July 29, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Sana Noor Haq and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:05 a.m. ET, August 1, 2022
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6:11 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

EU foreign affairs official "appalled" by reports of Russia killing dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war

From CNN’s Larry Register and Jorge Engels

An image taken from video shows a destroyed barrack at a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, on Friday, July 29
An image taken from video shows a destroyed barrack at a prison in Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, eastern Ukraine, on Friday, July 29 (AP)

Josep Borrell, who is the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said on Twitter that he is “appalled by reports of Russia killing dozens" of Ukrainian prisoners of war who surrendered and were registered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

He added in the tweet the "EU condemns in the strongest possible terms atrocities committed by Russia.”

In a full statement released by the European External Action Service, Borrell said “Russia’s ongoing illegitimate and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine and its people brings further horrific atrocities day by day.”

“Today in Olenivka, in eastern Ukraine, Russia is reported to have killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, including defenders of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, who surrendered to Russia, were registered by the ICRC in May and were in Russia’s legal protection under international humanitarian law. Evidence in form of appalling video footage has been widely shared on pro-Kremlin social networks today, in which Russian soldiers commit a heinous atrocity against a Ukrainian prisoner of war," Borrell said in the statement.

He also said in the statement "the perpetrators of war crimes and other serious violations, as well as the responsible government officials and military representatives, will be held accountable," adding that the EU support measures to "ensure accountability" for human rights violations.

3:52 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Russian foreign minister suggested US should return to "quiet diplomacy" on possible prisoner exchange

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Jorge Engels

During their first known conversation since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “strongly suggested” to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken the United States should return to a mode of “quiet diplomacy” regarding a possible prisoner exchange “without speculative information stuffing,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.

At a press conference Friday, Blinken said he spoke with Lavrov. The call lasted for about 25 minutes, a senior state department official said. Blinken said he had “pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”

That proposal includes an offer to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, CNN reported earlier this week.         

On the subject of “ongoing special military operation” in Ukraine, Lavrov told Blinken that Russia’s “goals and objectives will be fully implemented,” the foreign ministry’s statement read.

“In this context, the attention of the Secretary of State was drawn to the fact that the ongoing pumping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the national battalions with American and NATO weapons, which are widely used against the civilian population, only prolongs the agony of the regime in Kyiv, prolonging the conflict and multiplying the victims,” the statement added.

The two men also spoke “in detail” about the ongoing global food security crisis, according to the Russian statement.

“Blinken was informed about the details of the "package" agreement signed on July 22 in Istanbul, on the transportation of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports and on the promotion of Russian exports of food and fertilizers. The Minister emphasized that the situation is complicated by US sanctions, and US promises to provide appropriate exemptions for Russian food supplies have not yet been fulfilled. The unacceptability of the use of this problem by the 'collective West' in their geopolitical interests was indicated,” the statement added. 

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

3:57 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Russia asked for a convicted murderer to be added to the proposed swap to release Americans, sources say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Frederik Pleitgen

Russian government officials requested that a former colonel from the country's domestic spy agency who was convicted of murder in Germany last year be added to the US' proposed swap of a notorious arms dealer for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.

The Russians communicated the request to the US earlier this month through an informal backchannel used by the spy agency, known as the FSB, that they wanted Vadim Krasikov released in addition to Viktor Bout, the sources said. Krasikov was convicted in December of murdering a former Chechen fighter, Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, in Berlin's Kleiner Tiergarten in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison. 

The request was seen as problematic for several reasons, the sources told CNN, among them that Krasikov remains in German custody. As such, and because the request was not communicated formally but rather through the FSB backchannel, the US government did not view it as a legitimate counter to the US' offer which was first revealed by CNN on Wednesday.

But underscoring how determined the Biden administration has been to get Griner and Whelan back to the US, US officials did make quiet inquiries to the Germans about whether they might be willing to include Krasikov in the trade, a senior German government source told CNN. A US official characterized the outreach as a status check on Krasikov.  

The conversations were never elevated to the top levels of the German government and including Krasikov in a potential trade has not been seriously considered, the German source said. But the previously unreported discussions reveal that Russian officials have at least somewhat engaged with the US' proposal.  

While the request was not made through formal channels, the FSB has an expansive remit and is a core part of the Russian security apparatus. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously worked for its powerful predecessor, the KGB.  

Asked for comment, a State Department official told CNN, "In order to preserve the best opportunity for a successful outcome, we're not going to comment publicly on any speculation."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the US had put "a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago" to facilitate Griner and Whelan's release. He added that "our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal."

Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday about the proposed swap. They had a "frank and direct conversation" Blinken said.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed to this reporting.

Read more here.

Watch CNN's Fred Pleitgen and Natasha Bertrand break down their new reporting:

1:58 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Ukraine says it repelled Russian attempts at storming several Donetsk districts

From CNN's Kostan Nechyporenko

Ukrainian forces they they were able to repel Russian attempts at storming the districts of Soledar, Vershy and Smirhirya in the Donetsk region .

“The occupiers again tried to storm the Soledar, Vershyn and Semihirya districts. And again, without success — they suffered losses and left,” the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in an update on Friday evening. “Our soldiers decisively suppressed all offensive and assault actions of the occupiers in the Avdiivka, Kamianka, Krasnohorivka and Pisky areas.”

Ukrainian forces reported intense shelling across most of the Eastern frontline but no advances from Russian forces. Some Russian reconnaissance groups were neutralized in the Shchurivka area and in the vicinity of Verkhnokamyanske. In both cases, the General Staff says Ukrainian forces were able to neutralize the groups. 

The Ukrainian military also said that across the northern frontlines, near Kharkiv, and southern flank, in the Kherson and Zaphorizhzhia, Russian forces focused on maintaining their positions. 

“The enemy's main efforts are focused on preventing the advance of our troops. The enemy fears and supports the high intensity of UAV reconnaissance,” the General Staff said. 

1:59 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

US Secretary of State Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov about prisoner swap proposal

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington on Friday, July 29.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington on Friday, July 29. (Tom Brenner/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, the top US diplomat said at a press conference Friday.

He said it was "a frank and direct conversation."

This is the first time the two have spoken since the war in Ukraine began in late February.

started shortly after 12:00pm/eastern and lasted for about 25 mins, a senior state department official said. 

"I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner," Blinken said. 

That proposal includes an offer to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, CNN reported earlier this week.

Blinken would not say whether he thought Moscow was more likely to move on a deal to free the two Americans held by Russia, nor would he say how Lavrov responded to the top US diplomat's push to accept that "significant" proposal that was presented weeks ago.

"I can't give you an assessment of whether I think things are any more or less likely," Blinken said at a press conference Friday, but noted he thought it was important that Lavrov hear directly from him on the matter. 

"I raised exactly what I said I would raise with him," Blinken added, referencing his announcement on Wednesday that he intended to speak with his Russian counterpart about the detainee proposal, the grain deal and the major concerns about further Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine.

The top US diplomat underscored that the US has seen "no willingness" on the part of Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine.  

Blinken also said he also discussed the expectation that the deal to allow Ukrainian grain to transit safely through the Black Sea be allowed to enter into force.

"We're looking to see that move forward as soon as possible," Blinken said Friday.

He also stressed that the "world will not recognize annexations" and "will impose additional significant costs on Russia if it moves forward with its plans."

The call started shortly after 12 p.m. ET and lasted for about 25 mins, a senior State Department official said. 

11:34 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Russia's gold smuggling is helping fuel Putin's war

From CNN's Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis, Tamara Qiblawi, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Mohammed Abo Al Gheit and Darya Tarasova

Days after Moscow launched its bloody war on Ukraine, a Russian cargo plane stood on a Khartoum runway, a strip of tarmac surrounded by red-orange sand. The aircraft’s manifest stated it was loaded with cookies. Sudan rarely, if ever, exports cookies.

A heated debate transpired between officials in a back office of Khartoum International Airport. They feared that inspecting the plane would vex the country’s increasingly pro-Russian military leadership. Multiple previous attempts to intercept suspicious Russian carriers had been stopped. Ultimately, however, the officials decided to board the plane.

Inside the hold, colorful boxes of cookies stretched out before them. Hidden just beneath were wooden crates of Sudan’s most precious resource. Gold. Roughly one ton of it.

This incident in February – recounted by multiple official Sudanese sources to CNN – is one of at least 16 known Russian gold smuggling flights out of Sudan, Africa’s third-largest producer of the precious metal, over the last year and a half.

Multiple interviews with high-level Sudanese and US officials and troves of documents reviewed by CNN paint a picture of an elaborate Russian scheme to plunder Sudan’s riches in a bid to fortify Russia against increasingly robust Western sanctions and to buttress Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine.

The evidence also suggests that Russia has colluded with Sudan’s beleaguered military leadership, enabling billions of dollars in gold to bypass the Sudanese state and to deprive the poverty-stricken country of hundreds of millions in state revenue.

In exchange, Russia has lent powerful political and military backing to Sudan’s increasingly unpopular military leadership as it violently quashes the country’s pro-democracy movement.

Read more from CNN's investigation:

2:19 p.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Ukraine's prosecutor's office launches investigation into strike on Olenivka prison

From Yulia Kesaieva

Inside Olenivka prison following the shelling in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on July 29.
Inside Olenivka prison following the shelling in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on July 29. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has launched an investigation into a purported strike on Olenivka prison, under the violation of the laws and customs of war outlined in the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Russian and Ukrainian authorities on Friday traded accusations over the strike, which the separatist-controlled and self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said resulted in the death of at least 53 people.

According to the prosecutor’s office, pre-trial preliminary data shows “the occupying state struck the territory of penal colony No. 120 in the temporarily occupied Olenivka village of Volnovakha district of Donetsk region.”

“It was established that in this colony, the occupiers organized a place of detention, where civilians and prisoners of war of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are illegally detained,” the statement added. “A pre-trial investigation is ongoing.”

CNN could not immediately verify the allegations of the strike. Brief clips of video aired on Russian networks and by social media channels in Donetsk show extensive destruction to a building and several bodies.

CNN has analyzed social media videos and footage from pro-Russian broadcasters of the strike in Olenivka and has been able to geo-locate it to an industrial area 3 kilometers (about 1.8 miles) outside of the town. 

The Olenivka prison has been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suspended former Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova. On Wednesday, Ukrainian Parliament approved a resolution to appoint lawmaker Andriy Kostin as the country’s new prosecutor general.

9:33 a.m. ET, July 29, 2022

Ukraine expects to get confirmed route from UN for grain exports on Friday

From CNN's Chris Liakos and Anastasia Graham-Yooll

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, center right, visits the port of Odesa in Odesa, Ukraine on July 29.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, center right, visits the port of Odesa in Odesa, Ukraine on July 29. (Ukrainian Presidency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The United Nations is expected to announce an agreed-upon route for grain shipments via the Black Sea on Friday.

Although a deal was brokered last week between Ukraine and Russia to allow urgent grain to be exported, no ship has left so far, despite hopes to resume shipments as early as this week.

“Nearly all technical issues have been agreed. Today, we are receiving a confirmation from the UN regarding a proposed route that our vessels can follow in the Black Sea towards Bosphorus strait. And we are ready to start after that. I hope, by the end of the week, first vessels can leave our ports,” Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov told journalists during a news conference Friday, adding that Ukraine has done “200%” on its part for grain shipments to resume. 

Asked whether there would be shipments on Friday, Kubrakov said, “Let’s see. We are waiting until the end of this week, but it depends on how [the] UN team will work and facilitate.” 

“The United Nations is committed to remain fully involved and counts on the parties to really effectively comply with the agreement,” UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Oslat Lubrani told reporters, saying that UN Secretary General António Guterres has been personally involved “day and night” in the negotiations.  

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink told journalists that “the United States and the rest of the world will look to Russia to stand up and implement its agreements.” 

The UK’s Ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons said that “the ball is in Russia’s court.”

“They are still signing off on the route that will be taken. The Ukrainians have put their ideas together, the Russians have other ideas, and the UN is having to mediate it. That’s what we are waiting on,” Simmons said.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, center, speaks during a press conference with G7 ambassadors and UN representatives at the Odesa Sea Port, in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 29.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, center, speaks during a press conference with G7 ambassadors and UN representatives at the Odesa Sea Port, in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 29. (David Goldman/AP)

Some background: Turkey and the UN brokered the deal between Ukraine and Russia last week, which was aimed at easing a global food crisis sparked by the war.

The breakthrough followed months of negotiations, and promises to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds -- some of Ukraine's most important exports.

Russia has so far been blocking maritime access to those ports, meaning that millions of tons of Ukrainian grain has not been exported to the many countries that rely on it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the G7 ambassadors to Ukraine gathered at the Chornomorsk port near Odesa earlier Friday in a show of unity following an agreement to allow the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports. 

“It is important for us to remain the guarantor of world food security. As someone blocks the Black Sea and takes life in other countries, we allow people to survive,” Zelensky said on his Telegram account sharing pictures of the event.

CNN's Nic Robertson, Kareem Khadder, Rob Picheta, Jomana Karadsheh, Radina Gigova and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.