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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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.

8:32 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Administrative building and warehouses damaged in Odesa attack, Ukrainian military spokesperson says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Alex Stambaugh 

Natalia Humeniuk attends a briefing in Odesa, southern Ukraine on May 4.
Natalia Humeniuk attends a briefing in Odesa, southern Ukraine on May 4. Nina Liashonok/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images/File

Russia's attack on the southern port city of Odesa on Thursday damaged an administrative building and warehouses in the region, with a Ukrainian military spokesperson saying at least 20 missiles and drones targeted the city.

At least four people were injured in the blast at the administrative building in Odesa city center, said Natalia Humeniuk, head of the Joint Press Centre of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine.

"For the third night in a row, Russians have been attacking Odesa and Mykolaiv regions. These attacks are aimed in particular with the focus on port infrastructure," Humeniuk told parliamentary TV channel Rada. 

"The hits in the (Odesa) region are related to logistics facilities — warehouses. There is no information about the casualties there yet," Humeniuk said. 

Humeniuk claimed a submarine in the Black Sea, aircraft and Kh-22 missiles were involved in the attack. She said the total number of missiles and drones aimed at targets in southern Ukraine overnight was well over 20, but that final results are still being summarized. 

11:52 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea kills a teenager, Russian-backed leader says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

The Russian-backed leader of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, claimed on Thursday that a Ukrainian drone hit an area in the occupied Crimea and killed a teenage girl.

Four administrative buildings were damaged in one of the settlements in the northwest of Crimea as a result of a drone strike from Ukraine, Aksyonov said in a post on Telegram.

"Unfortunately, there were casualties – a teenage girl died," Aksyonov added.

CNN has reached out for comment to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, which has yet to respond.

4:09 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

It's early morning in Odesa. Here's what you should know

CNN Staff

Rescuers work at a site of an administrative building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, in Odesa, Ukraine on July 20.
Rescuers 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 attacked Odesa early Thursday for a third straight night, according to Ukrainian authorities.

It comes after Russian forces launched airstrikes on Odesa Tuesday in what Moscow said was retaliation for Kyiv's attack on the Crimean bridge linking the annexed peninsula to Russia.

Meanwhile, series of explosions were reported at a Russian ammunition dump in occupied Crimea, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

Here's what else you should know to get up to speed:

  • Iranian drones: The UK’s intelligence chief has said that Iran’s decision to supply Russia with drones for use in the war in Ukraine has triggered “internal quarrels” at the “highest level” of the regime in Tehran. Iran has denied accusations of supplying drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, only acknowledging providing drones to Russia before the war started.
  • Russian spies: The head of Britain's foreign intelligence service used a rare speech in Prague to issue a plea to disaffected Russians to spy for the UK. In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said any citizens disaffected by Putin's regime who are tempted to spy for Western intelligence should think again. 
  • Grain deal developments: 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. 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. Putin called the West's failure to comply with Moscow’s demands to extend the UN-brokered Black Sea grain initiative “arrogance and impudence,” and said his country would consider returning if conditions are met.
  • Odesa strikes: Russian missile and drone strikes on Odesa damaged port infrastructure that was being used as part of the grain initiative, the Ukrainian Agriculture Ministry said. President Volodymyr Zelensky says overnight Russian missile and drone strikes on Odesa were the biggest Russian attempt to “inflict pain" on the southern port city since the war began. 
  • Wagner developments: 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. And on Wednesday, video emerged that appears to show the group's 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.
  • Military aid for Ukraine: The US 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. Zelensky thanked the US and President Joe Biden for another defense support package.
12:34 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

At least 18 injured in Russian attack on Mykolaiv, Ukrainian military official says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Josh Pennigton

A building is seen on fire in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on early Thursday.
A building is seen on fire in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on early Thursday. Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevi

Russia struck the city center of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine on Thursday, according to Vitaliy Kim, the head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration.

At least 18 people were wounded, Kim said in the latest update on Telegram.

"A parking garage and a 3-story apartment building are on fire. The fire brigade is on its way," Kim said on Telegram.

Among the injured people are five children, including a baby less than a year old, and 3-year-old child.

Kim reported fatalities but did not specify how many. He also did not provide more details on the nature of the attack.

11:42 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

At least 2 people injured after Russia targets Odesa for a 3rd night in a row, Ukraine authorities say

From CNN’s Alex Marquardt, Sebastian Shukla, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Scott McWhinnie

Russia attacked the southern port city of Odesa for the third night in a row, according to Ukrainian authorities.

At least two people were injured in the attacks, the head of the region's military administration Oleh Kiper said in a post on Telegram.

At least eight Russian Tu-22M3 aircraft were "flying in the direction of the Black Sea," the Ukrainian air force said early Thursday.

"There is a threat of cruise missile launches. Don't ignore the air alert!" it said on Telegram on Thursday.

The air force warned that Russian supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles "were launched in the direction of the Odesa region."

A CNN team on the ground witnessed a large explosion and heard the sound of other explosions.

Some background: Russian attacks over the previous two nights damaged the port infrastructure in the city, officials said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday the attacks were the largest since the war began, and he accused Russia of trying to weaponize hunger and destabilize the global food market.

The president linked the strikes with Russia’s decision to pull out Monday of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed Ukraine to export its grain via the contested body of water.

11:44 p.m. ET, July 19, 2023

Russia could target civilian ships in Black Sea and blame Ukraine, White House says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Russia could target civilian ships in the Black Sea and blame Ukraine following the Kremlin’s decision to leave the Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

Russia has laid additional sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports, spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Russia’s Defense Ministry said any ship sailing toward a Ukrainian port would be considered as potentially carrying military cargo. 

“We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks,” Hodge said.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered one year ago by Turkey and the United Nations, which allowed for the export of Ukrainian grain, expired Monday at midnight. The agreement guaranteed safe passage for ships carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait.

In the days since the grain deal expired, Russia has targeted the port city of Odesa with missiles and drones, destroying agricultural infrastructure and 60,000 tons of grain, Hodge said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attacks on Odesa were the largest since the war began, and he accused Russia of trying to weaponize hunger and destabilize the global food market.

12:08 a.m. ET, July 20, 2023

Analysis: Putin just spiked worldwide wheat prices. Here's how

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Vladimir Putin attends a forum in Moscow on July 13.
Vladimir Putin attends a forum in Moscow on July 13. Alexander Kazakov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have declared open season on Ukraine’s consequential grain exports, targeting the port city of Odesa with a new ferocity and jeopardizing worldwide food prices.

With the strikes on Odesa, Putin says he wants payback for damage to a nearly 12-mile bridge that connects annexed Crimea to the Russian mainland.

But they also coincide with Russia’s retreat from a yearlong deal known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative to keep Ukrainian grain flowing to the world.

Wheat and corn prices on global commodities markets jumped Monday after Russia pulled out of the deal, and they spiked again Wednesday after attacks on the ports in Odesa and as hope faded for Russia to rejoin the grain deal.

Turkey brokered previous versions of the grain deal, and it plans to host Putin for talks in August.

Without a new grain deal, the options are to use railroads to ship Ukrainian grain to ports in Romania or in southeastern Europe. The problems in both of those scenarios are time and money, according to Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. He told CNN’s Rosemary Church that ports in Romania are being expanded.

Church noted that China has come to rely on grain from Ukraine and wondered if Beijing could lean on Russia to reenter the deal.

Evenett said it’s true that China has also suffered from droughts that have affected its domestic production.

“If those droughts turn out to be as significant as people highlight, then maybe Beijing will be moved to put leverage onto Russia to relent on this,” Evenett said. “But I think there’s a series of ifs there. It’s not clear yet if Beijing is particularly worried about its own food security needs.”

Read more here.