July 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Brad Lendon, Christian Edwards, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023
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10:44 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Top French foreign policy adviser claims China is delivering military equipment to support Russia

From CNN's Jim Sciutto and Rashard Rose

A top French foreign policy adviser on Thursday claimed China is delivering military equipment to Russia to use in Ukraine, said.

Emmanuel Bonne, an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, made the claim at the Aspen Security Forum while speaking to CNN's Jim Sciutto.

Sciutto asked Bonne if the West had seen any evidence that China has armed Russia in any way in the war in Ukraine.

"Yes, there are indications that they are doing things we would prefer them not to do," Bonne replied. 

When pressed on whether China was delivering weapons, Bonne said: "Well ... military equipment ... as far as we know delivering massively military capacities to Russia."

French officials tell CNN Bonne was referencing both dual-use technologies and non-lethal assistance, such as helmets and body armor.

"What we need most is Chinese abstention." Bonne said. "We need them to understand that Ukraine is a conflict of global magnitude and that we cannot offer Ukraine to lose for reasons of principle, but also for reasons which are very operational. And what is at stake for us in Ukraine is much more than, you know, Ukraine sovereignty. It's very much about the stability of the world." 

Bonne was asked what things China shouldn't do. "The delivery of weapons certainly, economic support," he replied. 

Some context: China maintains that it is a neutral party on the war in Ukraine and has attempted to present itself a potential peace broker in the conflict.

According to previous CNN reporting, Chinese state-owned defense firms have maintained trade relationships with sanctioned Russian defense companies since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine began. Experts say such well-established networks could be leveraged if Beijing were to provide direct, lethal aid for the Kremlin’s war effort.

Earlier this year, Western leaders warned China was considering that step. Beijing has repeatedly denied this, deriding the warning as a “smear,” and repeatedly defended its “normal” trade with Russia and rejected what it calls “unilateral” sanctions against Moscow.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China had assured the US and other countries that it would not provide lethal aid to Russia. “We have not seen any evidence that contradicts that,” Blinken said.

“What we do have ongoing concerns about, though, are Chinese firms, companies that may be providing technology that Russia can use to advance its aggression in Ukraine. And we’ve asked the Chinese government to be very vigilant about that,” Blinken said.
9:01 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Odesa missile threat is over, Ukraine's air force says

From CNN'S Sebastian Shukla in Odesa

The air raid alert and missile threat in Odesa has now ended, according to Ukraine’s air force, after warnings earlier of more attacks on the southern port city.

CNN's team on the ground also previously reported that air sirens sounded in Odesa for the fourth night in a row.

8:25 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

CIA chief says he believes Prigozhin is currently in Belarus

From CNN's Michael Conte

CIA Director Bill Burns said Thursday he believes Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin is currently in Minsk, Belarus, as he appeared to be seen in a recent video.

“He’s moved around a bit,” said Burns at the Aspen Security Forum. “I think he’s been in Minsk lately. I’m not sure he has any plans to retire in the suburbs of Minsk, but he spent time in Russia as well.”

Burns called Russian President Vladimir Putin “the ultimate apostle of payback” and said that he’d be “surprised if Prigozhin escapes further retribution.”

“If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster,” Burns said.

CNN reported earlier this week on a video that appeared to show Prigozhin greeting his fighters in Belarus, in what would be his first public appearance since he led an armed rebellion in Russia last month.

Burns also provided an update on a call put out on Telegram in May by the CIA that urged Russians disaffected by the war in Ukraine and life in Russia to share their secrets. He said the Telegram video got 2.5 million views in the first week.

“The truth is, there’s a lot of disaffection in Russia, in the elite and outside it in Russia right now, and we’re not wasting the opportunity as an intelligence service to try to take advantage of it,” said Burns, calling it a “once in a generation” opportunity for intelligence gathering.

6:40 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Proposals by African countries on Ukraine resonate with Moscow, Russian embassy says

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Proposals by African countries on Ukraine negotiations resonate with Moscow and "deserve attention," said Alexander Gusarov, Russia's Charge d'Affaires in the UK, according to state news agency TASS. 

"We recognize the desire and interest of African countries to contribute to the search for peaceful solutions to the Ukrainian crisis. We value their understanding for the underlying reasons behind ongoing events," Gusarov told African diplomats in London during a briefing Thursday. 
"We believe that the initiatives, sponsored by our partners from across the world, including from Africa, deserve attention and are by no means premature. Moreover, some of their key premises resonate strongly with our own views," he added. 

A delegation of representatives from seven African countries including Zambia, the Comoros, Senegal, South Africa, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda as well as Egypt, visited Kyiv on June 16 for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The next day they met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, on behalf of the delegation, presented to Putin a 10-point plan that could contribute to a peace process in Ukraine, according to TASS. All sides agreed to continue consultations following the visit, according to TASS. 

A second Russia-Africa summit is set to take place in St. Petersburg on July 27 and 28, according to TASS. The first summit was held between October 22 and 24 in 2019 in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, according to TASS. 

6:24 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Russia used almost 70 missiles and nearly 90 Shahed drones in just 4 days, Zelensky says

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Yulia Kesaieva

Firefighters extinguish a fire at a damaged house after attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 19.
Firefighters extinguish a fire at a damaged house after attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 19. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Russia has used almost 70 missiles of various types and almost 90 Shahed drones over just four days during attacks on the Ukranian cities of Odesa, Mykolaiv and other southern communities, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"Of course, our soldiers managed to shoot down some of the enemy missiles and drones, and I thank each of our sky defenders for this," he said Thursday in his nightly address. "Unfortunately, the Ukrainian air defense capabilities are not yet sufficient to protect the entire Ukrainian sky."

Ukraine is working with partners "as extensively as possible" for additional air defense systems that can provide security to Odesa and other cities across the country, Zelensky said. 

Speaking about the Black Sea grain deal, Zelensky said that work "to mobilize the world to protect food security and normal life" continues. He said he spoke earlier Thursday for the first time with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, whose country is experiencing "one of the most critical situations in the world." 

"I am confident that this year we can do it all together, the whole world," Zelensky said. "No one in the world is interested in Russia's success in destroying the global food market."

The Ukrainian president also thanked countries that have extended sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine.

"Russia and everyone in this world who dares to help terrorists must feel the ever-increasing sanctions pressure, whether they are individuals, companies or countries," Zelensky said. 

6:04 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Progress is hard won on Ukraine's southern front despite new armored vehicles

From CNN's Alex Marquardt, Sebastian Shukla and Daria Martina Tarasova

After months of anticipation, Ukraine finally launched its “Spring Offensive” in early June.

Everyone knew it would be tough going for the Ukrainians, having watched Russia dig in and build up formidable defenses over months. But even with no real expectation that the offensive would look like Ukraine’s lightening fast advance around Kharkiv last September, the hope among western officials was that Ukraine would be farther along and more successful than they are right now.

The offensive has proven more challenging than many expected, even with an arsenal of new western weaponry and equipment fueling the assault.

Among the most-anticipated pieces of equipment was the American-made Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a critical addition to help infantry cross the dangerous and open terrain.

A 19-year-old soldier who goes by his call sign, “Kach" spoke to CNN. His brigade, the 47th Mechanized Brigade, is the only one to have received the coveted Bradleys, 200 of which have been committed by the US.

The armored fighting vehicles are so admired by Ukrainian soldiers that running around Kach’s team’s camp barking is “Bradley” – the brigade press officer’s 6-month-old rescue puppy.

The Velcro flag patch on Kach’s chest was a parting gift from his American trainer in Germany, who told him it would bring good luck. But it was the thick armor, powerful machine guns, rockets and night vision capabilities on the Bradley that gave Kach a boost of confidence when ordered to assault the Russians.

When the brigade did, the Russians were ready. Dense minefields had been laid, rows of winding trenches were dug. Russian artillery started to pick off the vehicles sent out to de-mine the area. On top of that, this southern direction of attack was perhaps the most predictable in the offensive: designed to try to punch through the Russian line, drive south and split the southern land bridge connecting Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas before finally reaching the Sea of Azov.

The 47th ran into trouble very quickly trying to pierce the Russian line in their newly acquired armor. Photos and videos showed charred armored vehicles, including Bradleys and a German Leopard tank. Oryx, a military analysis site based on open source information, reports that around three dozen Bradleys have been destroyed or damaged.

Read more here.

6:07 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Ukrainian troops have started using US-provided cluster munitions. Here's what else to know

From CNN staff

Russian attacked the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa for the third night in a row.

After Moscow's withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday said that all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports would be considered potential carriers of military cargo.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has started using the controversial cluster bombs provided by the United States, the White House confirmed Thursday.

Here's what to know:

  • Odesa strikes: Russian forces have been attacking port cities on the Black Sea, especially the southern port of Odesa. One person was killed there in strikes Thursday, officials said. Russia’s defense ministry said the attacks on Odesa were in retaliation for Ukraine’s attack on the Crimea bridge on Monday.
  • Black Sea Grain deal: The attacks come after Russia pulled out of a critical grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports a safe way out of the country. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that attacks on port cities will have an impact "well beyond Ukraine" when it comes to prices of food. The UN will keep negotiating to get more Ukrainian exports through, the UN World Food Programme Ukraine representative said.
  • Crimean bridge: The bridge connecting the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland was temporarily closed and the air raid warning system was activated early Friday, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
  • Cluster munitions: Ukrainian troops have started using US-provided cluster munitions in their counteroffensive against Russia, according to a White House official. They have been using the controversial weapons “appropriately” and “effectively” in combat, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said.
  • New sanctions: The Biden administration added new sanctions that target companies and suppliers that have helped fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine by providing dual-use items. “Today’s actions represent another step in our efforts to constrain Russia’s military capabilities, its access to battlefield supplies, and its economic bottom line,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
6:26 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Russian envoy denies plot to attack civilian ships and to blame Ukraine

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, departs after meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried at the US State Department in Washington, on March 14.
Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, departs after meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried at the US State Department in Washington, on March 14. Patrick Semansky/AP

Russia has no intention of targeting civilian vessels in the Black Sea and to blame Ukraine, Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the US, said Thursday.

He was responding to a media question about comments made by National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge on Wednesday. Hodge also claimed Russia has laid additional sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports.

"Attempts to attribute to Russia the preparation of some sort of attacks on civilian vessels are pure fabrication. It is no secret that the [US] administration does not shy away from the basest anti-Russian information provocations," Antonov said in a statement posted on the embassy's Facebook page.
"We regard the statements by the United States of America as an effort by any means to disguise its own destructive activities aimed at actually sabotaging the implementation of the mutually agreed Istanbul agreements. To discourage representatives of the Global South from cooperating with Russia. To undermine confidence in our country, which not in words but in deeds helps developing countries by supplying food and fertilizers, including on a gratuitous basis," Antonov said.

It is "especially indicative that the administration intensifies with such insinuations on the eve of major international forums," Antonov said, adding that "a new round of false propaganda" is being used ahead of the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for the end of July in St. Petersburg and the upcoming BRICS heads of state meeting in August.