Russian strike in Mykolaiv kills five people and leaves seven injured
From Anastasia Graham-Yooll
A Russian strike near a bus stop killed five people and injured seven early Friday, according to Ukrainian officials.
Emergency services found 12 people on the ground, Vitaliy Kim, head of Mykolaiv regional military administration, said.
Close to the front lines in neighboring Kherson, Mykolaiv has been struck almost every night for the last month.
The bombardment follows attacks on the southern city early Thursday, when "powerful explosions" were heard, according to the city's mayor Oleksandr Senkevych.
3:53 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
Russia is "failing on the ground" in Ukraine, says UK defense minister
From CNN's Joseph Ataman in London
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace claimed Friday that the "Russians are failing on the ground in many areas" in Ukraine.
“Putin’s plan A, B and C have failed and he may look to plan D,” Wallace said of the Russian invasion in an interview with Sky News.
He added that he believed the fight against Russia to be a "noble cause," characterizing the war as a "fascist state invading Ukraine."
Wallace, who has overseen British efforts to equip Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, armored vehicles and ammunition, said "everyone" believes the invasion to be "wrong" and "brutal."
3:34 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
Russian shelling continues in frontline Donetsk cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut
From CNN's Chris Liakos, Tim Lister and Josh Pennington
Parts of the eastern Donetsk region came under heavy Russian shelling Friday, according to local officials.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said on Telegram Friday that it was a “restless night” in Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and the nearby towns of Pokrovsk and Krasnohorivka.
At least four people have been killed and five injured in Bakhmut since Thursday, Kyrylenko said. The city was hit by another airstrike overnight, damaging seven high-rise buildings and 27 houses, he added.
Five people were also injured by shelling in Pokrovsk, Kyrylenko said..
Sloviansk is partially out of power after it came under Russian shelling on Friday morning, with at least one injured, said Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Liakh.
“The morning of Friday, July 29, was not good for Sloviansk. The city was shelled again,” Liakh said on Facebook, adding that many high-rise buildings and houses had been damaged by what was "presumably a rocket attack" in the city's residential northern district.
Russian forces have been trying to advance west through Donetsk region for several weeks, but have so far made only incremental progress.
2:28 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
Ukraine's Kharkiv hit by Russian shelling, mayor says
From CNN's Chris Liakos
The center of Kharkiv was struck twice in the early hours of Friday, according to the northeastern city's Mayor Ihor Terekhov.
In a Telegram post, Terekhov said there were strikes around 4:09 a.m. at a two-story building and an educational institution.
The State Emergency Service is at the scene “sorting out the rubble, looking for people under them," Terekhov said. There are no reports of casualties or deaths so far.
Kharkiv has continued to come under attack by Russian forces. On Thursday, city officials said two S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles had hit the region. On Wednesday, Terekhov said the city’s industrial district was struck.
2:10 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
Lavrov will "pay attention" to Blinken's call request when "time permits," Russian state media reports
From CNN's Uliana Pavlova Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will "pay attention" to the US State Department's request to speak with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when "time permits," a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, according to state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
"Now he has a busy schedule with international contacts: the SCO Ministerial Council in Tashkent, bilateral meetings," said spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
The US State Department said earlier that Russia had "acknowledged" the request from the United States for a call between Blinken and Lavrov, and the two countries have been going “back and forth” on the request.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov is in the midst of travel so I don’t have any update to provide in terms of when they may be able to connect,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “But we continue to discuss that in the appropriate channels.”
Prisoner swap: Price reiterated that Blinken planned to use the call to follow up on the “substantial proposal” to free Americans detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, which CNN first reported is a proposed prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Price on Thursday suggested that Moscow has not meaningfully engaged on the proposal.
"The fact that, now several weeks later, we are where we are, I think you can read into that as being a reflection of the fact that this has not moved to the extent we would like," Price said.
Price noted that the deal has been conveyed to Russia "repeatedly" and "directly" over the course of several weeks, and he reiterated that Blinken intended to raise it in an expected call with Lavrov.
CNN reported earlier Thursday that Biden administration officials are frustrated that Moscow has yet to respond in a meaningful way to the proposal. Officials told CNN that they felt Moscow would jump at the offer, but it is now almost August and they have not received a substantive response.
Asked if the Russians had presented any counter-proposals and whether the US was prepared to add more to the deal on the table, Price said he would not "negotiate in public."
The spokesperson said the "one single overriding interest" is the release of Griner and Whelan, noting they "are going to be careful in everything we do, and everything we say not to run afoul of that overriding priority, not to do anything, not to say anything that might set back that ultimate goal."
2:40 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
Ukraine says Syrian-owned ship docked in Lebanon carries stolen grain
From CNN's Vasco Cotovio
The Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon has called on authorities to clarify the conditions under which a Syrian ship — which Ukraine claims is carrying stolen barley — was allowed to dock in Tripoli.
The Syrian vessel, the Laodicea, belongs to state shipping company SYRIAMAR and was photographed passing through the Bosporus strait into the Mediterranean on July 23.
Both the company and the vessel were sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2015.
In a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash “drew the attention of the President of the Republic to the fact that a Syrian ship entered the sea port of Tripoli on July 27, 2022 carrying barley exported from the occupied territories in the port of Fyudosia,” the embassy said in a readout posted on Facebook on Thursday.
“He also expressed his hope that measures will be taken to clarify the conditions of this ship's docking in Lebanese territorial waters,” the embassy added. “It has also been confirmed that this incident can damage bilateral relationships.”
The Laodicea was photographed transitioning through the Bosporus on July 23.
Some background: Ukraine has repeatedly said that Russia has taken grain from the country to ports around the Middle East. In May, satellite images appeared to show two Russia-flagged bulk carrier ships docking and loading up with what was believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Last week, Ukraine and Russia agreed a deal to allow the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Ministers from both countries signed the agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul.
12:40 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
UN aid chief says procedures for safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports still being worked out
From CNN's Amy Cassidy
The United Nations had been hoping for the first ship to leave Ukraine’s Odesa port with grain bound for global markets on Thursday, but procedural details for safe passage are still being worked out, the organization's chief aid coordinator said.
Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, helped broker a deal between Kyiv and Moscow — signed in Istanbul — to facilitate vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports to avoid a global hunger crisis.
“Getting the procedures is an essential precondition to safe movements of ships. So it's no surprise that we haven't seen a ship move yet," he told reporters in New York on Thursday. “We had been hoping to see that happen, even today or tomorrow. But we can only see that happen safely," he said.
He noted that the parties need to get the exact location of safe passage corridors “absolutely nailed down,” adding “I think we'll see this very quickly.”
“It has to do with what are the exact coordinates of the channels,” he continued. “There's a general reference in the agreement. We need exact coordinates of the channels.”
Even still, Griffiths hailed the agreement, which swiftly saw the opening of a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, as “the most rapid stand up of an operation that I can think of” in his experience at the UN.
Russia’s attack on Odesa on Saturday, the day after the deal was signed, was “a reminder that we had no time to waste,” he said.
Also delaying the exports is the commercial side of the operation, as there is “a lot of detail that's necessary to share” with shipping and insurance companies, he added.
“This is as much about price as it is about availability of food [...] if ships move without the right procedures to approving those movements, then they are at risk. And the commercial sector would be right not to wish to move," Griffiths said. “My information on the commercial viability of it from colleagues in Istanbul is consistently that there is an appetite for this and there is at a reasonable price."
2:16 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022
US State Department singles out Russian troll farm, offers $10 million for info on election interference
From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Sean Lyngaas
The State Department on Thursday announced a reward of up to $10 million for knowledge on foreign attempts to interfere in US elections and sought information on the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm known for meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The department singled out the IRA, its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin — who is a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — "and linked Russian entities and associates for their engagement in U.S. election interference."
Both the IRA and Prigozhin — nicknamed "Putin's chef" — are sanctioned in the US. The troll farm used Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to attempt to sow discord and interfere in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Justice Department.
The State Department appealed for "information on foreign interference in U.S. elections" in its announcement, which comes just three months before Americans head to the polls for the midterm vote.