July 26, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Chris Lau, Sophie Tanno, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:43 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023
11 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
6:34 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Russia, North Korea defense ministries to strengthen ties after Pyongyang talks

From CNN's Mihir Melwani and Anna Chernova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is welcomed during his visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is welcomed during his visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, on Tuesday. KCNA via Reuters

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu expressed his intention to “consistently develop bilateral ties” and “strengthen the cooperation” between Russia and North Korea, during talks with his North-Korean counterpart in Pyongyang

Shoigu also called North Korea an “important partner of Russia,” according to a statement by the Russian MoD. 

The defense minister is leading a Russian delegation visiting North Korea for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean war.

Shoigu emphasized the “rich history of cooperation” between Russia and North Korea and noted that the interaction between the two countries was strengthened in the post-war period.

Some context: Russia has, alongside China, sent high level delegations to North Korea this week in a rare flurry of diplomatic activity for the secluded nation -- as it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

The Russian delegation led by Shoigu is visiting North Korea from July 25-27, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

“This visit will help strengthen Russian-North Korean military ties and will be an important stage in the development of cooperation between the two countries,” the ministry said ahead of the trip.

Both Russia and China are longtime allies of Pyongyang.

5:41 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukraine denies losses in northeastern part of country

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

The Ukrainian military has denied the loss of three settlements in the northeastern part of the country, near Kupyansk

“We do not confirm this. The tactical line there has not changed much,” the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi, told CNN on Wednesday, when asked about the losses. 

His remarks come after Russian officials and Ukrainian sources reported Moscow’s troops had forced Kyiv’s forces to retreat several kilometres, abandoning three small settlements in the process. 

“In the course of successful counterattack actions, units of the 15th Motorised Rifle Brigade under the skilful command of Lieutenant Colonel Builov liberated Sergeevka (Russian spelling for Serhiivka),” the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday.

“The total advance of our troops was up to 4 kilometers along the front and up to 2 kilometers deep into the defending enemy troops.”

7:37 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukraine launches major offensive south of Orikhiv, Russian officials and military bloggers claim, while Kyiv remains silent

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych

Russian-installed officials and military bloggers have claimed Ukrainian forces have launched a major offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region, to the south of Orikhiv, as they appear to build on modest gains in the area over the past couple of days. 

“Zaporizhzhia front - the second wave of the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] counteroffensive has begun,” a member of the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia military-civilian administration Vladimir Rogov posted on Telegram on Wednesday.
“The enemy has sent maximum forces to break through our defenses in the Orekhov (Russian spelling of Orikhiv) direction.”
“Early this morning after massive artillery preparation and air strikes the [Ukrainians] went to storm our positions near Rabotino (Russian spelling of Robotyne),” he added. 

The Russian-installed governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yevgeny Balitsky, also said a Ukrainian attack was underway. 

Well-connected Russian military blogger Rybar described a similar situation along the southern front. 

“After artillery preparation by a howitzer division and a jet battery of the formation, [Ukrainian assault detachments] swooped down to break through northeast of Rabotino (Russian spelling for Robotyne),” they wrote, describing an attack with dozens or armored vehicles, “including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers and armored combat vehicles.”
“The enemy managed to penetrate in three areas,” Rybar also said. “Now fierce battles are going on in this area.”

Ukraine has remained silent, as it is customary, and has not yet commented on this reported offensive, which follows from advances its forces had made in the area in previous days. 

In its morning update, the military’s General Staff said only that “Ukrainian Defense Forces continue to conduct offensive operations in the Bakhmut, Melitopol and Berdiansk directions.”

“The enemy made unsuccessful attempts to regain the lost position northeast of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia region,” it also said, without going into detail. “At the same time, it continues to put up strong resistance, moves units and troops, and actively uses reserves.”

Elsewhere, on the Zaporizhzhia front, Ukrainian forces continued to make advances along the Velyka Novosilka – Berdiansk axis. 

“Ukrainian troops were successful in the Staromaiorske area on the southern front,” the spokesman of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Andrii Kovalev, said on Wednesday. “[Ukrainian] Defense Forces are entrenched there at the achieved boundaries [of the city].

5:42 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

UK government heavily criticized in report for underestimating Wagner Group

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

A man wearing a camouflage uniform walks out of PMC Wagner Center during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 4, 2022.
A man wearing a camouflage uniform walks out of PMC Wagner Center during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on November 4, 2022. Igor Russak/Reuters/FILE

The British government has been heavily criticized for underestimating the Wagner private military company (PMC) for nearly a decade, despite it being a major threat for the country’s interests, in a report by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published Wednesday. 

“For nearly 10 years, the Government has underplayed and underestimated the Wagner Network’s activities, as well as the security implications of its significant expansion,” the committee says in a report titled “Guns for gold: the Wagner network exposed.”

One of the issues, the report explains, is that the British government has looked at “Wagner through the prism of Europe,” which the committee sees as a “a significant failing,” given the “geographic spread and the impact of its activities on UK interests further abroad.”

The report goes on to say Wagner’s operations in Ukraine “are not representative of the [Wagner] network’s operations globally,” and it says the PMC had operated in at least seven countries for nearly a decade before the UK began investing greater resources into understanding it in 2022.

“It is deeply regrettable that it took this long, and that the Government continues to give so little focus to countries beyond Ukraine,” the report reads.
“This leaves us even less prepared to respond to the evolution of this notoriously shape-shifting network.”
“The Government’s failure to address the Wagner Network leads us to conclude a fundamental lack of knowledge of, and policy on, other malign PMCs,” it adds.

The report calls on the government to improve its intelligence gathering on Wagner’s operations “in a wider range of countries,” and calls for “faster and harder” sanctions on those linked to the network, going as far as providing a list.

It also says the government should “urgently proscribe the Wagner Network as a terrorist organisation,” as well as provide an alternative for countries seeking the PMC’s services.

1:54 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Why so many Western firms are staying put in Russia

From CNN's Hanna Ziady in London

A fan holds a pint of Carlsberg beer during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between FC Kobenhavn and Celtic FC at Telia Parken on February 20, 2020 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
A fan holds a pint of Carlsberg beer during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between FC Kobenhavn and Celtic FC at Telia Parken on February 20, 2020 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Catherine Ivill/Getty Images/FILE

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a slew of Western companies left in protest. But some of the world’s biggest firms — including Nestlé, Heineken and snack maker Mondelez — stayed put.

More than a year later, companies that chose to remain in Russia are in an increasingly sticky position: Leaving has become costlier and more complex, while staying has grown riskier.

Companies now find themselves caught between Western sanctions and public outrage on the one hand, and an increasingly hostile Russian government on the other. The Kremlin is making it more difficult for Western firms to sell their Russian assets — and imposing steep discounts and punitive taxes when they do.

The experience of French yoghurt maker Danone (DANOY) and Danish brewer Carlsberg (CABGY) provides a chilling example of the kind of far-reaching state intervention that could befall other foreign firms hoping to beat a retreat from Russia.

Both companies had been finalizing sales to local buyers when President Vladimir Putin signed an order nationalizing their local assets earlier this month.

Carlsberg said the development meant the prospects for the sale of its Baltika Breweries — one of Russia’s largest consumer goods companies — were now “highly uncertain.”

The “window of opportunity to exit Russia is almost closed,” Maria Shagina, a sanctions expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN. “Western companies are now caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Read the full story here.

12:01 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Ukraine says it made advances in the south and east. Here's what you need to know

From CNN staff

Russian forces south of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut have taken heavy losses and appear to have fallen back amid intense artillery fire from the Ukrainian side, according to official and unofficial Ukrainian accounts, and reports from Russian military bloggers.

Ukraine has been trying to break Russian resistance there for several weeks. Ukrainian advances near Andriivka are part of a plan to encircle Bakhmut and drive out Russian forces, the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi, said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said it has made slight progress on the southern front, in an area that has seen constant fighting for nearly two months. Valerii Shershen, the spokesperson for Ukrainian forces in the south, said troops had advanced by some 500 meters in an area near the town of Staromaiorske — a target of the Ukrainians since the beginning of their counteroffensive.

Here's what else you should know to get up to speed:

  • Grain deal: The UK believes Russia could target civilian ships in the Black Sea, following the Kremlin’s decision to leave the Black Sea Grain Initiative, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Tuesday. The Kremlin said it is “impossible” for Russia to return to the expired initiative until all conditions are met, snubbing suggestions by UN Secretary General António Guterres to rejoin the crucial deal. A European Union official proposed on Tuesday that member states should cover the additional costs of exporting Ukrainian grain by land following the collapse of the deal. And five European Union member states bordering Ukraine are requesting that an existing ban on imports of four types of Ukrainian grain be extended beyond the scheduled expiry date of September 15, the EU Council said Tuesday.
  • Moscow moves: Russian lawmakers passed an amendment extending the military call-up from ages 18 to 30, raising the limit by three years. Also, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office has declared the TV channel Rain (Dozhd) as an “undesirable organization,” which means penalties — including jail time— for anyone in Russia who donates to or cooperates with the channel. 
  • Military aid: US intelligence officials warned Russia is building a drone-manufacturing facility in the country with Iran's help that could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine once it is completed. And on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new $400 million tranche of security assistance for Ukraine, which includes air defense munitions and armored vehicles.
  • UN investigation: Russian accounts of a rocket attack on a camp holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in July 2022 are not supported by evidence, according to the United Nations. The findings by the UN Human Rights Commissioner (UN OHCHR) support the conclusions of an extensive CNN investigation published in August last year, which demonstrated that the Russian narrative that the camp had been hit by a Ukrainian HIMARS rocket did not stand up to scrutiny. 
  • Trevor Reed update: Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who was wrongfully detained in Russia for nearly three years before being released last year, was injured while participating in fighting in Ukraine, US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel confirmed Tuesday. Blinken said Reed's fighting in Ukraine "shouldn’t have any effect" on negotiations to free other Americans detained in Russia.
1:08 a.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Trevor Reed's fighting in Ukraine shouldn't affect negotiations to free other Americans, Blinken says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Police officers escort US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, into a courtroom prior to a hearing in Moscow on March 11, 2020.
Police officers escort US ex-marine Trevor Reed, charged with attacking police, into a courtroom prior to a hearing in Moscow on March 11, 2020. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Trevor Reed's fighting in Ukraine “shouldn’t have any effect” on negotiations to free other detained Americans, Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.

Reed is a former US Marine who was wrongfully detained in Russia for nearly three years before being released in a prisoner swap. The State Department said earlier Tuesday that he was injured fighting in Ukraine.

“As I've noted before, even with countries where we have profound differences, and almost by definition, countries that are arbitrarily detaining or unlawfully detaining Americans are usually countries with which we have profound differences, we manage to find ways to bring Americans home,” Blinken said at a news conference in Tonga.

He touted the success of the administration so far, saying 29 Americans from at least 10 countries were brought back home.

“So my expectation is that even as we're dealing with all sorts of other challenges in our relationship with Russia, we will and we are determined to continue to work to bring both Evan and Paul home,” Blinken said.

Blinken said he had seen the reports that Reed was injured but didn’t have any additional information on his condition. The top US diplomat said it underscored why the US warns Americans against traveling to Ukraine.

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has been detained in Russia following his arrest on espionage charges that he, the WSJ, and the US government vehemently deny.

Whelan has been imprisoned for nearly five years, also on espionage charges that he and the US government have denied.

Read more about Reed fighting in Ukraine here.

8:34 p.m. ET, July 25, 2023

2 children killed in cluster shelling in eastern Ukraine, military official says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv and Amy Cassidy

Two children were among three people killed as a result of cluster shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka on Monday, a local military official said Tuesday. 

“Yet another tragedy happened yesterday,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration said in an interview on Ukrainian TV. “A Smerch MLRS cluster munition exploded over a water body,” he said.

The victims were an 11-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy and a 28-year-old man, Kyrylenko said. Six people were also wounded, he said in a Telegram post with a link to his TV interview.

“The mother of the deceased boy is in serious condition, she was evacuated to the neighboring region," Kyrylenko said. “The enemy is using cluster munitions against civilians. I urge parents with children to evacuate.” 

Some context: Cluster munitions indiscriminately scatter “bomblets” across large areas, posing such a threat to civilians that key US allies have outlawed its use in warfare. Russia is known to have deployed them throughout its invasion of Ukraine, and Ukrainian troops are now using US-provided cluster munitions.

8:32 p.m. ET, July 25, 2023

US officials raise alarm over Russia's drone partnership with Iran

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

US intelligence officials have warned that Russia is building a drone-manufacturing facility in country with Iran’s help that could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine once it is completed.

Analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency told a small group of reporters during a briefing on Friday that the drone-manufacturing facility now under construction is expected to provide Russia with a new drone stockpile that is “orders of magnitude larger” than what it has been able to procure from Iran to date.

When the facility is completed, likely by early next year, the new drones could have a significant impact on the conflict, the analysts warned. In April, the US released a satellite image of the planned location of the purported drone manufacturing plant, inside Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone about 600 miles east of Moscow. The analysts said Iran has regularly been ferrying equipment to Russia to help with the facility’s construction.

They added that to date, it is believed that Iran has provided Russia with over 400 Shahed 131, 136 and Mohajer drones — a stockpile that Russia has almost completely depleted, they said.

Russia is primarily using the drones to attack critical Ukrainian infrastructure and stretch Ukraine’s air defenses, a senior DIA official said. Iran has been using the Caspian Sea to move drones, bullets and mortar shells to Russia, often using vessels that are “dark,” or have turned off their tracking data to disguise their movements, CNN has reported.

The US obtained and analyzed several of the drones downed in Ukraine, and officials say there is “undeniable evidence” that the drones are Iranian, despite repeated denials from Tehran that it is providing the equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine.

Read more here.