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U.S.-supplied rockets helping Ukraine retain defensive lines; Putin and Erdogan to talk grain exports

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Iran later on Tuesday with the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports one of the main talking points.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's top military commander has said that the "timely arrival of M142 Himars" from the U.S. is helping Ukrainian forces to withstand Russian attacks on the frontline in the Donbas.

Himars are long-range multiple launch rocket systems and are seen as a potential game-changer in Ukraine's resistance, and fightback, against Russia's near-constant artillery, battering cities and towns in Donetsk, a region of the Donbas.

U.S. is preparing another military aid package for Ukraine

US military personnel stand by a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during Saudi Arabias first World Defense Show, north of the capital Riyadh, on March 6, 2022.
Fayez Nureldine | Afp | Getty Images

The White House is preparing its next military aid package for Ukraine, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman, said that the latest security package will be tailored to fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The latest round of aid, the 16th such installment, brings the U.S. military aid commitment up to about $8 billion since the war began in late February, including about $2.2 billion in the past month.

— Amanda Macias

Russia is laying groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory, White House says

People walk through the damage caused to the central market in Sloviansk by a suspected missile attack, on July 6, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Miguel Medina | Afp | Getty Images

The White House said that it has intelligence to indicate Russia is taking steps to annex parts of Ukraine.

"We're seeing ample evidence and intelligence and in the public domain that Russia intends to try to annex additional Ukrainian territory," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House.

Kirby added that the U.S. observed a similar Russian playbook in 2014 before the Kremlin annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea.

"Russia is installing illegitimate proxy officials in the areas of Ukraine that are under its control. We know their next moves," Kirby said.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. Senate panel backs Sweden and Finland's NATO bids

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attend a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, after signing their countries' accession protocols at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium July 5, 2022.
Yves Herman | Reuters

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO, paving the way for the full Senate to approve the most significant expansion of the 30-member alliance since the 1990s.

The panel approved the expansion by voice vote, with just one member — Republican Sen. Rand Paul —asking to be recorded as "present."

The documents need to be ratified by all 30 North Atlantic Treaty Organization members before Finland and Sweden can be protected by the defense clause that states that an attack on one member is an attack against all.

— Reuters

EU starts membership talks with Albania, North Macedonia

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama are welcomed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2022.
Stringer | Reuters

The European Union started membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, a long-delayed step in the Balkan nations' paths toward EU membership that gained momentum amid the war in Ukraine.

Officially, the process kicked off with the presentation of the negotiating frameworks, which allow the bloc's head office to screen how prepared each country is to take on all the EU's laws, rules and regulations.

The move comes at a crucial time for the EU, which in June made Ukraine and neighboring Moldova candidates for membership even though Western Balkan nations were kept waiting in line for a long time. North Macedonia and Albania became EU candidates 19 years ago, but their accession talks never commenced.

"This is not the beginning of the end, it is just the end of the beginning," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said. "We need this to continue to build a strong, democratic, European Albania and a strong, democratic, Western and open Balkans."

— Associated Press

Ukraine's grain harvest expects to yield 52 million tons in 2022

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and United Nations officials met in Istanbul on Wednesday to try to reach a deal that would allow exports of vital produce, such as grain and sunflower oil, to resume from Ukraine.
Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine's grain harvest in 2022 is expected to reach 52 million tons, according to the latest estimates provided by Taras Vysotskyi, Ukraine's agrarian policy and food first deputy minister.

Vysotskyi also said that Ukraine is set to harvest between 13 million and 15 million tons of oilseed crops.

The yield projection comes as Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations work to establish a sea corridor for grain exports.

For months, Russian war ships have blocked Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

— Amanda Macias

The Kremlin 'will achieve all of its goals,' former Russian president Medvedev says

Pro-Russian troops ride an infantry combat vehicle near the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 5, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on the Telegram messaging app that "Russia will achieve all its goals," according to an NBC News translation.

Medvedev, who is the current deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, blamed the United States for saber-rattling tensions on Russia's border and for the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

"There will be peace, on our terms and not at all on those about which confused political impotents are screaming in Europe and across the ocean," he added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine defense minster calls on U.S. to designate Russia a state sponsor of terror

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the military parade during 77th anniversary of the Victory Day in Red Square in Moscow, Russia on May 09, 2022.
Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov called on the United States to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terror for its war in Ukraine and mounting human rights abuses.

"It is paramount for us that Russia is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism," Reznikov said during a virtual discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council.

"The world needs to respond to violations of international laws within 24 hours, in that case, aggression won't stand a chance," he added.

Reznikov also called for additional military aid packages that include heavy artillery and drones. He added that the eight U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, have been highly effective in the fight.

— Amanda Macias

First lady Jill Biden to host Ukraine's first lady at White House

(L-R) U.S. first lady Jill Biden, first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and U.S. President Joe Biden pose for photos as Zelenska arrives on the South Lawn of the White House July 19, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

First lady Jill Biden will meet with Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska at the White House ahead of her Ukrainian counterpart's address to Congress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Zelenska a day prior and discussed mounting human rights abuses from Russia's war in Ukraine, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

"The Secretary strongly condemned Russia's brutal attacks, which continue to wound and kill innocent civilians and destroy homes, hospitals, schools, and other civilian infrastructure – including a July 14 strike on Vinnytsya that killed three children," Price added.

Biden last met with Zelenska during a surprise trip to Ukraine on Mother's Day. The first lady traveled by car to the town of Uzhhorod from a Slovakian village that borders Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

— This post was updated to reflect that Biden and Zelenska will meet before Zelenska's speech to Congress.

Russia seen restarting gas exports from Nord Stream 1 on schedule

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, through which Russian natural gas has been flowing to Germany since 2011.
Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Russian gas flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline are seen restarting on time on Thursday after the completion of scheduled maintenance, two sources familiar with the export plans told Reuters.

The pipeline, which accounts for more than a third of Russian natural gas exports to the European Union, was halted for ten days of annual maintenance on July 11.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing European Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn, that the European Commission did not expect the pipeline to restart after the maintenance.

— Reuters

Biden to sign executive order aiming to deter taking of U.S. hostages, wrongful detentions

US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27, 2022.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden will sign an executive order that will expand the administration's available tools to deter hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals.

The executive order, known as "Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home," will authorize the imposition of financial sanctions and visa bans on people involved in hostage-taking.

The executive order comes as the Biden administration works to release WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. The 31-year-old Griner, who plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested in February at a Russian airport on accusations that she was smuggling hashish oil.

— Amanda Macias

Gazprom signs agreement with Iran's national oil company

The logo of Russia's energy giant Gazprom is pictured at one of its petrol stations in Moscow on July 11, 2022.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images

Russia's state gas giant Gazprom has signed a memorandum of understanding for strategic cooperation with Iran's national oil company, NIOC.

The preliminary deal comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Tehran on Tuesday, meeting Iranian officials as well as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The memorandum envisages both sides assessing possible collaborative projects including "the development of Iranian oil and gas fields and oil fields, performance of swap transactions with natural gas and petroleum products, implementation of large-scale and small-scale LNG projects, construction of gas trunklines, and sci-tech and technology cooperation," Gazprom said in a statement.

Gazprom is likely to be eager to forge new partnerships abroad during a period when its traditional customer base in Europe is quickly collapsing as the EU and U.K. look to curtail all Russian gas imports due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Kramatorsk and neighboring Sloviansk attacked, number of victims unknown

The center of Kramatorsk, a key target for Russian forces in Donetsk, has been attacked according to the city's mayor, with the number of victims yet to be determined.

"An attack on the central part of Kramatorsk. There are victims. Specialists of explosive engineering services and rescuers are working on the spot," Oleksandr Vasylovych, the mayor of Kramatorsk said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Policemen react in front of a burning building after an air strike hit the courtyard of civilian residences in the centre of Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, on July 19, 2022.
Miguel Medina | Afp | Getty Images

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk also reported on Telegram that there had been loud explosions in the city, adding that Russian forces had hit the central part of the city. He said preliminary information suggested missiles had been launched by plane. One image he posted showed a dead civilian on the ground outside a burning building.

Fires broke out in the residential floors that were at the epicenter of the impact with emergency services working at the scene to extinguish them.

Ukraine's emergency services posted on Facebook that, as a result of shelling in a five-story apartment building, a fire broke out in the balconies on the third and fourth floors. "As a result of the shelling, 10 people were injured, of which 5 people were hospitalized," they said.

Separately on Tuesday, Kramatorsk's neigbor Sloviansk was also attacked, according to the head of the local military administration Vadym Lyakh.

"Unfortunately, Sloviansk was shelled again," Lyakh said, adding that there were four explosions. "Many households are damaged, people are trapped under the rubble, there are wounded. Fortunately, there's no one confirmed as killed yet," Lyakh said in a video address.

— Holly Ellyatt

Death toll from Vinnytsia blast last week rises to 25

The death toll from a devastating strike in a public area of the city of Vinnytsia last week has now risen to 25, the head of the city's Regional Military Administration said on Tuesday.

Russian forces struck central Vinnytsia last Thursday with three Kalibr missiles, according to Ukrainian officials, causing a large number of deaths and wounded. Among the fatalities was a 4 year old child.

Ukrainian servicemen lay flowers and toys at a place where 4-years-old girl Liza was killed by a Russian cruise missile strike. Vinnytsia, Ukraine July 15, 2022.
Maxym Marusenko | Nurphoto | Getty Images

"Three Kalibr missiles cost the lives of 25 people," Serhii Borzov said on Telegram today, adding that the 25th victim from the strike was 45-year-old neurologist Natalya Falshtynska, who died in a military hospital today.

The funeral ceremony for four-year-old Liza Dmytriieva, one of the victims of the Vinnytsia missile attack on July 14, takes place at Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Vinnytsia, west-central Ukraine.
Oleksandr Lapin | Future Publishing | Getty Images

Borzov said 54 people who were wounded in the attack are still in Vinnytsia hospitals with eight of those in a serious condition, including a 20-year-old girl with 98% burns, he said. Some of the most serious casualties have been transferred to a specialist burns center in Lviv.

Russia has said it does not target civilians but the attack last week was one of many in which there have been mass civilian casualties.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia over-committed in Donbas and likely to make slow progress, UK says

A photograph taken on June 13, 2022 shows Russian serviceman in front of the school number 22, which was shelled on April 30 in Donetsk, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
Yuri Kadobnov | AFP | Getty Images

Russia continues to commit what are nominally six separate armies to its Donbas offensive, according to the latest intelligence update from the British Ministry of Defence, that noted Tuesday that at full strength, before the invasion, these formations were established for around 150,000 personnel. 

In recent weeks, Russia has often operated with company-sized groupings of around 100 personnel when undertaking offensive operations in any one sector at a time, the ministry noted.

Nonetheless, Russia has struggled to sustain effective offensive combat power since the start of the invasion and this problem is likely becoming increasingly acute, it added.

"As well as dealing with severe under-manning, Russian planners face a dilemma between deploying reserves to the Donbas or defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in the southwestern Kherson sector."

Given that Russia's stated immediate policy objective is to seize all of Donetsk in the Donbas, while Russia may still make further territorial gains, its operational tempo and rate of advance is likely to be very slow, the U.K. said, "without a significant operational pause for reorganisation and refit."

-- Holly Ellyatt

Himars from the U.S. are helping to stabilize frontline, Ukraine military official says

A Ukrainian army unit shows the rockets on HIMARS vehicle in eastern Ukraine on July 1, 2022.
The Washington Post | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Ukraine's top military commander said that the "timely arrival of M142 Himars" from the U.S. is helping Ukrainian forces to withstand Russian attacks on the frontline in the Donbas.

Himars are long-range multiple launch rocket systems and are seen as a potential game-changer in Ukraine's resistance, and fightback, against Russia's near-constant artillery, battering cities and towns in Donetsk, a region of the Donbas.

In a Telegram post on Monday, General Valery Zaluzhny said the weapons were allowing his forces to "stabilize the situation." 

"It is complex, intense, but completely controlled. An important factor contributing to our retention of defensive lines and positions is the timely arrival of M142 HIMARS, which deliver targeted strikes on enemy control points, ammunition and fuel storage depots," he said.

-- Holly Ellyatt

 

Putin and Erdogan set to meet, and talk Ukraine grain exports

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Iran later today with the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports one of the main talking points.

Kremlin aide Yuriy Ushakov said Putin and Erdogan will "discuss key issues of Russian-Turkish cooperation, the implementation of flagship projects in the trade and economic area, as well as give an in-depth consideration to some international issues, including the situation around Ukraine and the export of Ukrainian grain," Russian state news agency Tass reported Tuesday.

An aereal picture taken on July 15, 2022 shows a farmer harvesting wheat, near Kramatorsk in the Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images

The issue of creating a grain corridor from Ukraine, which has seen its ships blockaded and its grain exports unable to leave the country via the Black Sea, is a major one as global food prices rise.

Representatives from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the U.N. held talks last week that appeared to have gone in the right direction with a deal said by Ukraine to be in sight.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar appeared confident that more progress could be made this week, saying Monday that the sides could sign a final document agreeing to the creation of a coordination center to manage and oversee the resumption of grain exports.

-- Holly Ellyatt

Russia seeking oil payments from India in UAE dirhams: Reuters

Russia is seeking payment in United Arab Emirates dirhams for oil exports to some Indian customers, according to Reuters.
Patrick Pleul | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Russia is seeking payment in United Arab Emirates dirhams for oil exports to some Indian customers, Reuters reported, citing three sources and a document.

Reuters said it has seen an invoice showing the bill for the supply of oil to one refiner in dollars while payment was requested in dirhams.

Russian oil major Rosneft is pushing crude through trading firms into India, according to the news agency.

That comes after the slew of Western sanctions prompted oil importers to shun Moscow, causing spot prices for Russian crude to fall to record discounts against other grades. Indian refiners bought exports at heavily discounted prices, and Russia replaced Saudi Arabia as the second-biggest oil supplier to India after Iraq for the second month in a row in June, said Reuters.

Natalie Tham

Ukrainian nuclear power plant official abducted by Russian forces, Ukraine says

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in Europe, seen here in 2019.
Dmytro Smolyenko | Future Publishing | Getty Images

A Ukrainian nuclear power plant company said that Russian forces abducted Ihor Kvashnin, the head of the environmental protection service of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Ukraine.

"They took him to an unknown destination," Energoatom stated on the Telegram messaging platform. "It is still impossible to locate Kvashnin," the company added.

Russian forces took Kvashnin on July 17.

— Amanda Macias

Russia has launched 3,000 missiles, Ukraine's Air Force says

A Ukrainian serviceman inspects the ruins of Lyceum building, suspected to have been destroyed after a missile strike near Kharkiv on July 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine's Air Force wrote on Facebook that Russia's military has launched about 3,000 missiles over Ukraine. 

"These are cruise missiles, aviation missiles of the air-to-surface class, missiles fired from operational-tactical complexes, like the Tochka-U and Iskander, as well as Onyx missiles," Ukraine's Air Force wrote on its Facebook page.

The group wrote that Russia is also using old Soviet missiles "against Ukrainian military positions and civilian objects."

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine's first lady to address Congress this week

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska attend the funeral ceremony of Ukrainian first president Leonid Kravchuk in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 17, 2022.
Maxym Marusenko | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska will address the U.S. Congress this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said in a statement announcing the visit.

Zelenska is expected to deliver a speech on Wednesday at 11 a.m. E.T.

Pelosi invited all members of the House and Senate to attend the address.

— Amanda Macias

Russia orders its forces to intensify operations ‘in all directions’; Ukraine’s Zelenskyy suspends top officials after treason fears

Click here to read yesterday's live blog.