Crimea to seize more territory.
John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said the steps Russia is planning could include “sham” referenda, installing illegitimate proxy officials, establishing the ruble as the official currency and forcing Ukrainian citizens to apply for Russian citizenship.
Kirby said the US would punish Russia for attempts to further annex Ukrainian territory and said the White House would unveil additional security assistance to Ukraine later this week.
He cited US intelligence that had been downgraded and approved for public release to make the claims about Russia's plans.
“Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.
He said the potential referenda could take place soon.
“The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for the referenda, but Russian proxies in these territories claim they will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia's September regional elections,” he said.
He said the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, along with the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, were the likely targets of Russia’s annexation plans.
Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska is at the White House on Tuesday to privately meet with first lady Jill Biden and take part in a larger bilateral meeting with American officials.
Zelenska was greeted at the White House by President Joe Biden and Jill Biden. The President handed a large bouquet of flowers to Zelenska when she got out of the car and the two first ladies hugged.
According to the White House, the first ladies "will discuss the United States' continued support for the government of Ukraine and its people as they defend their democracy and cope with the significant human impacts of Russia's war, which will be felt for years to come."
Zelenska will first attend a private meeting with Biden, followed by an expanded bilateral meeting with second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Deputy Administrator of the US Agency for International Development Isobel Coleman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
During the bilateral meeting, the White House says, the first ladies will talk about ways "the United States can continue to alleviate suffering through support and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people, and the need to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities."
Zelenska is in Washington this week to highlight the human cost of Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine. She met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Monday, and she is scheduled to deliver remarks to members of Congress on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.
Biden and Zelenska first met in person in May, when Biden made a stealth trip to Ukraine. The first ladies had been in communication prior to their meeting, which was the first time Zelenska emerged from hiding since the start of the Russian invasion in February. During their one-hour closed meeting, Zelenska shared with Biden her concerns for the emotional health of Ukrainian children.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated the day of the week Zelenska visited the White House. It was Tuesday.
Former Ukraine Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said she accepts President Volodymyr Zelensky’s dismissal but denies any collaborators worked in her office.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's Nic Robertson on Tuesday in Kyiv, Venediktova said “Here in my office we can't have collaborators at all, because collaboration is it's only people who worked in occupied territory. Here is not occupied territory.”
She said a top priority of her office was working on the problems of state treason and collaborators and her office had been very open about It.
When Venediktova was asked what the real justification was for her dismissal she said, “You know that my chair, it is political chair and I was 16th Ukrainian prosecutor during 30 years. It is realpolitik in Ukraine. This is my answer.”
When pressed on the real reasons why Zelensky had decided to dismiss her, Venediktova made it clear she doesn’t want to debate it in public because Russia will exploit it. “President now, its chief of command. He understands his strategy and tactic. And he makes his decision with his views,” Venediktova said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia’s war in Ukraine could cause human trafficking to get worse in the coming year by forcing people from their homes and exacerbating food insecurity around the globe.
In the introduction for the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) released Tuesday, Blinken noted the annual report was being “released in the midst of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
“We are deeply concerned about the risks of human trafficking faced by individuals internally displaced by the war, as well as those fleeing Ukraine, an estimated 90% of whom are women and children. The food insecurity and other broader effects of Russia’s war exacerbate trafficking risks around the globe,” he wrote in the report.
The report covers the period of April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022 — meaning it only encompassed the first month of the war in Ukraine. However, the report noted that the Russian government’s “full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 created significant vulnerabilities to trafficking for the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine.”
Russia was placed in the tier 3 category of the 2021 report – along with 21 other countries – for failing to meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and "not making significant efforts to do so." It was also identified as one of 12 governments that have “governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces, or government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers” and one of 11 countries where the governments themselves were involved in trafficking.
The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, said the number of missiles being fired at the southern city on a daily basis far exceeds what its air defenses can deal with.
Sienkevych said in a news conference Tuesday that "for several weeks, the city has been shelled every morning."
"Therefore, it is better to leave the city to save (lives)," he added.
Russia has recently resorted to using S-300 missiles — which are normally anti-air weapons — against Mykolaiv.
He said there are 230,000 residents in the city — about half of the pre-war population. Most of those who remain are the elderly, he said.