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 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
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
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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
— Holly Ellyatt
Luhansk 'the toughest spot' as Russian forces are 'pressing strongly,' Zelenskyy says
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.
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
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
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
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
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