July 27, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:40 a.m. ET, July 28, 2022
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3:00 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

CNN exclusive: Biden administration offers convicted Russian arms dealer in exchange for Griner and Whelan

From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez and Jennifer Hansler

In this photo provided by the US Department of Justice, former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout, center — who has since been convicted and is serving a 25-year US prison sentence — deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, in November 2010.
In this photo provided by the US Department of Justice, former Soviet military officer and arms trafficking suspect Viktor Bout, center — who has since been convicted and is serving a 25-year US prison sentence — deplanes after arriving at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, in November 2010. (U.S. Department of Justice/Getty Images)

After months of internal debate, the Biden administration has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year US prison sentence, as part of a potential deal to secure the release of two Americans held by Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, according to people briefed on the matter.

These sources told CNN that the plan to trade Bout for Whelan and Griner received the backing of President Joe Biden after being under discussion since earlier this year. Biden's support for the swap overrides opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against prisoner trades.

"We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians," a senior administration official told CNN Wednesday. "We communicated that a number of weeks ago, in June."

The official declined to comment on the specifics of the "substantial offer." They said it was in Russia's "court to be responsive to it, yet at the same time that does not leave us passive, as we continue to communicate the offer at very senior levels."

"It takes two to tango. We start all negotiations to bring home Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained with a bad actor on the other side. We start all of these with somebody who has taken a human being American and treated them as a bargaining chip," the official said. "So in some ways, it's not surprising, even if it's disheartening, when those same actors don't necessarily respond directly to our offers, don't engage constructively in negotiations."

The families of Whelan, who has been held by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018, and WNBA star Griner, jailed in Moscow for drug possession since February, have urged the White House to secure their release, including via a prisoner exchange if necessary.

In response to CNN reporting, David Whelan, the brother of imprisoned Paul Whelan, said he appreciates the Biden administration.

“Our family appreciates the Biden Administration seeking Paul's release using the resources it has available. We hope the Russian government responds to the U.S. government and accepts this or some other concession that enables Paul to come home to his family. Hopefully no other American will be wrongfully held by the Russian government in the future," Whelan said in a statement to CNN.

Keep reading here.

2:04 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Moscow warns of consequences if Ukraine uses US-made weapons against Russian territory, official says

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Moscow has warned of "more than serious" consequences if Ukraine uses US-made multiple launch rocket systems or other NATO-supplied long-range weapons against Russian territory, according to Russian official Konstantin Gavrilov.

Gavrilov is the head of the Russian delegation at talks in Vienna on issues of military security and arms control.

“If the Armed Forces of Ukraine use American MLRS or other NATO long-range weapons against Russian territory, the consequences will be more than serious," Gavrilov said according to a statement published by the Russian Foreign Ministry. 

“An increase in the transfer of Western weapons to Kyiv may force the Russian Federation to move to tougher responses,” he said. 

Gavrilov also said that all of the main goals set by President Vladimir Putin will be accomplished in Ukraine and urged Western governments to listen to Russia’s concerns.

Some background: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Tuesday that the United States and other allies have praised his country’s use of donated systems, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, with officials in Washington saying Russia has yet to take out any of the gifted Western rocket artillery.

The Ukrainian defense minister said the donated weapons were “already affecting the course of the war.” The HIMARS, with range and accuracy superior to that of equivalent Russian artillery, has allowed Ukraine to hit targets well within Moscow-controlled territory, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff said last week.

Germany has also delivered three Mars II multiple launch rocket systems launchers from its army stocks, as well as five Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and three self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday.

1:53 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Ukraine says it has rebuffed Russian offensive toward Donetsk town

From CNN's Petro Zadorozhnyy

Workers cut down a tree that has fallen due to shelling in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 27.
Workers cut down a tree that has fallen due to shelling in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 27. (Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Ukrainian military said it was able to repel Russian offensives toward the Donetsk town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

In its evening update on Wednesday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said it had inflicted losses on Russian forces looking to advance in that area.

“Ukrainian soldiers successfully repelled enemy assaults in the settlement of Berestove and in the directions of" Volodymyrivka, Soledar, Rota and Semyhiria, the military said. “The enemy withdrew with losses.”

Artillery shelling and airstrikes were reported in most villages and towns around the area, as well as along most of the frontline in the Donetsk region, as Russia “continues its attempts to improve the tactical position in the directions of the cities of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut with assault actions,” the General Staff said. 

The Ukrainian military said an assault along the Bilohorivka-Verkhnokamianske axis was also repelled. 

In the area around Kharkiv, as well as along the southern flank near Kherson, Ukrainian forces said the Russian military has mostly maintained its defensive positions. 

1:40 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Hungary must do its part to ration gas while depending on neighbors, EU energy official says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson speaks in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, July 26.
European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson speaks in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, July 26. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Hungary should still do its part to ration natural gas ahead of winter while relying on help from its EU neighbors amid supply cuts from Russia, Kadri Simson, the EU Energy Commissioner, told CNN on Wednesday.

The EU announced a deal Tuesday to reduce gas usage by 15% from August to March to see the bloc through winter since Russia has significantly slashed its exports to Europe.

Hungary was the only member state to vote against the plan, which was branded “unfounded” and “unenforceable” by Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó.

“Hungary as a landlocked country, it depends on [its] neighbors' solidarity,” Simson told CNN’s Becky Anderson. "Even to cut the gas right now from Russia, they need neighbors who are offering them transit routes."

“We also agreed that at this moment when we are facing full disruption, then the neighbors will provide alternative routes. But to ask for that you also have to do your part," Simson added. That means that every member state is right now at this stage preparing their plans, how they can save gas.”

2:44 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

WNBA star Brittney Griner is "feeling well," US embassy official says

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

Elizabeth Rood, the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Moscow, said she was able to sit next to WNBA star Brittney Griner during Wednesday's hearing in the Khimki regional court near Moscow and that Griner is "feeling well." 

"Today Ms. Griner had the opportunity to testify. I will leave it to her legal team to describe that. However, I will say that we were again able to sit next to Ms. Griner throughout the proceedings and we had the opportunity to talk with her again, and she is feeling well and she talked with us about a book she is reading," said Rood in a statement to media following the hearing. 

"We are going to continue to monitor the case of Ms. Griner very closely, as well as the cases of all US citizens detained or in prison in Russia," Rood added.  

Read the complete statement by the US Embassy charge d’affaires:

"My name is Elizabeth Rood. I am the Charge d’Affaires at the American Embassy. Together with a consular officer from the Embassy we were here for the sixth day of the trial of U.S. citizen Brittney Griner.
Today Ms. Griner had the opportunity to testify. I will leave it to her legal team to describe, however, I will say that we were again able to sit next to Ms. Griner throughout the proceedings, and we had the opportunity to talk with her again. She is feeling well and she talked with us about the book she is reading.
We are going to continue to monitor the case of Ms. Griner very closely, as well as the cases of all U.S. citizens detained or in prison in Russia. Thank you."
1:40 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Spain can become hub to export gas to neighbors to avoid being "hostage" to Putin, prime minister says 

From CNN's Jorge Engels in London

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to media in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, July 27.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to media in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, July 27. (Michal Dyjuk/AP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Wednesday his country can become a hub to export natural gas to European countries that seek to reduce their dependence on Russian energy.

“Spain is a solidary country, it’s a responsible country. And we will do everything we can, that’s what I told [Polish] Prime Minister [Mateusz] Morawiecki as well as the EU Commission and member states, so that Europe does not become an energy hostage to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Sánchez said at a press conference with his Polish counterpart.

Sánchez said that 30 percent of Europe’s total re-gasification capacity currently resides in Spain, adding that the country has already increased its gas export capacity and was willing to increase it even further.

“Last June, 20 percent of the liquified natural gas imports that arrived to Spain were exported to other countries in the European Union,” Sánchez said, adding that Spain has asked the EU Commission and neighboring countries to increase the capacity for interconnectivity to be able to be better integrated and export more gas to the EU’s energy market.

Sánchez also said the uncertainty and threat of Russia’s war in Ukraine should be countered by reinforcing the European Union.

“Today more than ever, it’s important to stay united around the common values that make up the essence of Europe and that Putin is questioning with his illegal, illegitimate and unjust invasion of Ukraine,” Sánchez said.
2:44 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Griner’s defense team says her detention, search and arrest were "improper"

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Chris Liakos

Alexander Boykov, the lawyer of WNBA star Brittney Griner — who testified today in a Russian courtroom — said his client’s detention, search and arrest were “improper.”

Boykov added that he would go into the details during the closing arguments expected to take place “in a manner of a couple of weeks.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Griner testified that when she was stopped at the Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17 and asked to open her bags, nobody read her rights to her. She signed documents without an explanation of what was in them, she added. She said no lawyer was present.

Following the end of today’s hearing, Griner’s other lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, said, “Brittney testified today. She explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them. She was very stressed and tired because of post-Covid syndrome, her tight schedule, and the upcoming transatlantic flight and was packing in a hurry.”

“Brittney confirmed that she had a doctor’s prescription for the use of medical cannabis and that in the USA medical cannabis is quite a popular treatment among professional athletes. She emphasized that she never planned to bring it to Russia and use it. She also told the court that Ekaterinburg became her second home, and she has always enjoyed her time in Russia,” Blagovolina added.

11:02 a.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Griner says she had no intention of smuggling drugs to Russia

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Chris Liakos

WNBA star Brittney Griner said during her testimony in a Russian courtroom that she had no intention of smuggling drugs to Russia and that she was aware of the Russian drug laws.

“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bags,” Griner said, responding to a question from the defense.

Griner stated she had no intention of breaking the Russian law and that she was in a rush “stress packing.”

Asked how she got those cartridges in the US, Griner said she used her medical permit document issued in Arizona to buy marijuana for medical purposes from a pharmacy.

Griner said she had such a bad knee injury that she spent four months in a wheelchair. She said she used medical marijuana when her knee and ankle joint were inflamed. Griner added she never uses it before tournaments, as it may lead to disqualification.

“No, I would never risk that. I never wanted to hurt my team,” Griner said.

Wednesday’s hearing at the Khimki regional court has ended. The next hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Moscow time (3 a.m. ET) on Tuesday.

5:56 p.m. ET, July 27, 2022

Ukraine accuses Russia of using Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as a fortress

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A Russian serviceman guards in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, Ukraine, on May 1.
A Russian serviceman guards in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, Ukraine, on May 1. (AP)

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, Dmytro Orlov, has accused Russian soldiers of using the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant as a fortress from which to fire from.

“The occupiers began using heavy weapons near the Zaporizhzhia NPP, in residential areas. This situation has been observed during the last week. The occupiers are shelling the opposite coast of the river, the city of Nikopol,” Orlov told Ukrainian broadcaster Espreso TV. “They know very well that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will not respond to these attacks, as they can damage the nuclear power plant.”

 “Therefore, the occupiers use the Zaporizhzhia NPP as a fortress,” he added.

Orlov is not inside Enerhodar, as the city has been under Russian occupation since the early days of the war, but says he remains in close communication with residents inside the city.

“The occupiers are using NPP workers and locals as hostages,” he said. “People are kidnapped for the purpose of obtaining money or other benefits. People are kept in basements.”