June 23, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Tori B. Powell and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:07 a.m. ET, June 24, 2023
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5:49 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Wagner chief accuses Russian military leadership of killing "huge amount" of his fighters in strike on camp

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Mariya Knight

Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen in Moscow in April.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen in Moscow in April. Yulia Morozova/Reuters/FILE

The chief of the Wagner private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on Friday accused Russian military leadership of striking a Wagner military camp and killing a "huge amount" of his mercenary forces.

Prigozhin claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense tricked Wagner and he vowed to "respond to these atrocities." 

"They sneakily deceived us, trying to deprive us of the opportunity to defend our homes and instead hunt down Wagner PMC. We were ready to compromise with the Ministry of Defense to hand over our weapons and find a solution how we will continue to defend our country. But these scumbags did not calm down," Prigozhin said in a voice note posted on Telegram.

"They saw that we weren't broken and they launched strikes on our camps. A huge amount of our fighters were killed, our comrades in arms. We will make a decision about how to respond to these atrocities. The next step is ours," he continued, alleging that "they wiped out dozens."

Russia's Ministry of Defense denied the allegation in a Telegram post Friday, calling the messages and videos spreading on social networks on behalf of Prigozhin about the event "untrue" and "an informational provocation."

Prigozhin claimed that the "evil that is being carried out" by Russia's military leadership "must be stopped" following the alleged attack. "They disregard the lives of soldiers, they have forgotten the word 'justice,'" Prigozhin said in the voice recording. 

"The details started to appear; Minister of Defense arrived to Rostov especially to conduct an operation to destroy Wagner PMC. He used artillerymen and helicopter pilots undercover to destroy us," Prigozhin added. 

Prigozhin vows retaliation: "Many dozens, tens of thousands of lives, of Russian soldiers will be punished," Prigozhin said. "I ask that nobody put up any resistance. Those who show such resistance, we will consider it a threat and destroy them immediately. This includes any roadblocks standing in our way, any aircraft seen over our heads."

He asked people to stay at home and "remain calm, not to be provoked."

In a later Telegram post, Prigozhin said that by criticizing Russian military leadership, he is carrying out a "march of justice" and not a "military coup," alleging that a majority of Russian service members support Wagner.  

"Finally, you will make them supply us with ammunition and make them stop using us as cannon fodder," Prigozhin added.

More background: Earlier on Friday, Prigozhin – who has frequently criticized Russia’s traditional military hierarchy – furthered his ongoing dispute with defense leaders in a highly critical video interview where he said Moscow invaded Ukraine under false pretenses devised by the Russian Ministry of Defense, and that Russia is actually losing ground on the battlefield.

And earlier this month, the Wagner boss said he won't sign contracts with Russia’s defense ministry, rejecting an attempt to bring his force in line. His comments came after an announcement by the defense ministry that “volunteer units” and private military groups would be required to sign a contract with the ministry.

Wagner has played a prominent role in the Ukraine war, and Prigozhin, so far, has faced few consequences for his public feud with Russia’s military leadership during which he accused Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and armed forces chief Valery Gerasimov of not providing ammunition to his forces.

CNN's Katharina Krebs, Lindsay Isaac, Uliana Pavlova, Radina Gigova and Josh Pennington contributed reporting to this post.

2:36 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Ukraine claims to have repelled Russian forces in eastern areas

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and Lindsay Isaac

A Ukrainian soldier carries a shell at a position near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Friday.
A Ukrainian soldier carries a shell at a position near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Friday. Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine claims it has "firmly repulsed" Russian forces who have targeted Ukrainian positions in frontline areas of Lyman and Kupyansk in the east of the country.

Russia slowed its efforts to advance on Friday, according to the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

"During this day, the enemy reduced its efforts, and there were only two direct combat clashes. However, the enemy was most active in the Lyman-Kupyansk sector in artillery attacks on our positions. They fired 535 times at our positions with artillery of various calibers and systems, and 13 air raids took place," Serhii Cherevatyi said.

Ukraine claims to have killed 31 Russians and wounded almost 70 in the battle, with Russian tanks and ammunition stocks hit.

In the Donetsk region: The Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russia continues to focus its main efforts on the eastern region near the towns of Avdiivka and Mariinka, in addition to Lyman and Bakhmut, according to its latest update. 

In Bakhmut, Russia "shelled Ukrainian positions with artillery 282 times and carried out four air raids," Cherevatyi claimed, adding that Ukrainian forces killed 60 Russians there and wounded almost 150.

Ukraine's acting Commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade Maksym Zhorin said Russia is accumulating forces in the direction of Bakhmut "to hold their positions and restrain our advance."

"They are reinforcing their old, tired units that are standing in the positions with new ones. And at the same time, they are constantly shelling our positions with artillery," Zhorin said in a Telegram post. "They have a lot of weapons, personnel too — nothing has changed. The only thing is that we have almost discouraged them from using armored vehicles, because we have managed to hit quite a few of them recently."

In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions: The General Staff said Russian forces are conducting defensive actions in the southern regions.

Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, the commander of the Tavria Joint Forces Operation, also said that troops are "making tangible progress and advancing" in Tavria in the south.

Tarnavskyi claimed that more than three Russian companies were killed in the last day and 51 units of Russian military equipment were destroyed. 

"Our soldiers are taking back control of Ukrainian land," he added. 

CNN cannot independently confirm battlefield reports or losses.

Pleas for patience: This week, Ukrainian officials have stressed that their counteroffensive – which Western officials have told CNN is “not meeting expectations” – will take time, with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal calling for patience and President Volodymyr Zelensky warning allies not to see it through the lens of a “Hollywood movie.”

1:00 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Key Crimean bridge unusable for movement after Ukrainian strike, Russian-appointed official says

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

The damaged Chonhar bridge is seen in this picture released on Thursday by Russian-installed leader of the Kherson region Vladimir Saldo on Telegram.
The damaged Chonhar bridge is seen in this picture released on Thursday by Russian-installed leader of the Kherson region Vladimir Saldo on Telegram. Vladimir Saldo/Telegram via Reuters

Damage to the Chonhar bridge that crosses into Crimea was more severe than expected, and it is currently not fit for use, according to the Russian-appointed acting head of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo. 

"Unfortunately, the bridge is much more seriously damaged than we originally thought. The bridge is unsuitable for movement for the next 15 to 20 days, maybe more," Saldo told Russian state TV Rossiya-24. 

On Thursday, Russian authorities claimed that four missiles were fired at the Chonhar road bridge that connects the Russian-held parts of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region with the Crimean peninsula, which Russia declared annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Crimean authorities had said previously that the bridge — which is critical for Russia to move troops, ammunition and equipment to and from the peninsula — would be fully operational in two weeks maximum.

Saldo had said the strike “won’t decide any results of the special operation,” but then admitted it will make some food and other deliveries a little harder. They will have to use another, longer route, he added, to the west through Armyansk and Perekop, closer to Ukrainian positions.

1:00 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

US sanctions Russian intel officers for undermining elections in other countries

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

As Russia's war in Ukraine continues, the US has sanctioned two more Russian intelligence officers who were involved in the Russian Federation’s efforts to undermine the democratic processes in the United States and other countries, the State Department and the Treasury Department announced on Friday.

The Russians — Yegor Sergeyevich Popov and Aleksei Borisovich Sukhodolov – are both Russian Federal Security Service officers who have worked with other co-opted members of the service who were sanctioned by the US last year for conducting foreign malign influence activities, the State Department said. 

“The Kremlin continues to target a key pillar of democracy around the world — free and fair elections,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

“The United States will not tolerate threats to our democracy, and today’s action builds on the whole of government approach to protect our system of representative government, including our democratic institutions and elections processes," he added.

“To safeguard our democracy, as well as help protect our allies and partners, the United States will continue to act to deter and disrupt the Kremlin’s malign influence operations,” the State Department wrote.

12:27 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Zelensky criticizes lack of adequate bomb shelters across Ukraine

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Lindsay Isaac

Volodymyr Zelensky attends the International Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday.
Volodymyr Zelensky attends the International Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday. Les Kasyanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has decried inadequate bomb shelters across the country, calling the conclusions of a nationwide inspection "disappointing."  

The inspection was launched after the death of three people, including a child, who were trying to get into a closed bomb shelter in Kyiv earlier this month.

Following a meeting of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Friday, Zelensky said shelters were examined in the areas being attacked the most by Russia. The findings were uniformly disappointing "almost all over the country," he said, including in bigger cities like Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Dnipro. 

"The situation is especially cynical and shameful in those cities that have significant financial resources but, unfortunately, other priorities," the Ukrainian president said, pledging that reliable shelters will be made a "priority for leaders at all levels."

Work is ongoing to return ownership of shelters that Zelensky claimed were "illegally" taken from local authorities, likely under corruption. There are currently 400 such claims across Ukraine, he said.

More on combating corruption and EU recommendations: Zelensky also said he discussed an interim report by the European Commission about progress on fighting institutional corruption and judicial reform.

Zelensky said proposals include increasing jail time and confiscation of property for judicial officials found guilty of corruption, as well as implementing integrity checks on judges throughout their terms. Zelensky said he is confident that Ukraine can fully implement European Commission recommendations for the start of negotiations on joining the EU.

"Today is exactly one year since Ukraine became a candidate for accession to the European Union, and this year, the goal is to start membership negotiations. Ukraine will definitely do its part," he said.

4:03 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

US ambassador to UN calls for urgent investigation into Russian use of Iranian-supplied drones 

From CNN's Richard Roth in New York and Lauren Kent in London

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations on Friday.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations on Friday. Yuki Iwamura/AP

The United States ambassador to the United Nations on Friday called for an urgent investigation into Iranian-supplied drones used by Russia. 

In a UN Security Council meeting, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, "Moments ago, I stood with Ukraine, France, the United Kingdom and Albania to call out Russia and Iran for flagrant violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2231." 

That UN Security Council Resolution was passed to endorse the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and control the transfer of weapons from Iran.

"We know the Kremlin has procured hundreds of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and is now working with Iran to produce these weapons inside Russia. And we know that in recent weeks, the Kremlin has used these UAVs to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure and kill and terrorize civilians," Thomas-Greenfield said. "The United Nations must implement Security Council Resolution 2231."

"We still have no explanation as to why experts from the 2231 team have not been dispatched to Ukraine to review evidence of these weapons' origins and the destruction these weapons have caused," she said. "The UN must act with urgency. This is a matter of life or death for the Ukrainian people."

"Moscow publicly feigns deep concerns about attacks on critical infrastructure. And they have called Security Council meetings to try to convince us of that," Thomas-Greenfield added. "But Russia's hypocrisy is on full display as we watch Russian missiles and drones reduce entire Ukrainian cities to rubble."

What Russia says: Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya disagreed on what Resolution 2231 calls for. On Friday, Nebenzya blasted Western information on drones used by Russia. 

Russia, which held the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council during April, continues to scoff at Western sanctions. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said last year that reports the country is using Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are “unsubstantiated inferences,” despite Ukraine, its allies and arms-tracking experts finding ample evidence of their use in Ukraine.

More on Iranian-supplied drones: Earlier this month, National Security Council official John Kirby said that the US believes an attack drone manufacturing plant Russia is building with Iran’s help could be fully operational by early next year.

Iran is shipping equipment for the plant, as well as fully-built drones, to Russia via the Caspian Sea, US officials believe.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.

11:29 a.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Allies and Ukrainian officials will discuss Zelensky's peace proposal in Denmark meeting, source says

From CNN's Victoria Butenko in Kyiv 

Senior Western and Ukrainian officials are expected to meet in Copenhagen in the coming days to discuss President Volodymyr Zelensky's peace proposal, a Ukrainian government source told CNN.

Representatives from the Global South are also expected to attend, the source said.

Zelensky presented a 10-point peace plan to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine to G20 leaders in Bali by video in November 2022. 

According to a transcript of the speech, the steps include:

  • a path to nuclear safety
  • food security
  • a special tribunal for alleged Russian war crimes
  • a final peace treaty with Moscow

11:11 a.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Ukraine expects clear indication of NATO accession at upcoming summit, defense minister says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Lindsay Isaac

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov speaks to the media after a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on April 21.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov speaks to the media after a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on April 21. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Ukraine is anticipating that it will be given "clear terms and conditions" toward becoming a member of NATO at the alliance's summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in mid-July, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.  

"I expect that we will be given a clear, understandable signal and a formula by which we will obviously become a NATO country," he said during a military briefing in Kyiv Friday. 

The summit, he hopes, will "outline the terms of accession" or define a specific event that will trigger Ukraine's acceptance to the alliance and make the process "no longer be an incomprehensible vague form of open doors."

The matter of Ukrainian membership in the alliance is one of several issues leaders will tackle when they meet in the Lithuanian capital next month. Also up for discussion are new defense spending commitments and a successor to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is planning on leaving his post in the autumn. 

But it appears increasingly likely that the 31 NATO members will be unable to coalesce around a candidate to be the alliance’s next secretary general and Jens Stoltenberg will be asked to remain in the job for an additional year, multiple sources told CNN.

Some more background: After meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House last week, Stoltenberg said, “At the Vilnius summit, we will send a strong message of support and solidarity with Ukraine. And make clear that Ukraine’s future is in NATO.”

Stoltenberg said he expected member states to agree on a “multi-year program where we help to move Ukraine to transition from old standards, equipment, procedures, doctrines to NATO standards and become fully interoperable with NATO.” Those steps, he said, would bring “Ukraine closer to NATO.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he understands that his country cannot become a member of NATO while it is still at war.

But earlier this month, he told the Wall Street Journal, “If we are not acknowledged and given a signal in Vilnius, I believe there is no point for Ukraine to be at this summit.”

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Kevin Liptak and Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.

5:28 p.m. ET, June 23, 2023

Wagner chief accuses Russian defense ministry of deceiving Putin into invading Ukraine

From Katharina Krebs and Lindsay Isaac

In this grab taken from video and released by Prigozhin Press Service on Friday, June 23, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, speaks during an interview at an unspecified location.
In this grab taken from video and released by Prigozhin Press Service on Friday, June 23, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, speaks during an interview at an unspecified location. Prigozhin Press Service/AP

Russian private military group Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has claimed that Moscow invaded Ukraine under false pretenses, and is actually losing ground on the battlefield.

Prigozhin, who has been publicly feuding with Russian military leaders, directly criticized the reasons for the war in a highly critical video interview posted on Telegram Friday by Wagner's media arm.

The Ukrainian invasion or the so-called "special operation," he says, was not launched because of a threat to Russia from Ukraine or NATO despite what Moscow claims.

The situation in eastern Ukraine had not changed in eight years from the time Crimea was annexed, with both sides taking the occasional shot at each other, without any escalation, he said.

"On February 24, nothing extraordinary happened. Now, the Ministry of Defense is trying to deceive the public, trying to deceive the president and tell the story that there was insane aggression on the part of Ukraine, and that they were going to attack us together with the NATO bloc. Therefore, the so-called special operation on February 24 was launched for completely different reasons," he said.

Prigozhin has previously defended the reasoning for the war but has been critical of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's, with whom he is directly fighting with over the handling of military contracts. Now, Prigozhin claims the defense ministry misled Russian President Vladimir Putin entirely, and also accuses Shoigu of deceiving Putin about the status of the Ukrainian battlefield, claiming Russian troops are on the back foot in the south of Ukraine, and that the whole invasion was a "poorly planned operation."

 "The reality right now is that the Russian army is retreating in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are pushing through the Russian army, we are washing ourselves with blood, no one deploys reserves, there is no control," he said.

What Western officials are saying: According to Western assessments, Russian lines of defense have been proving well-fortified, making it difficult for Ukrainian forces to breach them. In addition, Russian forces have had success bogging down Ukrainian armor with missile attacks and mines and have been deploying air power more effectively.

The officials cautioned that the counteroffensive is still in its early stages – and that the US and its allies “remain optimistic” Ukrainian forces will be able to make territorial gains over time. 

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed reporting to this post.