July 23, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news (2023)

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5:27 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

We've wrapped up our live coverage for the day. You can read more about Russia's invasion of Ukraine here, or scroll through the updates below.

5:47 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Ukrainian defense minister says F-16 training will start in August, with pilots in the skies next year

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla and Alex Marquardt in Kyiv

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in August.

Reznikov, speaking in an exclusive interview with CNN over the weekend, added that the training will take “a minimum of 6 months” and that Ukraine still needs to add some infrastructure for the fighter jets.

The defense minister said he thought, optimistically, pilots could be operating F-16s in the skies of Ukraine by spring of next year.

Speaking to CNN’s Alex Marquardt in the Ukrainian capital, Reznikov, a lawyer turned defense official, did concede that if Ukraine had these fighter jets now they would “certainly” have helped Ukraine make more progress in the ongoing counteroffensive.

“If you have more sophisticated, more modern weaponry will be more efficient,” he said.

The training — which Reznikov said will likely be held in Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as possibly in the United Kingdom or Poland — will also include intensive sessions for technicians. The defense minister said the maintenance of the jets is a "serious task”.

He said the trainings may be split between countries, but the final plans were still being finalized.

The minister joked that the group of 11 nations that have committed to helping Ukraine train pilots on the F16s are called “Ocean’s 11,” after the popular film.

4:49 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Assault on Odesa, Wagner in Belarus and news from the front lines: Here are today's top headlines

From CNN staff

Another round of Russian attacks on the port city of Odesakilled at least one person and wounded 19 others overnight into Sunday, according to Ukrainian officials. Kyiv's air defense systems are struggling to fend off the assaults because they're ill-equipped to knock down certain types of missiles, the defense ministry said.

Fighting also continues elsewhere near the front lines, with Russia shelling Kharkiv in the north and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

Here's what to know:

  • Wagner fighters in Belarus: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the Wagner mercenaries who are in his country have begun to "stress" him because they want to "go to the West" on "an excursion." Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin and he was apparently joking, but the tensions are very real surrounding the private military group's presence in Belarus and plans to hold training exercises near the Polish border. The Wagner group is in Belarus after Lukashenko helped broker a deal to end the group's rebellion against Moscow.
  • Overnight strikes in Odesa: A fifth night of Russian strikes on the southern port city ofOdesadamaged a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, architectural monuments and homes, according to Ukraine’s military. At least one person was killed and more than a dozen others were wounded. Russia’s defense ministry claimed Sunday that it is avoiding civilian infrastructure, as well as cultural and historical objects, in its strikes, which Ukraine, its allies and international bodies dismiss as patently false.
  • Monuments damaged: The attacks damaged 25 architectural monuments in the historic city center, many of which were protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Among the damaged buildings was an Orthodox cathedral that was the largest in the city and has a history that traces back to the 1800s. Ukraine's Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko called for Russia's expulsion from UNESCO, and the European Union foreign policy chief called the cathedral's destruction "another war crime" committed by Moscow.
  • Call for more air defense: Ukraine has beenstruggling in the past weekto repel a wave of Russian strikes against Odesa, its air defenses unable to cope with the types of missiles that Moscow has used to pummel the region. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his call for a "sky shield" provided by partners.
  • Fighting in other areas of Ukraine: Deadly Russian shelling also continued overnight in Ukraine's Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions. According to regional leaders, at least two people were killed in Kharkiv. Russia also shelled about 20 different civilian settlements in Ukraine’sZaporizhzhia region, a military leader there said.
  • Ammo dump in Crimea: Ukrainian forces hit anammunitiondump inCrimeaon Saturday, forcing an evacuation of the area and canceling train services, according to information from Russian-backed authorities. It marksthe latest in a series of recent strikeson Russian supplies and critical infrastructure in the Russian-annexed peninsula.
  • Black Sea grain deal: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is visiting Equatorial Guinea to discuss food security in Africa nearly two weeks after Russiapulled out of a critical dealto allow safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports. Experts and world leaders have warned that Russia leaving the Black Sea grain deal could jeopardize food sources for many places around the world.
4:47 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Zelensky says NATO-Ukraine Council will meet Wednesday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Sunday that the NATO-Ukraine Council will meet Wednesday.

The news comes one day after Zelensky urgently called for a meeting with the military alliance, saying the council should convene to discuss the crisis caused by Russia pulling out of the Black Sea grain deal. The Ukrainian leader said the council needs to decide on steps “to unblock and ensure the stable operation of the grain corridor.”

The meeting will also come on the heels of several consecutive nights of Russian strikes on the southern port city of Odesa, which has further threatened Kyiv's ability to export food.

About the council: The NATO-Ukraine Council is the joint body where Zelensky formally meets with leaders from the alliance for crisis consultation, input on key issues and updates on Ukraine's ongoing membership efforts.

The council was created at the 2023 NATO summit as part of a package of support and assurances bringing Ukraine closer to the alliance.

CNN's Mariya Knight contributed to this report.

3:55 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Ukrainian defense minister eyes next year for country's accession to NATO

From CNN's Sebastian Shukla and Alex Marquardt

July 23, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news (1)

Ukraine’s defense minister says he is eyeing next year’s NATO summit as possible timing for Ukraine to be admitted to the alliance.

Oleskii Reznikov noted that next July’s summit in Washington, DC, will be the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

“Who knows, maybe it will be very important day for Ukraine,” Reznikov told CNN. “It is just my forecast.”

The United States and other NATO countries have said it is impossible to admit Ukraine now because of the ongoing war. The alliance’s Article 5 says allies will come to the aid of a member if attacked.

Reznikov acknowledged that Ukraine will only be able to join the alliance once the war is over, referencing Article 5 and saying "we have no options to have a unanimous vote" while the conflict is ongoing.

When asked if he thought the war would be over by next summer he quickly answered, “Yes. We will win this war.”

Reznikov downplayed the Biden administration’s refusal to commit to Ukraine getting admitted immediately after the war’s end.

“I think it's not necessary,” he said. Ukraine will have a streamlined admission process and in the meantime will continue to work on the necessary reforms, Reznikov added.

The defense minister emphasized that the benefits of admitting Ukraine to the alliance have only grown given its fight against Russia.

“After the victory, after then, it will be in the interest of NATO because we became a real eastern shield of NATO or eastern shield of Europe," he said. Ukraine has gained “real combat experience — how to deter Russians, to defeat them, to beat them with using NATO standard weaponry,” he added.
1:46 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Some Western-provided weapons intended for Ukraine were stolen last year, watchdog report says

From CNN's Natasha BertrandandHaley Britzky

Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine stole someWestern-provided weaponsand equipment intended for Ukrainian troops last year before it was recovered, according to a US Defense Department inspector general report obtained by CNN.

The plots to steal the weaponry and equipment were disrupted by Ukraine’s intelligence services and the items were ultimately recovered, according to the report, titled “DoD’s Accountability of Equipment Provided to Ukraine.” CNN obtained the report via a Freedom of Information Act request. Military.com first reportedthe news.

But the inspector general report noted that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the Defense Department’s ability to track and monitor all of the US equipment pouring into Ukraine, as required by law under the Arms Export Control Act, faced “challenges” because of the limited US presence in the country.

According to the report, which examined the period of February-September 2022, the Office of Defense Cooperation-Kyiv “was unable to conduct required (end-use monitoring) of military equipment that the United States provided to Ukraine in FY 2022.”

“The inability of DoD personnel to visit areas where equipment provided to Ukraine was being used or stored significantly hampered ODC-Kyiv’s ability to execute” the monitoring, the report added.

The report is dated October 6, 2022. In late October, the US resumed on-site inspections of Ukrainian weapons depots as a way to better track where the equipment was going. The department has also provided Ukraine with tracking systems, including scanners and software, the Pentagon’s former under secretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl, told lawmakers in February.

But the report underscores how difficult it was in the early days of the war for the US to track the billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment it was sending to Ukraine.

“The US government remains keenly aware of the risk of possible illicit diversion and is proactively taking steps to mitigate this risk in close cooperation with the government of Ukraine. We are realistic that we are sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself in an active conflict, and there is a risk these weapons could be captured if territory changes hands — which happens in any war,” a US State Department spokesperson said.

Read more here.

11:53 a.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Ukrainian foreign minister to discuss food security with African leaders following grain deal collapse

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is visiting Equatorial Guinea to discuss food security in Africa nearly two weeks after Russia pulled out of a critical deal to allow safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports.

Experts and world leaders have warned that Russia leaving the Black Sea grain deal could jeopardize food sources for many places around the world.

Kuleba's visit toEquatorial Guineawill be the first in the history of diplomatic relations of the two countries, Ukraine's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kuleba is expected to "hold talks with the country’s leadership on the development of bilateral relations, increasing the volume of trade, ensuring food security in Africa and supporting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Peace Formula," the ministry said.

Some context: The Black Sea grain deal has allowed for the export of almost 33 million metric tons of food through Ukrainian ports, according todata from the United Nations. The collapse of the pact threatens to push up food prices for consumers worldwide and tip millions into hunger.

Before the war, Ukraine was the fifth-largest wheat exporter globally, accounting for 10% of exports, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Ukraine is among the world’s top three exporters of barley, maize and rapeseed oil, says Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data firm. It is alsoby far the biggest exporter of sunflower oil, accounting for 46% of the world’s exports, according to the UN.

11:53 a.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Belarus president jokes with Putin, says Wagner fighters "stress" him as they want to go to Poland

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Radina Gigova

July 23, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news (2)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the Wagner mercenaries who are in his country have begun to "stress" him, because they want to "go to the West" on "an excursion."

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but I will. The Wagnerites began to stress us. ‘We want to go to the West. Let us,’ they tell us,” Lukashenko told Putin during a meeting in St. Petersburg.

“Why do you need to go to the West? 'Well, go on an excursion to Warsaw, to Rzeszow,'” Lukashenko said.“I keep them in the center, as agreed, of Belarus."

Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin and he was apparently joking with him. A video showed Putin smiling at the comments.

Key context: The Wagner private military group is in Belarus after Lukashenko helped broker a deal to end the group's short-lived rebellion against Moscow. Ukraine says as many as 5,000 fighters are already in the country.

This week, Belarus announced its forceswillhold exerciseswith Wagner fighters neartheborder with Poland, raising tensions.

On Friday, Putin, without providing any proof, accused Poland of wanting to annex parts of Belarus, saying any aggression would be met with "all the means at our disposal."

Western allies have responded in kind, with Germany publicly pledging that NATO will defend its alliance member Poland if there is an attack on its eastern flank from the Wagner troops in Belarus.

1:52 p.m. ET, July 23, 2023

Russia's goal to eliminate Ukraine from the map "failed a long time ago," US secretary of state says

From CNN's Kaanita Iyer

July 23, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news (3)

Russia has "already lost the war" in Ukraine in terms of what Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to achieve, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN.

“The objective was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, its sovereignty, to subsume it into Russia. That failed a long time ago,” the secretary said in an exclusive interview that aired Sunday.

Blinken acknowledged that Ukraine’s mission to regain territory captured by Moscow — which has gotten off to a slow start, by its own estimation — would be “a very hard fight.” He predicted that the war, which recently surpassed the 500 days mark, would continue for “several months.”

However, he said, along with the aid, military equipment and training Ukraine is receiving from various countries, Kyiv’s cause represents “the decisive element.”

“Unlike the Russians, Ukrainians are fighting for their land, for their future, for their country, for their freedom,” Blinken said.

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