June 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Hafsa Khalil, Jeevan Ravindran, Aditi Sangal, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2:43 a.m. ET, June 24, 2022
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3:14 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

JUST IN: EU decides to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, June 11.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, June 11. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

European Union leaders have agreed to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status.

“Agreement. #EUCO has just decided EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. A historic moment,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter.

“Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” he added, congratulating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President of Moldova Maia Sandu as well as the people of Ukraine and Moldova.

“Our future is together,” he said.

The European Council has decided “to recognize the European perspective of Georgia and is ready to grant candidate status once the outstanding priorities are addressed," Michel added.

1:31 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

UK says it can assist with de-mining operation around Ukraine's Black Sea coast to release food supplies

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

The United Kingdom is willing to assist with a de-mining operation around Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in order to free food supplies, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

"I don't want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help to protect themselves that we are certainly talking to them about what we can do at a technical level to help de-mine Odesa,” Johnson said, speaking to Reuters from Kigali, Rwanda, during an official visit.

''[Russian President] Putin is holding 23 million tons of grain to ransom. It is absolutely unconscionable. That supply could help people around the world, it could help some of the poorest countries in the world. What I am trying to argue is, I'm trying to say is it is not, it won't necessarily be decisive but it can make a big difference,” he added.

Some context: International leaders have condemned Russia's blockade of Black Sea ports, which the United Nations said could lead to millions experiencing famine or famine-like conditions around the globe. Satellite images have also shown what appear to be Russian ships taking stolen grain from Crimea to a port in Syria.

Earlier Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the crisis would have already been resolved if Ukraine and Western allies de-mined the ports.

"There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks, with other European friends and allies to see what we can do. I think what the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea,” Johnson also said.

1:28 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

BRICS countries — which include Russia — support Ukraine-Russia talks in joint declaration

From CNN’s Chris Liakos and Arnaud Siad

BRICS countries said they support talks between Russia and Ukraine in a joint statement published on the Kremlin's website on Thursday.

The BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“We have discussed the situation in Ukraine and recall our national positions as expressed at the appropriate fora, namely the UN [Security Council] and UN [General Assembly]. We support talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the statement read.

“We have also discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine and expressed our support to efforts of the UN Secretary-General, UN Agencies and ICRC to provide humanitarian assistance in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality established in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182,” they added.

The BRICS summit, hosted by Beijing, marks Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first international forum with other heads of major economies since he launched his invasion in Ukraine back in February. 

Since the beginning of Russia's invasion, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that he was willing to hold direct talks with Putin.

12:34 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

"There is no safe place" in the Ukrainian town of Lysychansk, military official says

From CNN's Yulia Kesavia

A man walks in front of damaged building in Lysychansk on June 21.
A man walks in front of damaged building in Lysychansk on June 21. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

“There is no safe place” left in the Ukrainian town of Lysychansk, Serhiy Haidai said on Thursday.

The “whole of Lysychansk is being shelled with large calibre and air strikes,” said Haidai, the head of the Luhansk region military administration of the Ukrainian army.  

Authorities continue to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid, he added.

12:17 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

EU summit to discuss Ukraine's membership application begins in Brussels

From CNN's James Frater, Niamh Kennedy, Benjamin Brown and Chris Liakos

European Union leaders gather for a summit in Brussels on June 23.
European Union leaders gather for a summit in Brussels on June 23. (Johanna Geron/Reuters)

The European Union summit to discuss whether to grant candidate status to Ukraine has begun in Brussels.

All 27 EU leaders are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss EU membership applications from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia as well as current economic issues the EU is facing.

Last Friday, the European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen announced the Commission's opinion to recommend Ukraine as a member state in the EU, stating that Ukrainians are "ready to die" for the European perspective. 

On arrival, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte commended the European Commission's "thorough assessment" of Ukraine's application to join the European Union. 

"The worry we had was that the Commission would rush into candidate states. I must say that Ursula Von der Leyen came up with a very balanced outcome of talks with Zelensky ... I must say, I was mistaken. They really gave us a very thorough and fair assessment," Rutte remarked on Thursday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also told reporters that this decision will also serve as "an appeal to achieve progress in the perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans," saying Germany will "actively support" efforts to help the nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro , Kosovo and Serbia to implement an accession perspective soon.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told reporters that displays of political support for Ukraine are "very important for the fighting spirit of Ukrainians," calling his country a "keen supporter of the candidate status for Ukraine."

12:13 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Gas supply in EU is "guaranteed" but the situation remains serious, EU Commission says

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

An worker walks through the above-ground facilities of a natural gas storage facility at the Uniper Energy Storage facility in Bierwang, Germany, on June 10.
An worker walks through the above-ground facilities of a natural gas storage facility at the Uniper Energy Storage facility in Bierwang, Germany, on June 10. (Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Gas supply in the European Union is “currently guaranteed” but the situation is “to be taken seriously,” the EU Commission says.

“According to our exchange with the national authorities, the gas security of supply in Germany – and in the EU – is currently guaranteed. Lower inflows of gas from Russia can so far be compensated,” an EU Commission spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

However, “the situation is to be taken seriously,” it added.

“At this stage, we need to be aware that the situation could deteriorate further. Early Warning Declarations, which constitute the first level of warning foreseen in the SoS Regulation, have been made by nine other EU Member States over the past months, against the backdrop of Russia’s continued use of its gas supplies as a tool for blackmail,” the spokesperson added.

This comes as Germany further raised its warning level on gas supplies on Thursday, following a previous declaration of the Early Warning level. According to the EU Commission, Germany discussed the situation with the Commission and the move is part of the EU’s coordinated action on the matter.

“The risk of full gas disruption is now more real than ever before. That is why, the adoption of the gas storage regulation together with other preparedness measures is so important at this moment,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

11:51 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Norway to step up cooperation with EU to ensure additional gas supplies

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

The European Union and Norway agreed on Thursday to further strengthen their cooperation in the energy field, providing the EU with additional gas supplies, Norway's oil and energy ministry said.

“We had a good and constructive meeting, where we agreed to cooperate even closer on energy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made closer cooperation necessary,” said Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland.

Some background: Europe's energy crisis escalated this month as Russia further reduced supplies to Germany, Italy and other members of the European Union. Twelve EU countries have so far been affected by Russian gas supply cuts, the bloc's climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

Russia's state gas company Gazprom slashed flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60% last week, blaming the move on the West's decision to withhold vital turbines because of sanctions. Italian energy giant ENI said Gazprom was cutting its supplies by 15%.

A joint statement from the EU and Norway noted that “Norway’s oil and gas production for European energy security has increased further after Russia's unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

According to the statement, Norway currently delivers approximately one-fourth of EU countries’ gas consumption and is producing gas “at very high capacity.”

11:53 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Russian defense minister calls for strengthened Russia-Belarus joint defense

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, speaks with his Belarus counterpart Viktor Khrenin in Minsk on February 3.
Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, speaks with his Belarus counterpart Viktor Khrenin in Minsk on February 3. (Maxim Guchek/Belta/AFP/Getty Images/File)

The Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu on Thursday called to strengthen the joint defense capabilities of Russia and Belarus, including a unified regional air defense system.

“Circumstances dictate the need to take urgent joint measures to strengthen the defense capability of the Union State, increase the combat readiness of the regional grouping of troops and the unified regional air defense system,” he said at a meeting with Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin in Moscow.

Shoigu also called Belarus to be Russia’s closest friend. 

Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the only leader in Europe to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian border with Ukraine was used as part of the invasion by Russian troops. 

10:52 a.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Biden administration is expected to announce additional military assistance for Ukraine as soon as today

From CNN's Barbara Starr

The Biden administration is expected to publicly announce another round of military assistance for Ukraine as soon as today, according to a US official familiar.

The package is expected to include additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) as well as artillery ammunition. The package is expected to total no more than approximately $500 million, the source said.

The White House said they don’t have anything to preview at this time but has stated that the Biden administration has said the US will continue to regularly provide security assistance to Ukraine.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.