July 21, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sophie Tanno, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT) July 24, 2023
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6:16 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Kremlin acknowledges "potential threat" to Russian ships from Ukraine

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

The Kremlin on Friday responded to the Ukrainian military’s pledge to view all ships sailing to Russian ports in the Black Sea as legitimate targets.

“The unpredictable action and involvement of the Kiev regime in terrorist acts certainly creates a potential threat,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, using the Russian name for the Ukrainian capital.
“Such statements are directly dangerous.”

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that “starting from 00:00 on July 21, 2023, all vessels sailing in the Black Sea in the direction of the seaports of the Russian Federation and Ukrainian seaports located on the territory of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia may be considered by Ukraine as carrying military cargo with all the relevant risks.” 

That echoed a similar threat from Russia’s defense ministry, which said Wednesday that “all ships en route to Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo.”

9:59 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

CIA chief says Putin may still get revenge against Prigozhin

From CNN's Michael Conte

CIA Director Bill Burns testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 24, 2021.
CIA Director Bill Burns testifies during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 24, 2021. Tom Williams/Pool/Reuters/FILE

CIA Director Bill Burns called Russian President Vladimir Putin “the ultimate apostle of payback,” adding he'd be surprised if Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin escaped further retribution after last month's mutiny.

According to Burns, Putin is simply "trying to buy time" to determine whether and how to act against Prigozhin, to avoid being seen to overreact.

“What we’re seeing is a very complicated dance between Prigozhin and Putin. I think Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold. So he’s going to try to settle the situation to the extent he can," Burns added.

"If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster," the US official said.

The CIA chief made the comments at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday. Burns’ comments come two days after the head of MI6, the UK’s intelligence agency, Richard Moore, said that Prigozhin was “floating about," and that Putin “cut a deal to save his skin.”

During the forum, Burns said he believes Prigozhin has recently been in Minsk, Belarus.

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.

On the morning that Prigozhin launched his insurrection, he released a video directly criticizing Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine. Burns characterized that video as “the most scathing indictment of Putin’s rationale for war, of the conduct of war, of the corruption at the core of Putin’s regime that I’ve heard from a Russian or a non-Russian.”

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.
4:44 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

CIA director warns of Russian "false flag" attack in Black Sea

From CNN's Mick Krever

Bill Burns attends a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C, on February 24, 2021.
Bill Burns attends a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C, on February 24, 2021. Tom Williams/Reuters

Russia could be preparing a false flag operation attacking a ship in the Black Sea, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said Thursday, repeating a warning from the US National Security Council.

“We see some very concerning signs of the Russians considering the kind of false flag operations that we highlighted in the run up to the war as well – in other words, looking at ways they might make attacks against shipping in the Black Sea and then blaming, trying to blame it on the Ukrainians,” Bill Burns told the Aspen Security Forum, without providing further detail.

Attempts to attribute to Russia the preparation of attacks on civilian vessels are "pure fabrication" as this "completely contradicts our approaches," Russia's Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said Thursday.

It comes as Russia has been bombarding the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa with sustained attacks.

Russian missiles struck grain warehouses in Odesa overnight on Thursday, destroying tons of crops in storage, as Moscow's forces targeted the city for a fourth consecutive night, a Ukrainian military official said.

The attacks come after Moscow pulled out of a critical grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports a safe way out of the country's Black Sea ports. The UN secretary-general has warned that attacks on port cities will have an impact "well beyond Ukraine" when it comes to food prices.

CNN's Radina Gigova and Oren Liebermann contributed to this post.

6:09 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Zelensky dismisses UK ambassador

From CNN's Olga Voitovych, Mick Krever and Sharon Braithwaite

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Kingdom Vadym Prystaiko in Westminster, London, on April 8, 2022.
Ukraine's ambassador to the United Kingdom Vadym Prystaiko in Westminster, London, on April 8, 2022. Tom Nicholson/Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed his ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko.

Although no reason has been given, it follows an exchange of testy words between the ambassador, the British defense secretary and Zelensky.

Earlier this month, Prystaiko said that Zelensky had referred to the British defense secretary sarcastically, describing such rhetoric as unhealthy.

The row began at the NATO summit in Lithuania.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that “whether we like it or not, people want to see gratitude” for the West’s military contributions to Ukraine’s war effort.

“I said to the Ukrainians last June, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list, I’m not Amazon,” Wallace said on July 12, according to a transcript of his remarks sent to CNN by the UK’s defense ministry.

When a reporter asked Zelensky about those remarks during NATO summit press conference, the Ukrainian president said: “I don't quite understand the question – it just seems to me that we have always been very grateful to the United Kingdom.”

“I just don't know what he means. How else we should thank him? Well, let him write to me and tell me how I need to thank people so that we can be fully grateful. We can also wake up in the morning and thank the minister personally.”

The following day Prystaiko was interviewed on Sky News, where he was asked whether there was £a hint of sarcasm” in Zelensky’s response to Wallace.

Prystaiko conceded there was “a little bit of sarcasm” and went on to criticize Zelensky.

“President Zelensky’s term when he said that each and every morning he will wake up and call Ben Wallace to thank him – I don’t believe that this sarcasm is healthy. We don’t have to show the Russians that we have something between us. They have to know that we are working together. If anything happens, Ben can call me and tell me everything he wants.”

CNN has reached out to Prystaiko.

3:08 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Poland to move troops east over Wagner risks, news agency reports

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Alex Stambaugh 

Poland will move military formations to the east of the country in response to potential threats from Wagner mercenary fighters stationed in neighboring Belarus, national news agency PAP reported Friday, citing Warsaw's security chief.

The head of Poland's security committee, Zbigniew Hoffmann, said the decision was made by Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak after the committee analyzed "possible threats presented by the Wagner Group's presence in Belarus," PAP reported. 

Hoffmann did not provide more details of the Polish troops' movements.

"The training or joint exercises of the Belarusian army and the Wagner Group is undoubtedly a provocation," Hoffmann told PAP.

Some context: Poland's move comes after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was shown in a video Wednesday welcoming his fighters to Belarus, in what would be his first public appearance since he led a short-lived armed rebellion in Russia last month. CNN geolocated the video to a previously disused military base in Asipovichy, roughly 80 kilometers (49 miles) southeast of the capital Minsk. The Belarusian military on Thursday praised the “unique experience” its troops were gaining from “joint combat training” with Wagner troops at a camp near Brest, close to the border with Poland.

4:37 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Ukrainian military says Russian attacks on Odesa "undoubtedly related" to grain supplies

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

A grain warehouse destroyed by a Russian missile strike at a compound of an agricultural company in Odesa region, Ukraine, on July 21.
A grain warehouse destroyed by a Russian missile strike at a compound of an agricultural company in Odesa region, Ukraine, on July 21. Press Service of the the Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Reuters

Sustained Russian attacks on Odesa are part of Moscow's efforts to destroy Ukraine’s ability to export food, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military claimed Friday.

Russian missiles struck grain warehouses in the southern port overnight, destroying tons of crops, as Moscow's forces targeted Odesa for a fourth consecutive night.

“The enemy continues terror, and the terror is undoubtedly related to the grain deal,” said Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the south of the country.

Russia on Monday pulled out of the critical agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain exports a safe way out of the country. The UN Secretary-General has warned that attacks on Ukrainian ports will have an impact "well beyond Ukraine" when it comes to food prices.

Meanwhile, Humeniuk said it has been very difficult for Ukraine to destroy Russia’s advanced cruise missiles targeting Odesa, echoing comments from the Ukrainian Air Force Thursday. Speaking on Ukrainian television, Humeniuk said a lot of agricultural and rescue equipment was damaged in the barrage of Russian attacks this week.

4:11 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Russian missiles strike Odesa grain warehouses, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Alex Stambaugh 

A heavily damaged emergency vehicle is seen at a compound of an agricultural company hit by a Russian missile strike in Odesa region, Ukraine, on July 21.
A heavily damaged emergency vehicle is seen at a compound of an agricultural company hit by a Russian missile strike in Odesa region, Ukraine, on July 21. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters

Russian missiles struck grain warehouses in Odesa overnight, destroying tons of crops in storage, as Moscow's forces targeted the southern port city for a fourth straight night, a Ukrainian military official said.

In a Telegram post Friday, Oleh Kiper, head of the Odesa regional military administration, said the attacks were carried out with Kalibr missiles fired from the Black Sea.

"Unfortunately, there are hits on the grain terminals of an agricultural enterprise in Odesa region. The enemy destroyed 100 tons of peas and 20 tons of barley," he said. 

Two people were injured in the attacks he added. 

Food security: Russia's sustained attacks on Odesa this week come after Moscow pulled out of a critical grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports a safe way out of the country's Black Sea ports. The UN Secretary-General has warned that attacks on port cities will have an impact "well beyond Ukraine" when it comes to food prices.

Matthew Hollingworth, the UN World Food Programme Ukraine representative, told CNN Thursday that of the 33 million tons of food that was shipped out of Ukraine through the grain initiative since last July, 20% went to the Global South. About 725,000 tons of food was supplied to people living in countries that "desperately need that food assistance," including Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, he said.

Moscow has said the attacks on Odesa are retaliation for a Ukrainian strike Monday on the bridge linking occupied Crimea to Russia.

1:50 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Air raid alerts ring out in Odesa for fourth straight night. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Air raid sirens sounded early Friday in Odesa for the fourth night in a row.

Ukraine has struggled this week to repel a wave of Russian strikes against the southern port city, its air defenses unable to cope with the types of missiles that Moscow has used to pummel the region this week.

Here's what you should know:

  • Odesa attacks: One person was killed in strikes on the city Thursday, officials said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia has used almost 70 missiles of various types and almost 90 Shahed drones over four days in assaults on southern cities, including Odesa. Ukraine is working with partners "as extensively as possible" for additional air defense systems that can provide security to Odesa and other cities, he said. 
  • Crimean bridge: Moscow said the attacks on Odesa were retaliation for the Ukrainian strike Monday on the bridge linking occupied Crimea to Russia. The bridge was temporarily closed and the air raid warning system activated early Friday, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
  • Food security: The Odesa attacks also come after Russia pulled out of a critical grain deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports a safe way out of the country. The UN Secretary-General warned that attacks on port cities will have an impact "well beyond Ukraine" when it comes to food prices. The UN will keep negotiating to get more Ukrainian exports through, a UN official said. Russia's foreign ministry on Wednesday said all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports would be considered potential carriers of military cargo.
  • Prigozhin's whereabouts: CIA Director Bill Burns said he believes the Wagner boss is in Belarus, and predicted Prigozhin would eventually face "retribution" from Russian President Vladimir Putin for his mutiny last month. "If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster," Burns said.
  • 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, the spokesperson said.
  • US 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.

This post has been updated.

12:11 a.m. ET, July 21, 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

Rescuers work at a site of a building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in central Odesa, Ukraine on July 20.
Rescuers work at a site of a building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in central Odesa, Ukraine on July 20. Stringer/Reuters

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

"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. 

Food security: Speaking about the Black Sea grain deal, which Russia withdrew from this week, Zelensky said work "to mobilize the world to protect food security and normal life" continues. He said he spoke earlier Thursday for the first time with 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."