Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

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Zelenskyy watched wife’s speech to U.S. Congress from Kyiv

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy watched in Kyiv the live broadcast of the speech by First Lady Olena Zelenska in the US Congress, which took place as part of her visit to the United States of America, July 20, 2002.

Source: The Office of the President of Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy watched from Kyiv as his wife delivered remarks to the U.S. Congress.

Olena Zelenska, the first wife of a foreign leader to speak in the U.S. Capitol, urged lawmakers to provide more U.S.-made arms to Ukraine.

Zelenska began her 15-minute address with a photo presentation of Ukrainian children killed by Russian missile strikes and shelling across the country.

“I’m asking for air defense systems in order for rockets not to kill,” Zelenska said before a backdrop of graphic and disturbing images from devastated Ukrainian streets.

“The First Lady noted the contribution of every American family, Congress, and President Joseph Biden to Ukraine’s ability to resist the enemy and protect the lives of millions of Ukrainian citizens,” according to a statement from Zelenskyy’s office.

— Amanda Macias

Blinken speaks with Lithuanian counterpart

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Lithuanian counterpart following the country’s decision to approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids.

“Lithuania continues to be a stalwart U.S. partner holding Russia accountable for its war in Ukraine,” Blinken wrote in a tweet.

All 30 NATO members must approve a country’s bid for it to be accepted into the alliance.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements to be NATO members. Some of the requirements include having a functioning democratic political system, a willingness to provide economic transparency and the ability to make military contributions to alliance missions.

In May, both nations began the formal process of applying to the military alliance.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine’s first lady tells NBC News that her son wants to be a soldier when he grows up

Ukraine’s first lady told NBC News that her son wants to be a soldier when he grows up, during a visit to the U.S. as the country approaches 150 days of war with Russia.

“He wants to be a soldier,” Olena Zelenska told NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander in an exclusive interview.

“What does that make you think as a mom?” asked Alexander in a follow-up question.

“You know before the war my son used to go to the folk dance ensemble. He played piano, he learned English. He of course did sports club,” Zelenska said.

“Now I can’t bring him back to doing arts and humanities. The only thing he wants to do is martial arts and how to use a rifle and that’s what I really want to ensure is that the childhood of my son is given back to him and that he enjoys his life to the fullest,” she added.

The full interview is set to air on NBC Nightly News.

— Amanda Macias

U.S.-supplied weapons arrive to the battlefield in Ukraine in a little over a week, Pentagon says

Ukraine was already stocking up on U.S.-made Javelins before Russia invaded. Here a group of Ukrainian servicemen take a shipment of Javelins in early February, as Russia positioned troops on Ukraine’s border.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The Pentagon said that the U.S.-supplied weapons for Ukraine take on average a little over a week before they are deployed to the battlefield.

“When the president signs the authorization to provide weapons or ammunition to Ukrainians these items began moving within days, the average is about 48 to 72 hours,” said U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reporters at the Pentagon.

“Just a week or so later on the frontline,” he added.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said earlier on Wednesday that the U.S. would send an additional four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine from the Pentagon’s own arsenal.

The upcoming military aid package, the 16th such installment, brings the U.S. commitment to about $8 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

— Amanda Macias

Donbas region is ‘not lost yet’ to the Russians as Ukraine puts up stiff resistance, Pentagon says

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley (R) participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon May 23, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

The Pentagon said Wednesday that Ukraine has not yet lost the Donbas to Russia after weeks of intense fighting.

“It’s very intense,” U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon. “A lot of violence, tens of thousands of artillery rounds every 24-hour period and lots of casualties on both sides, lots of destruction of villages,” he added.

Milley said that Russia has only advanced about 10 miles in the past three months.

“It’s not lost yet. Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine graft concerns resurface as Russia war goes on

A screen shot showing the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky during his televised address where he said that if the Russian threat to shipping in the Black Sea can be removed, this will alleviate the severity of the global food crisis.

Igor Golovniov | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s dismissal of senior officials is casting an inconvenient light on an issue that the Biden administration has largely ignored since the outbreak of war with Russia: Ukraine’s history of rampant corruption and shaky governance.

As it presses ahead with providing tens of billions of dollars in military, economic and direct financial support aid to Ukraine and encourages its allies to do the same, the Biden administration is now once again grappling with longstanding worries about Ukraine’s suitability as a recipient of massive infusions of American aid.

Those issues, which date back decades and were not an insignificant part of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment, had been largely pushed to the back burner in the immediate run-up to Russia’s invasion and during the first months of the conflict as the U.S. and its partners rallied to Ukraine’s defense.

But Zelenskyy’s weekend firings of his top prosecutor, intelligence chief and other senior officials have resurfaced those concerns and may have inadvertently given fresh attention to allegations of high-level corruption in Kyiv made by one outspoken U.S. lawmaker.

It’s a delicate issue for the Biden administration. With billions in aid flowing to Ukraine, the White House continues to make the case for supporting Zelenskyy’s government to an American public increasingly focused on domestic issues like high gas prices and inflation. High-profile supporters of Ukraine in both parties also want to avoid a backlash that could make it more difficult to pass future aid packages.

— Associated Press

Ukrainian first lady pushes Congress for more weapons in fight against Russia

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska speaks to members of the US Congress about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in the US Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium on July 20, 2022, in Washington, DC.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska urged bipartisan lawmakers to send more weapons to her homeland as it repels Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Zelenska addressed members of Congress from the same room that her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did in March. He appeared virtually, as Russia’s war had just begun.

“I’m asking for something now I would never want to ask,” Zelenska said at the U.S. Capitol. “I’m asking for weapons, weapons that would not be used to wage a war on somebody else’s land, but to protect one’s home and the right to wake up alive in that home.”

Zelenska began her 15-minute address with a photo presentation of Ukrainian children killed by Russian missile strikes and shelling across the country.

“I’m asking for air defense systems in order for rockets not to kill,” Zelenska said before a backdrop of graphic and disturbing images from devastated Ukrainian streets.

— Amanda Macias

A father mourns his son as Russian strike kills three people in Kharkiv

Editor’s Note — The following post depicts graphic images of death in Kharkiv after a Russian missile strike.

A father mourns his teenage son after Russian missile strikes hit Kharkiv, killing three people.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content: A relative knees by the body of a teenager who died in a Russian missile strike at a bus stop in Saltivka, a northern district of the second largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on July 20, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

(EDITORS NOTE: Image depicts death) A father kisses the body of his son who was killed during a shelling attack in Saltivka neighborhood in northern of Kharkiv City, Ukraine, July 20th, 2022. (Photo by Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Narciso Contreras | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

(EDITORS NOTE: Image depicts death) Police assist a father as he mourns in front of the body of his teenager son who was killed during a shelling attack in Saltivka neighborhood in northern of Kharkiv City, Ukraine, July 20th, 2022. (Photo by Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Narciso Contreras | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Funeral workers collect the body of a teenager as his father mourns in front of his body following a shelling attack in Saltivka neighborhood in northern of Kharkiv City, Ukraine, July 20th, 2022. 

Narciso Contreras | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

— Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

U.S. to send four more mobile missile systems to Ukraine

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 65th Field Artillery Brigade fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during a joint live-fire exercise with the Kuwait Land Forces, Jan. 8, 2019, near Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. will send four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, to Ukraine.

“Later this week, we’ll roll out our next presidential drawdown package of weapons, ammunition, and equipment for Ukraine,” Austin said in opening remarks at the fourth Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

“It will include four more HIMARS advanced rocket systems, which the Ukrainians have been using so effectively and which have made such a difference on the battlefield,” Austin said, adding that the next package will bring the total number of HIMARS for Ukraine to 16.

The HIMARS, manufactured by defense giant Lockheed Martin, are designed to shoot a variety of missiles from a mobile 5-ton truck. The official said that U.S. troops will keep training Ukrainian forces on how to use the platform at a location outside Ukraine.

Last week, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said that the HIMARS were used to destroy more than 30 Russian military facilities.

— Amanda Macias

Russia’s objectives in Ukraine could go beyond the Donbas, Russia’s foreign minister warns

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference as he meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Turkey June 8, 2022. 

Umit Bektas | Reuters

If Ukraine receives long-range weapons from Western countries, Moscow could expand the geography and scope of its “special military operation,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

Speaking to Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s English-language news service RT, Lavrov said that Moscow’s aims in Ukraine were still the same as President Vladimir Putin had announced at the start of Russia’s invasion — or “special military operation” as it calls the invasion — but he suggested it could expand.

“The President said very clearly, as you quoted him – denazification, demilitarization in the sense that there are no threats to our security, military threats from the territory of Ukraine, this task remains,” the minister said, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

President Putin initially claimed — falsely — that Moscow’s mission in Ukraine was to “denazify” the government in Kyiv, a claim widely rebuffed by the international community, but then Russia changed tack, saying its main objective was to “liberate” the Donbas, where two pro-Russian, self-proclaimed “republics” — known as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) — are located.

Lavrov said that if the West kept pumping Ukraine with arms, like the U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), then “that means the geographical tasks will extend still further from the current line,” in Donbas, referencing Russian-occupied Kherson in the south, and Zaporizhzhia, both of which lie beyond the Donbas territory in eastern Ukraine.

“Now the geography is different. This is far from being only the DPR and LPR, it is also the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhia region and a number of other territories, and this process continues, and continues consistently and persistently,” Lavrov said.

“We cannot allow the part of Ukraine that Zelenskyy will control or whoever replaces him to have weapons that will pose a direct threat to our territory and the territory of those republics that have declared their independence, those who want their future decide for yourself,” he concluded.

Holly Ellyatt

‘Russia is blackmailing us,’ EU says as it asks member states to ration energy

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference after the College meeting on the ‘Save gas for a safe winter’ package at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 20, 2022.

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

European countries are being asked to curb their consumption of natural gas by at least 15% until next spring, as part of a wider plan to deal with reduced supplies from Russia.

The plan comes as Russia’s energy giant Gazprom claims it cannot fulfill gas contracts with the bloc — a major headache for European nations given they have been so dependent on Russian energy prior to the invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon. And therefore in any event, whether a partial major cut-off of Russian gas or a total cut-off of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference Wednesday.

The EU has been preparing for the eventuality of a total shutdown in gas supplies from Russia in the wake of Moscow’s onslaught in Ukraine. However, the level of preparedness seems to be intensifying as concerns grow that Russia will indeed substantially reduce flows to Europe, or even end them completely.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline — a key transit point of Russian gas to Europe — has been closed to undergo maintenance work until July 21. However, many European officials are skeptical that flows will restart at full capacity. Gazprom said Monday that it cannot fulfill gas contracts with Europe due to unforeseeable circumstances.

Silvia Amaro

Ukrainian brigade claims to have eliminated group of Wagner ‘mercenaries’

A brigade within Ukraine’s armed forces said it has “completely eliminated” a group of Russian personnel from the Wagner private military company, a Russian state-backed paramilitary group that’s widely viewed as a network of mercenaries believed to have close ties to President Putin.

“Once again, while steadily and courageously holding positions on one of the frontiers of the front line, thanks to coordination and skillfulness, the personnel of our brigade completely eliminated a group of Wagner PMC … Once again, we remind the enemy that only death awaits uninvited guests here, and the romance of easy earnings will forever turn into fertilizer for the Ukrainian soil,” the 58th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade named after Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky posted on Facebook, along with images purportedly of Wagner PMC insignia and dead personnel.

A mural praises the Russian Wagner group and its mercenaries fighting in Ukraine on March 30, 2022 in Belgrade, Serbia.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images

Britain’s defense ministry said earlier this week that Russia’s war in Ukraine was being supported by the shadowy Wagner Group, saying it had been brought in to “reinforce front-line forces and to mitigate manning shortfalls and casualties.”

“Wagner has almost certainly played a central role in recent fighting, including the capture of Popasna and Lysyschansk. This fighting has inflicted heavy casualties on the group,” the ministry said Monday.

“Wagner are lowering recruitment standards, hiring convicts and formerly blacklisted individuals. Very limited training is made available to new recruits.”

The Kremlin denies it has any links to the group but the U.K. noted that Yevgeny Prigozhin — the Russian oligarch and close ally of President Vladimir Putin widely alleged to be the de-facto head of Wagner Group — had been made a Hero of the Russian Federation for Wagner’s performance in Luhansk.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian military demine Snake Island … and rescue ‘Ukrainian cat’

The Ukrainian military have carried out demining works, seized enemy ammunition and military equipment and rescued a Ukrainian cat on Snake Island, according to an update from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Telegram.

Snake, or Zmiinyi, Island was recaptured by Ukrainian forces last month with much fanfare as Russian forces evacuated the island which they had seized at the start of their invasion. Snake Island is a strategic outpost in the Black Sea and its recapture was significant for Ukraine both on a strategic and morale front.

Moscow said Russian troops withdrew from Snake Island (pictured here in an image released by the military governor of Odesa) last week as a “goodwill gesture.” Ukraine, however, said Russian forces hastily evacuated after successful military action.

Odessa Military Governor | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The latest report from the Ukrainian military regarding the island said that they had conducted reconnaissance within the area and underground fortifications and that engineering demining works were carried out.

“The samples of enemy ammunition and equipment were revealed and seized, namely guidance and control systems, Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles, man-portable air-defense systems, grenade launchers, flame guns, small arms, warfare records, personal records of Russian soldiers, electronic media,” the report states.

“In addition, the Ukrainian military found and evacuated a Ukrainian cat who spent several months under Russian occupation,” the report added.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian strike on key bridge in occupied Kherson makes Russian forces vulnerable, UK says

A Ukrainian strike on a key bridge in Russian-occupied Kherson in southern Ukraine is a “key vulnerability for Russian forces,” according to the latest intelligence update from Britain’s Ministry of Defense.

Authorities in Russian-occupied Kherson reported that the Antonovskiy bridge over the Dnieper River had been struck by Ukrainian forces on Tuesday, with social media posts showing apparent damage to the bridge’s roadway.

While it’s highly likely that the bridge remains usable, it leaves Russian forces in the region vulnerable to supply obstacles, the ministry noted.

“It is one of only two road crossing points over the Dnieper by which Russia can supply or withdraw its forces in the territory it has occupied west of the river,” the U.K. said.

“This area includes the city of Kherson, which is politically and symbolically important for Russia. The lower reaches of the Dnieper present a natural barrier, with the waterway typically around 1000m wide.”

Control of Dnieper crossings is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of fighting in the region, the U.K. said, noting that “Russia continues to make minimal gains in its Donbas offensive, with Ukrainian forces holding the line.”

Citing Russian-installed regional authorities in Kherson, the Tass news agency said Wednesday that the Antonovskiy bridge in Kherson was badly damaged by Ukrainian shelling and would likely be closed to traffic.

— Holly Ellyatt

Trade official says 140 Finnish companies have trimmed operations in Russia

The logo of Finnish dairy-products exporter Valio seen at the company’s offices in St. Petersburg on August 12, 2014. Over the past few months, 140 Finnish companies have reduced business in Russia to one degree or another, Russian state-owned news agency Ria Novosti reported based on an interview with Anton Loginov, trade representative of the Russian Federation in Helsinki.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

A Russian trade official said 140 Finnish companies have reduced business in Russia over the past few months.

In an interview with Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, Moscow’s trade representative in Helsinki Anton Loginov said some businesses have sold assets, handed over to local management or closed offices. That’s according to a rough Google translation.

Many Western multinational companies have suspended operations in Russia or left the market altogether since Moscow launched its unprovoked war in Ukraine.

Natalie Tham

Russians looking to advance on Bakhmut city in Donetsk

Russian forces are conducting military operations in the area surrounding the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk in order to advance on the city and seize the Vuhlehirska thermal power plant, according to the latest report of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine published on Facebook Wednesday.

The update comes after the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, and surrounding towns, near Bakhmut were shelled on Tuesday.

Firefighters try to put out a garage fire caused by shelling in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on July 19, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

All three cities have strategic and symbolic significance for both Ukraine and Russia, being on or near highways and supply routes in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas, as well as routes toward Kharkiv to the north and the capital Kyiv. The cities have also been fought over since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

The cities are now at the epicenter of fierce battles between Russia and Ukraine as the former look to advance into Donetsk.

Ukrainian emergency service workers and military personnel try to get bodies out of a house that was shelled in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on July 19, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

On Tuesday, shelling from tanks and artillery was recorded around Sloviansk near Dolyna, Krasnopillia, Kostiantynivka, Chepil, Husarivka, and Adamivka, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s General Staff said, while Russian forces “fired tube and rocket artillery on the areas of Kramatorsk, Siversk, Serebrianka, Hryhorivka” and other towns, with fighting continuing.

Holly Ellyatt

Putin says Ukraine has no desire to pursue peace deal, places conditions on grain exports resuming

President Vladimir Putin has said Ukraine does not want to pursue peace deal with Russia and that it did not want to fulfill the conditions of an agreement back in March.

Speaking to reporters during his visit to Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, Putin claimed that talks to reach a peace deal in March during talks in Istanbul had made progress, but that Kyiv had “no desire” to pursue an agreement.

“There were well-known negotiations in Istanbul, when we actually reached an agreement, it only remained to initiate it,” he said, claiming that Russian forces had withdrawn from the area around Kyiv in order to “create these conditions” that would be ripe for a deal but that the government in Kyiv “refused to comply” with the terms of the deal.

“The final result depends, of course, not on the mediators, but on the desire of the contracting parties to fulfill the agreements reached. And we see today that the Kyiv authorities have no such desire,” Putin added.

Ukraine has yet not commented on Putin’s remarks. Preliminary peace talks in March failed to make any breakthrough and Ukraine has said it will not cede any territory to Russia as part of any future deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as Iranian Minister of Petroleum Javad Owji (second from left) looks on during the welcoming ceremony at the airport on July 19, 2022, in Tehran, Iran. Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan arrived in Iran for the summit.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Putin met with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Iran on Tuesday. Syria was on the agenda for the “Astana troika,” Russia and Iran looked to deepen relations, while Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine.

Commenting on the grain talks, Putin said Russia is willing to help Ukrainian grain exports resume but only if restrictions on Russian grain exports are lifted.

“We will facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we proceed from the fact that all restrictions related to possible supplies of Russian grain for export will be lifted. We agreed on this initially with international organizations … No one has objected so far, including our American partners. Let’s see what happens in the near future,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Tehran, Iran, on July 19, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Zelenskyy thanks the U.S. and ‘every American family’ for their warmth toward Ukraine

U.S. first lady Jill Biden, first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and U.S. President Joe Biden pose for photos as Zelenska arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on July 19, 2022, in Washington, DC. Zelenska is in the United States for a series of high-level meetings and an address to Congress.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked the U.S. for its support for Ukraine as his wife Olena Zelenska continues a visit to Washington this week.

“Increasing American support for Ukraine, additional assistance to protect people from Russian terror, solving humanitarian needs – these are all the tasks of the ongoing visit of the first lady of Ukraine to the United States,” he said in his nightly address on Tuesday evening.

“Today, on the second day of the visit, a meeting at the White House with First Lady Jill Biden – President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband came to greet the first lady of Ukraine. I am grateful to the presidential couple of the United States, all representatives of the American Administration and every American family for their warmth towards our country and our people,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenska also held a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday and visited the memorial for the victims of the Holodomor (also known as the Great Famine) of 1932-1933 in Ukraine in the center of Washington, as well as met representatives of the Ukrainian community in the United States.

Holly Ellyatt

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