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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11:23 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Putin says West disappointed in Ukraine’s counteroffensive

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

A Ukrainian artilleryman fires a 152 mm towed gun-howitzer D-20 towards Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 20.
A Ukrainian artilleryman fires a 152 mm towed gun-howitzer D-20 towards Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 20. Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the West is disappointed with the results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“Today it is obvious that the Western curators of the Kiev regime are clearly disappointed with the results of the so-called counter-offensive,” Putin said, using the Russian name for Ukraine’s capital, during a televised portion of a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.

Putin said the counteroffensive did not bring any results. 

“Nothing helped – neither the colossal resources that were ‘pumped into’ the Kiev regime, nor the supply of Western weapons – tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, missiles – nor the sending of thousands of foreign mercenaries and advisers, who were most actively used in attempts to break through the front of our army,” Putin said. 

“At the same time, the whole world sees that the hyped-up Western military equipment, supposedly invulnerable equipment, is burning down on the front lines.”

Some context: Since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began in June, the fighting has proved tougher than some anticipated, with progress being measured in hundreds of meters as opposed to tens of kilometers.

Ukraine had hoped to use the push to expel a significant amount of Russian forces from Ukrainian soil and turn the tide of the war.

Andriy Yermak, a key adviser to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, told journalists earlier this month that he accepted the counteroffensive is “not going that fast; it is slow.”

Claims about Poland: Putin also claimed, without providing evidence, that Moscow is aware of plans to create a Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian military unit to protect territories in the western part of Ukraine.

Putin accused Poland of harboring plans to “directly intervene“ in the war and “tear off” parts of Ukraine for itself, also claiming Warsaw has aspirations to annex parts of Belarus.

“This is not about some kind of gathering of mercenaries — there are enough of them, and they are being destroyed — but about a regular, well-knit, equipped military formation that is planned to be used for operations on the territory of Ukraine,” Putin said during an operational meeting of the country’s Security Council on Friday.

“(This unit is for) allegedly ensuring the security of modern western Ukraine, but in fact it is, if you call a spade a spade, for the subsequent occupation of these territories,” he said. “After all, the prospect is obvious — if Polish units enter, for example, Lviv or other territories of Ukraine, they will remain there. And they will remain forever.”

“Unleashing aggression against Belarus will mean aggression against the Russian Federation,” Putin added. “We will respond to this with all the means at our disposal.” 

Poland is a key NATO ally currently housing thousands of American troops that also serves as a hub for Western weapons transfers to Ukraine.

CNN's Katharina Krebs, Vasco Cotovio and Niamh Kennedy contributed reporting to this post.

8:53 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Erdogan: Turkey will "not hesitate" to take action to prevent "harmful" effects of grain deal suspension

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy in London

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference on the closing day of the annual NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference on the closing day of the annual NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12. Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Turkey will “not hesitate” to take the initiative needed to prevent the “harmful effects” of Russia pulling out of the Black Sea grain deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, according to Turkish state media. 

The president hailed the grain deal as a “vital initiative” for humanity, outlining Turkey’s commitment to shoring up its future, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency.

“The termination of the Black Sea grain initiative will have a range of (harmful) effects, ranging from raising global food prices, in some regions to famine, and then new waves of migration. We do not hesitate to take the initiative to prevent this," President Erdogan told journalists on the presidential plane flying home from his tour to three Gulf nations this week, Anadolu reported.

On Monday, the head of the Ukrainian Grain Association Nikolay Gorbachov told CNN’s Isa Soares that Turkey’s fleet could help move grain from Ukraine without Russia. 

According to Anadolu, Erdogan expressed his belief that discussing the “issue in detail” with Russian President Vladimir Putin will “ensure the continuation of this humanitarian movement.” 

Some context: Turkey played a pivotal role alongside the UN in brokering the landmark agreement, which, according to UN data, facilitated the export of nearly 33 million tons of grain from Ukrainian ports. 

Referring to Putin’s expectations from Western countries on the grain deal, Erdogan remarked: “Western nations need to take action in this regard,” according to Anadolu.

Putin has accused Ukraine of failing to uphold the deal’s main objective: supplying grain to countries in need. 

The Turkish leader also refuted claims that Turkey’s role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine has diminished. 

"On the contrary, we are currently maintaining our relations with Russia. Both Foreign Minister Hakan (Fidan) and (National Intelligence Organization) MIT head Ibrahim (Kalin) continue their negotiations," Erdogan told reporters.

8:13 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

For a fourth consecutive night, Russian forces targeted the southern port city of Odesa, hitting grain warehouses and destroying tons of crops. The sustained attack comes after Moscow pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal earlier this week.

Elsewhere, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has warned that Russia could be preparing a false flag operation attacking a ship in the Black Sea. Bill Burns also said he believes Russian President Valdimir Putin is simply "trying to buy time" to determine whether and how to act against Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Odesa bombardment: Russia on Friday continued its bombardment of the southern port city of Odesa, launching seven missiles at an unspecified “infrastructure facility” south of Odesa city. “The terrorist country continues to attack Odesa region,” Oleh Kiper, head of Odesa regional military administration, said on Telegram. “The target is an important infrastructure facility. The Russians fired 7 missiles on it. Unfortunately, there is damage.”
  • Putin "buying time": CIA director Burns called Putin “the ultimate apostle of payback,” adding he'd be surprised if Wagner chief Prigozhin escaped further retribution after last month's mutiny. "If I were Prigozhin, I wouldn’t fire my food taster,” Burns told the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday.
  • Black Sea warning: Burns also echoed a warning from the US National Security Council that Russia could be preparing a false flag operation attacking a ship in the Black Sea. “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,” he said, without providing further detail.
  • Counteroffensive: Putin said Friday that the West is disappointed with the results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which he claimed has not yielded results. “Nothing helped – neither the colossal resources that were ‘pumped into’ the Kiev regime, nor the supply of Western weapons – tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, missiles – nor the sending of thousands of foreign mercenaries and advisers, who were most actively used in attempts to break through the front of our army,” Putin said. 
  • UK ambassador dismissed: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed his ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, without giving a reason. It follows an exchange of testy words between the ambassador, the British defense secretary and Zelensky.
  • Poland moves troops east: 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 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. 
7:03 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023

Daytime Russian attack targets "important infrastructure facility" south of Odesa

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Russia on Friday morning launched seven missiles at an unspecified “infrastructure facility” south of Odesa city.

“The terrorist country continues to attack Odesa region,” Oleh Kiper, head of Odesa regional military administration, said on Telegram. “The target is an important infrastructure facility. The Russians fired 7 missiles on it. Unfortunately, there is damage.”

 The Ukrainian military said that it was “clarifying the extent of the damage” in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. 

“So far, there is no information about the casualties,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military in the south said during a press conference. “But this is yet another demonstration that the enemy will not stop, it will continue terrorist attacks.”

Some context: 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, 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.

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.