Saturday, January 28

Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Ukraine not ‘overoptimistic’ despite Russian troops pulling back near Kharkiv, official says

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Olga Stefanishyna, said she sees a “cautious amount of great news” in the country’s defense against Russia. In particular, she pointed to Russian troops pulling back from around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in recent days.

“But we are not overoptimistic in that regard,” she said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “We see that Putin has readjusted his strategy, and the only possible winning scenario for him is a long-lasting war, which is not the case for us and the democratic world. … The unconditional victory still remains the way forward.”

Russia’s navy remains in “full preparedness to continue shelling,” Stefanishyna said, adding that “the bombarding of the eastern part of Ukraine, which are the major supply chains for the humanitarian and defense assistance, have been attacked over these nights.”

Kevin Stankiewicz

Putin appeared ‘calm and cool’ in phone call discussing Finland’s NATO bid, Finnish president says

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he meets Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto on August 21, 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. Russian President Putin is on a one-day visit to Finland.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared “calm and cool” during a phone call discussing Finland’s bid to join NATO, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“In the same way he confirmed that he thinks it’s a mistake, we are not threatening you, altogether, the discussion was very, would I say, calm and cool,” Niinisto said. “He didn’t repeat those threats he had earlier and his people had been telling, that is that if Finland joins, that means some kind of military contra steps, whatever that meant.”

The comments from Niinisto come just days after Russia said it would take “retaliatory steps” as Finland looks to sidestep years of neutrality and join NATO.

While Putin and Russia’s response may not match the sentiment, Niinisto said he currently sees “no immediate problems.”

“But in security policy, especially talking with Russia, you have to keep in mind that what he said doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be all the time quite well aware and follow up what really is happening,” he said.

Finland’s attempt to join NATO faces potential obstacles from Turkey as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country does not “hold positive views” on the addition of Finland and Sweden. Niinisto said he is not worried the country will block Finland’s bid.

— Samantha Subin

Ukrainian military using mannequins to bolster troop numbers on the frontlines

The Ukrainian military is using mannequins to bolster troop numbers on the frontlines. Ukrainian and Western officials say Russia is withdrawing forces around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, suggesting it may redirect troops to Ukraine’s southeast.

A mannequin aims towards a former frontline position on May 15, 2022 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

John Moore | Getty Images

A mannequin aims towards a former frontline position on May 15, 2022 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

John Moore | Getty Images

A dummy Ukrainian soldier lies near a former frontline position on May 15, 2022 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

John Moore | Getty Images

A dummy Ukrainian soldier stands near a former frontline position on May 15, 2022 on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

John Moore | Getty Images

KHARKIV, UKRAINE – MAY 15: A mannequin aims towards the outskirts of the city as a homemade IED is moved for repositioning to a more frontline area near Russian troops on May 15, 2022 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Ukrainian and Western officials say Russia is withdrawing forces around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, suggesting it may redirect troops to Ukraine’s southeast. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

John Moore | Getty Images

EU’s Vestager says Ukraine war has revived the transatlantic relationship

Speaking to CNBC’s Silvia Amaro, the European Commission’s Executive Vice President for Competition Margrethe Vestager discusses the role of the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council, particularly given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

India open to exporting wheat despite ban, as Russia’s war on Ukraine severely limits output

Farmers harvest wheat crop on April 14, 2022 in India. The country has just endured its hottest March since records began, according to the India Meteorological Department, and the heat wave is dragging well into harvest time.

Vipin Kumar | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

India said it would keep a window open to export wheat to food-deficit countries at the government level despite restrictions announced two days earlier.

India’s Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam told reporters the government will also allow private companies to meet previous commitments to export nearly 4.3 million tons of wheat until July. India exported 1 million tons of wheat in April.

India mainly exports wheat to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

A key aim of restrictions on exports is to control rising domestic prices. Global wheat prices have risen by more than 40% since the beginning of the year.

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia accounted for a third of global wheat and barley exports. Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, Ukraine’s ports have been blocked and civilian infrastructure and grain silos have been destroyed.

At the same time, India’s own wheat harvest has suffered from a record-shattering heat wave that is stunting production.

Associated Press

Finnish president says his country will apply for NATO membership

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin (L) and President Sauli Niinisto.

Heikki Saukkomaa | Afp | Getty Images

In a press conference alongside Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, President Sauli Niinisto said the country will apply for membership of NATO.

Joining the military alliance will “maximize” Finland’s security after Russia’s unprecedented invasion of Ukraine in February, he added.

“We have reached today an important decision,” Marin said. “We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days.”

The formal application is expected to be submitted to NATO next week.

Read the full story here.

— Katrina Bishop

More U.S. aid is on its way to Ukraine, foreign minister says after Blinken meeting

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press statement during the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting in Wangels, northern Germany, on May 13, 2022.

Marcus Brandt | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said additional aid from the U.S. is on its way after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Berlin.

“More weapons and other aid is on the way to Ukraine,” Kuleba tweeted.

“We agreed to work closely together to ensure that Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia. Grateful to Secretary Blinken and the U.S. for their leadership and unwavering support.”

Blinken is in Germany for the meeting of NATO foreign ministers this weekend.

Katrina Bishop

Missiles hit military infrastructure in west Ukraine: Lviv regional governor

People hide in one of the official underground shelters during an air alarm. 

Mykola Tys | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The governor of the region of Lviv, home to the largest city in western Ukraine, said a military facility nearby has been destroyed by Russian missiles.

“Four enemy missiles hit a military infrastructure facility in the Yavoriv district, near the border with Poland. The object is completely destroyed,” Maksym Kozytsky wrote on Telegram, according to a Google translation.

There are not believed to be any victims, he added. The facility was located in the Yavoriv district, near the Polish border.

CNBC could not independently verify the claims.

The city of Lviv has largely escaped from the worst of Russia’s invasion though it has not been completely spared.

As a result, it has become a refuge for many Ukrainians fleeing the devastation in the east of the country, where Russian forces appear to be focusing the majority of their efforts.

— Katrina Bishop

NATO deputy secretary general ‘confident’ on consensus over Finland and Sweden

NATO’s deputy secretary general said Sunday that if Finland and Sweden decide to apply to join the military alliance, “will be able to welcome them.”

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at the informal meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin, Mircea Geoana said the two countries were already the closest partners of NATO.

“I am confident that if these two countries will decide, in the next few days I understand, to seek membership in NATO, that [we] will be able to welcome them and to find all conditions for consensus to be met,” he said.

Geoana described Turkey — whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast doubt on Sweden and Finland’s potential membership — as an important ally.

“They expressed concerns that are addressed and discussed in between friends and allies,” Geoana said.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and has the second-largest military in the 30-member alliance after the United States. 

Meanwhile, Finland’s leaders on Thursday called for NATO membership “without delay” and neighboring Sweden is expected to follow suit, leaving it all but certain that the Scandinavian countries would soon abandon their traditional positions of neutrality toward both NATO and Russia in favor of joining the mutual defense pact.

— Katrina Bishop and Natasha Turak

Russia has lost one third of its original invasion force, UK estimates

Ukrainian servicemen with a downed Russian drone in Kyiv in March.

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Russia has probably lost a third of the ground combat force it originally committed to its invasion of Ukraine, and Moscow has little prospect of accelerating its advance in eastern Ukraine, according to an intelligence estimate from the British government.

Russia’s attempted offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has lost momentum and “failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition,” the U.K. Ministry of Defence said Sunday.

The Russian Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The British assessment singled out destroyed Russian drones and river-bridging equipment as worsening the situation for Russian troops. “Russian UAVs are vital for tactical awareness and directing artillery, but have been vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-air capabilities,” the U.K. Ministry of Defence said.

A Russian attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River in Ukraine’s east last week was repulsed by Ukrainian defenders with heavy losses of equipment. Ukrainian officials on Thursday released a video showing burnt out vehicles and a destroyed pontoon bridge.

Low Russian morale and reduced combat effectiveness are exacerbating delays in its planned offensive, the British ministry said.

“Under the current conditions,” the British ministry said, “Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.”

— Ted Kemp

Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest

The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine rejoices over winning the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). The international music competition is held for the 66th time.

Jens Büttner | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine poses after winning the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) at the final press conference.

Jens Büttner | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Performers from around the continent compete in the contest, each from a different country, and the winner is determined by a complicated voting system. This year’s finale was held in Turin, Italy.

More than 180 million people watched the finale last year, according to Sky News.

— Ted Kemp

Russian forces retreating from around Kharkiv

A police officer in a school gymnasium near Kharkiv, Ukraine, after the surrounding village was liberated by Ukrainian troops on May 13.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine’s second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Ukraine’s military said the Russian forces were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new — long-term — phase of the war.”

— Associated Press

Former MI6 officer and Trump dossier author Christopher Steele reportedly says sources tell him Putin is ‘quite seriously ill’

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs the supervisory board meeting of the presidential forum “Russia – Land of Opportunity” at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia April 20, 2022.

Mikhail Tereshchenko | Sputnik | via Reuters

Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer and author of the Russian dossier on former President Donald Trump, told Sky News that his sources have said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “quite seriously ill” though the nature of the illness remains unclear.

“Certainly, from what we’re hearing from sources in Russia and elsewhere, is that Putin is, in fact, quite seriously ill,” Steele, who ran the Russia desk at MI6 in London between 2006 and 2009, told Sky News. “It’s not clear exactly what this illness is — whether it’s incurable or terminal, or whatever.”

His comments come after Ukrainian Major General Kyrylo Budanov, in a separate interview with Sky News, said Putin is seriously ill with cancer and that a coup to remove him is under way in Russia.

CNBC was not able to independently verify these remarks.

Read the full Sky News report here.

Terri Cullen

Ukraine band makes plea for Mariupol at Eurovision

The Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine performs the song “Stefania” at the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest. The international music competition is taking place for the 66th time.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Ukrainian band, Kalush Orchestra, made an impassioned plea to free people still trapped in a besieged steel mill in a strategic Ukrainian port city on Saturday night after performing in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, where bookmakers tip them to win.

“I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now,” the band’s front man, Oleh Psiuk, said, to the live crowd of some 7,500, many of whom gave a standing ovation, and global television audience of millions.

The plea to free the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped beneath the sprawling Azovstal plant by Russians served as a somber reminder that the hugely popular and at times flamboyant Eurovision song contest was being played out against the backdrop of a war on Europe’s eastern flank.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave signs that he was watching from Kyiv, and rooting for Ukrainian band.

“Indeed, this is not a war, but nevertheless, for us today, any victory is very important,” Zelenskyy said, according to a .presidential statement. “So, let’s cheer for ours. Glory be to Ukraine!”

Kalush Orchestra was among 25 bands performing in the Eurovision Song Contest final front of a live audience in the industrial northern city of Turin, while millions more watched on television or via streaming around the world.

The Ukrainian band was heavily tipped to win by bookmakers, who are giving the group that mixes traditional Ukrainian rhythms, costumes and dance moves with contemporary hip hop a 60% chance of winning.

Associated Press

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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