July 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Brad Lendon, Christian Edwards, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, July 21, 2023
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7:37 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Poland monitoring Belarus border amid joint Wagner military exercises 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Anti-tank obstacles are pictured by the metal wall constructed at the Polish-Belarussian border on July 8, 2023 in Bialowieza, Poland.
Anti-tank obstacles are pictured by the metal wall constructed at the Polish-Belarussian border on July 8, 2023 in Bialowieza, Poland. Omar Marques/Getty Images

Poland's defense ministry said it is monitoring its border with Belarus and is prepared for "various scenarios," after Minsk announced Thursday that its forces will hold exercises with Wagner fighters in the area.

"Poland's borders are safe. We constantly observe the situation on our eastern border and we are prepared to develop various scenarios as the situation evolves," the defense ministry told CNN in a statement.

"Both Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and the head of the Ministry of National Defense Mariusz Błaszczak emphasized that the Wagner Group could be used to destabilize the Polish-Belarusian border," it continued.

The statement added that joint actions between Poland's army and border guard involving almost 200 units of equipment were happening as a response. The country is fully willing and able to immediately respond to any attempts at destabilization on the border, it added.

Some background: The Belarusian Defense Ministry said Thursday that its forces will hold exercises with Wagner fighters on the Polish border.

At the beginning of July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko invited Wagner forces into Belarus to help train his country’s military.

That invitation came shortly after the failed armed insurrection by Wagner forces against Moscow, which Lukashenko was credited with helping diffuse. 

The announcement of a joint military exercise comes a day after a video appeared to show Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in Belarus -- his first public sighting since the mutiny.

7:10 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

UK sanctions Wagner Group operating in Central African Republic and Mali

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and Lindsay Isaac in London

This undated photograph handed out by French military shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali.
This undated photograph handed out by French military shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali. French Army/AP

The United Kingdom has added individuals and groups with links to Russia's Wagner Group who are operating in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali to its sanctions list, its foreign ministry said Thursday.

In the latest update of the UK sanctions list, the ministry added seven new designations under CAR sanctions regime, five new designations under the Sudan sanctions regime and one new designation under the Mali sanctions regime. 

Among those sanctioned were Vitalii Viktorovitch Perfilev, head of the Wagner Group in the CAR, and Ivan Aleksandrovitch, the head in Mali. Both will be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban.

Wagner's African footprint: As Joyce M. Davis, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN:

Since it first emerged in 2014 during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Wagner Group has operated in at least a half-dozen African countries, with a presence of some 5,000-strong across the continent, including fighting forces, former convicts and foreign nationals.

Much more than a mere contingent of mercenary troops, Wagner is a complicated network of businesses intertwined with fighting forces, with operations intricately linked with Russia’s military and intelligence community. But for the past several days, the whereabouts of the mercurial man who leads the vast operation have been unknown.

On Wednesday, a video emerged that appeared to show Prigozhin greeting his fighters in Belarus, in what would be his first public appearance since he led an armed rebellion in Russia last month.

The question remains however, what will now become of Wagner’s immense Africa operation that provided security services and paramilitary assistance and launched disinformation campaigns for troubled regimes in the CAR, Libya, Mali and Sudan?

Read the full opinion piece here:

8:05 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Ukraine pleads for better air defenses for southern regions amid Odesa bombardment

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

Emergency service personnel work at the site of a destroyed building after a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20.
Emergency service personnel work at the site of a destroyed building after a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20. Libkos/AP

Ukraine’s Air Force has asked for better air defense systems for its southern regions, after reportedly destroying just five of 19 Russian cruise missiles fired at the country overnight.

What could be shot down is being shot down,” Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Air Force Command of Urkaine’s Armed Forces said on national television.

“Of course, we would like to shoot down more.”

Russia’s third consecutive night of attacks on Odesa has left one person dead. At least 19 were also injured by an overnight Russian attack on Mykolaiv.

Ihnat said that it is “no possibility” to shoot down Russia’s Oniks and Kh-22 missiles with Ukraine’s current air defense systems because of how fast they fly.

“We need means, we need to reinforce the southern regions, our port cities, with means, in particular, against ballistic missiles,” he said. “Systems such as Patriot or SAMP-T could provide protection for this region.”

The Oniks missile, he said, “is designed to destroy watercraft, ships. It flies at a speed of more than 3,000 km per hour... When entering the target, the missile can fly at an altitude of 10-15 meters above the water to destroy the ship, which makes it difficult to detect and, accordingly, shoot down by the air defense means."

6:45 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

One dead in Odesa as Ukraine downs just a quarter of Russian cruise missiles fired overnight

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mia Alberti

Firefighters work at a site of an administrative building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20.
Firefighters work at a site of an administrative building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters

Russia’s third consecutive night of attacks on Odesa killed one person, as Ukraine’s military only managed to shoot down just over a quarter of Russian cruise missiles fired overnight.

Ukraine’s Air Force said that it had “destroyed” five of 19 cruise missiles fired at the country overnight. Just two of the five destroyed cruise missiles were in Odesa, according to Oleh Kiper, head of Odesa's regional military administration.

“As a result of the nighttime Russian attack, we have one dead in Odesa,” Kiper said on Telegram. “The victim was a security guard of a civilian building, born in 2002. Our sincere condolences to the family and friends.”

The Air Force also said it had destroyed 13 of 19 Shahed attack drones.

“Unfortunately, not all missiles were destroyed, including supersonic missiles such as the Kh-22 and Oniks, which are extremely difficult to destroy,” Kiper said in a separate update on Telegram.

“While attacking the ports of the grain deal, causing damage to the port infrastructure, the terrorists also hit civilian infrastructure that was not related to the ports. They destroyed an administrative building in the center of Odesa, where the blast wave damaged several other buildings, including residential ones. 4 local residents were injured, including 1 child.”

Rescuers work at a site of a building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in central Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20.
Rescuers work at a site of a building heavily damaged by a Russian missile attack in central Odesa, Ukraine, on July 20. Serhii Smolientsev/Reuters

The mayor of Odesa, Hennadii Trukhanov, posted a video to Facebook on Thursday standing in the destruction caused by a Russian munition near a nursery.

“Another terrorist attack by non-humans, creatures, on the peaceful city of Odesa,” Trukhanov says in the video. “Look at what they are doing. This is a nursery. There is a kindergarten nearby. Civilians live nearby. They destroyed everything. We are looking for a person under the rubble. A person was injured and taken to the hospital in a serious condition.”

“What can I say? There is nothing to say. Creatures, non-humans. I am holding back my emotions because they are overflowing. There will be an answer for this. They will answer for everything -- to humanity, to God," said Trukhanov.
6:23 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Putin will travel somewhere in Russia today, Kremlin says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin will “make a regional trip today” to an unnamed location in the country, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a Thursday conference call.

“For obvious reasons, we do not announce regional trips and do not tell in advance about places of visit. We will be doing it during the day,” Peskov said.

It was confirmed Wednesday that Putin will not attend the BRICS summit hosted by Johannesburg, South Africa, in late August, halting months of speculation triggered by an arrest warrant issued against the Kremlin leader for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Read the full story here:

6:22 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

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

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15. Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP/Getty Images

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.

8:31 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

"A barbarian attitude:" Russian attack on Odesa causing “destruction of grain storage," EU says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie

 

This picture shows a grain terminal in a sea port damaged during Russian missile and drone strikes, in Odesa region, Ukraine on July 19.
This picture shows a grain terminal in a sea port damaged during Russian missile and drone strikes, in Odesa region, Ukraine on July 19. Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry/Facebook/Reuters

Russian attacks in the Ukraine's southern port city of Odesa are causing large scale destruction of grain storage, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has warned.  

Speaking to reporters ahead of an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Borrell described the attacks as “a barbarian attitude, which will be taken into consideration by the council today.”

“Not only they withdraw from the grain agreement in order to export grain from Ukraine, but they are burning the grain,” Borrell said. 
“What we already know is that this is going to create a big, a huge food crisis in the world,” he continued.

Borrell also told reporters that he had presented a plan “to ensure the financial support for Ukraine in the next years, which will amount to quite an important amount on money,” which he said he hoped ministers will support. 

Some context: Russia said Monday it was suspending its participation in a crucial deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain, raising fears over global food supplies.

Under the deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, Russia allowed ships to leave several Ukrainian ports in and around Odesa and travel through an agreed corridor to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait to reach global markets.

But with Odesa under attack by Russia for three consecutive days, grain exports are expected to stall.

3:53 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Ukraine says it blocked 18 out of 38 Russian air attacks overnight

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Mia Alberti 

A firefighter works at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on July 20.
A firefighter works at a site of a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on July 20. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Reuters

Russia launched 38 air attacks on southern Ukraine overnight into Thursday morning, including nearly two dozen cruise missiles and kamikaze drones combined, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Air Force.

Russian forces attacked “ports, piers, residential buildings and retail chains” in the southern cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv, it added.

Ukraine's air defense destroyed 18 of the projectiles, it said, including 13 Shahed drones, two sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles and three Iskander-K land-based cruise missiles, according to the statement.

The Ukrainian Air Force claimed Russian forces fired seven Oniks cruise missiles from the Bastion coastal missile system in Crimea, four Kh-22 air-launched cruise missiles from eight Tu-22M3 aircraft, three sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles “allegedly from a submarine” in the Black Sea and five Iskander-K land-launched cruise missiles from Crimea.

The Ukrainian Air Force also said Russia launched 19 Shahed-136/131 attack drones from Crimea and Kursk. 

Ukraine fires back:  The Ukrainian Air Force also said it carried out more than 20 air strikes on "objects, places of concentration of equipment and personnel of the Russian occupiers” in recent days, the statement said. 

6:18 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Belarusian forces to hold exercises with Wagner fighters near border with Poland

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Sharon Braithwaite

A fighter from Russian Wagner mercenary group and a Belarusian service member take part in a joint training at the Brest military range outside Brest, Belarus, in this still image from a video released on July 20.
A fighter from Russian Wagner mercenary group and a Belarusian service member take part in a joint training at the Brest military range outside Brest, Belarus, in this still image from a video released on July 20. Belarusian Defence Ministry/Reuters

Belarusian forces will hold exercises with Wagner fighters near its border with Poland, Belarus' Defense Ministry said in a statement on Thursday. 

"The Armed Forces of Belarus continue joint training with the fighters of PMC 'Wagner,'" the ministry said, referring to the paramilitary company.

"During the week, units of the special operations forces together with representatives of the company will work out training and combat tasks at the Brestsky training ground."

The ministry didn't say when exactly the exercises would take place.

Some context: At the beginning of July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko invited Wagner forces into Belarus to help train his country’s military. The invite came shortly after the failed armed insurrection by Wagner forces against Moscow, which Lukashenko was credited with helping diffuse. 

A video emerged on Wednesday that appears to show Wagner chief 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. CNN geolocated the video to a previously disused military base in Asipovichy, roughly 80 kilometers (49 miles) southeast of the capital Minsk.