Americans captured in Ukraine could face the death penalty; First German long-range weapons arrive in Ukraine

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on June 21. See here for the latest updates. 

Russia won't rule out death penalty for Americans captured in Ukraine
Russia won't rule out death penalty for Americans captured in Ukraine

It's a tense week for Ukraine as it awaits to see whether it will be granted the status of a candidate country for the European Union.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that he expects Russia to intensify its attacks on his country while it awaits the EU's decision. Russia's ground and tactical air operations continued to focus on the Donbas in eastern Ukraine over the weekend and more villages around the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk were pummeled by Russian artillery on Monday.

Elsewhere, there are growing concerns over the fate of two U.S. military veterans captured in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Moscow wouldn't guarantee that they won't face the death penalty.

Macron and NATO's Stoltenberg speak ahead of leaders summit next week

France's President Emmanuel Macron attends a news conference with Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany May 9, 2022.
Lisi Niesner | Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid next week.

Macron told Stoltenberg that he wanted to speak to Turkish President Recep Erdogan regarding Ankara's position on Finland and Sweden joining the NATO alliance, according to an Elysee Palace readout.

"Macron reiterated his support for Finland and Sweden in their sovereign choice to join the alliance and underlined that they are close partners with robust defense capabilities, which will thus contribute to strengthening the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area," according to the readout.

The two also discussed Russia's continued aggression in Ukraine and Macron's trip last week alongside other EU leaders to Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

U.S. reiterates commitment to NATO alliance following Kremlin threats lobbed at Lithuania

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 23, 2022.
Tom Brenner | Reuters

The State Department reiterated U.S. commitment to NATO on the heels of Kremlin threats directed at Lithuania.

Last week, Lithuania which shares a border with Russia, announced it would block entry by rail of all EU-sanctioned goods coming from mainland Russia.

Moscow warned it would respond to Lithuania's blocking of certain goods and called the measure "openly hostile."

"Lithuania is a member of the NATO alliance and we stand by the commitments that we have made to the NATO alliance and that includes of course, a commitment to Article Five that is the bedrock of the NATO alliance," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a daily press briefing.

"Lithuania has been a stalwart partner, we stand by NATO, we stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania," Price added.

 — Amanda Macias

Germany risks recession as Russian gas crisis deepens

In what appears to mark a major policy shift, Germany has called for EU talks on whether to impose an import ban on Russian gas deliveries.
Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Germany faces certain recession if faltering Russian gas supplies stop completely, an industry body warned, and Italy said it would consider offering financial backing to help companies refill gas storage to avoid a deeper crisis in winter.

European Union states from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic in the south have outlined measures to cope with a supply crisis after Russia's invasion of Ukraine put energy at the heart of an economic battle between Moscow and the West.

The EU relied on Russia for as much as 40% of its gas needs before the war — rising to 55% for Germany — leaving a huge gap to fill in an already tight global gas market. Some countries have responded by temporarily reversing plans to shut coal power plants.

Gas prices have hit record levels, driving a surge in inflation and adding to challenges for policymakers trying to haul Europe back from an economic precipice. Germany's BDI industry association cut its economic growth forecast for 2022 to 1.5% from the 3.5% expected before the war began on Feb. 24. It said a halt in Russian gas deliveries would make recession in Europe's largest economy inevitable.

— Reuters

State Department says call between Griner and her wife has been rescheduled following 'logistical error' over the weekend

A close up shot of Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury at practice and media availability during the 2021 WNBA Finals on October 11, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Michael Gonzales | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

The State Department said it rescheduled a phone call between WNBA star Britney Griner and her wife following a "logistical error" over the weekend.

Griner, who is currently detained in Russia, attempted to call her wife with support from a phone operator associated with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

"We deeply regret that Griner was able to unable to speak to her wife over the weekend because of a logistical error," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a daily press briefing. Price said the call has been rescheduled and assured reporters that the connection will be made this time.

The 31-year-old professional athlete has been accused of smuggling hashish oil, a charge that carries up to 10 years in prison. The Biden administration has previously said Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia and has called for her immediate release.

 — Amanda Macias

White House says Russia is weaponizing food in Ukraine

Global prices for some grains have spiked since the Russia-Ukraine war started, with both countries contributing a significant percentage of the world's supply for some of those commodities such as wheat.
Vincent Mundy | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Biden administration slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for weaponizing food, a direct consequence of the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

For months, Russian warships have implemented a blockade of Ukraine's ports in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a daily press briefing that the Biden administration was working with allies on ways to implement food corridors out of Ukraine. Kirby said Putin was "weaponizing food" and warned that the blockade will lead to food shortages as well as higher food prices across the globe.

 — Amanda Macias

White House knocks China's purchases of Russian petroleum

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaks during a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2022.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that China's increased trade with Russia is another piece of evidence that Beijing is willing to ignore international sanctions against Moscow.

Reporters asked Kirby what the Biden administration plans to do about China and India's purchases of Russian petroleum that undermine the potency of global financial penalties.

Kirby said the White House wants Beijing to be a "responsible power" and join the rest of the world in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine.

He also said that the U.S. values its "bilateral relationship with India."

"These are sovereign decisions, but we want as much pressure put internationally on Russia as possible," Kirby said. "There needs to be costs and consequences for what Mr. Putin is doing."

Thomas Franck

German heavy weaponry 'finally' arrives in Ukraine

MUNSTER, GERMANY - MAY 10: Bundeswehr Panzerhaubitze 2000 / howitzer 2000 during exercise - Wettiner Heide - on May 10, Munster, Germany. I
Thomas Imo | Photothek | Getty Images

Long-range weaponry from Germany has arrived in Ukraine for the first time, Ukraine's defense ministry announced, the latest shipment of heavy weaponry that Kyiv has been urgently asking for.

"Panzerhaubitze 2000 are finally part of 155 mm howitzer arsenal of the Ukrainian artillery," Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted, adding, "I highly appreciate the efforts of my colleague, #DefMin Christine Lambrecht," referring to Germany's defense minister. Reznikov also thanked the Netherlands, which sent the German weapons.

The Panzerhaubitze 2000 is a 155-millimeter self-propelled howitzer developed by German manufacturers Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, and is considered one of the most powerful artillery systems used by western militaries today.

Germany has been criticized for being slow to aid Ukraine with offensive weapons. Russia's war in Ukraine marks the first time the German government has sent lethal weapons to a conflict zone since the Second World War.

— Natasha Turak

Moscow vows response to Lithuania's blocking of sanctioned goods to Russia's Kaliningrad

Russia warned it would respond to Lithuania's blocking of certain goods from its exclave of Kaliningrad, calling the measure "openly hostile."

Last week, Lithuania, which shares a border with Russia and in which the tiny Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is located, announced it would block entry by rail of all EU sanctioned goods coming from mainland Russia. That includes metals, coal, construction materials and high-technology products.

"If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Lithuania has said that its decision was taken after consultation with the European Commission, and that it is carrying out EU sanctions.

— Natasha Turak

Second U.S. citizen killed in Ukraine combat, State Department says

A ukrainian soldier walks inside a destroyed barn by russian shelling near the frontline of the Zaporizhzhia province, Ukraine. Harvest can not be collected in the area because the constant combats between russian and ukrainian armies in the fields.
Celestino Arce | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The State Department confirmed the death of U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski in Ukraine. Zabielski, 52, of Hernando, Florida was killed May 15 while fighting in the village of Dorozhniank, according to his obituary.

"We have been in touch with the family and have provided all possible consular assistance. Out of respect to the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further," a State Department spokesperson wrote in a statement to NBC News.

The spokesperson reiterated that the Biden administration has called on U.S. citizens to not travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

"U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options," the spokesperson added.

 — Amanda Macias

U.S. Attorney General Garland visits Ukraine in unannounced trip

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers opening remarks on crime gun intelligence during the Police Executive Forum, at the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S., May 5, 2022.
Michael Reynolds | Reuters

Attorney General Merrick Garland met with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova in Ukraine this morning and announced a new initiative to investigate potential Russian war crimes.

Known as the War Crimes Accountability team the group of experts will be tasked with collecting evidence, providing technical assistance and gathering relevant legal analysis.

"The team will also play an integral role in the Department's ongoing investigation of potential war crimes over which the U.S. possesses jurisdiction, such as the killing and wounding of U.S. journalists covering the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine," the Justice Department wrote in a statement following Garland's high-profile and unannounced trip.

"There is no hiding place for war criminals. The U.S. Justice Department will pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine," Garland said in a statement.

"Working alongside our domestic and international partners, the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to hold accountable every person complicit in the commission of war crimes, torture, and other grave violations during the unprovoked conflict in Ukraine," he added.

Garland tapped Eli Rosenbaum, who previously lead investigations into identifying Nazi war criminals, to oversee the new initiative.

 — Amanda Macias

UN says at least 4,597 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Mourners pay their respects next to the coffin of killed Ukrainian serviceman Roman Ratushny during a farewell ceremony in Kyiv on June 18, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed 4,597 civilian deaths and 5,711 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

The international organization said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

 — Amanda Macias

Russia pressures Europe by slashing its natural gas supply

The EU's partial embargo covers Russian oil brought into the bloc by sea, with an exemption carved out for imports delivered by pipeline following opposition from Hungary.
Attila Kisbenedek | Afp | Getty Images

Russia has slashed the flow of natural gas to Europe in a move European leaders called a clear attempt to strike back at Western countries for their support of Ukraine.

On Friday, Russia reduced natural gas deliveries by half to Italy and Slovakia and cut off France entirely, marking a third consecutive day of gas reductions in a growing economic confrontation between Moscow and the West. Moscow had previously cut off all natural gas flows to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark.

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union joined the U.S. in imposing sweeping financial sanctions on Russia. But European governments have been bracing for economic retaliation from the Kremlin and officials portrayed this week's squeeze on natural gas supplies as an effort by Moscow to exert political pressure and push energy prices up.

Russia has blamed the cut on maintenance and repair issues, saying equipment they needed was not able to reach them due to Western sanctions.

Read more on the potential energy crisis here.

 — NBC News and Associated Press

Russian journalist auctions off Nobel Peace Prize for $103.5 million for charity to benefit Ukraine

Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on Monday auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for a whopping $103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war in Ukraine. The medal was sold to an as yet unidentified phone bidder at the sale in New York organized by Heritage Auctions. 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, holds up a copy of his paper after the conclusion of bidding during a charity auction at The Times Center on June 20, 2022 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
A woman holds Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov's 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal in New York, on June 20, 2022.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images
Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov (2L) reacts on stage to the bid of $103.5 million to buy his 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medal in New York, on June 20, 2022. Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on Monday auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for a whopping $103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war in Ukraine. The medal was sold to an as yet unidentified phone bidder at the sale in New York organized by Heritage Auctions.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

-Getty Images

UK will put more sanctions on Russia: Foreign secretary

The U.K. will keep putting more sanctions on Russia to increase pressure on it, Foreign Minister Liz Truss said.

"We are determined to provide more weapons, impose more sanctions and back Ukraine in pushing Russia out of their territory," Truss said in remarks made to the U.K. Parliament.

U.K. sanctions on Russia have targeted a range of sectors, people and industries since Moscow made the decision to invade Ukraine in late February.

So far, however, Russia's current account remains in a healthy surplus and its currency is considered one of the best-performing this year thanks to high oil and gas prices and the billions it earns per week selling energy to customers, primarily the EU.

— Natasha Turak

Russia blocks website of Britain's Telegraph newspaper

The website of the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper has been blocked in Russia, Reuters reported, following a decision from the country's prosecutor general.

The state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said that online access to the British newspaper had been cut due to its spreading of "inaccurate information about the special military operation conducted by Russia's Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine," according to state news agency TASS.

Moscow still calls its war in Ukraine a "special military operation" and has severely cracked down on independent reporting and criticism of it. It has blocked the websites of several foreign news outlets it accuses of publishing "fake news" about the conflict.

Several western countries have similarly halted Russian state media outlets' abilities to broadcast in their jurisdictions. Russia's government announced shortly after its invasion of Ukraine began that anyone spreading "fake news" about the war could face up to 15 years in prison. The Kremlin controls the vast majority of news media in Russia.

—Natasha Turak

Mykolaiv in the south and Kharkiv in the east under attack, officials say

The major cities of Mykolaiv, a port in the south, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine in the north-east, have both come under heavy attack, according to officials from the respective regions.

The head of the Mykolaiv Regional Council, Hanna Zamazeeva, said on her Telegram account Tuesday that Russian forces continued to fire at Mykolaiv and struck targets across the city, leaving 15 people wounded.

An aerial view of completely destroyed settlements after shelling, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on June 12, 2022.
Metin Aktas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said on his Telegram account that Russian forces had fired at various parts of the city, damaging and destroying various public and commercial buildings.

Synehubov said three people had been killed and seven injured over the past 24 hours. 

A Ukrainian woman collects water in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 12, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Mykolaiv and Kharkiv are key targets for Russian forces as controlling these cities would enable Russian forces to occupy a larger area in the east and south of the country.

Holly Ellyatt

'Calm before the storm' as Russian forces regroup in eastern Ukraine: Governor

The governor of the Luhansk region where the most intense fighting is taking place between Ukrainian and Russian troops has said that he is witnessing the "calm before the storm" after a relatively quiet night on the front line.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk province where fierce fighting is taking place in and around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, said in his Facebook update Tuesday that Russian forces had stopped to regroup.

He said that "a difficult time has passed in Luhansk region, after a whole day of advances in all directions" by Russian forces.

Haidai said that Russian forces had been set the deadline of June 26 to take the Luhansk region, though he did not give the source for that information. "Five days from now it will not happen," he said, adding that Ukrainian forces in the region were still waiting for long-range artillery.

Ukraine has been desperate for more long-range weapons to help it turn the tide in the battle in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has been seeing slow but steady progress in terms of territorial gains.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia says it can't guarantee captured American fighters won’t face the death penalty

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at an event during Russia's Victory Day commemorations in Moscow on May 9, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman told NBC News on Monday that Moscow wouldn't guarantee that two American veterans who were fighting in captured in Ukraine won't face the death penalty.

"It depends on the investigation," Dmitry Peskov told NBC News when asked whether Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh would "face the same fate" as two British citizens and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death in a pro-Russian separatist "court" — widely seen as a kangaroo court — in eastern Ukraine this month.

Peskov said Drueke and Huynh were "involved in illegal activities" in Ukraine and said "those guys on the battlefield were firing at our military guys. They were endangering their lives," NBC reported him as saying. 

"There will be a court, and there will be a court decision," Peskov said, adding: "They should be punished."

Holly Ellyatt

'You're my hero': Ben Stiller meets President Zelenskyy

Hollywood actor Ben Stiller met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday, calling the wartime leader "my hero."

Stiller is a Goodwill Ambassador with the U.N. Refugee Agency, and has been in Ukraine for several days as part of his role, meeting Ukrainian refugees.

"It's a great honor for me," Stiller said as he was introduced to Zelenskyy, adding "you're my hero. You're amazing."

Stiller also praised the president on his former acting career, saying "you quit a great acting career for this." "Not so great as yours," Zelenskyy replied.

Stiller added that the president's wartime leadership was "inspiring" for the rest of the world.

— Holly Ellyatt

Mariupol residents 'on brink of survival'

Residents of the southern port city of Mariupol, which was seized by Russian forces in May, are on the verge of survival due to a lack of drinking water, according to the city's regional military administration.

Citing information from Mariupol's Mayor Vadim Boychenko, the administration said "more than 100,000 people who still remain in the city do not have access to drinking water."  

"Currently, the occupiers provide it once a week. Residents stand in line for 4-8 hours.  They are on the verge of death.  This is a humanitarian catastrophe. Therefore, we must do everything possible to open a green corridor and save people," the mayor said.

He added that Russians and "collaborators" had also restricted residents' access to food.  "At the same time, the city is left without gas, light and drainage system."

CNBC was unable to verify the information from the administration and Boychenko.

— Holly Ellyatt

Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller visits Ukraine and Poland

Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller visits a UNHCR Protection Hub providing psycho-social support, SGBV prevention and response and child protection and legal aid services in Medyka, Poland

Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller embraces children at a UNHCR Protection Hub providing psycho-social support, SGBV prevention and response and child protection and legal aid services in Medyka, Poland June 18, 2022. 
Andrew McConnell: UNHCR | Reuters
Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller meets children at a UNHCR Protection Hub providing psycho-social support, SGBV prevention and response and child protection and legal aid services in Medyka, Poland June 18, 2022. 
Andrew McConnell: UNHCR | Reuters
Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller speaks to Silva Alkebeh, Chief of Supply Logistics, and other volunteer at Rzeszow UNHCR warehouse, in Rzeszow, Poland June 18, 2022. 
Andrew McConnell: UNHCR | Reuters
Goodwill Ambassador actor Ben Stiller visits a UNHCR Protection Hub providing psycho-social support, SGBV prevention and response and child protection and legal aid services in Medyka, Poland June 18, 2022. 
Andrew McConnell: UNHCR | Reuters


Battles move to villages around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk

Battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces are taking place in "multiple villages" around the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, with Ukraine's forces losing control of one settlement, according to the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, Serhiy Haidai.

In his latest update on Twitter, the official said Ukraine's army has lost control of the village of Metiolkine just outside the regional center.

"Battles are underway in multiple villages around Siverodonetsk and Lysychansk. Unfortunately, we currently have no control over Metiolkine near the regional center," he said, adding that Russian forces had "intensified artillery and air fire."

Debris and destroyed cars along a street in Lysychansk.
Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been engaged in intense fighting and street battles over recent weeks, with the conflict homing in on Severodonetsk, the last Ukrainian-held city in the Luhansk province, and its "twin" city across the Siverskyi Donets river, Lysychansk.

Haidai noted that Ukrainian fighters are successful in close-quarter warfare, but enemy artillery predominates in the area. He added that Russia is "pummeling" Lysychansk but said a "quiet" civilian evacuation is being carried out using armored vehicles.

"Lost settlement does NOT mean 'lost war.' Luhansk region will be defended to the last, we will restrain the horde as much as necessary," Haidai said.

Britain's Ministry of Defense has said that Russian forces, having seized the Luhansk province in the Donbas after weeks of intense shelling, are likely to employ the same tactics to seize Donetsk
Scott Olson | Getty Images

He added that "the Russians are hitting hard the Severodonetsk industrial zone and the city outskirts. The same is true in the Toshkivka and Ustynivka districts," where the "orcs" seek to gain a breakthrough. "For this purpose, they have gathered a large amount of equipment there," he said.

Ukrainian officials frequently liken Russian fighters to the fictional, monstrous "orcs" in J. R. R. Tolkien's series "The Lord of the Rings."  

Holly Ellyatt

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