July 27, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Brad Lendon, Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Leinz Vales, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 3:56 a.m. ET, July 28, 2023
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8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Putin says Russia will send free grain to 6 countries

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary session of the Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary session of the Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg on Thursday. Pavel Bednyakov/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia can replace Ukrainian grain supplies to Africa, and announced that Russia will send grain free of charge to six African nations in the next few months.

“I have already said that our country is able to replace Ukrainian grain both commercially and in the form of gratuitous aid to the most needy African countries. Moreover, this year we again expect a record harvest,” Putin said during a plenary session at the Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg.

“To be specific, I will add that in the next 3-4 months we will be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea with 25,000-50,000 tons of grain [each] free of charge. We will also provide free delivery of these products to consumers,” Putin told African leaders, and received applause.

Putin also said Russia and African countries will deepen their cooperation in the spheres of agriculture, energy, science and education.

8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

West blaming Russia for food insecurity is hypocritical, says Putin

From CNN’s Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Western sanctions are making Russian food deliveries to Africa more difficult and reiterated that Russia pulled out from the Black Sea Grain Deal, because none of Moscow’s the conditions were met.

Speaking at the opening of a plenary session at the Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Putin said “none of the conditions of the deal regarding the withdrawal from the sanctions of Russian exports of grain and fertilizers to world markets were fulfilled, not a single one.”

Putin went on to say that “the illegitimate sanctions made it much more difficult for Russia to send food to Africa,” in terms of logistics, banking and transfers.

“We have a paradoxical picture here. On one hand Western countries are limiting the supply of our grain and fertilizers to Africa. And on the other hand, in totally hypocritical manner, they blame us for all the problems,” Putin said.

Out of the 262,000 tons of fertilizers blocked in European ports, he said only two batches were actually sent - only 20,000 tons to Malawi and 34,000 tons to Kenya. “The rest remained in the hands of the Europeans,” he said.

Trade between Russia and Africa reached $18 billion last year, Putin said, adding “Africa's potential is clear to everyone, the growth potential is higher than anywhere else in the world.”

8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Why is Putin hosting a Russia-Africa summit?

From CNN's Christian Edwards

Representatives from 49 African countries are attending Thursday's two-day summit in St. Petersburg, according to the Kremlin.

Yuri Ushakov, assistant for foreign affairs to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told state news agency TASS that all but five African states would attend, and that Putin would use the occasion to “assess the system of international relations, talk about the initiatives and prospects for relations between Russia and Africa.”

17 heads of states are among the 49 representatives, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Putin said he plans to “meet separately with each leader of the African states.”

Low turnout: This turnout, however, is far lower than the 45 heads of states who attended the last Russia-Africa summit in 2019 – a sign of unease among many leaders around aligning themselves too closely with their Russian counterpart.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov blamed what he described as “brazen” interference by the West for the poor summit turnout.

“There is overt brazen interference by the US, France and other states through their diplomatic missions in African countries and attempts to put pressure on the leadership of these countries in order to prevent their active participation in the forum,” Peskov said Wednesday.

“This is indeed a fact, and this is absolutely outrageous. But this will in no way interfere with the success of the summit,” he added.

But some African politicians – further than simply not attending the summit – have expressed grave concerns about Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine.

“I don’t think that this moment in time is a good time for summits in Russia. Because Russia is involved in a war, a conflict,” said Raila Odinga, the Kenyan opposition leader.

“Africa needs to take a very firm stance on this issue. It’s a question of right and wrong. Therefore, my view is that we cannot be neutral in the place of an aggression. You must take a stand one way or another,” Odinga said.

What’s on the agenda?: Cameron Hudson, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN that many leaders of African countries will come to St. Petersburg seeking “a return to normal… of world grain markets, world fertilizer markets.”

The summit comes in the wake of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Deal, which had secured the safe passage of grain from Ukraine’s southern ports – much of which is exported to Africa.

Not only has Russia blockaded Ukraine’s ports – but it has started to bombard its infrastructure and target its storage facilities, destroying large quantities of grain and sparking fears of global food security.

“I think it’s very likely to see Russia trying to propose bilateral grain deals or even grain deals on a humanitarian basis coming directly from Russia… bypassing the UN-brokered system, leaving Ukraine out in the cold,” Hudson told CNN.

He said he expects Putin will try “to cut deals directly with African states” in order to create a “dependency relationship.” On Thursday, Putin was quick to reassure leaders that “Russia is still a reliable supplier of food to Africa.”

8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Putin tells African Union he sees bloc joining G20 in September

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before a meeting on the sidelines of Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on July 26, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before a meeting on the sidelines of Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on July 26, 2023. Alexei Danichev/Sputnik/Pool/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the heads of the African Union and the African Union Commission that Moscow supports the bloc’s G20 membership.

“We support the connection of the Union to the work of leading international associations. Let me remind you that Russia was one of the first to respond positively to the initiative last year put forward by your predecessors in the presidency, the President of Senegal, to grant the African Union full membership in the G20,” Putin said.

“We expect that this decision will be made as early as September during the G20 summit in New Delhi,” he added.

8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Russia remains "reliable" supplier of food to Africa, says Putin

From CNN’s Radina Gigova and Anna Chernova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will remain a "reliable" food supplier to Africa during his meeting with African leaders.

Many of the leaders attending the summit in St. Petersburg are seeking assurances that their countries will be able to secure food and fertilizer, after Russia allowed the Black Sea Grain Deal to lapse earlier this month.

Russia has since launched a barrage of missile strikes on Ukraine's ports and storage facilities, including at a site on the Danube River near NATO ally Romania.

In ordinary circumstances, Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to many African countries.

Putin said “practical decisions” in various areas of cooperation will be discussed, including trade, economic cooperation, as well as food security. 

“Despite the difficulties due to the pandemic and the illegitimate sanctions, we managed to increase our trade and economic connections last year,” an increase of 35%, Putin said. 

Following this initial meeting, the leaders will take part in the plenary session of the Economic and Humanitarian Forum, where Putin is expected to deliver a “voluminous speech.” 

After the plenary session, Putin will hold bilateral meetings with the heads of Mozambique, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Eritrea.

8:33 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Africa will become key partner in "new multipolar world," says Putin

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Africa will become one of Russia’s key partners “in a new multipolar world,” during his opening remarks at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg.

The Russian president is hosting 17 African heads of state, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, with Russia's withdrawal from a key grain deal likely to be a key part of the agenda.

Such high-level summits are a rarity for Putin, who has been left diplomatically isolated by the Ukraine war. The number of African heads of state attending is less than half the number at a similar summit in 2019.

We will bring you more on this story as it develops.

4:58 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Zelensky visits Dnipro after "good results" in counteroffensive

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Oren Lieberman and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is visiting the city of Dnipro amid reports of a large push by Kyiv’s forces less than a hundred miles south, along the Zaporizhzhia frontline.

“We started our working day in Dnipro. Field Staff in the area of responsibility of the Operational and strategic grouping of troops 'Tavria'. Situation at the front, course of offensive and defensive actions,” Zelensky posted on Telegram.

His visit and remarks come as Ukrainian forces continue their "offensive operation on Melitopol and Berdyansk axes, consolidating their positions, and inflict fire damage,” according to the military’s General Staff. 

Kyiv adds combat power: It also follows comments from US officials that Ukraine has committed more forces to its counteroffensive in the southeast after nearly two months of slow progress, according to two US officials —a sign that they may have identified potential weaknesses in Russian defensive lines to exploit.

The newly committed units had been held in reserve until now. The military still has additional combat power in reserve, but this is the “main bulk” of the forces committed to the counteroffensive, one of the officials said.

In the southeast, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has broken through some elements of Russian defensive lines, the official said, and the reserve units have come in to capitalize on the opportunity. 

Major push forward: On Wednesday, Ukraine appeared to have launched a major push south of Orikhiv, along the Melitopol axis, with Russian officials and bloggers saying Kyiv had committed up to 100 armoured vehicles to the offensive.

A member of the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia military-civilian administration, Vladimir Rogov, wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces, backed by armored vehicles and tanks, had managed to “wedge in three sections of our first line of defense” near Robotyne. 

Ukraine has yet to comment on the specifics of the push. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar, said only that offensive operations along the southern front were “gradually advancing,” with similar, gradual progress also taking place further east in the area of Staromaiorsk.

Zelensky concluded his nightly address on Wednesday with a cryptic message that Ukrainian forces were seeing success at the front line.

By the way, today our guys at the front had very good results. Well done,” he said. “More details later.”
12:30 a.m. ET, July 27, 2023

Ukraine has “options available” as Kyiv commits more forces to counteroffensive, US defense secretary says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference in Washington, Tuesday, on July 18.
Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference in Washington, Tuesday, on July 18. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine has “a number of options available” as Kyiv commits more forces to its ongoing counteroffensive against Russia. 

Austin didn’t comment on the status of the counteroffensive or specific battlefield details, but he said that Ukraine has been “preserving manpower and equipment,” even as their forces deliberately work their way through minefields and other obstacles.

“They still have a number of options available to them, and we can expect that they’ll continue to press,” Austin said at a press conference in Papua New Guinea alongside the country’s Prime Minister.

CNN reported earlier that Ukraine has committed more forces to its counteroffensive in the southeast after nearly two months of slow progress, according to two US officials, a sign that they have identified potential weaknesses in Russian defensive lines to exploit.

“Ukraine is well prepared and well trained to be successful, and as you heard me say last week, they fought hard, they’ve been working their way to get through the minefields and other obstacles, but they still have a lot of combat power,” Austin said.

The Ukrainian military still has additional combat power in reserve, but this is the “main bulk” of the forces committed to the counteroffensive, one of the officials said.

11:16 p.m. ET, July 26, 2023

Counteroffensive developments, grain deal discussions and other headlines you should know

From CNN staff

Heavy fighting continues in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, especially around the village of Robotyne, where Ukrainian forces have been trying to break through heavily mined Russian defensive lines, according to Ukrainian and Russian accounts.

Ukrainian forces are also "gradually advancing" in the Melitopol and Berdiansk directions, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said. Farther east, Ukraine is "making progress" and consolidating its positions in the area of Staromaiorske, she added.

Ukrainian forces have made only modest territorial advances in the south since the counteroffensive began at the end of May, committing more forces in the southeast after nearly two months of slow progress, according to two US officials — a sign that they have identified potential weaknesses in Russian defensive lines to exploit. Additionally, the Ukrainian Air Force says it intercepted 40 Russian missiles Wednesday.

If you're just now catching up, here's what else you should know:

  • Military weapons and technology: More than 40 Ukrainian companies have contracts to develop drones for use in the war against Russia, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
  • Grain deal developments: The US and its allies are working with Kyiv on alternative land routes to deliver critical grain to the world after Russia pulled out of the grain deal that had permitted Ukrainian grain to travel through the Black Sea, the White House said Wednesday. Meanwhile, the NATO-Ukraine Council discussed what it called a "serious security situation" in the Black Sea at a meeting on Wednesday, according to the NATO website
  • Wagner and Belarus: Belarus’ Deputy Interior Minister Nikolay Karpenkov said the newly arrived Wagner fighters provide Belarus’ armed forces with a “unique opportunity” to become battle-ready.
  • ICC updates: US President Joe Biden has decided to allow the US to cooperate with the International Criminal Court's investigation of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, two US officials and a source familiar with the matter tell CNN. The decision comes after months of internal debate and marks a historic shift, as it would be the first time the US has agreed to share evidence with the court. The US is not a party to the ICC.