July 19, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Sophie Tanno, Leinz Vales, Mike Hayes and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 11:00 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023
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2:11 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Pentagon: US will provide more air defense systems and attack drones in $1.3 billion Ukraine aid package

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

The US has committed to providing Ukraine with more air defense systems and attack drones in a $1.3 billion aid package announced Wednesday, according to the Department of Defense. 

The package includes four more National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), which are medium-range air defense batteries that have already helped Ukraine withstand ongoing Russian barrages of missiles and drones. It is the same system used to protect Washington, DC, and the area around the nation’s capital. 

The latest commitment will give Ukraine a total of 12 NASAMS from the United States. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last November that the NASAMS had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian attacks. 

The latest package falls under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which is part of the long-term US commitment to provide aid to Ukraine. Unlike drawdown packages, which are pulled directly from Defense Department stocks and can be sent in relatively quickly, USAI packages are contracted with industry, a process which can take months or more. 

On Tuesday, following an international meeting of countries providing aid to Ukraine, Austin said, “Make no mistake: We are determined to support Ukraine's fight for freedom for as long as it takes.”

The package also includes Phoenix Ghost and Switchblade attack drones, as well as counter-drone equipment. 

The sizable Ukraine aid package comes during Ukraine’s ongoing counter-offensive, which has faced stiff Russian resistance and widespread minefields, which have slowed its progress. 

The US is also expected to announce a separate aid package of about $400 million that will include more ammunition for the NASAMS, according to two US officials, as well as ammo for Patriot missile defense systems and HIMARS rocket launchers. 

The package will also contain more artillery ammunition, which officials have warned is in short supply, especially with the possibility of a prolonged Ukrainian counteroffensive that will drain current stockpiles. 

In addition, the package includes anti-tank and anti-armor weapons such as Javelins and TOW missiles, the officials said.

The officials cautioned the package has not been finalized yet and could still change. It could be announced as early as this week, one of the officials said.

Notably, the package is not expected to include more of the controversial cluster munitions, the officials said, which the US provided for the first time in the previous drawdown package announced earlier this month. 

The Biden administration decided to provide cluster munitions, known officially as dual-purpose improves cluster munitions, in part to meet the Ukrainian need for more artillery ammunition as the US and other countries ramp up their ammo production.

2:51 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

New Wagner camp in Belarus filled with vehicles as convoys continue to arrive, new satellite imagery shows

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

New Wagner camp in Belarus filled with vehicles as convoys continue to arrive near Asipovichy, Belarus.
New Wagner camp in Belarus filled with vehicles as convoys continue to arrive near Asipovichy, Belarus. Planet Labs, PBC

About 72 hours after the first convoy arrived, hundreds of vehicles from Wagner Group convoys are filling a disused military base in Belarus, according to satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs PBC. 

The new image, taken around 6:29 a.m. Wednesday morning, comes less than eight hours after video was taken that showed a man — purportedly Wagner Group CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin — speaking with his troops at the camp. CNN has geolocated the video, and determined it was likely shot just after sunset on Tuesday. 

The area in which the man is seen speaking is now covered in vehicles, an indication that another convoy arrived overnight. 

For days, videos have surfaced online showing 100-vehicle-long convoys traveling along major highways in Russia toward Belarus. 

CNN visited that military base at Osipovichi on July 7, at the invitation of the Belarusian government. Belarusian Maj. Gen. Leonid Kasinsky told CNN’s Matthew Chance at the time that the camp had been constructed for the training of Belarusian territorial defense and militia, but could also house Wagner fighters should they come to the country.

Archival satellite imagery reviewed by CNN shows dozens of tents were erected at the base, which had been vacant for years, just days after Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin backed down from his attempted insurrection last month. 

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have brokered a deal between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since then, Lukashenko has invited Wagner forces into Belarus to help train his country's military.  

1:25 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Video apparently shows Wagner chief Prigozhin in public for first time since last month's uprising 

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio, Kathernina Krebs, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Paul Murphy and Allegra Goodwin

The following still is a screengrab from a video showing the silhouette of a man who appears to be Prigozhin. The still has been brightened to make the image clearer.
The following still is a screengrab from a video showing the silhouette of a man who appears to be Prigozhin. The still has been brightened to make the image clearer. Telegram/@Prigozhin_hat

A video emerged on Wednesday that appears to show Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin greeting his fighters in Belarus, in what would be his first public appearance since he led an armed rebellion in Russia last month.

“Welcome guys! I am happy to greet you all. Welcome to the Belarusian land! We fought with dignity! We have done a lot for Russia,” a man resembling and sounding like Prigozhin says in the video, which was posted on pro-Wagner Telegram channels on Wednesday and then shared on Prigozhin’s account.

Prigozhin’s rebellion posed one of the biggest challenges to the long rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He played a prominent role in the invasion of Ukraine and since the uprising his whereabouts have been unclear.

In the video, a fighter seemingly addresses the Wagner leader as “Yevgeny Viktorovich,” Prigozhin’s first name and patronymic. The video appears unedited and metadata on the file suggests it could have been created at dusk on Tuesday, July 18 or at dawn on Wednesday, July 19.

Some key context: The Belarusian Hajun Project, an activist monitoring group that tracks military activity in the country, reported on Wednesday that Prigozhin’s plane landed in Machulishchy, on the outskirts of the capital Minsk, at 11:05 a.m. local time, on July 18, and left at 12:15 a.m. local time on July 19, indicating the video was likely filmed on July 18. The video appears unedited and the metadata on the file, as well as the position of the sun in the footage, suggests it was likely filmed at dusk on July 18.

The video is grainy and filmed in low light so CNN cannot definitively say the speaker is Prigozhin or when it was filmed.

CNN has geolocated the video to a previously disused military base in Asipovichy, roughly 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) southeast of the capital of Minsk. A CNN team visited this very same base on July 6.  

In the video, the individual seemed to maintain his criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s planning and execution of military operations in Ukraine.

The person also goes on to suggest their stay in Belarus could be temporary and calls on his fighters to prepare to travel elsewhere.

Earlier on Wednesday, the UK's intelligence chief told CNN that Prigozhin is alive and at liberty, and he claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin had no choice but to reach an agreement with the Wagner leader in order to end the short-lived rebellion.

12:14 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Russia will consider vessels bound for Ukraine as carriers of military cargo after pulling out of gain deal

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo, starting on Thursday. 

The defense ministry's announcement comes as the Russian Foreign Ministry said that, in withdrawing from the Black Sean Grain Initiative, its government was removing guarantees for safe navigation in the Black Sea.

"In connection with the termination of the Black Sea Initiative and the curtailment of the maritime humanitarian corridor, from 00:00 Moscow time on July 20, 2023, all ships en route to Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo," said the statement published by the ministry.

According to the ministry, the countries whose national flags fly on the vessels will be considered involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of Kyiv.

"A number of sea areas in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the international waters of the Black Sea have been declared temporarily dangerous for navigation," the ministry added. 

More on the grain deal: Russia said Monday it was suspending its participation in a crucial deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov left the door open to reviving the deal in the future, saying Russia will comply “as soon as the Russian part (of the deal) is completed.”

Russia has for some time complained that it is being prevented from adequately exporting its own food, and Peskov cited that objection as the reason for pulling out of the deal.

12:11 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Overnight Russian strikes damaged Odesa port infrastructure, Ukrainian agriculture minister says

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva

Overnight Russian missile and drone strikes on Odesa damaged port infrastructure on July 19.
Overnight Russian missile and drone strikes on Odesa damaged port infrastructure on July 19. Ministry for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine

Overnight Russian missile and drone strikes on Odesa damaged port infrastructure that was being used as part of the UN-brokered Black Sea grain initiative, which Moscow pulled out of, the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry said.

“The aggressor has once again proved that human values are an empty sound for it and that its words are not trustworthy,” the country’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said on Wednesday, according to a ministry statement. “Grain terminals and port infrastructure in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk were attacked.” 

“The night-time attack put a significant part of the grain export infrastructure of the Chornomorsk port out of commission,” Solskyi added.

According to the ministry, it will take at least a year to fully restore the damaged facilities.

“This is a terrorist act not only against Ukraine but against the whole world. Its food security is once again under threat. Humanity is being held hostage by a terrorist country that is blackmailing the world with hunger,” the minister said. “The world must react firmly and according to the situation!”

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of deliberately targeting infrastructure in the city associated with the Black Sea grain deal.

“Russian terrorists deliberately targeted the grain deal infrastructure, and every Russian missile is a strike not only against Ukraine, but against everyone in the world who wants a normal and safe life,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram.

11:49 a.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Most members of captured Ukrainian battalion plead not guilty in Russian court, according to state media 

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Most of the captured members of Ukraine’s Azov battalion, who are being tried in Russia's southern district military court, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti report from the court. 

“I don't consider myself guilty,” most of the 22 defendants said, as reported by RIA.

According to RIA, several defendants partially admitted their guilt, confirming their participation in the Azov battalion, the rest stated that they would express their attitude to the prosecution during the debate of the parties.

More background: The Prosecutor's Office of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) accused the captured Azov fighters of committing actions aimed at forcibly seizing power and changing the constitutional order.

Several defendants were also charged with organizing the activities of the Azov battalion, and most of them with participation in the activities of the battalion. According to the investigation, all the defendants were taken prisoner during hostilities on the territory of the DPR from March to May 2022.

According to RIA, initially, there were 24 members of the battalion being judged but in June two were exchanged in a prisoner's swap with Ukraine. 

The next court meeting will be held on August 9.

11:36 a.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Putin will attend summit in South Africa via videoconference, state media reports 

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Eve Brennan

Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in late August via videoconference, Russia state media RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday citing the Kremlin.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed on Wednesday in a statement that Putin will not be attending the summit in person, adding that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would attend instead. 

The leaders of Brazil, India and China are still expected to attend in person. 

Since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, South African leaders have made contradictory statements over the country’s obligation to arrest Putin should he attend.  

As a signatory to the Rome statute, the treaty governing the Hague court, South Africa is compelled to arrest individuals indicted by the ICC. 

CNN's David McKenzie and Catherine Nicholls contributed reporting to this post.

11:22 a.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Russia's grain deal exit not retaliation toward Turkey for NATO expansion, Turkey's presidential adviser says

From CNN’s Hande Atay Alam

A United Nations official carries out an inspection of grain aboard the cargo ship TQ Samsun, which traveled from Odesa, Ukraine, while the ship lays anchored in the Black Sea near Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 17.
A United Nations official carries out an inspection of grain aboard the cargo ship TQ Samsun, which traveled from Odesa, Ukraine, while the ship lays anchored in the Black Sea near Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 17. United Nations/Handout/AP

Turkey’s chief presidential adviser told CNN’s Eleni Giokos that Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal was not in retaliation to Turkey's support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO. 

“We have been as a NATO ally, so very open in our relationship with the Russian Federation,” Akif Cagatay Kilic said, responding to a question about whether Sweden’s membership for NATO expansion created some friction between the two countries and if Russia’s pulling back from the grain deal is some form of retaliation toward Turkey.

“We are very closely working together with all the parties there, but also with the Russian Federation, and I don't believe that is that there's friction regarding the NATO Summit," he added.

Some background: Turkey approved Sweden's bid to join the military alliance on July 11, which made the alliance complete a historic expansion in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkey had previously spent months blocking Sweden's application, accusing it of hosting Kurdish militants. As one of NATO’s 31 members, Turkey has a veto over any new country joining the group.

The movement on NATO’s accession comes after months of opposition and demands from Ankara. Turkey claimed that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate, most notably the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey had also accused Swedish officials of complicity in Islamophobic demonstrations, such as the burning of the Quran.

9:17 a.m. ET, July 19, 2023

MI6 chief makes open plea to Russians to spy for UK

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Katharina Krebs

British intelligence chief Richard Moore speaks at an event in Prague, Czech Republic, on July 19.
British intelligence chief Richard Moore speaks at an event in Prague, Czech Republic, on July 19. CNN

The head of Britain's foreign intelligence service used a rare speech in Prague Wednesday to issue a plea to disaffected Russians to spy for the UK. 

Speaking in Prague, Richard Moore appealed to Russians "wrestling with their conscience" to take a stand against the Putin regime and offered them the opportunity to "share secrets with MI6."

"There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverizing Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes, and kidnapping thousands of children. 
"They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent."   

Moore also issued a warning to African states that are connected to the private mercenary army Wagner, saying if its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin could "betray" Russian President Vladimir Putin then it will betray them in turn.

"The truth is that Russia has no interest in peace or stability and African countries," he said, adding Moscow "requires active complex, and weak states, which the Kremlin views as targets to be controlled, and exploited in a new Russian imperialism."

The Kremlin was recently startled by a short-lived insurrection led by Wagner chief Prigozhin. The incident marked the greatest challenge to Putin's authority in 23 years.

What Russia is saying: In response to Moore's open plea for Russians to become spies, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that any citizens disaffected by Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime who are tempted to spy for Western intelligence should think again. 

Zakharova warned of an outcome such as that of Sergei Skripal, a former officer in Russia's military intelligence agency, GRU. In March 2018, Skripal, convicted in Russia for treason, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, according to UK authorities. Moscow has denied any involvement as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was lack of any evidence of Russia's guilt in the case. 

"As for 'open doors and keeping secrets', you perhaps would be believed if you showed us the Skripals. Usually those who believe you and trust you, end up being destroyed by you in the first place," Zakharova said in a statement posted on her Telegram channel on Wednesday.

Zakharova also made light of Moore's claims that Russia will not be able to regain momentum in the war.  "If Russia had a 'little chance' to regain ground, you, Richard Moore, wouldn't make such a fuss," she said.