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July 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the treatment of wounded Ukrainian soldiers at a US military hospital in Germany, according to a memo obtained by CNN and confirmed by two US defense officials.
The plan allows for the treatment of up to 18 wounded soldiers at a time a Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the massive hospital in Germany where the military has, for years, treated US service members who suffered injuries in combat.
Austin offered verbal guidance on May 26 to begin offering treatment to wounded Ukraine soldiers, according to the memo. On June 29, Austin formalized the verbal guidance and in a memo entitled “Guidance for Medical Treatment of Wounded Ukrainian Service Members.”
Despite the plan receiving final approval nearly one month ago, Landstuhl has not yet received Ukrainian service members for medical care.
An official from US European Command told CNN, “We have not treated any Ukraine troops at Landstuhl.”
The official said the purpose of the memo was to remove any red tape that would slow down the process of offering treatment if the need arose. The plan would permit treatment if there was no facility available in Ukraine or in a closer country. Landstuhl is approximately 700 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border.
If Landstuhl were to receive wounded Ukrainian troops, the service members would have to leave Ukraine by train or car, which has no troops in Ukraine, before the US could evacuate them by air to Ramstein Air Base.
On Monday, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, posted a video on Twitter showing Ukrainian soldiers receiving prosthetic legs at a hospital in Chicago. A second video posted Tuesday showed the soldiers walking on the prosthetic limbs.
But this would appear to be the first authorization for Ukrainian troops to receive treatment of military facilities instead of civilian hospitals.
More background: In late-April, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote a letter to Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the administration to do more to support the “struggling healthcare systems” in Ukraine and Poland.
One of the requests was to “scale-up” Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to treat sick and wounded Ukrainians. The authors said it would follow the US decision to offer treatment to Afghan refugees who transited through the adjacent Ramstein Air Base last year. The letter also urged the administration to send armored ambulances and establish a several military field hospitals along the Poland-Ukraine border.
“You have a unique opportunity to showcase American leadership by providing medical support to Ukrainians that will inspire other NATO states to follow suit,” the authors wrote.
John Kirby, then serving as the Pentagon press secretary, said Austin had received the letter dated April 22 and would “certainly take it seriously and respond appropriately.” Kirby said that any decision to provide field hospitals or US humanitarian support would be done in consultation with the host country.
CNN has reached out to a number of the letter’s signatories for comment.
On the day Austin issued verbal guidance to begin offering treatment to Ukrainian soldiers, the top US general spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart. A readout of the conversation between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Gen. Valery Zaluzhny makes no mention of opening up US military medical facilities to Ukrainian service members
One month later, Austin formalized the verbal guidance on a day he spoke with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov. According to a readout of the call, Austin gave an update on US security assistance efforts, but there is no mention of offering treatment to Ukrainian soldiers.
Ukrainian officials admit Russian forces have made small advances in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine amid intense shelling along the front line, with Ukrainian officials saying the "entire territory is under fire."
At the same time, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky is accusing Moscow of waging an "overt gas war" against Europe after Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom said it will reduce the flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to repair another turbine.
Here are the other top headlines to know tonight:
- Europe and gas rations: The European Union has agreed to ration its natural gas this winter to prevent a severe supply shock. The EU energy ministers agreed to a voluntary target to reduce gas usage by 15% between August and March 2023. Hungary was the only member state to vote against the deal to ration natural gas.
- US responds to cuts to European energy supplies: The US and Brussels have been pleading with EU members to save gas and store it for winter, with one US official calling the situation "our biggest fear." The impact on Europe could boomerang back onto the US, spiking natural gas and electricity prices, the official said. It will also be a major test of European resilience and unity against Russia, as the Kremlin shows no signs of retreating from Ukraine.
- Grain exports to resume: The first shipment of Ukrainian grain under the Black Sea deal brokered by the United Nations is expected to move within a few days, a spokesperson for the UN secretary general said Monday. Parties to the agreement have reaffirmed their commitment as of Sunday, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, despite Russian strikes in the Ukrainian port of Odesa just a day after the accord was signed.
- Russia to withdraw from the ISS: The country will withdraw from the International Space Station (ISS) project “after 2024” after fulfilling its obligations, according to a readout of a meeting between a Russian official and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. This is not the first time that Russia has threatened to abandon the ISS, but this most recent threat has more teeth and the apparent approval of Putin himself.
- Support for Ukraine: Germany has delivered more heavy weapons to Ukraine, including multiple launch rocket systems launchers and guns, the German minister of defense said. This comes as the Russian military is deploying additional forces to its southern flank, bolstering its positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, according to Ukrainian officials and videos posted on social media that were geolocated by CNN.
Hungary was the only European Union member state on Tuesday to vote against a deal to ration its natural gas this winter to prevent a severe supply shock, according to the Hungarian government.
“The EU gas savings regulation is unfounded, unenforceable and completely disregards the interests of the Hungarian people, which is why the Hungarian government was the only member state to vote against its adoption,” Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in Brussels according to the office of the international spokesperson for Hungary’s Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister.
On Tuesday, EU energy ministers agreed to a voluntary target to reduce gas usage by 15% between August and March 2023. The votes of each member state were not made public by the European Commission.
For Hungary, “this decision is completely unacceptable and its implementation is out of the question. The proposal completely ignores the interests of HU[ngary], but it is also more painful for other EU citizens than for those against whom it is being made,” Zoltan Kovacs, the international spokesman for Hungary’s Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister, posted on Twitter quoting Szijjártó.
Brussels “has made another step towards war economy,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Tuesday, according to Zoltan Kovacs.
An EU official told CNN that all member states but one voted in favor of the deal. The official did not specify which state voted against.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday presented Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with an award to honor his leadership at a ceremony in Downing Street, in which Zelensky appeared virtually.
Deemed “The Sir Winston Churchill Award” in memory of Britain's former wartime leader who led Europe to peace in World War II, the International Churchill Society honors it to people who have “demonstrated extraordinary leadership” in his spirit, according to the website of the National Churchill Museum.
“President Zelensky has faced a test of leadership just as severe as Churchill,” Johnson is quoted as saying in a news release from the International Churchill Society.
“He has, with quintessentially Churchillian composure, showed the world what moral and physical courage really mean. His defiance, dignity and serenity under extreme pressure has moved millions. It has been a true honor to call him my friend and it is my immense privilege to present him with this award today," Johnson said.
Also physically present at the Downing Street ceremony were members of the Churchill family and Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, the news release said.
Accepting the award, Zelensky said: “No one knows how much time and effort it will take to achieve that victory, but the victory is worthwhile. This will become a joint history, as prominent as it was during Churchill times. It will be quoted just like he was quoted. I would like to thank you, thank you for this award, for the award for the people of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian forces are fighting an assault from Russian troops near Pokrovske as Moscow continues to make a push in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said in a daily update on Tuesday evening,
“In the direction Bakhmut, the enemy shelled military and civilian infrastructure in the areas of Berestove, Soledar, Pokrovske, Vesela Dolyna, Vershyna, Kodema, Maiorsk and Toretsk. It carried out airstrikes directly on the settlements of Pokrovske and Novoluhanske,” the Ukrainian General Staff said.
“Our defenders successfully repelled enemy assault attempts in the districts of Berestove, Soledar and Semyhiria. Fighting with an assault group continues near Pokrovske,” it added.
According to the General Staff, Russian shelling was reported across most of the frontline. Ukrainian forces also repelled assaults in other parts of the Donetsk region.
“In the Sloviansk direction, the enemy shelled the areas of Nortsivka, Dolyna, Hrushuvakha, Krasnopillia, Mazanivka and other settlements with artillery and tanks. It tried to advance near Bohorodychne, was unsuccessful, and withdrew,” the Ukrainian military said. “Ukrainian soldiers successfully repelled the occupiers' attempt to improve the tactical position in the Ivano-Dariivka area and forced the enemy to flee.”
US President Joe Biden's administration is working behind the scenes to keep European allies united against Russia as Moscow further cuts its energy supplies to the bloc, prompting panic on both sides of the Atlantic over potentially severe gas shortages heading into winter, US officials said.
On Monday, Russia's state-owned gas company Gazprom said it would cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany in half, to just 20% of its capacity. A US official said the move was retaliation for Western sanctions, and that it put the West in “unchartered territory” when it comes to whether Europe will have enough gas to get through the winter.
In response to the turmoil, the White House dispatched Amos Hochstein, presidential coordinator for global energy, to Europe on Tuesday, officials said. He will be traveling to Paris and Brussels to discuss contingency planning with the US-EU energy task force created in March, one month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This was our biggest fear,” said the US official.
The impact on Europe could boomerang back onto the US, spiking natural gas and electricity prices, the official said. It will also be a major test of European resilience and unity against Russia, as the Kremlin shows no signs of retreating from Ukraine.
The US and Brussels have been pleading with EU members to save gas and store it for winter, and energy ministers agreed in principle on Tuesday to cut gas use by 15% from August to March — with some concessions.
There will also be discussions in the coming days about increasing nuclear power production across Europe to offset gas shortages, officials said. Germany was planning to completely phase out its use of nuclear power by the end of 2022, but US officials are hoping to convince Germany to extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power plants amid the energy crisis, an official said.
US officials, who have been in close touch in particular with German and French officials on this topic, are extremely concerned that Europe might face a serious gas shortage going into winter. That is because Europe will struggle to fill its reserves over the next few months with Nord Stream 1 providing only a fraction of its capacity.
Officials said a 15% cut, along with a surge of global liquefied natural gas exports to Europe, including from the US, is unlikely to be enough to offset the shortages.
“This is an open gas war that Russia is waging against a united Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said on Tuesday.
The US official said it was clear the Russians are “lashing out” and trying to “destabilize Europe” because they are not achieving their goals in Ukraine.
A National Security Council spokesperson called Russia’s moves just its latest attempts “to use natural gas as a political and economic weapon.”
“Russia’s energy coercion has put pressure on energy markets, raised prices for consumers, and threatened global energy security. These actions only underscore the importance of the work the United States and the European Commission are doing to end our reliance on Russian energy,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue working with our European partners to reduce dependence on Russian energy and support their efforts to prepare for further Russian destabilization of energy markets.”
The Russian military is deploying additional forces to its southern flank, bolstering its positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, according to Ukrainian officials and videos posted on social media that were geolocated by CNN. Analysts suggest the move is presumably to try and counter an eventual Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Several posts on Ukrainian social media accounts reference the movement of heavy military equipment on top of trains or clogging up highways through the Crimean peninsula and into the Kherson region. CNN geolocated several videos, filmed in the past few days, which show convoys crossing from Crimea into Kherson. Other videos showed the convoys heading toward Crimea, across the Kerch straight, from Krasnodar in Russia.
The spokespeople for the Ukrainian General Staff and the Ukrainian Operational Command South declined to comment, but the Office of the Ukrainian President in Crimea said the “movement of military equipment, ammunition, and personnel of the Russian army continues throughout the territory of the occupied Crimean peninsula.”
“Every day, about 50 wagons with echelons of Russian military equipment move towards Dzhankoi, queues of military equipment are also noticed at the administrative border with occupied Crimea, near the settlements of Armiansk and Krasnoperekopsk,” the office said in a statement on Facebook on Monday.
Analysts have suggested this movement of heavy equipment could be in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive to try and retake Russian-controlled areas in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas. In its daily assessment of the Russian campaign on Monday, the Institute for the Study of War said that “Russian forces continued to fortify their positions in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Oblasts in preparations for Ukrainian counteroffensives.”
What Russia is saying: The Russian defense ministry denied Moscow is deploying additional forces to Ukraine.
“A number of foreign media outlets are spreading false information about alleged mobilization activities,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “We draw your attention to the fact that only a part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is involved in the conduct of a special military operation, the number of which is quite sufficient to fulfil all the tasks set by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.”
CNN's Zarah Ullah and Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting to this post.
Germany has delivered three MARS2 multiple launch rocket systems launchers from its army stocks, as well as five Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and three self-propelled howitzer 2000 to Ukraine, the German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday.
“The promised MARS2 multiple rocket launchers and another three self-propelled howitzer 2000 have been delivered. We keep our word,” Lambrecht said.
The Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, acknowledged the receipt of the weapons and said they would be deployed to the frontlines.
“MLRS Mars II have already been transferred to Ukraine by our German allies. The Russians will have fire,” Yermak posted on Telegram.
Lambrecht also said Germany would accelerate the pace at which heavy weapons will be delivered to Ukraine, a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Defense said. In total, Ukraine will receive 30 Gepard systems from the industry with about 60,000 rounds of ammunition mainly from the Bundeswehr according to the spokesman. Altogether ten self-propelled howitzers 2000 will also come from Bundeswehr stocks.
Ukrainian forces will also receive a Cobra artillery tracking radar, with the delivery expected in September.
“The contract has already been signed, now the training of Ukrainian soldiers on this highly complex system begins," Lambrecht said.