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Ukraine facing 'extremely fierce' battles and 'partial success' in counteroffensive; Putin says it's failing

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on June 14, 2023. See here for the latest updates. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during the 2nd Eurasian Economic Forum in Moscow, May 24, 2023.
Contributor | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Ukraine's counteroffensive is failing, saying Kyiv has failed to achieve any success.

"This is a large-scale counteroffensive, using reserves that were trained for this purpose, it has been underway since the 4th of June and is still underway, right now," Putin said Tuesday at a meeting with war correspondents.

"[Ukrainian troops] have not reached the front line," Putin said, claiming that "the adversary was not successful in any sectors. They have huge losses."

Ukraine says it has liberated several settlements in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday night that "there is advancement in different areas," but there are also reports Russia is contesting several villages Kyiv claimed to have retaken. Later Wednesday, Ukraine's deputy defense minister said there are "extremely fierce" battles.

In other news, the Ukrainian port city of Odesa was the target of a Russian missile strike overnight that left three people dead and at least 13 injured, according to officials. The region of Donetsk was also targeted, leaving three civilians dead and others wounded.

Photos show devastating Russian missile strike in eastern Ukraine

At least three people died after shelling destroyed seven homes and damaged dozens more in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka on Wednesday, according to a Telegram post from Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk province.

The Associated Press reported that the Ukrainian presidential office said a missile hit the Ukrainian-controlled city of Kramatorsk, where Kyiv's forces are headquartered. The office said that strike killed two civilians and wounded two others while damaging 29 homes.

Meanwhile, Russian shelling in the eastern city of Kostiantynivka in Ukraine killed one civilian, with 57 houses damaged, it added.

This aerial view shows municipal workers as they use a mechanical digger to clear debris from a residential area in the aftermath of a Russian attack on Kramatorsk, June 14, 2023.
Ihor Tkachov | Afp | Getty Images
Residents stand in the remains of their homes as municipal workers clear debris in the aftermath of a Russian attack on Kramatorsk, June 14, 2023.
Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images
Residents stand in the remains of their homes in the aftermath of a Russian attack on Kramatorsk, June 14, 2023.
Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images
A resident salvages belongings from the remains of her home in the aftermath of a Russian attack on Kramatorsk, June 14, 2023.
Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images
Residents salvage belongings from the remains of their home in the aftermath of a Russian attack on Kramatorsk, June 14, 2023.
Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

— The Associated Press and Anatolii Stepanov | AFP | Getty Images

House unanimously passes resolution demanding release of detained Americans in Russia

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, April 18, 2023.
Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The House of Representatives showed bipartisan support by voting 422-0 to approve a resolution that calls for the immediate release of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities 11 weeks ago on allegations of espionage. He is currently being held at the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. The Biden administration and The Wall Street Journal have denied claims Gershkovich was in Russia operating as a U.S. spy.

"We applaud this latest show of bipartisan support from Congress in the fight for Evan's release," wrote WSJ Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker and Almar Latour, chief executive of Dow Jones, which publishes the daily newspaper, in a statement following the vote.

"His wrongful detention is a blow to press freedom, and it should matter to anyone who values free society. We will not rest until he is free," the statement added.

The resolution also called for the immediate release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested by Russian authorities in 2018 on espionage charges. Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in a camp in the remote province of Mordovia.

— Amanda Macias

Turkey says Sweden has not done enough to join NATO alliance

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Murat Cetinmuhurdar | Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters traveling with him that Sweden has not done enough to be admitted to the NATO military alliance, according to a Reuters report.

Ankara has previously accused Stockholm of harboring terrorists. The latest revelation comes as NATO members are set to meet next month in Lithuania.

Finland and Sweden began the formal process of applying to NATO last May as Russia's war in Ukraine marched into its third month.

At the time, Ankara demanded certain concessions from both Finland and Sweden before approving NATO membership. Earlier this year, Turkey formalized the ratification of Finland to join the NATO alliance.

— Amanda Macias

Five ships leave Ukrainian ports under Black Sea grain deal

A photograph taken on October 31, 2022, shows cargo ships loaded with grain in the anchorage area of the southern entrance to the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
Ozan Kose | Afp | Getty Images

Five ships left Ukraine's ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa for global destinations under the Black Sea grain deal.

The vessels carried out a combined 187,774 metric tons of corn, soybeans and sunflower meal destined for Spain, France, Italy and China.

The humanitarian sea corridor has seen the passage of 36 vessels transporting 1.4 million metric tons of agricultural goods, according to data collected by the U.N.-backed organization tasked with tracking the export activity related to the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

— Amanda Macias

Belarus president says he wouldn’t hesitate to use Russian nuclear weapons to fight aggression

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talks with Russian TV presenter Olga Skabeyeva during his visit to the missile production enterprise in the Minsk region of Belarus, June 13, 2023.
Belarusian Presidential Press Office via AP

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the country has received some of Russia's tactical nuclear weapons and warned he wouldn't hesitate to use them if Belarus faced an act of aggression, the Associated Press reported.

Lukashenko's comments contradict earlier statements by President Vladimir Putin who has said Russia will retain control of the weapons and is stationing them in Belarus, similar to the U.S.' agreements to deploy weapons in their allied countries, according to Reuters.

The deployment is Moscow's first move of such warheads outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it is being monitored closely by the U.S., its allies and China, Reuters reported.

Lukashenko, who has allowed his country to be used by Russian forces attacking Ukraine, said the nuclear deployment will act as a deterrent against potential aggressors, the AP reported. Belarus borders the NATO member countries Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

— Melodie Warner

Blinken set to galvanize allies in London as Ukraine plans reconstruction efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane for travel to Berlin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on June 22, 2021.
Andrew Harnik | Pool | Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to London to meet with his counterparts from the U.K. and Ukraine during the Ukraine Recovery Conference.

He will also meet with several allies on the sidelines of the conference and is expected to galvanize allies and the private sector to support Ukraine's reconstruction efforts.

— Amanda Macias

Russian parliament backs army recruitment of criminals for Ukraine conflict

A police officer patrols in front of the Russian State Duma and the building of the Hall of Columns, April 8, 2022.
Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

The lower house of Russia's parliament said Wednesday it had voted to give its initial backing to legislation that will allow the Defense Ministry to sign contracts with suspected or convicted criminals to fight in Ukraine.

More than 15 months into what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine, Moscow — whose forces have suffered heavy losses — is trying to recruit more soldiers for what is Europe's largest land war since World War II.

Under the proposed changes, a contract could be concluded with someone being investigated for committing a crime, who is having their case heard in court or after they have been convicted but before the verdict takes legal effect, according to the database of the State Duma, the lower house.

People convicted of sexual crimes, treason, terrorism or extremism would not be able to sign up.

Those who do sign up would be exempt from criminal liability upon completion of their contract or if they receive awards for their combat prowess.

The Wagner mercenary group was previously allowed to recruit convicts from prisons to fight in Ukraine but said in February it had stopped. Prison rights activists say the Defense Ministry has taken over the process but wanted to make changes.

The new changes being examined by the Duma do not cover recruitment of people already serving their sentences. The Defense Ministry has not commented.

— Reuters

Kremlin says 'goodwill' on grain deal might not last much longer

The Kremlin said it could withdraw from the grain export deal with Ukraine when the current agreement expires in mid-July.

The agreement, known formally as the "Black Sea grain Initiative," has enabled over 31 million metric tons of vital agricultural exports to leave three of Ukraine's ports amid the ongoing war.

Russia has reluctantly extended the UN and Turkey-brokered deal several times but has complained that its own own grain and fertilizer exports face continuing obstacles due to restrictions on payments and access to insurance.

An aerial view of a dry cargo ship transporting grain from Ukraine under the U.N.-brokered Black Sea deal.
Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov was asked by reporters to comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin's comment yesterday that Russia is considering the possibility of withdrawing from the deal, and was asked if this could take place when it's set to expire, or before.

"At the end," the Kremlin spokesman replied, according to news agency Interfax.

Peskov was also asked why Moscow was considering withdrawing from the deal now, despite long-standing grievances about it.

"Russia has repeatedly made such gestures of goodwill [by extending participation in the deal], showing a very responsible approach, but, unfortunately, in the absence of reciprocity and the absence of the desire of the collective West to fulfil part of the agreements regarding Russia, of course, this is a manifestation of goodwill and political will cannot be endless," Peskov said, Interfax reported.

On Tuesday, President Putin s