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Putin signs decree to increase size of Russian military; 25 confirmed dead after Russian rocket strike on Ukraine's Independence Day

This has been CNBC's live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

Rocket attack kills 25 people on Ukraine's Independence Day
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Rocket attack kills 25 people on Ukraine's Independence Day

The death toll rose following a Russian rocket attack on a train station in central Ukraine on its independence day.

Ukrainian and U.S. officials had warned of stepped up Russian attacks on this day, keeping the country on high alert with a ban on large gatherings in Kyiv for most of the week.

Concern continues to rise over the status of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, as Ukrainian officials say Russia may be preparing to stage a "false flag" attack.

Meanwhile, five more ships carrying agricultural products are set to leave Ukraine's ports for export.

'The world is experiencing the worst food security crisis any of us have ever seen,' U.S. ambassador to UN says

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks to the media after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the situation between Russia and Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., February 17, 2022.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

The world "is experiencing the worst food security crisis any of us have ever seen," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

The ongoing food crisis was triggered by Covid-19, strained supply lines, higher energy costs and rising temperatures, she said.

"In many conflicts around the world, food is intentionally blocked or destroyed and dictators use starvation as a weapon of war," Thomas-Greenfield said in a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

"We see this no more acutely than with Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost a quarter of global grain exports. But now Ukraine's once rolling wheat fields have become battlefields," she said, slamming Moscow's weaponization of food.

"It matters because it affects us economically. Food security is directly linked to economic growth. And it matters because food insecurity leads us to political and social instability. And that endangers us all," she said.

— Amanda Macias

Biden speaks with Zelenskyy about more aid to defend against Russia

President Joe Biden speaking to Vladimir Putin from the White House, Dec. 30, 2021.
Source: White House Photo

President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to congratulate him on Ukraine's Independence Day.

Biden also "expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine, who have inspired the world as they defended their country's sovereignty over the past six months," according to a White House readout of the call.

The president reaffirmed U.S. commitment to support Ukraine and provided an update on additional military aid.

"The two leaders also called for Russia to return full control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to Ukraine and for International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA access to the plant," the readout added.

— Amanda Macias

Finland, Norway and Sweden say they've seen increased and irresponsible Russian military activity near their borders

MIG-31k fighter jets, with Kinzhal missile systems, during Victory Day parades in Red Square in Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2020.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The defense ministers of Finland, Norway and Sweden said they have seen increased Russian military presence near their borders and agreed to boost cooperation in order to deter Moscow.

"At several occasions, we have seen irresponsible and unprofessional Russian behavior," Finland's Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen, Norway's Defense Minister Bjorn Arild Gram and Sweden's Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist wrote in a statement.

The ministers added that they will enhance their joint military security by conducting training operations and increasing communication.

"The security situation has deteriorated following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia has proved that it does not respect international law and has upended the European security order," the trio wrote in a joint statement.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy speaks to Biden and thanks him for latest military aid package

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden a day after Ukraine celebrated its 31st Independence Day.

"We discussed Ukraine's further steps on our path to the victory over the aggressor and importance of holding Russia accountable for war crimes" Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

Zelenskyy also said that he thanked Biden for the additional U.S. security assistance that was announced on Wednesday.

Wednesday's package of nearly $3 billion is authorized through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI, which uses funds appropriated by Congress. The USAI finances America's defense industry to scale up arms production.

— Amanda Macias

WHO has delivered more than 1,300 metric tons of medical supplies to Ukraine since start of war

Doctors prepare a wounded Ukrainian soldier for surgery in a hospital, amid Russia's invasion, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine May 11, 2022.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters

The World Health Organization said it has delivered more than 1,300 metric tons of medical supplies to Ukraine since Russia's war began six months ago.

The supplies include power generators, ambulances, oxygen for medical facilities, supplies for trauma and emergency surgeries and medicine to help treat non-communicable diseases.

The WHO also said it has trained more than 9,000 health care workers in trauma surgery, mass casualties, chemical exposure, epidemiology and laboratory diagnostics.

The organization added that it has provided more than 12,000 psychosocial health consultations to those in need of mental health sessions triggered by war.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus reaffirmed the organization's commitment to supporting Ukraine's healthcare system.

— Amanda Macias

Russian defense minister discusses Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with French counterpart

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke with his French counterpart about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The Kremlin said that French Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu initiated the call.

"Shoigu delivered his assessments of the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that can disrupt the safe operation of the plant," according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

Russian forces took control of the nuclear facility, Europe's largest, in the days following the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In recent days, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling near the Zaporizhzhia plant. Western nations have called on Russia to remove its troops from the facility, citing concerns of a potential nuclear accident.

He told Lecornu that Moscow believed it was important for IAEA inspectors to visit the nuclear facility. 

A French readout of the call was not immediately available.

— Amanda Macias

Putin signs decree to increase size of Russia's military

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mikhail Klimentyev | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to increase the size of the Russian military from 1.9 million to 2.04 million, an announcement on its government web portal said, as the war in Ukraine passes its six-month mark.

The order will be effective January 1 and will see a rise in combat personnel of 137,000 to 1.15 million.

Russia has steadily cast a wider net as to who it's willing to recruit as conscripts, including prisoners, retired military personnel, older men and those with only a middle-school level education. Putin reportedly expected the invasion, which the Kremlin calls its "special military operation," to last only a few days before taking the capital Kyiv.

Russia's military has instead lost several generals and is estimated by U.S. intelligence to have lost around 15,000 servicemen, though Moscow has not released any recent military casualty figures itself.

Deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexandrovsky Garden near the Kremlin wall in Moscow on June 22, 2022.
Yekaterina Shtukina | Afp | Getty Images

— Natasha Turak

IAEA chief says nuclear inspectors are 'very, very close' to being able to visit Zaporizhzhia plant

Any nuclear facility is potentially a ticking time bomb, says consultancy
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Any nuclear facility is potentially a ticking time bomb, says consultancy

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, said his team is "very, very close" to being able to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which has been under Russian military occupation since March.

"We are very, very close to that," Rafael Grossi told French news channel France 24 in an interview, when asked if negotiations to access the facility had achieved anything.

Any operation to inspect the plant would be very complex, Grossi said, but he hoped the visit would be able to happen "within days."

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi attends a news conference, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Vienna, Austria, April 28, 2022. 
Leonhard Foeger | Reuters

"We need to go there, we need to stabilize the situation, we need to ensure a presence of the IAEA soon," Grossi added.

International leaders and organizations have for months sounded the alarm over the risk of a nuclear catastrophe at the plant, which faces regular shelling and is Europe's largest of its kind.

— Natasha Turak

Two last working reactors at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant shut down due to fire

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine August 4, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant's two remaining reactors that are still working shut down after nearby fires damaged power lines overhead, Ukraine's national nuclear energy firm Energoatom said.

The power lines connected the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine — Europe's largest — to the national grid. Before the Russian invasion and Russian occupation of the facility, it supplied 20% of Ukraine's power. The fires that damaged the power lines started at a local coal plant in the vicinity, the company said via its official Telegram account.

The plant's security system is still working as usual and work is being done to re-link one of the reactors to the power grid, the statement added.

— Natasha Turak

National security advisor Jake Sullivan meets with EU official in Washington to discuss Ukraine

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, speaks during an interview at an Economic Club of Washington event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2022.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

National security advisor Jake Sullivan met with Frederic Bernard, the head of the Cabinet to the president of the European Council, in Washington.

"They reaffirmed their commitment to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends its democracy and imposing costs on Russia for its aggression," according to a White House readout of the meeting.

"They also discussed ongoing U.S. and European Union cooperation on Europe's energy security as well as the promotion of peace and stability in the Western Balkans and the South Caucasus," the readout added.

— Amanda Macias

State Department slams Russia's 'so-called tribunals' in Mariupol

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, August 16, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The State Department slammed Moscow's "so-called tribunals" in the Russian-controlled city of Mariupol.

"The Kremlin is attempting to deflect responsibility for President Putin's war of aggression and distract from the overwhelming evidence of the atrocities Russian forces have committed in Ukraine," State Department spokesman Ned Price wrote in a statement.

Price called the trials a "mockery of justice" and called on Moscow to comply with international law.

"All members of Ukraine's armed forces, including domestic and foreign volunteers incorporated into the armed forces, are entitled to prisoner of war status if they are captured and must be afforded the treatment and protections commensurate with that status, according to the Geneva Conventions," Price added.

— Amanda Macias

Nearly 770,000 metric tons of agricultural products have left Ukrainian ports

The Turkish-flagged ship "Polarnet" carrying grain from Ukraine arrives at Derince Port, Kocaeli, Turkey, on August 8, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from Ukraine said that so far a total of 769,986 metric tons of grains and other foodstuffs have departed through the humanitarian sea corridor under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. 

The Joint Coordination Center, or JCC, said that more than 30 ships carrying grains and other crops have left Ukrainian ports.

The JCC also said that it authorized the movement of three outbound merchant vessels to depart from Ukrainian ports.

— Amanda Macias

25 people confirmed dead after Russian attack on train station in central Ukraine

Twenty-five people are now confirmed dead after a Russian rocket attack on a train station in central Ukraine, according to Ukrainian newspaper the Kyiv Independent.

The strikes took place on Aug. 24, Ukraine's Independence Day, ahead of which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia may launch a "particularly cruel" attack on the country.

Rockets hit a train and residential areas of the town of Chaplyne in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, regional officials said, initially killing 15 and wounding at least 50. Four trains were set aflame and two children were killed in the attack, according to the presidential office's deputy head, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba posted photos of the aftermath of the strikes on his Twitter account, showing burnt-out train cars and structures reduced to rubble.

"Terrorist Russia keeps killing Ukrainian civilians. At least 15 killed in a Russian missile strike on a train station in Chaplyne, Dnipropetrovsk region," he wrote Wednesday evening.

— Natasha Turak

Russia may exploit any Ukrainian military activity around nuclear power plant for 'propaganda purposes': UK

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 4, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Concerns continue to mount over the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March.

Ukrainian and Western officials have warned of "false flag" actions by Russia, through which Russian forces may stage an attack and blame it on Ukrainian forces as a justification to escalate action.

"Russia is probably prepared to exploit any Ukrainian military activity near ZNPP for propaganda purposes," Britain's Ministry of Defense wrote on its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

"While Russia maintains the military occupation of ZNPP, the principal risks to reactor operations are likely to remain disruption to the reactors' cooling systems, damage to its back-up power supply, or errors by workers operating under pressure," the post added.

— Natasha Turak

UK announces $64 million package of drones and loitering munitions for Ukraine

The U.K. announced a £54 million ($64 million) new weapons package for Ukraine's Armed Forces that will include 2,000 drones and loitering munitions, a government statement said.

The package includes 850 hand-launched Black Hornet micro-drones, "which are specifically designed for use in towns and villages, and are deployed to detect approaching enemy forces," the statement said.

Military personnel can learn to fly these drones, which are smaller than a cell phone, in less than 20 minutes, according to the U.K. government.

The U.K. is also set to send Ukraine mine-hunting vehicles to enable it to detect Russian mines in its waters. In the next few weeks, Ukrainian soldiers undergoing training in the U.K. will be taught how to use them in British waters. The U.K. is also expanding its training program for Ukrainian troops.

— Natasha Turak

Five ships carrying a total of 85,110 metric tons of agricultural products set to depart Ukraine's ports

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain, is seen in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey August 3, 2022.
Mehmet Caliskan | Reuters

The organization overseeing the export of agricultural products from Ukraine said that five ships carrying grains and other crops were approved to depart Ukrainian ports Thursday.

The vessel Ascanios is carrying 58,510 metric tons of corn and is destined for Germany. The vessel Mohamad is carrying 11,000 metric tons of wheat and is destined for Israel. The ship named Bellis will also travel to Israel and is carrying 6,000 metric tons of soybeans. The vessel Oris Sofi is transporting 5,900 metric tons of sunflower oil to Turkey. Another ship, Zelek Star is also destined for Turkey and is transporting 3,700 metric tons of peas.

In total, the five vessels are carrying 85,110 metric tons of grain and food products under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. 

— Amanda Macias

Europe will not be blackmailed into 'offering Ukraine on a silver platter to Putin', says former U.S. ambassador

Europe will not offer Ukraine on a 'silver platter' to Putin, says former U.S. ambassador
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Europe won't offer Ukraine on 'silver platter' to Putin: Former U.S. ambassador

Europe will not be blackmailed into "offering Ukraine on a silver platter to Putin," said Former United States Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst when asked if Russia's weaponization of energy flows through Nord Stream will break Europe's resolve to continue lending support to Ukraine.

"I believe Europe as a whole will remain supportive of Ukraine and will not be blackmailed by this," said Herbst, who is now senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. "And I believe they'll make it through the winter albeit with some hardship."

Herbst added that "the end will come sooner" for Russia's war in Ukraine if the Biden administration sent more advanced weapons to Ukraine and in greater quantities.

"United States and the West need to provide Ukraine weapons as long as Moscow's conducting a war of aggression in Ukraine, and this may require many years."

— Lee Ying Shan

Russia is planning to hold "sham referendums" to show Ukrainians want to join Russia, White House warns

White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, July 27, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

National security council spokesman John Kirby said that U.S. intelligence indicates that Russia may try to hold "sham referendums" as early as this week.

Kirby told reporters that the referendums are a way of Russia trying to show that the Ukrainian people want to become part of Russia. Kirby said that the U.S. believes that the referendums may begin in Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk.

Kirby added that the Biden administration will not view the outcome of the referendum as legitimate.

"Since they obviously are having trouble achieving geographic gains inside Ukraine, they are trying to gain that through false political means," Kirby told reporters.

"We expect Russia to try to manipulate the results of these referenda, to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia," he added.

— Amanda Macias

15 reported killed in Independence Day attack in Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stands at Independence Square as he congratulates Ukrainians on Independence Day, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in this handout picture released August 24, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | via Reuters

Ukraine's president says Russian forces have launched a rocket attack on a railroad station in central Ukraine on the country's Independence Day, killing at least 15 people and wounding about 50.

The lethal strike came after warnings from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in recent days that the Russians might "try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel" this week.

Wednesday is a national holiday in Ukraine commemorating the country's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It also marks the six-month point in the war against Russia.

— Associated Press

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