Putin says nuclear weapons transferred to Belarus; Ukraine ‘will be equal to NATO allies’

This was CNBC's live blog tracking developments on the war in Ukraine on June 16, 2023. See here for the latest updates.

Air raid sirens sounded across Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine on Friday as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and other leaders visited the Ukrainian capital as part of an African peace mission. Regional police say three people were injured and more than 30 houses were damaged following a Russian missile attack.

Ukraine's National Resistance Center said 150 children were taken on June 8 from the Russian-occupied Luhansk region of Ukraine to facilities on Russian territory, where 750 Ukrainian children were expected to arrive this month.

Kyiv says nearly 20,000 Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia, something that international organizations say constitutes a war crime. NBC has not been able to verify the situation on the ground.

Russia ramped up security its an annual St. Petersburg economic forum where President Vladimir Putin is speaking Friday. In a speech, Putin said Russia's finances were in good health and that the country must increase its defense spending.

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Ukraine's defense minister joins NATO meeting in Brussels, thanks alliance for support

Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov thanked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Twitter following a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

"Secretary Austin, thank you for your leadership in coordinating this exceptional meeting of heads of defense. Secretary General Stoltenberg, thank you for your hospitality at NATO headquarters and for your dedication to making the world safer," Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

The NATO defense ministers discussed additional support for Ukraine as well as the upcoming summit in Lithuania next month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applied for NATO membership in September.

— Amanda Macias

One ship carrying agricultural goods leaves Ukraine under Black Sea grain deal

A cargo ship loaded with grain is inspected in the anchorage area of the southern entrance to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, on Oct. 31, 2022.
Ozan Kose | AFP | Getty Images

One vessel left Ukraine's port of Odesa under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that established a humanitarian sea corridor for agricultural products.

The Marshall Islands-flagged ship is destined for Turkey and carrying 30,000 metric tons of wheat.

The Black Sea grain agreement was extended on May 16 and is set to expire next month unless Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations renew the terms of the deal. Since May, more than 1.6 million metric tons of agricultural products have departed Ukrainian ports.

— Amanda Macias

Peace is not possible without complete withdrawal of Russian forces, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures as he addresses media after talks with African Presidents in Kyiv on June 16, 2023.
Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated that peace in Ukraine would not be possible without "the complete withdrawal of their forces from Ukrainian territory."

"All nations in the world deserve to live freely, without the imposition of another's will through military or political means. However, the protection of borders and ensuring people's safety cannot be guaranteed while Russia continues its aggression and theft of foreign lands, setting a dangerous precedent," Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel according to an NBC News translation.

"It is evident that the cessation of Russian terror and the complete withdrawal of their forces from Ukrainian territory are essential to end this war. Both Ukraine and the global community reject the idea of frozen conflicts or lingering wars. What we truly need is lasting peace," he added.

— Amanda Macias

Russia is paying soldiers a bonus for destroying opposing tanks and armored vehicles

Russian servicemen stand guard at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023.
Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

The Russian Defense Ministry said it is rewarding soldiers and pilots for destroying tanks and other armored vehicles used by Ukraine that are made in the U.S. and other NATO countries, Reuters reported.

The ministry said it had paid bonuses to more than 10,000 troops for destroying equipment since the start of the war, according to Reuters.

Troops are paid 50,000 roubles ($596) for armored vehicles and 100,000 roubles for a tank, Reuters reported. Pilots and air defense operators get 300,000 roubles for every Ukrainian plane or helicopter and hits on rocket launch systems are rewarded by the same amount, the news service said.

- Chris Eudaily

Russian forces ‘highly likely’ behind attack on Ukrainian dam, international law investigation says

A satellite image captured by a SkySat shows the breached Kakhovka dam in Ukraine on June 6, 2023.

An international team of investigators said in a new report that it is "highly likely Russian forces deliberately destroyed" the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine.

"We find there is a high probability the collapse of the dam was caused by pre-emplaced explosives positioned at critical points within its structure," explained Catriona Murdoch, a lawyer and expert in starvation-related crimes, who was also part of one of the first delegations to arrive at the site.

Both Russia and Ukraine have placed the blame squarely on each other for the explosion at the dam, which unleashed the worst ecological disaster in Ukraine's history since Chornobyl.

More than 80 settlements in the Kherson region flooded, and at least 27 people have died, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Putin says nuclear weapons have been transferred to Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has transferred nuclear weapons to its neighbor Belarus, which also borders Ukraine.

The move, while not unexpected after several months of Putin making threats to do exactly that, is one of Russia's clearest actions with regard to nuclear weapons since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Putin's, and while Belarus has not officially sent its own troops into Ukraine, it has acted as a staging ground for Russian troops and military exercises since before the start of the war.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine-NATO council to be established soon, Secretary-General Stoltenberg says

A Ukraine-NATO council is planned to be inaugurated during the next meeting of the alliance in Vilnius, Lithuania in July, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced.

"Ukraine will be equal to NATO allies and consult and decide on security issues of mutual concern," Stoltenberg said from Brussels during a two-day gathering of NATO defence chiefs.

"Our ambition is to have the first meeting of the new council in Vilnius with President Zelenskyy," he said.

He added that in the new council, Ukraine would be equal to all NATO member states, noting that the country has moved closer to the Western alliance in the past decade.

Stoltenberg said that when the war ends, there will need to be a framework that ensures Ukraine's future security.

— Natasha Turak

Republican and Democratic lawmakers push for Ukrainian use of seized Russian assets

A Ukranian serviceman stands on top of a Russian tank captured after fighting with Russian troops in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, Ukraine, March 27, 2022. 
Marko Djurica | Reuters

Republican and Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation in Congress that would facilitate Ukraine being able to use seized Russian assets to defend their country. The aim is to make Russia pay for the damage caused in its war against Ukraine instead of American taxpayers.

"Over a year into Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, more than $300 billion in Russian sovereign assets remain frozen globally," Sen. Jim Risch, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

"Given Russia's brutality and continued war crimes against the Ukrainian people, it is only right that Russian government funds in the United States be seized and repurposed to help Ukraine rebuild its country," he said.

Named the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act, it would authorize the American president to seize Russian assets frozen in the U.S. and allocate them for Ukraine support.

It would also prevent sanctioned Russians entities from recouping frozen funds until Russia pulls its troops out of Ukraine and gives compensation for the damages caused by its invasion.

— Natasha Turak

NATO fails to agree on first defense plans since Cold War: report

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference during the first of two days of defence ministers' meetings at NATO headquarters on June 15, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium.
Omar Havana | Getty Images

The defense chiefs of NATO countries meeting in Brussels failed to reach a consensus on the alliance's first defense plans since the conclusion of the Cold War, Reuters reported.

"While regional plans were not formally endorsed today, we anticipate these plans will be part of a series of deliverables for the Vilnius Summit in July," the news agency cited an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying.

"A NATO diplomat said Turkey had blocked the decision over the wording of geographical locations, also with regard to Cyprus," Reuters wrote.

NATO officials still aim to reach a solution before the alliance's summit in Vilnius in July.

— Natasha Turak

Putin says Russia's finances are balanced, must increase defense spending

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the SPIEF 2023 St.Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, 2023 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country's finances were broadly balanced, predicting Russia's economy would growth by up to 2% as it recovered from wide-ranging sanctions imposed by Western countries in 2022 over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a "special military operation."

Putin, speaking at the flagship St. Petersburg economic forum, also said that Russia needed to increase defense spending to ensure its security.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts Russia's economic growth at 0.7% for 2023, up from a prior estimate of 0.3%. Its forecast for 2024 GDP growth is 1.3%.

— Natasha Turak

U.K. commits $77 million to NATO's Ukraine fund

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after meetings at Chequers on May 15, 2023, in Aylesbury, England.
Carl Court | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The U.K. committed £60 million ($77 million) to NATO's Ukraine fund, its government said as defense ministers met in Brussels.

"This new contribution ... is part of our ongoing commitment to provide Ukraine with the equipment and training it needs," British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement. 

Wallace met with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other defense counterparts during the NATO gathering.

The U.K. has contributed more than $100 million to the fund since Russia's full-scale invasion began in February 2022.

— Natasha Turak

Air raid sirens and explosions sound across Kyiv

Local residents take shelter in a metro station in the centre of Kyiv during a Russian missile attack on June 16, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 
Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images

An air raid alert has been activated across Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine as explosions were heard in the capital city, Ukrainian state broadcaster Suspilne reported.

"Several Kalibr-type missiles were headed north" from the Black Sea, Ukraine's air force command said, according to a Reuters translation of Suspilne reporting. Local authorities say that air defenses are in operation.

— Natasha Turak

'Unprecedented' safety measures taken for Putin ahead of St. Petersburg speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the SPIEF 2023 St.Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, 2023 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Getty Images

The Kremlin said "unprecedented" safety measures have been put in place for the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to speak on Friday.

That's because "the enemy acts brazenly," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to Reuters, which cited Russian state media outlet Tass. Moscow accuses Kyiv of being behind a number of bombings and drone and artillery attacks on Russian territory in recent months.

— Natasha Turak

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives in Kyiv for African peace mission

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in Ukrainian capital Kyiv as part of an African peace mission. He is joined by the leaders of Senegal, Zambia and the Comoros, and the prime minister of Egypt.

Ramaphosa is slated to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and will later travel to Russia for talks with Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

The peace delegation plans to present a set of "confidence building measures" for the initial phases of mediation, according to a draft document seen by Reuters, the news agency said.

The goal of the mission is "to promote the importance of peace and to encourage the parties to agree to a diplomacy-led process of negotiations," Reuters said.

Some of the measures could include a Russian troop pull-back, removing tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus, the retraction of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Putin, and lifting sanctions on Russia.

Kyiv has said it doesn't accept any peace plan that doesn't mandate the full withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine says 150 children illegally taken from Luhansk to Russian territory

The National Resistance Centre of Ukraine on Thursday said that 150 children were taken on June 8 from the Starobilsk district of the Luhansk region to two centers on Russian territory, where 750 Ukrainian children were expected to arrive this month.

Citing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's May comments, the center said 19,393 Ukrainian children have so far been illegally transferred to Russia from occupied Ukrainian regions.

CNBC could not independently verify the situation on ground.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian Vladimir Putin and Russia's commissioner for children's rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for the war crime of deporting children from occupied Ukrainian territories into Russia.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv are signatories of the Rome Statute that established the ICC, but Ukraine authorized the tribunal in Hague to investigate war crimes committed on its territory.

'We are appealing to the world for weapons,' Zelenskyy says in nightly address for additional Western arms

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits a site of residential buildings recently damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on March 27, 2023.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | via Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for additional Western weapons for its fight against a full-scale Russian invasion on his official Telegram channel.

"Ukraine has never been the instigator of any aggressive wars," Zelenskyy said in a nightly address posted on Telegram, according to an NBC News translation.

"We are appealing to the world for weapons so that our Ukrainian territory can once again be a place of peace—a land for all our people," Zelenskyy said, adding that "only through the force of arms can we defend against Russian aggression and safeguard our peace."

Zelenskyy also thanked allies and partners who have provided weapons, financial assistance and humanitarian aid since Russia's war began more than a year ago.

— Amanda Macias

IAEA chief visits Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to inspect damage caused by Kakhovka dam attack

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visits the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023. 
Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, visited the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said last week that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested the help of the nuclear watchdog agency following the attack on the Kakhovka dam.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visits the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023. 
Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The explosion at the dam not only triggered rising flood waters in southern Ukraine but also jeopardized the reservoirs of cooling water used for the reactors at the nuclear power plant.

Grossi said that the situation at the plant, Europe's largest nuclear power plant, remained serious but added that the level of reservoir water was stable, according to RIA news agency.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), holds a press conference during his visit to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on June 15, 2023.
Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

— Amanda Macias

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