NATO chief says Sweden, Finland should join 'as soon as possible'; Scholz aims to discuss 'Marshall plan' for Ukraine

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on June 22. See here for the latest updates. 

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Here's how that would work
Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Here's how that would work

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the intense battles in eastern Ukraine represent "the toughest spot" in the conflict, with Russian forces "pressing strongly" in the region.

Several cities, towns and villages in the Luhansk region have been the focus of severe fighting for several weeks with Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in street battles while Russian artillery fire destroys infrastructure and homes in the region.

Meanwhile, tensions are high between Russia and Lithuania after the latter, a NATO member, banned the rail transfer of all EU sanctioned goods (such as metals, coal, construction materials and high-technology products) coming from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea.

Russia has warned of "serious" consequences against what it has called "hostile actions" of Lithuania, while NATO members have reiterated their support for the country.

Elsewhere, 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. It should know by the end of the week when an EU summit concludes.

Russia increased propaganda in Ukraine by 216%, Microsoft says

Russia has increased the spread of propaganda through cyber influence operations by 216% in Ukraine and 82% in the United States since the war began, according to a Microsoft report.
Silas Stein | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Russia has increased the spread of propaganda through cyber influence operations by 216% in Ukraine and 82% in the United States since its invasion of Ukraine began in late February, according to a Microsoft report.

The Russian military has also launched multiple waves of "destructive" cyberattacks against 48 Ukrainian agencies and enterprises, the report added.

Outside of Ukraine, Russian intelligence agencies have also stepped up espionage and network intrusion activities, targeting 128 organizations in 42 countries, Microsoft said.

Russia prioritized government targets, especially among NATO members, Microsoft president Brad Smith added.

— Chelsea Ong

U.S. State Department approves $22.7 million weapons sale to NATO

Ukrainian soldiers move U.S.-made missiles on Feb. 13, 2022. The U.S. could announce new military aid for Ukraine as early as this week, a defense official and an administration official said.
Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

The U.S. State Department notified Congress of a foreign military sale to the NATO alliance worth $22.7 million.

"The proposed sale will improve NATO's capability to meet current and future ground threats with precision. NATO will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats, and to increase interoperability within contingency operations," the State Department wrote in its notification to Congress.

The potential sale to NATO's support and procurement agency includes the following:

  • 239 GBU-39/B small diameter bombs
  • 204 FMU-152 fuzes
  • 204 MK-82 500-pound general purpose bombs
  • 50 BLU-109 2000-pound hard target penetrator bombs

The weapons sale also includes smoke signal cartridges, engineering and technical support, as well as other related elements of logistical and program support.

The State Department added that "there will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale."

 — Amanda Macias

Biden blames gas price hike in U.S. on Putin's war in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on efforts to lower high gas prices in the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building June 22, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden placed blame for rising gas prices in the U.S. squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

"The simple truth is gas prices are up almost $2.00 a gallon because of Vladimir Putin's ruthless attack on Ukraine and we wouldn't let him get away with it. And we're doing everything we can to reduce this pain at the pump now," Biden said.

"If those experiences has shown us anything, it's that we need to grow and harness more energy here at home," he added.

Biden also blamed oil and gas companies for what he calls prioritizing profits at the expense of consumers, as he pushed Congress to pass a federal gas tax holiday.

"I call on the companies to pass this along — every penny of this 18 cents reduction — to the consumer," Biden said, adding "There's no time now for profiteering."

 — Amanda Macias

Germany's Scholz says G-7 to discuss 'Marshall plan' for Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives a press statement about the war crimes discovered the day before in Bucha, Ukraine, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany April 3, 2022. 
Hannibal Hanschke | Reuters

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that he wants to discuss the outlines of a "Marshall plan for Ukraine" with the leaders of the Group of Seven countries at their upcoming summit in Germany.

Scholz hopes for a united front on long-term support for Ukraine when he hosts the annual G-7 summit in Bavaria next week. The group of the world's leading economic powers is made up of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Canada and Japan.

The chancellor told Germany's parliament that "rebuilding Ukraine will be a task for generations." Recalling his visit last week to Irpin, a Kyiv suburb that saw intense fighting, he said that "some things there remind not just me of the pictures of German cities after World War II."

Like Europe then, "Ukraine today needs a Marshall plan for its rebuilding," Scholz said — referring to the U.S.-sponsored plan that helped revive European economies after WWII.

— Associated Press

Pfizer to donate $5 million to humanitarian organizations supporting Ukraine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the drugmaker would make all of its patented medicines available at a not-for-profit price to 45 of the world's poorest countries.
Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant Pfizer will send $5 million to eight global and local organizations supporting humanitarian relief and response efforts in Ukraine.

The groups are providing food security and support services, education for children, and other pressing needs for Ukrainians.

"We will continue to divert these profits to the Ukrainian people until peace is achieved. Until that time, we also stand firm in our decision to cease all our clinical trials in Russia and to halt all investments in local manufacturing," Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla wrote in a statement.

In March, Pfizer announced that it would donate the equivalent of its profits from sales in Russia to causes that provide humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

Stoltenberg says Sweden and Finland should join NATO alliance 'as soon as possible'

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference following a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 16, 2022. 
Yves Herman | Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will address Turkey's concerns about Finland and Sweden's applications to join NATO next week in Madrid.

"We are now working actively on the next steps in the accession process of both Finland and Sweden. And addressing Turkey's security concerns, including in the fight against terrorism," Stoltenberg said during a discussion hosted by Politico.

"My aim is to find a common way forward so that both countries can join our alliance as soon as possible," he said, adding that the addition of Sweden and Finland will "make them safer, NATO stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure."

In May, both nations began the formal process of applying to the NATO alliance. President Joe Biden welcomed leaders from both countries to the White House and pledged to work with Congress — which has to ratify U.S. approval of NATO bids — and the other 29 members of the world's most powerful military alliance to swiftly bring Sweden and Finland into the group. 

 — Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy thanks Belgian leader for supporting Ukraine's application to join EU

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo for supporting Ukraine's application to join the European Union.

Last week, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, proposed that Ukraine become a membership candidate to join the bloc — the first step on a long road to EU membership.

Zelenskyy also thanked the Belgian leader for significant security assistance amid Russia's full-scale war and invited him to visit Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

National security adviser Sullivan and top U.S. military officer reaffirm support in call with Ukrainian counterparts

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2022. 
Win McNamee | Reuters

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke by phone with their Ukrainian counterparts.

Sullivan and Milley reaffirmed U.S. support during the call with Andriy Yermak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Gen. Valery Zaluzhny of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

"They discussed the unprovoked and ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and international support for the Ukrainian armed forces," according to a Pentagon readout of the call.

"Sullivan and Gen. Milley reaffirmed the steadfast support of the United States for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the readout added.

 — Amanda Macias

Kremlin vows 'retaliatory actions' following Lithuanian blockade of Russian goods

A disused border crossing point to Russia is seen on April 15, 2022 in Nida, Lithuania. Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, on the shore of the Baltic Sea, is sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland and is the Baltic coasts most strategic transport and trade port.
Paulius Peleckis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Lithuania's blockade of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad will trigger retaliatory actions.

Last week, Lithuania announced it would block entry by rail of all EU-sanctioned goods coming from Russia into Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, depends on Lithuania and Belarus to conduct transit traffic between the enclave and mainland Russia.

"It was stated to both Lithuania and the EU through their diplomatic missions in Moscow about the inadmissibility of such actions and the need to change the steps taken and return the situation to a legitimate course," Zakharova told reporters, according to an NBC News translation.

"If this is not done, then, of course, and this was emphasized at all levels in Moscow, retaliatory actions will be inevitable," she added, without providing further details.

 — Amanda Macias

UN says at least 4,634 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 4,634 civilian deaths and 5,769 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 may cut off gas to Europe completely, IEA chief says

A worker adjusts a pipeline valve at the Gazprom PJSC Slavyanskaya compressor station, the starting point of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in Ust-Luga, Russia, on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Russia may cut off gas to Europe entirely as it seeks to bolster its political leverage amid the Ukraine crisis, the head of the International Energy Agency said in comments reported by Reuters, urging Europe to prepare for such an eventuality now.

"I wouldn't rule out Russia continuing to find different issues here and there and continuing to find excuses to further reduce gas deliveries to Europe and maybe even cut it off completely," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement sent to the news agency.

"This is the reason Europe needs contingency plans," Birol added, saying a recent reduction in flows may be an attempt to gain political leverage ahead of higher-demand winter months.

The IEA did not see a full cut-off as the most likely scenario, however.

The energy sector is a significant bone of contention for the EU, which has sanctioned Russian oil and coal in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and has vowed to phase out Russian energy imports. Russia has been repeatedly accused of weaponizing energy supplies by reducing flows to Europe, an accusation it denies.

Russian forces are approaching Lysychansk and gaining ground, official says

Before the war: Here's what the Azot Chemical Plant looked like in 2021 in Severodonetsk, Ukraine. Hundreds of civilians are believed to be shelting here as the battle over Severodonetsk intensifies.
Gaelle Girbes | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The head of the Luhansk region, where the fiercest fighting has been seen in Ukraine in recent weeks, has said Russian forces are gaining ground in the area.

"The Russians are approaching Lysychansk, gaining a foothold in nearby settlements, the city is shelled from the air," Serhiy Haidai said on his Telegram account on Wednesday.

He said street fights were continuing in the neighboring city of Severodonetsk with Russian troops firing on the nearby villages of Synetsky and Pavlograd, and on the "Azot" chemicals plant where some Ukrainian fighters are holding out.

Holly Ellyatt

Preventing a nuclear conflict is currently Russia's priority, official says

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said the prevention of a nuclear conflict is currently Russia's priority. 

"Taking into account the risks of further escalation of the Ukrainian crisis and the general unpredictability of the development of the international situation, the absolute priority of Russian diplomacy is to prevent direct conflict between nuclear powers, to maintain dialogue on deconflicting," Ryabkov said, speaking during a meeting at the International Summer School of the PIR Center on global security issues near Moscow.

NATO has repeatedly said it does not want, and does not plan, to deploy its ground forces in Ukraine for fear that it could lead to a direct confrontation with nuclear power Russia.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia likely preparing to deploy reserve units to the Donbas, UK says

A mortar explodes next to the road leading to the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas, on May 23, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Russia "is highly likely preparing to attempt to deploy a large number of reserve units to the Donbas," according to the latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defence.

In its latest update on Twitter, the U.K. government ministry noted that heavy shelling continues as Russia pushes to envelop the Seeverodonetsk area via Izium in the north and Popasna in the south.

The area has been the scene of fierce fighting for weeks and Russia could look to definitively swing the balance in its favor with reserve units.

Kaliningrad becomes a new cold front between Russia and NATO

A sign reading 'Kaliningrad' stands atop the main city's south railway station. Kaliningrad is a small Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea and sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It has become the center of a spat between Russia and NATO-member Lithuania.
Harry Engels | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

A new front in tensions between Russia and NATO has opened up after one of the Western military alliance's members, Lithuania, banned the transit of some goods coming from Russia to its exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.

Russia has vowed to retaliate over what it described as the "hostile actions" of Lithuania, warning of "serious" consequences, while NATO members have reiterated their support for the country.

It's uncertain how Moscow will react to Lithuania's move as it is unlikely to want a direct confrontation with NATO.

CNBC has a brief guide to what's going on, and why it matters as the Russia-Ukraine conflict rumbles on in the background. Read more here.

— Holly Ellyatt

Luhansk 'the toughest spot' as Russian forces are 'pressing strongly,' Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a Ukrainian serviceman outside the southern city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 18, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that the military situation in the eastern region of Luhansk is tough as Russian maintained intense pressure on Ukrainian troops trying to defend the last towns and villages in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

"The situation on the frontline hasn't significantly changed. Thanks to tactical manoeuvres, the Ukrainian army is strengthening its defence in the Luhansk region. That is really the toughest spot. The occupiers are pressing strongly, and also in the Donetsk direction in the Kharkiv region," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Tuesday.

The president added that Ukrainian fighters were also defending the regions around Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Russian forces have captured several settlements near the key cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, the regional governor and Ukraine's general staff said on Tuesday.

A Ukrainian serviceman sits next to a destroyed Russian tank at an abandoned Russian position near the village of Bilogorivka not far from Lysychansk, Luhansk, on June 17, 2022.
Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

The cities have been the focus of fierce fighting and intense shelling for weeks. The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, has said attempts to evacuate the last civilians were under way.

— Holly Ellyatt

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

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

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

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