Ukraine accepted as EU membership candidate; Biden approves $450 million military aid package – CNBC

Oil industry says Granholm meeting sends ‘positive signal’

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm takes questions during a media briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 23, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

An oil industry meeting with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to lower gas prices and boost domestic oil supplies was constructive, but did not produce a major breakthrough, administration and industry officials said.

The closed-door meeting came as President Joe Biden called on Congress to suspend federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel as a way to relieve high gas prices that have frustrated drivers and spurred inflation.

The Democratic president also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief, and he delivered a public critique of the energy industry for prioritizing profits over production.

“It doesn’t reduce all the pain but it will be a big help,” Biden said Wednesday, referring to the national average of $5 per gallon for gas. Biden said he was doing his part and now wants Congress, states and industry to do their parts as well.

— Associated Press

Biden approves $450 million security assistance package for Ukraine

John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2022. 

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The Biden administration announced a 13th security assistance package for Ukraine worth $450 million.

“This package contains weapons and equipment including new high mobility artillery rocket systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for the artillery systems that have already been provided, as well as patrol boats to help Ukraine defend its coast and its waterways,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at a daily White House press briefing.

The assistance package includes the following, according to a Pentagon release:

  • 4 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS
  • 36,000 rounds of 105 mm ammunition
  • 18 tactical vehicles to tow 155 mm artillery
  • 1,200 grenade launchers
  • 2,000 machine guns
  • 18 coastal and riverine patrol boats
  • Spare parts and other equipment

The latest security package brings the U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova inch closer to EU member status

A national flags of Ukraine an EU flags outside the Town Hall in Lille, France, on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

European Union leaders granted the countries of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia candidate status to join the bloc, a significant step on the long road to EU membership. The three countries applied for European Union membership in early March.

“Your countries are part of our European family. And today’s historic decision by leaders confirms that,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet.

Ukrainian President Voldomyry Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he was grateful for the support from European Union leaders.

Meanwhile, Kosovo and North Macedonia, among others, await their membership applications to progress.

 — Amanda Macias

China’s Xi criticizes sanctions at meeting of BRICS nations

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech in virtual format at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum, June 22, 2022.

Yin Bogu | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a meeting of leaders of major developing countries by saying the world should oppose unilateral sanctions and efforts by some countries to maintain their political and military power.

Xi’s remarks at the virtual meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, known collectively as “BRICS,” reflect China’s tacit backing of Russia in the war in Ukraine and its desire to form an international alliance opposed to the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.

The BRICS meeting comes amid rising concerns over the global economic outlook and a growing political divide between China and India.

Nations need to “reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, and reject the small circles built around hegemonism by forming one big family belonging to a community with a shared future for humanity,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

— Associated Press

Biden to propose additional measures aimed at Russia to G-7 and NATO leaders

President Joe Biden speaks about gas prices in the South Court Auditorium at the White House campus on June 22, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty

The Biden administration is slated to present a set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia at the upcoming G-7 and NATO summit. The proposals will “demonstrate our support collectively for Ukraine,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters on a conference call.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the administration’s plans, said that Biden will also address with global leaders “the impact of Putin’s war on prices,” including rising food costs and shortages due to a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

The official declined to elaborate further on the types of measures the Biden administration plans to propose to leaders at both summits.

 — Amanda Macias

Ukrainian defense minister thanks U.S. for heavy artillery systems

U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 65th Field Artillery Brigade fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during a joint live-fire exercise with the Kuwait Land Forces, Jan. 8, 2019, near Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Courtesy: U.S. Department of Defense

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov thanked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for the delivery of additional artillery systems.

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS, are manufactured by defense giant Lockheed Martin. The HMARS are designed to shoot a variety of missiles from a mobile 5-ton truck.

The HMARS were included in the most recent U.S. security package, which is the 12th installment of aid for Ukraine, valued at $1 billion.

 — Amanda Macias

Russia earns about $1 billion a day in export revenues from oil and gas, expert says

Source: CEIC

Despite a slew of coordinated global sanctions, Russia still brings in about $1 billion a day in export revenues from oil and gas.

In the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, Washington and its allies have imposed rounds of coordinated penalties that vaulted Russia past Iran and North Korea as the world’s most-sanctioned country. Despite the backlash, Russia still receives significant revenues from energy exports, according to research compiled by economics expert Gerard DiPippo.

DiPippo, a senior fellow at the Economics Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, found that oil and gas accounted for 47% of Russia’s revenues from January to May this year.

While Russian oil production fell in April, revenues increased by 80%, according to data compiled by DiPippo.

“For comparison, Russian fiscal data suggests that Moscow spent $325 million per day on military expenditures in April, the latest data available,” DiPippo writes.

 — Amanda Macias

UN says at least 4,662 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Editor’s note: This article contains a photograph that may be upsetting to some readers.

The United Nations has confirmed 4,662 civilian deaths and 5,803 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.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A woman mourns over the body of her relative who was reportedly killed by a cluster rocket in the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 18, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of the country.

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

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

Germany faces natural gas ‘crisis,’ raises warning level

An employee of Uniper Energy Storage inspects the above-ground facilities of a natural gas storage facility at the Uniper Energy Storage facility in Bierwang, southern Germany on June 10, 2022.

Lennart Preiss | AFP | Getty Images

Germany activated the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies, warning that Europe’s biggest economy faces a “crisis” and storage targets for the winter are at risk after Russia reduced energy deliveries to several countries.

The government said the decision follows cuts Russia made to natural gas flows starting last week and surging energy prices stoked by the war in Ukraine. Industrial customers are being asked to reduce the amount of natural gas they use, and Germany and other countries are turning back to coal as a replacement, threatening climate goals in Europe as energy tensions escalate between Russia and the West.

“Even if we can’t feel it yet — we are in a gas crisis,” Economy and Energy Minister Robert Habeck said.

Russia last week reduced natural gas to Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia just as European Union countries are scrambling to refill storage of the fuel used to generate electricity, power industry and heat homes in the winter. Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom blamed a missing part sent to Canada for repairs as it cut flows by 60% through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany — Europe’s major natural gas pipeline.

— Associated Press

Russia and Belarus must take urgent measures to improve combat-readiness, minister says

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a wreath-laying ceremony, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in 1941, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2022. 

Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Russia and Belarus should take urgent measures to improve their air defense capabilities and troops’ combat readiness, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said, according to comments reported by Russian news agency Interfax.

“Circumstances dictate the need to take urgent joint measures on strengthening the defense capabilities of the union state, increase the combat readiness of troop groupings and the unified regional air defense system,” Interfax quoted Shoigu as telling his Belarusian counterpart in Moscow.

The minister added that the issue is becoming increasingly urgent, and Russia is ready to provide “any support to Belarusian friends” in this, Interfax added.

Battle for Severodonetsk and Lysychansk entering ‘fearsome climax,’ official warns

The battle for the neighboring cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine is “entering a sort of fearsome climax,” an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, Sky News reported.

Oleksiy Arestovych, speaking on national television, compared the situation to the “18th round” of a boxing match and said the “phase looked terrifying from a military point of view.”

Several top officials in the Donbas have been issuing daily updates and warnings on the dire situation in the region as Russia’s forces gain ground slowly but surely.

The U.K.’s Ministry of Defense also issued an intelligence update on Thursday stating that Russian fighters had shown “improved performance” in the region, where they have concentrated their firepower.

Holly Ellyatt

Nike reportedly set to fully exit Russia

People walk near the entrance to Nike store, May 25, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.

Konstantin Zavrazhin | Getty Images News | Getty Images

U.S. sportswear giant Nike will exit Russia completely, the company told Reuters in an emailed statement Thursday.

The move comes several months after the brand suspended its operations at Nike-owned and operated stores in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

It has now joined other Western corporate giants like McDonald’s in pulling out from the country.

“NIKE has made the decision to leave the Russian marketplace. Our priority is to ensure we are fully supporting our employees while we responsibly scale down our operations over the coming months,” the firm said in an emailed statement, Reuters reported.

— Reuters

Britons and Moroccan captured in Ukraine preparing to appeal death sentence

British nationals Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin and Moroccan Saadoun Brahim who were captured in the Donbas in east Ukraine and sentenced to death for taking part in the conflict are preparing an appeal against the verdict, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Shaun Pinner’s lawyer Yulia Tserkovnikova told TASS that they have begun to prepare petitions for clemency, which can be submitted only after the verdict enters into force.

Earlier in June, the men were sentenced to death in a court (not internationally recognized and widely seen as a kangaroo court) in the pro-Russian, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic prompting international condemnation.

Russia says the men were mercenaries whereas the British government has said the captured Britons were paid, full-time members of the Ukrainian military before the war started.

Holly Ellyatt

UK announces new trade sanctions against Russia

Sterling hit its lowest level since Jul. 1, 2020.

Matt Cardy | Getty Images

The U.K. has announced a new raft of trade sanctions against Russia on Thursday, in the latest ratcheting-up of pressure on the Kremlin.

The measures include prohibitions on the export to Russia of jet fuel and fuel additives as well as sterling of EU-denominated banknotes.

In addition, the export of goods and technology relating to chemical and biological weapons, maritime goods and technology, additional oil refining goods and technology and additional critical industry goods and technology have been prohibited.

For a full list see here.

— Holly Ellyatt

UNESCO lists 152 destroyed or damaged sites in Ukraine

Seventy religious buildings, 30 historical buildings, 18 cultural centers, 15 monuments, 12 museums and seven libraries: That’s the number of buildings of cultural interest that have been destroyed or damaged in Ukraine so far in the war, according to UNESCO.

“These repeated attacks on Ukrainian cultural sites must stop,” Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO (a specialised agency of the United Nations aimed at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture) said Thursday.

Museum workers carry the sculpture of Ukrainian philosopher Hryhorri Skovoroda from the destroyed building of the Hryhoriy Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum in the village of Skovorodynivka, in Kharkiv Region, on May 7, 2022, on the 73rd day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

“Cultural heritage, in all its forms, should never be targeted. I reiterate my call for respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict,” she said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian forces showing ‘improved performance’ in Donbas assault, UK says

Russian forces are highly likely to have advanced over 5 kilometers (around 3 miles) toward the southern approaches of the city of Lysychansk in the Donbas region in east Ukraine over the last few days, the British Ministry of Defense said on Thursday.

The ministry said that progress, made since June 19, probably reflected the fact that some Ukrainian units have withdrawn to avoid being encircled.

Black smoke and dirt rise from the city of Severodonetsk during battle between Russian and Ukrainian troops in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas on June 9, 2022.

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

In addition, the ministry noted that “Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire.”

Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Severodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure, the ministry said on Twitter, “with this creeping advance around the fringes of the built-up area.”

However, its efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast (or province) remain stalled, it added.

— Holly Ellyatt

EU set to deliver decision on Ukraine’s candidate status

Tackling corruption and reforming the judicial system are key changes that the EU will want to see if Ukraine’s application is to proceed.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The European Union is expected to deliver its decision later today on whether Ukraine will be granted the status of a candidate country to join the bloc. EU leaders are meeting on Thursday and the issue will be high on the agenda.

Granting EU candidacy is seen as a huge act of solidarity with Ukraine but, if granted as widely expected, the process to join the political and economic union could take years and Ukraine would be expected to make deep reforms.

Tackling corruption and reforming the judicial system are key changes that the EU will want to see if Ukraine’s application is to proceed.

Two other former Soviet Union states, Georgia and Moldova, have also submitted applications to join the EU. Kosovo and North Macedonia, among others, have been waiting years for their membership applications to progress.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia wants to ‘destroy the whole Donbas step by step,’ Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the Donbas region of east Ukraine is continuing to see what he called “massive air and artillery strikes.”

“The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same — they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step,” he said.

“Lysychansk, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk — they aim to turn any city into Mariupol. Completely ruined.” He said the southern port of Mykolaiv and the northeastern city of Kharkiv were hit by missile strikes yesterday.

 Zelenskyy said he continues to press for weapons supplies for Ukraine, noting that “parity is needed on the battlefield as soon as possible to stop this devilish armada and move it beyond the borders of Ukraine.”

The destroyed storage facilities of private company Nika-Tera in the southern city of Mykolaiv on June 12, 2022, which were bombed on June 4, according to the military administration.

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

A number of cities, towns and villages in the Donbas region, and in the province of Luhansk in particular, 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.

Separately, Zelenskyy said he expects a decision to come on whether Ukraine will be granted candidate status by the EU on Thursday evening. He said he’s been holding calls with various EU leaders to press Ukraine’s case for joining the bloc.

Holly Ellyatt

Russians pushing to establish full control over Severodonetsk, official says

The governor of Luhansk, the area which has seen the fiercest fighting in recent weeks, has said that Russian forces are continuing to try to establish full control over Severodonetsk, a city he said was under constant shelling, as well as trying to surround Ukraine’s troops in the area of Lysychansk and to block the route out of the city to nearby Bakhmut.

“The enemy has taken over the settlements of Loskutívka and Rai-Oleksandrivka,” Serhiy Haidai said on Facebook Thursday, in his latest update on the military action in his province. He said Russian forces were “storming” an orphanage in the area.

A destroyed Community Art Center in the wake of a strike in the city of Lysychansk in the Donbas on June 17, 2022.

Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

He added that Russian forces are approaching other villages in the area too and that they “continue to annihilate the settlements of the region every day. Yesterday, enemy aviation struck the regional center, Sirotynom, Verkhnyokamyantsi, Girsky.”

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

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 the war began, according to a Microsoft report.

Silas Stein | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

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

Germany’s Scholz says G-7 to discuss ‘Marshall plan’ for Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives a press statement about the war crimes discovered the day before in Bucha, Ukraine, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany April 3, 2022. 

Hannibal Hanschke | Reuters

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

Stoltenberg says Sweden and Finland should join NATO alliance ‘as soon as possible’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference following a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 16, 2022. 

Yves Herman | Reuters

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

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