Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
Ukrainian officials say battles continue around Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, as Russian forces make incremental gains in the area. At least one person was killed on Wednesday after a two-story hotel was partially destroyed in the shelling. In the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the mayor said two Russian missiles hit the city's industrial district.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are targeting the key Antonivskyi Bridge that is used to reinforce and resupply occupying Russian forces in southern Ukraine, according to officials. Moscow is deploying additional forces to its positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the southern part of the country, according to Ukrainian officials and videos posted on social media that were geolocated by CNN.
Here's what else to know:
- Russian troops wounded or killed: United States House lawmakers who attended a classified briefing Wednesday on Ukraine said Biden administration officials informed them that more than 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded during the war on Ukraine. Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and recently visited Ukraine, told CNN that the conversation in the briefing included "what more we can and should be doing for the Ukrainians, literally in the next three to six weeks, very urgently." Lawmakers were also told that the Russian military is fatigued, but Ukrainians are looking for additional reinforcements as they aim to launch a counteroffensive in the south before the winter.
- Western assistance: The Ukraine's national security adviser said the country used some of the equipment and weapons donated by the US and other western countries to target the Antonivskyi bridge, in the Kherson region. 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.
- Possible release of Americans: 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 US 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. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the US presented a "substantial proposal" to Moscow "weeks ago" for Whelan and Griner, who are classified as wrongfully detained. Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Blinken said Biden was "directly involved" and signed off on the proposal. Blinken did not directly confirm Bout was part of the deal, saying he "can't and won't get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks now." The top US diplomat said he intended to discuss the matter on an expected call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week — his first conversation with his counterpart since the war in Ukraine began.
- Reduced gas supplies to Europe: The Russian energy giant Gazprom has imposed a further cut on gas flows to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of maximum capacity, German network operator Gascade said in a statement Wednesday. The Russian state-owned energy company said on Monday that gas flows would be reduced as it shuts down a turbine for repairs, but EU officials said the decision was "politically motivated."
- Zelensky's TV interview: In their first joint international TV interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska told Britain’s TalkTV host Piers Morgan that their marriage had gotten stronger thanks to the challenges presented by the war. Zelensky also said he hopes the next British prime minister is a strong ally to Ukraine in light of Boris Johnson's resignation.
United States House lawmakers who attended a classified briefing Wednesday on Ukraine said Biden administration officials informed them that more than 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded during the war on Ukraine. The briefing also said the Russian military is fatigued, but Ukrainians are looking for additional reinforcements as they aim to launch a counteroffensive in the south before the winter.
“We were briefed that over 75,000 Russians have either been killed or wounded, which is huge, you've got incredible amounts of investment in their land forces, over 80% of their land forces are bogged down, and they're tired,” Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and recently visited Ukraine, told CNN. “But they’re still the Russian military.”
US and Western officials have said in recent weeks that the next few weeks of war will be crucial, because the Ukrainians are going to try to mount a major counteroffensive in the south. Richard Moore, the head of the UK's secret intelligence service, MI6, said last week at the Aspen Security Forum that he believes the Russians will begin to lose steam in the coming weeks because they are running out of manpower. US and western officials believe Ukraine will aim to take back the southern city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russia since March.
“The sort of main conversation in the briefing was, you know, what more we can and should be doing for the Ukrainians, literally in the next three to six weeks, very urgently. Ukrainians want to go to the south and do operations in the south. And we want them to be as successful as possible,” Slotkin said.
“I think that what we heard very firmly from President Zelensky and reinforced today is that the Ukrainians really want to hit Russia in the teeth a few times before the winter comes, put them in the best position possible, particularly hitting them down south," Slotkin added.
During the briefing, Slotkin said there was bipartisan support for sending Ukraine long-range missiles, known as ATACMS, that can strike as far as 180 miles away (more than 280 kilometers). The Ukrainians have been urging the US to provide these systems for months because the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) can only strike distances of around 49 miles (more than 78 kilometers).
But US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated last week at the Aspen Security Forum that the US would not be providing the ATACMS because they could be used to strike into Russian territory, which would escalate the war even further.
The US Senate will also get its own briefing on Ukraine. It was originally scheduled for today but had to be rescheduled.
The UK government has sanctioned British blogger Graham Phillips over his content that “destabilizes” Ukraine, according to the British Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. He was added to the UK sanctions list on Monday, according to the Foreign Office.
The British Foreign Office said Phillips, “is a video blogger who has produced and published media content that supports and promotes actions and policies which destabilize Ukraine and undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or independence of Ukraine.”
Phillips has been placed under an assets freeze by the UK government, and according to the public UK government sanctions list, he is the only British national sanctioned in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a video posted on YouTube on April 19, Phillips questions captured British national Aiden Aslin, who had been fighting with Ukrainian forces in Mariupol. On camera, Aslin says he is not speaking under duress but is handcuffed during the video.
YouTube removed the video. At the time of writing, parent company Google had not provided a statement to CNN on the removal of the video.
On April 20 this year, British MP Robert Jenrick, who represents Aslin’s constituency in the UK, criticized Phillip’s video of Aslin in Parliament, describing it as a “flagrant breach of the Geneva conventions.”
“Treating any prisoner of war in this manner is illegal and the interviewer Graham Phillips is in danger of prosecution for war crimes. And that any online platform, such as YouTube, that hosts propaganda videos of this kind should take them down immediately,” he said.
In the video, Phillips refers to Aslin as a "mercenary" rather than a prisoner of war.
In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said of Aslin, “I understand that he had been serving in the Ukrainian forces for some time and his situation was very different from that of a mercenary.”
Phillips previously worked as a contributor for state-owned broadcaster RT in Ukraine and his videos typically present a pro-Russian view on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
More background: Responding to the UK government’s sanctions, Phillips said on Telegram on July 26, “It’s pretty Kafka-esque in as much as I’ve not had any chance to defend myself against the charges against me which led to the punishment.”
“But there are no real charges against me which led to the punishment so nothing to defend myself against,” he added, “Just that the British government don’t like my work.”
On Wednesday, Phillips said the sanctions had resulted in authorities, “seizing all my bank accounts without any judicial process,” he said on Telegram.
Later on Wednesday, Phillips said on Telegram that he had submitted an appeal against the British government decision, adding, “So, after a day with a lawyer I’ve now submitted an official, 4-page appeal against the absolutely absurd, dangerous, ridiculous decision of the UK government to sanction me. And tomorrow, return to work here in Donbass, as normal, since 2014.”
At the time of writing, Phillips had not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
In a statement released by the UK Foreign Office on June 11 following Aslin's capture by Russian forces in Ukraine, Aslin’s family confirmed that he had been serving as a contracted Marine in the 36th brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The statement added that he has been a Ukrainian resident for four years.
In a statement to the OSCE on July 14, the UK’s Deputy ambassador to the OSCE, Deirdre Brown, said of Aslin and the other Briton he was captured with, “Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin are members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and should be treated as Prisoners of War. They are not mercenaries.”
Following his capture, the Russian-backed authorities in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced Aslin to death for fighting as a “mercenary,” alongside another Briton and a Moroccan citizen.
CNN has reached out to the Luhansk People’s Republic authorities for an update on Aslin’s status. At the time of writing, CNN has not had a response.
Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska told TalkTV that she tries not to think too much about the threat to her, her husband, and her children from the Kremlin because dwelling on the issue would make her “really paranoid.”
“I tried never to think about this numbers of targets because when you think in terms of target number one, target number two – if you think too much into it, then you can become really paranoid,” Zelenska told Piers Morgan in her first joint interview with her husband for international TV.
“I’m trying to push these thoughts away,” she said, adding that all Ukrainians are also targets for Russia.
The first lady said she pushes those thoughts to one side because they could make her scared and “that’s not what we need right now.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden was "directly involved" and signed off on the "substantial proposal" presented to Moscow to try to secure the release of detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
As first reported by CNN, the US government has offered to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of that proposal.
Blinken did not directly confirm Bout was part of the deal, saying he "can't and won't get into any of the details of what we proposed to the Russians over the course of so many weeks now."
He added, "in terms of the President, of course he was not only directly involved, he signs off on any proposal that we make, and certainly when it comes to Americans who are being arbitrarily detained abroad, including in this specific case."
The sign-off from the President is required for any prisoner swaps, and overrules objections from the Department of Justice.
The top US diplomat plans to speak with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the coming days, and said at a news conference Wednesday that his "hope would be that in speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I can advance the efforts to, to bring them home."
"There is in my mind utility in conveying clear, direct messages to the Russians on key priorities for us. And as I mentioned, these include securing the return home of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan," he said.
"We make a judgment in every instance where we think our diplomacy can hopefully advance our interest and values, including direct engagement," Blinken continued.
"We make judgments about when it makes sense to talk about it in public, and as a general proposition, I believe in as much transparency as we possibly can have. And sometimes we make judgments that we’re going to keep conversations quiet. So in this instance, I thought it was important to make clear that on these issues, the detention of our American citizens, the food prices the world is facing because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the plans that Russia now has to pursue the annexation of Ukrainian territory, that our Russian counterparts hear directly from me," he said.
The families of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner were notified by a senior administration official ahead of Secretary Blinken’s announcement that a "substantial proposal" had been put on the table to secure their release from Russia, an official says. Officials will be speaking to their families today and tomorrow as well.
National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby told CNN Wednesday that the Biden administration made “a substantial offer” weeks ago, adding that the “offer has been made, and we certainly hope that that Russia will favorably engage on it, but I don’t want to get into more detail about that.”
Kirby told reporters during the White House press briefing that Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Josh Geltzer spoke earlier today with the Griner and Whelan families ahead of Blinken’s announcement of the proposed prisoner swap.
Pressed Wednesday on if, in absence of favorable engagement from Russia, the President’s national security team thinks Biden may have to make the offer directly, Kirby told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins “I think we're making it clear across the national security team that we're serious about securing that release — I don't have any conversations to speak about, or announcements on the President's behalf. We believe that this is a serious proposal, and we want the Russians to take it seriously as well.”
He emphasized that the administration was disinclined to offer more details on the proposed prisoner swap, telling reporters, “I'm sure you can all understand that it's not going to help us get them home by negotiating in public with y'all, so I'm not going to have any more details, but I will say that the President and his team are willing to take extraordinary steps to bring our people home, as we've demonstrated with Trevor Reed, and that's what we're doing right here, it's actively happening now.”
CNN's Kaitlan Collins and DJ Judd contributed reporting to this post.
Ukraine is “very grateful” for an increase in deliveries of Western military aid over the past month, the country’s national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov tweeted on Wednesday
“Over the past month, there has been a strong intensification of military assistance from our partners, we are very grateful to them for this,” Danilov wrote.
The Ukrainian National Security went on to say his country’s forces had used some of that equipment to target the Antonivskyi bridge, in the Kherson region, an important supply artery for Russian forces stationed west of the Dnieper river.
“The destruction of the [Antonivskyi] bridge shows how delicately modern military equipment works — the enemy trembles, and partners are delighted at how quickly and efficiently our military has mastered it,” Danilov said, adding that Russia has been moving “troops in the Kherson direction.”
Analysts have suggested Russia has been fortifying it’s positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in advance of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“This war will result in the decolonization of the Russian federation,” Danilov also said.
The United States expects Moscow-installed leaders in Ukraine to hold sham referenda with the goal of annexing parts of Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, adding that the US "must and we will act quickly to make clear to Russia that these tactics will not work."
"Russia installed leaders will hold sham referendums to manufacture the fiction that the people in those places want to join Russia. Then they'll use those false votes to claim that the annexation of these regions is legitimate," Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC.
The top US diplomat said that "annexation by force of the territory of a sovereign and independent country is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter."
"Members of the international community that have committed to uphold the charter and international law, have a responsibility to denounce these plans by the Russian government and to make clear they will never recognize these illegal acts," he said. "Otherwise, no one can claim to be surprised when Russia follows through on its plans or if other countries follow suit in the future."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska sat down with Britain’s TalkTV host Piers Morgan in their first joint international TV interview, which will air Wednesday.
They discussed the United States’ and Britain’s support for Ukraine and how the war has affected their marriage, according to preview clips shared on Twitter by TalkTV and Piers Morgan.
Zelensky said he his keen on US President Joe Biden visiting Ukraine as this would send “the strongest signal in support of Ukraine.”
“I believe this would be a great signal, a big signal. Everyone sees Ukraine’s attitude toward the US. This would be highest support,” Zelensky told Morgan in a preview clip.
Asked whether he had a message for the next British prime minister, Zelensky said in a separate preview clip that he would be happy to cooperate closely and maintain the close relationship with the UK that Ukraine benefitted from under now-caretaker Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership. The interview content was translated from Ukrainian by TalkTV.
"Whoever is the leader, the highest level of support will be provided from the Ukraine," Zelensky said. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former finance minister Rishi Sunak are vying to become the next Conservative party leader and prime minister.
Zelensky also said he had “no right to play in politics inside the UK” when asked about whether he would support a potential campaign to get Boris Johnson back into office. However, Zelensky said Johnson has been a “great friend to Ukraine” and said he hoped he retained some sort of political office.
“I don’t want him to disappear, but the decision is in the hands of the British people,” Zelensky said.
The presidential couple also said their marriage had gotten stronger thanks to the challenges presented by the war.
“I agree with the theory that marriage gets stronger with challenges. I think in our case, it would be the same,” said Zelenska.
“I have only one wife and I am happy,” the president added.
In a moment of levity, the first lady disclosed that she found out her husband would be running for Ukraine’s presidency while watching his presidential campaign announcement on TV on Dec. 31, 2018.
“He forgot [to tell me],” Zelenska said. “I saw his New Year’s address and found out he was actually running!” she added.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated when the interview would air.