June 5, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:48 a.m. ET, June 6, 2023
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7:15 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

Ukrainian troops are trying to reach the Azov Sea, Russian-installed governor says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

A Russian-appointed official in Zaporizhzhia has told Russian state media that Ukrainian troops are attempting to break the defense line near the Vremivka ledge to reach the Azov Sea coast.

“The goal of the AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine] militants is to reach the Azov Sea coast and cut the land corridor," Vladimir Rogov said, according to Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti.

He added that Ukrainian troops have increased the intensity of the shelling, including the use of Storm Shadows missiles

"The shelling of the rear areas of the region has increased many times. Storm Shadow and Tochka-U missiles are being used. They are launched in large quantities, which means Ukrainian militants and terrorists have ammunition in sufficient quantity," he said.

Rogov said he didn't think a full-scale counteroffensive had begun. According to RIA Novosti, he is said to believe the Ukrainians are assessing the line of defense and the readiness of the Russian forces.

Storm Shadow missiles: The Storm Shadow is a long-range cruise missile with stealth capabilities, jointly developed by the United Kingdom and France, with a firing range in excess of 250 kilometers (155 miles).

The UK delivered “multiple” Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine in May. British defense secretary Ben Wallace told CNN that Ukraine had “successfully” used these missiles “to defend their country.”

7:54 p.m. ET, June 5, 2023

Russia claims to repel "large-scale offensive" in southern Donetsk

From CNN’s Seb Shukla and Nathan Hodge in London, and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Drone footage released by Moscow on June 5 shows a burning armored vehicle in an unidentified location after the Russian defense ministry said its forces had thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in the southern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.
Drone footage released by Moscow on June 5 shows a burning armored vehicle in an unidentified location after the Russian defense ministry said its forces had thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in the southern Ukrainian region of Donetsk. Russian Defence Ministry/Reuters

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed to have repelled what it described as a "large scale offensive" by Ukrainian forces, saying it thwarted an attempt to break through Russian lines. 

In a statement Monday, the Russian military claims to have killed 250 Ukrainians and destroyed armored vehicles used in this assault. 

The Russian military is known for making inflated claims about Ukrainian losses and provided no evidence to back up its claim. CNN has also not been able to independently verify the claim.

In a post to their official Telegram feed, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the assault took place at “five sections of the front in the southern Donetsk direction."

The Ukrainian government has signaled in recent weeks that its troops are readying a major counteroffensive, but have also said there would be no announcement of its commencement.

The Russians claimed the goal of the Ukrainian operation was “to break through Russian defenses in what it considered to be the most vulnerable area of the front."

Ukrainian officials have not commented on this report, and CNN cannot independently verify Russia’s claims.

The statement added that at the time of the attack the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Gerasimov was “at one of the forward command and control posts." 

Gerasimov has come under public criticism from the head of the Russian private military company Wagner for supposedly running the war from a comfortable office.

The Russian forces involved in this attack were the Vostok Group of Forces, the statement said.

7:21 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

Belgium investigating possible use of Belgian-made rifles on Russian territory

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo arrives at a European Union Council Meeting on March 24, in Brussels, Belgium.
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo arrives at a European Union Council Meeting on March 24, in Brussels, Belgium. Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Belgium said investigations are underway into the possible use of Belgian-made rifles – donated to Ukraine – by Kyiv-aligned forces on Russian territory.

“Defense and the defense intelligence services have started an investigation,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told VRT’s Radio 1 morning show.

“Allow me to not immediately respond ‘what if.’ I first want to first want to have something definite. But this is a serious matter,” he said.

The Washington Post first reported that forces aligned with Ukraine carried Belgian-made FN SCAR rifles during an incursion in Russia’s Belgorod region. Ukraine says it was not directly involved in the attacks, which have been claimed by Russian volunteer groups opposed to the current government in Moscow.

“What we know for sure is that the rules for the supply of our weapons are very strict,” De Croo said on Monday. 

“Our weapons – that applies to our country, but applies to all European countries – they are supplied under the condition that they are used for the defense of Ukrainian territory on Ukrainian territory.”

“And so we monitor compliance with those rules very strictly.”

Some background: In May, a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals, who are aligned with the Ukrainian army, claimed responsibility for an attack in Russia's southwestern region of Belgorod, which borders northeastern Ukraine.

On Sunday, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion claimed they had captured Russian soldiers and demanded a meeting with the governor of Belgorod.

The groups are not officially part of Ukraine's military but fight under Ukrainian command. They have made several recent incursions in Belgorod that have helped bring the war to Russian soil.

Previous reporting from CNN’s Tim Lister.

6:35 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

Putin receives regular military updates "from the ground," Kremlin says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly receives updates on the course of the war "from the ground," in addition to official reports, the Kremlin said Monday.

“The president always prefers to have a variety of sources of information, especially when it comes to the special military operation, and along with official reports, he regularly makes calls and receives information directly from the ground,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov added that Putin maintains communication with the heads of units involved in the “special military operation.”

Last week, Putin had a conversation with Apty Alaudinov, the aide to the head of the Chechen Republic and commander of the Akhmat special forces, Peskov told state-news agency RIA Novosti.

Separately, the head of the heavily shelled Shebekino in the Belgorod region, Vladimir Zhdanov, told Russian state media he had a phone call with Putin in which they discussed the situation in the region. The Kremlin did not release a readout of the call.

“It seemed to me, the President is so in control of the situation, he understands what is happening. The first thing he asked was what help was needed. It was very nice, our president is with us,” Zhdanov said Thursday according to RIA Novosti.

About 4,000 people have been evacuated from Belgorod and are being housed in temporary accommodation amid intensified fighting in the region, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said Sunday.

5:42 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

Exclusive: Ukraine has cultivated sabotage agents inside Russia and is giving them drones to stage attacks, sources say

From CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Zachary Cohen and Kylie Atwood

A still image taken from video shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building during the alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow, Russia, in this image taken from video obtained on May 3.
A still image taken from video shows a flying object exploding in an intense burst of light near the dome of the Kremlin Senate building during the alleged Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow, Russia, in this image taken from video obtained on May 3. Ostorozhno Novosti/Reuters

Ukraine has cultivated a network of agents and sympathizers inside Russia working to carry out acts of sabotage against Russian targets and has begun providing them with drones to stage attacks, multiple people familiar with US intelligence on the matter told CNN.

US officials believe these pro-Ukrainian agents inside Russia carried out a drone attack that targeted the Kremlin in early May by launching drones from within Russia rather than flying them from Ukraine into Moscow.

It is not clear whether other drone attacks carried out in recent days -- including one targeting a residential neighborhood near Moscow and another strike on oil refineries in southern Russia -- were also launched from inside Russia or conducted by this network of pro-Ukrainian operatives.

But US officials believe that Ukraine has developed sabotage cells inside Russia made up of a mix of pro-Ukrainian sympathizers and operatives well-trained in this kind of warfare. Ukraine is believed to have provided them with Ukrainian-made drones, and two US officials told CNN there is no evidence that any of the drone strikes have been conducted using US-provided drones.

Officials could not say conclusively how Ukraine has managed to get the drones behind enemy lines, but two of the sources told CNN that it has established well-practiced smuggling routes that could be used to send drones or drone components into Russia where they could then be assembled.

Read the full story here.

4:07 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

The Pope's Ukraine peace envoy is visiting Kyiv this week

From CNN's John Allen in Rome

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi speaks during a press conference at The Vatican, on May 25.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi speaks during a press conference at The Vatican, on May 25. Domenico Stinellis/AP

Pope Francis’ peace envoy to Ukraine will visit Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday this week, according to a statement from the Vatican.

Last month, the Pope appointed Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, to lead a peace mission to end the war in Ukraine.

“It’s a matter of an initiative with the principal aim of listening in a thorough way to the Ukrainian authorities regarding possible pathways to reach a just peace and to sustain humanitarian gestures which contribute to relieving the tensions,” the statement said. 

During a trip to Budapest in April, Francis met with a representative from the pro-Kremlin Russian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Hilarion, and separately with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He also heard testimony from refugees, many from Ukraine, and separately met with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

7:55 p.m. ET, June 5, 2023

2 drones crash on Russian highway, regional governor says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Gov. Vladislav Shapsha attends a forum in Moscow on October 20, 2022.
Gov. Vladislav Shapsha attends a forum in Moscow on October 20, 2022. Dmitry Dukhanin/Kommersant/Sipa USA/AP

Two drones crashed on a highway in Russia's western Kaluga region on Monday, the local governor said.

Gov. Vladislav Shapsha wrote on Telegram that the two UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) came down on the M3 highway between the towns of Zhizdra and Duminichi. The towns lie several hours southwest of Moscow.

The devices did not detonate and the area has been cordoned off, Shapsha added. 

Remember: Officials in western Russia have reported more Ukrainian drone attacks and shelling in recent days as the war spreads beyond Ukraine's borders. Kyiv has not commented on the claims.

12:04 a.m. ET, June 5, 2023

It's early morning in Ukraine. Catch up here on the latest from the war

From CNN staff

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday claimed it had foiled a "large-scale offensive" from Ukrainian forces on the front line in the eastern Donetsk region.

The attack involved Ukrainian troops, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored combat vehicles, according to a statement from the ministry.

It comes after Ukrainian forces claimed they had achieved two small victories in the country's east, including an advance of 400 meters (1,300 feet) toward the strategically important town of Svatove in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, in southern Ukraine, a Russia-appointed official in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region claimed Russian forces had repelled a Ukrainian attack there. The Ukrainian military did not refer to any fighting in Zaporizhzhia in its daily update Sunday and has urged silence over any counteroffensive plans.

Here are the other top headlines:

  • Belgorod battles: The western Russian province, which borders Ukraine, continues to see violence as the war spills over the border. Belgorod's governor said in a video posted Sunday that shelling had been reported as Russian dissident groups fighting under Ukrainian command ramp up pressure there. The dissident groups say they have captured Russian soldiers and will transfer them to Ukraine's military.
  • Chechen warning: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Sunday offered to send his troops to Belgorod region to "deal with" cross-border incursions. "I would like to remind you that the terrorists who invaded the Belgorod region could be dealt with by the forces of Chechen units," Kadyrov said in in a Telegram post. The remarks from Kadyrov, a Putin ally, come after the head of Russia's Wagner group claimed Saturday that attacks in Belgorod were "a clear attempt to capture that area." 

  • Zelensky's gratitude: In his daily address Saturday, the Ukrainian President thanked more than a dozen troops by name and asked that Ukrainians take time to do the same with individual soldiers. Among those Zelensky name-checked were troops on the front lines or battling to control the skies above them — the fighters that would be particularly key in the counteroffensive that Kyiv is expected to launch.
  • Washington's view: President Joe Biden's national security adviser said the US believes the Ukrainian counteroffensive will result in Kyiv taking back "strategically significant territory." Speaking to CNN, Jake Sullivan added that developments on the battlefield will also have a "major impact" on any future peace negotiations.
  • Deadly strike: Rescue workers have recovered the body of a 2-year-old girl from the rubble of a building hit by a Russian strike Saturday on the small riverfront town of Pidhorodne in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, a Ukrainian military official said. Twenty-two people were wounded in the attack, including five children.
11:39 p.m. ET, June 4, 2023

Russia claims it foiled Ukrainian "large-scale offensive" in Donetsk

From CNN's Josh Pennington

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday claimed it had repelled a "large-scale offensive" from Ukrainian forces on the front line in the eastern Donetsk region.

The attack in the south of the region involved Ukrainian troops, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored combat vehicles, according to a statement from the ministry.

"The enemy's goal was to break through our defense in what they consider the most vulnerable area of the front line. The enemy failed to achieve its objectives and was unsuccessful,” the Russian Defense Ministry statement said.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm details of this attack.

The report from the Russian Defense Ministry comes amid speculation that Ukraine's much-anticipated counteroffensive, which has seemed imminent for weeks, could be launched in the coming days.

Despite clear signs the counteroffensive is coming, Ukrainian officials have not provided any specific date for when it will begin.

Fight for the Donbas: Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, an industrial heartland when Russian-backed separatists seized control of two territories and declared breakaway republics in 2014. Shortly before the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two separatist territories as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in defiance of international law.