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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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." 
9:02 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Odesa air defenses outgunned as Russia targets global grain supply

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová, Olga Voitovych, Mick Krever, Alex Marquardt, Scott McWhinnie and Sebastian Shukla

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

Ukraine’s Air Force said it destroyed just five of 19 Russian cruise missiles fired at the country overnight into Thursday. That’s a significantly lower success rate compared to previous waves targeting Kyiv and Ukrainian officials said it was due to the lack of more advanced defense systems in the southern part of the country.

People in Odesa have now endured several consecutive nights of intense bombardment. A CNN team began hearing explosions at around 2 a.m. on Thursday. The near continuous strikes lasted at least 90 minutes, the buzzing sound of drones reverberating through the port city.

Firefighters were still working at the site of one of the strikes, an administrative building, on Thursday morning. The four-story structure was smoldering and in ruins.

As the bombardment got underway, officials warned residents to take cover.”Go to your shelters and don’t leave until the siren ends. Take care of yourself and your loved ones,” the head of the Odesa region’s military administration, Oleh Kiper, said in a post on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials said the air defense systems in the region are not capable of shooting down Russia’s Oniks and Kh-22 missiles because of how fast they fly. “What could be shot down is being shot down,” Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said. “Of course, we would like to shoot down more.”

“We need means, we need to reinforce the southern regions, our port cities, with means, in particular, against ballistic missiles,” he said. “Systems such as Patriot or SAMP-T could provide protection for this region.”

Read more here.

8:58 p.m. ET, July 20, 2023

UN won't give up on Black Sea grain negotiations, official says

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

The United Nations won't stop negotiating on Ukrainian grain exports, but the international community should push for more than humanitarian deliveries, according to Matthew Hollingworth, the UN World Food Programme Ukraine representative and country director.

Hollingworth told CNN Thursday he's "absolutely certain the UN is not going to give up on this issue and will do everything it can to try and find a result," after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative earlier this week.

"I think we need to push harder than simply only having a humanitarian delivery system through some sort of partial agreement. We need more than that, if we are going to actually achieve — and continue to achieve — some form of stability, when the world already is seeing just enormous levels of a norm of food insecurity," he said.

David Harland, executive director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, who helped broker the grain deal, told CNN Wednesday he is skeptical about Russia coming back to the negotiating table. There may be a chance that Russia agrees to "humanitarian shipments" only, he said, if pressured by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and leaders of countries facing food supply shortages

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, Hollingworth said.

"This was a country (Ukraine) where we could guarantee a high-quality competitive market price, food, and it was the largest single sourcing nation last year for the World Food Programme, despite the conflict, despite the invasion," Hollingworth said.
"That's going to leave a massive hole in our operations of trying to get food to people around the world that desperately need. That's 345 million people living in severe food insecurity right now, so that should not be underestimated."