Here is the situation on Saturday, July 15, 2023.
- Ukrainian officials said air defences shot down 20 Iranian-made Russian drones. The debris fell on four districts of Kyiv, injuring two people and destroying several homes. Two Russian cruise missiles were also intercepted.
- Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainians must understand that Russia is deploying all possible resources to stop Kyiv’s forces from advancing on the front lines in the east and south of the country. “And every thousand metres we advance, every success of every combat brigade, deserves our gratitude,” he said in his nightly video address.
- Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said Ukraine’s forces are not making speedy headway in their offensive to recapture territory from Russian forces. “Today it’s advancing not so quickly,” he said, conceding that the fighting was difficult.
- A Ukrainian court jailed a man for 10 years after finding him guilty of conspiring with Russia to target critical infrastructure and military units. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not identify the man but said he had fought alongside Russia-backed armed groups in eastern Ukraine before and since Moscow’s full-scale invasion.
- Russia accused the West of sponsoring “nuclear terrorism” after a Ukrainian drone hit the Russian town of Kurchatov, where a nuclear power station – similar to the Chornobyl plant – is located. The drone hit an apartment building built on the banks of a cooling pond for the Kursk nuclear power station, which is still in service.
- Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the strategy to win the war was clear: “Maximum and full military support for Ukraine enables the army to break through the Russian defence, which contributes to the collapse of the Russian front, leads to internal destabilisation in Russia and the transfer of power within the elite.”
- The governor of the Russian Belgorod region said a car explosion injured three people in a residential area.
- Ukraine said it had received cluster bombs from the United States, munitions banned in more than 100 countries, but has pledged to only use them to dislodge concentrations of Russian soldiers.
- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the US decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine while at the same time stressing the importance of banning this type of weapon. The US “made a decision that is not ours but which it made sovereignly”, Scholz said. The US may otherwise not be able to provide sufficient ammunition to Ukraine, he said.
- The Belarusian defence ministry said that fighters from Russia’s Wagner mercenary force are training soldiers in Belarus. The ministry said the training was taking place near Asipovichy, about 90km (56 miles) south of Minsk.
- The Kremlin said the status of the Wagner Group needs to be “considered”, a day after Putin said the group had no legal basis in Russia.
- Foreign-made tanks are a “priority target” for Russian forces in Ukraine, Putin said, and the supply of Western weaponry to Kyiv will not change the course of the war. Putin also said he offered Wagner mercenaries the opportunity to continue serving together in Russia after their aborted mutiny last month.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed satisfaction with the results of last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius despite Kyiv’s failure to secure a hoped-for invitation to formally join the alliance. “We have overcome the psychological barrier, and I see that Ukraine is considered a member of NATO in real terms,” he said.
- The US House of Representatives passed legislation that sets policy for the Pentagon, authorises $886bn in spending for it in the financial year that begins on October 1 and provides an additional $300m to support Ukraine as it responds to the Russian invasion.
- Former Russian president and deputy chairman of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, will present Putin with a report on the preparation of future soldiers to fight in Ukraine, Russian news agency TASS reported.
- An alleged Russian intelligence officer pleaded not guilty to US charges of smuggling US-origin electronics and ammunition into Russia to help its war against Ukraine. Vadim Konoshchenok, who was extradited on Thursday from Estonia to the US, entered the plea at a hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn on Friday.
- Ukraine’s parliament voted in favour of changing the date of the Orthodox Christmas holiday from January 7 to December 25. The aim of the bill submitted by Zelenskyy was the “dissociation from the Russian heritage”.
- Russia’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law to ban legally or medically changing one’s gender as part of a wider crackdown against LGBTQ rights. The bill would stop Russians from changing their gender on official identity documents, which had been legal since 1997.
- Russia closed Poland’s embassy in the city of Smolensk, Russian news agency Interfax reported. The decision to close was due to Poland’s “anti-Russian actions”, the agency reported.
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interventions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Indonesia were “not constructive or productive on any issue”. Blinken, who did not meet Lavrov, told reporters that Lavrov was “totally negative” and focused on blaming the US.
- European Union foreign policy chief said Lavrov had responded aggressively to a request to withdraw troops from Ukraine during the ASEAN meeting in Indonesia. Speaking to reporters, Josep Borrell said Lavrov called the request a Western conspiracy.
Aid and trade
- Ukraine’s trade deficit has grown to $8.97bn in the first five months of the year compared with a deficit of about $1bn in the same period last year, the country’s statistics service said.
- EU finance ministers unanimously backed extra funds for Ukraine, although differences remain that threaten to delay or block proposed aid to Kyiv. The European Commission proposed increasing the bloc’s budget until 2027 by 66 billion euros ($74bn), 17 billion euros ($19bn) of which would be reserved for Ukraine with a further 33 billion euros ($37bn) of loans.
- Secretary Blinken pressed for Russia to extend and expand the Black Sea grain export deal from Ukrainian ports, accusing Russia of using the grain agreement “as a weapon” by threatening to end it.
- United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was still waiting for a response from President Putin on a proposal to extend the deal that allows the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, a UN spokesperson has said.
- The Kremlin has not made any statements on the extension of the Black Sea grain export deal, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Moscow’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Black Sea grain deal will hopefully be extended from its current July 17 deadline due to the result of the efforts by the UN and Turkey.