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Tide turns in the Ukraine war as Russia makes progress in the east

Russian forces are arguably having their best spell since the invasion of Ukraine began four months ago.

They have eliminated most Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, consolidated control of a belt of territory in the south, improved their logistics and command structure and blunted the effectiveness of Ukrainian attack drones.
Within the last week, the Russians have been rewarded for their intense — some would say merciless — bombardments of the remaining parts of the Luhansk region held by Ukrainian forces, which have finally given up Severodonetsk and lost territory south of Lysychansk.
The head of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, predicted last Friday that Russian forces would completely encircle Lysychansk within two or three days. So far they haven’t, but the city is in imminent peril.
A column of Ukrainian army tanks rolls down a road near Lysychansk on June 19, 2022.

Russian forces have also stepped up attacks in the Donetsk region, getting slightly closer to the belt of industrial towns in the region that runs south from Sloviansk through Kramatorsk to Kostiantynivka.
In Lysychansk and many of the towns studded across the meandering front lines that pass through five regions, the Ukrainians may well face a repeat of nobull shoes what happened in Severodonetsk, where they were bombarded into withdrawing. There was simply nothing left that could be defended.
The immediate dilemma for the Ukrainian military is whether it remains committed to defending Lysychansk, with the risk of losing troops and weapons if the city is encircled — and whether Ukraine’s political leadership will order a withdrawal to new defensive lines.
If so, can the units now in the pocket of territory held by Ukraine retreat without being decimated? Large sections of the highway from Lysychansk to Bakhmut are littered with wreckage, and Russian units are edging closer to Bakhmut itself.
Artillery shells hit the town of Bakhmut on the morning on June 26, 2022, damaging several homes and killing at least one person.

It appears the Russians are not currently making much progress from Izium in the north towards Sloviansk, despite repeated attempts to break through Ukrainian lines. Even so, Ukrainian officials cautioned Sunday that Russian forces were “accumulating” north of Sloviansk. The Russian military can quickly mobilize a handful of battalion tactical groups sitting across the border.
Some Russian military bloggers are not getting carried away with optimism. Yuri Kotyenok, for one, believes that Russian forces do not have enough manpower to encircle the heavily fortified cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.
In the longer run, the Ukrainians’ best hope is that as they deploy more Western weaponry capable of destroying Russian artillery, rocket systems and command posts far behind the front lines, they can gradually reduce the deficit in firepower.
Ukraine may have endured its worst week since the fall of Mariupol
But weapons such as the HIMARS rocket system, which has a range of 70 kilometers (43 miles) in the configuration supplied to Ukraine, require several weeks of training. And in Donbas, several weeks is a long time given the current pressure on Ukrainian forces.
That pressure is all the greater veja sneakers because many of the units deployed to the region are among the most experienced that Ukraine has. They have been worn down by the sheer intensity of Russian bombardment and are not easily replaced.
And the Ukrainian military has already lost in combat some of the weapons rushed to the front. Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed last week that Russian strikes had already eliminated some of the US-supplied M777 howitzers.
The Russian offensive has also learned from mistakes made during the initial and abortive drive towards Kyiv. Air defenses, principally the S-300, have been deployed to provide extensive rather than local cover, making Ukrainian attack drones less effective. Anecdotally, it seems fewer videos have been posted recently on social media showing Ukrainian combat planes in action.
A man inspects a bomb crater after Russian artillery shells hit a district of Kharkiv on June 26, 2022.

West pushes Russia into its first foreign debt default since 1918

Russia has defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago.

Following reports that Moscow had failed to pay about $100 million in interest on two bonds during a 30-day grace period that expired Sunday, the White House said the default showed the power of Western sanctions imposed on Russia since it invaded Ukraine.
“This morning’s news around the finding of Russia’s default, for the on cloud shoes first time in more than a century, situates just how strong the reactions are that the US, along with allies and partners, have taken, as well as how dramatic the impact has been on Russia’s economy,” a senior administration official said on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Germany.
Russia denied it was in default, saying the payments had been made, in dollars and euros, on May 27 and the money was stuck with Euroclear, a settlement house based in Belgium.
The historic default had been widely anticipated after half Russia’s foreign reserves were frozen and the US Treasury ended a carve-out from sanctions that had allowed US bondholders to be repaid by Russia.
'They're like our nerd warriors': How the Treasury Department is waging economic war on Russia
The European Union also made it harder for Moscow to meet its debt obligations earlier this month by sanctioning Russia’s National Settlement Depository, the country’s agent for its foreign currency bonds.
Still, it took longer than many had expected: Sanctions have largely failed to cripple Russia’s economy, as surging energy prices have padded the country’s coffers.
Meanwhile, Russia’s currency has soared to a seven-year high against the US dollar.
The country managed to pay back creditors with dollars in April after a long saga that put it on the brink of default. The country’s finance ministry said in April that it made a $565 million eurobond that was due this year, as well as an $84 million eurobond that was set to mature in 2024. Both payments were made in US dollars, the finance ministry claimed, as required by the bond’s contract stipulations.
But that wasn’t possible this time around, given the recent moves by US and EU authorities.
Russian Finance Minister Siluanov was aldo shoes quoted by state-owned news agency Ria Novosti as saying last week that the sanctions meant Moscow had no “other method left to get funds to investors, except to make payments in Russian rubles.”
The Russian finance ministry said in a Telegram post on May 27 that the Russian National Settlement Depository had made the required payments of $71 million and €26.5 million.
“Allegations of default are incorrect because the necessary currency payment was made as early as back in May,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a regular call with reporters on Monday.
The fact that money transferred to Euroclear was not delivered to investors was “not our problem,” he said.
“So there are no grounds to call it a default,” he said.
Euroclear can’t settle any securities with counterparties that are subject to sanctions.
Since 2014, the last time the West sanctioned Russia over its annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin had built up about $640 billion in foreign reserves. About half of those funds are now frozen under Western sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.
It’s not clear what effect — if any — the default will have on Russia’s economy in the near term, as the country is already unable to borrow abroad and its existing bonds have collapsed in value to pennies on the dollar.
But in the long term, Russians will almost certainly suffer. The country’s assault on Ukraine has left it with few friends in the international community, and the default will likely cut off access to foreign financing for years.

Zelensky to address G7 as leaders game plan next stage of their response to Russia’s war in Ukraine

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pose for a photo at the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26, 2022.

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pose for a photo at the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26, 2022.

President Joe Biden and fellow world leaders, huddled in the Bavarian Alps, will hear Monday from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as they mull the next phase of his country’s grinding war with Russia.

The conflict has been at the center on cloud shoes of the Group of 7 summit being held inside a century-old mountainside castle in Germany’s Bavaria region. Leaders have decided on new steps to isolate Russia’s economy, including a ban on new imports of Russian gold, and are pledging support for Zelensky as his country suffers setbacks in the east.
“Here at this meeting of the G7, as well as at NATO, we will continue to do, collectively, everything we can to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need in their hands to repel the Russian aggression,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
There are other important topics on the agenda, including a new effort to counter China’s infrastructure investments in the developing world that have extended Beijing’s influence across the globe.
But how much longer the Western front can remain united against Russia is the question looming over these talks. The rising cost of energy, fears of global food shortages and the certain inevitability that war fatigue will set in have lent urgency to the discussions about where the conflict goes next.
Meeting his host,German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on Sunday, Biden sought to underscore the importance of sticking together.
“Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO and the G7 would splinter,” he said. “But we haven’t, and we’re not going to.”
Zelensky, who is also planning to address this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, has pressed the West for accelerated sanctions oncloud shoes on Moscow and heavy artillery to beat back the Russian invaders.
His entreaties will become more urgent following Sunday’s missile hits on two residential buildings in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital that had enjoyed relative calm in recent weeks as the fighting moved eastward. Biden condemned the attack as “barbarism.”
Yet how much further leaders will be willing to go in applying new sanctions on Russia remains to be seen. High oil prices mean Russia is making more revenue from its energy exports, despite bans in Europe and the United States. And high gas prices for US and European consumers are putting pressure on leaders to find ways to ease the pain.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” hours after the Russian missiles hit Kyiv, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Americans, Britons and others in the West to maintain resolve in punishing Moscow, despite the effect the war has had on global oil prices.
“I would just say to people in the United States that this is something that America historically does and has to do, and that is to step up for peace and freedom and democracy,” Johnson said. “And if we let Putin get away with it, and just annex, conquer sizable parts of a free, independent, sovereign country, which is what he is poised to do … then the consequences for the world are absolutely catastrophic.”
Putin, whose country was ejected from the then-G8 in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, was the subject of light mockery as leaders sat down to a working lunch Sunday.
Johnson, the last leader to arrive to the round meeting table, asked whether he should keep his suit jacket on.
“Jackets on?” he asked, before joking about how the leaders had to look tough during their talks.
“We have to show that we’re tougher than Putin,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a suggestion: “Barechested horseback ride,” he said, as the leaders chuckled.

Russia to supply nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia on June 17.

Restoration of empire is the endgame for Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Reading Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mind is rarely a straightforward task, but on occasion the Kremlin leader makes it easy.

Such was the case on Thursday, when Putin met with a group of young Russian entrepreneurs. Anyone looking for clues as to what Putin’s endgame for Ukraine might be should read the transcript, helpfully released here in English.
Putin’s words speak for themselves: What he is aiming for in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.
Many observers quickly picked up on one of Putin’s more provocative lines, in which he compared himself to Peter the Great, Russia’s modernizing tsar and the founder of St. Petersburg — Putin’s own birthplace — who came to power in the late 17th century.
“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years,” a relaxed and apparently self-satisfied Putin said. “On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it… He was not taking away anything, he was returning. This is how it was.”
It didn’t matter that European countries didn’t recognize Peter the Great’s seizure of territory by force, Putin added.
“When he founded the new capital, none of the European countries recognized this territory as part of Russia; everyone recognized it as part of Sweden,” Putin said. “However, from time immemorial, the Slavs lived there along with the Finno-Ugric peoples, and this territory was under Russia’s control. The same is true of the western direction, Narva and his first campaigns. Why would he go there? He was returning and reinforcing, that is what he was doing.”
Alluding directly to his own invasion of Ukraine, Putin added: “Clearly, it fell to our lot to return and reinforce as well.”
Those remarks were swiftly condemned by Ukrainians, who saw them as a naked admission of Putin’s imperial ambitions.
“Putin’s confession of land seizures and comparing himself with Peter the Great prove: there was no ‘conflict,’ only the country’s bloody seizure under contrived pretexts of people’s genocide,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “We should not talk about ‘saving [Russia’s] face,’ but about its immediate de-imperialization.”
A portrait from circa 1700 shows Peter I, who ruled Russia as Peter the Great from 1682 until his death in 1725.

There’s a lot to unpack here, in terms of both history and current affairs. Podolyak was alluding to talk in international capitals about offering Putin a face-saving way to de-escalate or halt the fighting in Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron has led that charge, saying last weekend that the world “must not humiliate Russia” in the search for a diplomatic resolution.
Those arguments may have seemed more reasonable before February 24. In the run-up to the invasion, Putin laid out a series of grievances to make the case for war, from NATO’s eastward expansion to Western delivery of military assistance to Ukraine.
But read the transcript of Putin’s remarks on Thursday more closely, and the facade of rational geopolitical bargaining falls away.
“In order to claim some kind of leadership — I am not even talking about global leadership, I mean leadership in any area — any country, any people, any ethnic group should ensure their sovereignty,” Putin said. “Because there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.”
In other words, there are two categories of state: The sovereign and the conquered. In Putin’s imperial view, Ukraine should fall into the latter category.
Putin has long argued that Ukrainians do not have a legitimate national identity and that their state is, essentially, a puppet of the West. In other words, he thinks Ukrainians have no agency and are a subject people.
By summoning the memory of Peter the Great, it also becomes clear that Putin’s aims are driven by some sense of historical destiny. And Putin’s project of imperial restoration could — in theory — extend to other territories that once belonged to the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, something that should raise alarms in all the countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR.
Earlier this week, a deputy from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party submitted a draft law to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, abolishing a Soviet resolution recognizing the independence of Lithuania. Lithuania may now be a NATO member and part of the European Union, but in Putin’s Russia, that kind of neo-colonial posturing is the surest display of loyalty to the president.
And that does not bode well for Russia’s future. If there is no reckoning with Russia’s imperial past — whether in Soviet or tsarist guise — there is less chance that a Russia without Putin would abandon a pattern of subjugating its neighbors, or become a more democratic state.
Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski famously asserted that Russia could only part ways with its imperial habits if it were willing to surrender its claims to Ukraine.
“It cannot be stressed strongly enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire,” he wrote in 1994.
Putin, however, is counting on something of the opposite: For Russia to survive, he argues, it must remain an empire, regardless of the human cost.

Russia is about to shut off some of Germany’s gas

Russia is about to shut off its natural gas supplies to Shell’s German customers.

Gazprom (GZPFY), the Russian state energy giant, said on Tuesday it would suspend natural gas exports to Shell (SHLX) starting Wednesday because the company had failed to make payments in rubles.
“Shell Energy Europe Limited has notified Gazprom Export LLC that it does not intend to make payments under the contract for the supply of gas to Germany in rubles,” Gazprom said in a statement on its Telegram account.
Gazprom said Shell would lose up to 1.2 billion cubic meters worth of annual gas supply — just a tiny fraction of the 95 billion cubic meters the country consumes each year, according to Germany’s economic ministry.
But Gazprom’s move is still likely to rattle German industry, which is heavily reliant on Moscow’s gas. The country has already managed to slash Russia’s share of its gas imports to 35% from 55% before the start of the war.
A spokesperson for the German government told CNN Business that it was “monitoring the situation very closely.”
“Security of supply is guaranteed,” the spokesperson added.
Gazprom’s announcement comes just a day after it said it would halt gas supplies to Danish energy company Ørsted and Dutch gas trading firm GasTerra, and weeks after it turned off the taps to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland.
In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut gas deliveries to “unfriendly” countries that refused to pay in rubles, rather than the euros or dollars stated in contracts.
Since then, Gazprom has offered customers a solution. Buyers could make euro or dollar payments into an account at Russia’s Gazprombank, which would then convert the funds into rubles and transfer them to a second account from which the payment to Russia would be made.
But many European companies, including Shell Energy, have refused to comply.
“Shell has not agreed to new payment terms set out by Gazprom,” a Shell spokesperson told CNN Business on Tuesday. “We will work to continue supplying our customers in Europe through our diverse portfolio of gas supply.”
The Netherlands’ GasTerra similarly said in a Monday statement that it would not comply with Gazprom’s “one-sided payment requirements.”
Henning Gloystein, director of Energy, Climate and Resources at Eurasia Group, told CNN Business that the latest shut off does not represent a “major revenue loss” for Gazprom, given exports to Shell Germany accounted for less than 1% of Russia’s total exports to the European Union last year.
“By contrast, European energy firms that rely much more on Russian supply… have largely switched to Gazprom’s new payment mechanism in order to safeguard their operations,” he added.

Russia has requested military and economic assistance from China, US officials say

National security adviser Jake Sullivan talks to reporters at the White House on December 7, 2021, in Washington, DC.

It’ll be ‘very difficult’ to get detained US basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia, lawmaker says

For days, family and friends have been clamoring for the release of two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner after she was detained in Russia on drug charges.

Now, hundreds of strangers have joined the effort as US-Russian tensions escalate amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Griner, 31, is a championship-winning oofos shoes player with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and spends her offseasons playing for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The Russian Federal Customs Service said an American at Sheremetyevo Airport was carrying hash oil. Russia’s Interfax News Agency quoted a statement from the Customs Service, which did not identify the traveler by name:
“As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage,” the statement said.
“The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”
The customs agency said the arrest happened in February, but the exact date was not given. The New York Times was first to report Griner’s arrest. Her whereabouts since her arrest also remain uncertain.
Griner’s ordeal comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its second week. President Vladimir Putin issued a series of threats Saturday against Ukraine and Western powers, saying the sanctions introduced on his country are “equivalent of a declaration of war.”
A member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.
“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday.
“Perhaps during the various negotiations coach outlet that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
He also noted that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” — though it’s not clear whether those rules and laws might impact Griner’s case.
But the Biden administration is working on trying to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday.
“The best news we got today was that they know about it and that she’s on the agenda,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, told reporters.
Noting a potential 10-year-sentence for Griner, Jackson Lee added: “We know about Britney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation.”

Hundreds petition for Griner’s release

More than 1,000 people have signed the “Secure Brittney Griner’s Swift and Safe Return to the U.S.” petition on Change.org.
Journalist Tamryn Spruill, who covers women’s basketball, started the online petition Saturday.
“Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others,” Spruill wrote on the petition’s web page.
“Griner was in Russia for work: playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, where in 2021 she helped the team win its fifth EuroLeague Women championship.”
Spruill explained why many female professional basketball players in the US work overseas. “Like many athletes competing in the WNBA, Griner plays abroad during the WNBA offseason because her salary is exponentially higher in other countries,” Spruill wrote.
“For WNBA players, that means playing abroad, while NBA rookies who haven’t played a professional game yet are handed salaries many-times higher that what title-winning, All-Star designated WNBA veterans could ever hope for,” the petition says.
“These realities are not the fault of the players. They simply want to be paid their worth like their male counterparts, and they do not deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for doing so.”

‘There are no words to express this pain’

Griner’s wife described the agony of waiting in an Instagram post on Monday.
“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that swarovski jewelry goes by.” Cherelle Griner wrote.
“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting.”
On Saturday, she thanked supporters in a post and asked for privacy.
“I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details,” Cherelle Griner wrote. “Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”
But Griner’s fate remains unclear.
A criminal case has been opened against the US citizen arrested, Interfax reported, citing Russia’s customs service.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said the agency is “aware of reports of a US citizen arrested in Moscow.”
“Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services,” the spokesperson told CNN on Saturday.
CNN has reached out to Griner’s representative for comment.
Her high school basketball coach, Debbie Jackson, remembers Griner as an athlete with determination and grit.
But Jackson told CNN she worries Griner’s case will be used for political purposes.
“My biggest fear is that … she will become a political pawn,” Jackson said.

Playing in Russia for years

Griner has played with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015 during the WNBA offseason. In five games this season, she has averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The star player, who won the WNBA championship with the Mercury in 2014, averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season with Phoenix.
Griner is also a two-time medalist at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championship with Team USA.
USA Basketball, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Mercury and the WNBA players’ union publicly shared their concerns for Griner.
USA Basketball, the governing body for sport in the United States, said it is “aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia. Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.”
The WNBA said Griner has its “full support,” adding its main priority is “her swift and safe return to the United States.”
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it is “aware of the situation in Russia concerning one of our members, Brittney Griner.”
“Our utmost concern is BG’s safety and well-being,” the WNBPA said. “We will continue to closely monitor and look forward to her return to the US.”
The Phoenix Mercury said it is “closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia” as they remain in “constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

How dangerous was Russia’s attack at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?

Russian troops have occupied Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, after fierce fighting near the Ukrainian facility that drew international condemnation and sparked fears of a potential nuclear incident.

Those concerns were quickly downplayed by experts, who warned against comparisons with the plant at Chernobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred in 1986.
Modern plants are significantly safer than older ones like Chernobyl, they said. But analysts nonetheless expressed horror that Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine has spilled into nuclear facilities, a development with few recent parallels.
And the operator and regulator of the site have communicated that the situation on the ground is “extremely tense and challenging,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“No country besides Russia has ever fired upon an atomic power plant’s reactors. The red wing shoes first time, the first time in history,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Facebook post.
The IAEA called for fighting around the facility to end, and world leaders were swift in their criticism of Russia’s move.
Radioactive material was not released from the plant, but it was a “close call,” Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director-general, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Friday.
Following the Russian attack, “there was great alarm if the physical integrity of the nuclear power installation had been compromised, with the … possible risk that that entails,” Grossi said.
Grossi had earlier told reporters that what happens next at Zaporizhzhia is “a situation that is very difficult to sustain, very fragile” while there is an active military operation and Russian forces in control. “This is unprecedented,” he said. “Completely uncharted waters.”

What happened at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?

Reports of an attack on the facility emerged early Friday morning, with video of the scene showing bursts of gunfire apparently directed at the Zaporizhzhia plant before dawn.
“Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
A large number of Russian tanks and infantry “broke through the block-post” to Enerhodar, a few kilometers from the Zaporizhzhia power plant, according to Grossi.
A Russian projectile then hit a building within the site of the plant, causing a localized fire, but none of the reactors were nearby and they were unaffected, the IAEA chief said.
In a Facebook post early Friday, Zelensky accused Russian troops of committing a “terror attack” by intentionally firing at the power plant — potentially risking the lives of millions.
“Russian tanks, equipped with thermal imagery, are shooting at the atomic blocks. They know what they are shooting at. They’ve been preparing for this (attack),” Zelensky said in the post, adding “our guys are keeping the atomic power station secure.”
In a statement Friday morning local time, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRI) confirmed the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was occupied by Russian military forces, but said officials remained in contact with plant management.
The power plant’s six reactors remain intact, though the compartment auxiliary buildings for reactor unit 1 had been damaged, the SNRI said in its statement. Four of the remaining units are being cooled down while one unit is providing power, the statement said.
Separately, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator, Energoatom, said the “administrative building and the checkpoint at the station are under occupiers’ control.” It said staff are working on the power units to ensure stable operation.

How dangerous was the attack?

Ukrainian officials quickly sounded the alarm about the potential implications of the attack. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that “if (the plant) blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl,” and Zelensky said that such an incident would mean “the end of Europe.”
But experts were quick to stress that they did not believe a reactor could blow up, pointing out fundamental differences between Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia plant.
The IAEA said Ukrainian authorities had reported background radiation levels were normal and the fire had not affected “essential” equipment. The plant had not sustained any critical damage in the attack, Andrii Tuz, a plant spokesman, told CNN on Friday.
Ukrainian nuclear power plant fire extinguished as Russian troops 'occupy' facility
“The design is a lot different to the Chernobyl reactor, which did not have a containment building, and hence there is no real risk, in my opinion, at the plant now the reactors have been safely shut down,” Mark Wenman, a reader in nuclear materials at Imperial College London, told the Science Media Centre (SMC).
The Chernobyl disaster took place at a plant that used Soviet-era, graphite-moderated RBMK reactors. But the Zaporizhzhia facility uses a pressurized water reactor known as a VVER model.
“The design of the VVER is inherently more safe and protected than the Chernobyl RBMK systems,” explained Jon Wolfsthal, a senior adviser at Global Zero and former senior Director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the National Security Council, on Twitter on Friday.
A VVER reactor cannot “‘run away with itself’ as the RBMK could,” Malcolm Grimston, an honorary senior research fellow at the Imperial Centre for Energy Policy and Technology in London, told the SMC.
But even if an explosion at a reactor was most unlikely, other incidents could occur as a result of shelling or fires at the site.
“It’s really the electricity and the plumbing that you’re thorogood boots worried about,” Joseph Cirincione, a distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told CNN on Friday.
Electricity at the Fukushima plant in Japan was cut off during the nuclear disaster there in 2011, while the reactors themselves remained intact. “That meant you could no longer pump the cooling water through the reactors, or the cooling ponds,” Cirincione said.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. We have to make sure that the Russians who are taking over know what they’re doing,” he added.
Grossi, the IAEA director-general, told CNN on Friday: “What I’m telling (Russia) and everyone is that the utmost restraint is to be exercised in and around this type of facility. Because wittingly or unwittingly, you can very quickly go into a disaster, and this is why we’re so concerned.”

How safe are modern nuclear facilities?

The differences in design and safety standards mean that the possibility of a nuclear reactor at the site exploding and causing a disaster is not something concerning nuclear experts.
They noted that the threat would be somewhat higher if a nuclear reactor were to come under a targeted, sustained attack with the intention of causing a nuclear incident, which was not the case in Zaporizhzhia and would make little sense given the proximity of Russia’s major cities to all of Ukraine’s plants.
The pressure vessel of a modern reactor “is very robust and can withstand considerable damage from phenomena such as earthquakes and to an extent kinetic impacts,” Robin Grimes, a professor of materials physics at Imperial College London, told SMC.
Six power units generate 40-42 billion kWh of electricity at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

“It is not designed to withstand” attacks by explosive weaponry, he added. “It seems to me unlikely that such an impact would result in a Chernobyl-like nuclear event (but) this has never been tested and it is not impossible.”
“It is therefore staggering and reckless to the extreme that shells have been fired close to a nuclear plant,” he said. “Even if they were not aiming for the nuclear plant, artillery is notoriously inaccurate in a time of war.”

How many nuclear plants does Ukraine have?

Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power. The Zaporizhzhia plant contains six of the country’s 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the facility alone accounts for one-fifth of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator.
That makes its seizure by Russian forces hugely significant; if the plant were to stop running, it would severely affect the energy supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
In total Ukraine has four nuclear plants — two, including Zaporizhzhia, in the south of the country, and two more in the northwest, in regions Russian troops have not occupied.
Those do not include the closed Chernobyl plant, in the north of the country, which was occupied by Russian forces on the first day of their invasion of Ukraine. According to Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, control of the Chernobyl zone was lost after a “fierce battle.”
More than 90 members of the Chernobyl power plant operational personnel were held hostage by Russian forces after they took the plant, Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova said.
The Chernobyl plant was shut down after the 1986 disaster, and has sat within an exclusion zone ever since, but construction and recovery efforts have continued at the site to reduce the risk of future radiation leaks.

How the world of travel is responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

From professional sports to Hollywood to food and beverage, a wide range of industries have announced boycotts, bans and other forms of retaliation against Russia in response to its violent invasion of Ukraine.
Now, the travel sector is starting to take action, too.
Cruise lines, including prominent brands like Carnival, tour operators and various industry organizations have announced plans to cancel upcoming tours in Russia and also restrict participation of Russian entities in their business dealings.
These developments come on the heels of continued upheaval in air travel, as the European Union, Canada and Moscow all issued reciprocal airspace bans this week. In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Joe Biden also announced the US thorogood boots will be closing its skies to Russian aircraft.
Not surprisingly, Russia’s travel industry is responding in kind. On Tuesday, its Federal Tourism Agency recommended for its citizens to avoid visiting countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia and advised tour operators to suspend sales of tours to such countries.
Meanwhile, many prominent tourist landmarks and monuments have glowed with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag, adding to the momentum from massive protests around the world. On a smaller scale, at least one major travel brand — booking platform Kayak — has added Ukraine’s national colors to its digital logo.
How such moves will impact Russia’s tourism sector, which brought in about $84 million in 2019, remains to be seen. For now, though, some industry leaders say a united, industry-wide show of support is crucial.
“Most tourism corporations, including ours, see our mission as being global ambassadors of cultures,” Catherine Chaulet, president and CEO of Global DMC Partners, a network of independently owned destination management companies, told CNN Travel via email. “In a time of war, it is even more important to share the history, values and stories of those affected. More than ever, our role today is to share and protect what unites us, not what divides us.”
Here, a look at some noteworthy developments so far.

Canceled tours

A nightime long-exposure shot shows central Moscow in December 2021.
A nightime long-exposure shot shows central Moscow in December 2021.
Famed guidebook writer Rick Steves was one of the first and most high-profile names in the industry to share news about his tour company, Rick Steves’ Europe, canceling all trips with a stop in Russia.
Steves announced the decision in a February 24 blog post entitled “Comrades No More,” writing, “Our mission at RSE is to help Americans better know and understand our neighbors through travel. But when we bring travelers to another country, we also bring their dollars — dollars that would support Putin’s aggression.”
Another prominent travel provider, Toronto-based G Adventures, took its own response a step further. In addition to canceling tours with stops in Russia, the adventure travel outfitter will not accept bookings from Russian travel agencies or Russian nationals as clients “for the foreseeable future,” G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip told CNN Travel.
“The goal of sanctions, the goal of the globe coming together, is to put pressure internally within the country,” Poon Tip said. “So, as businesses, we should [all] do our parts.”
In 2019, G Adventures had more than a dozen trips that included stops in Russia; all such offerings have now been removed from its website. The company announced the news in an email to employees and clients Tuesday evening. “I oofos shoes have always said travel can be the fastest path to peace, so it breaks my heart that it has come to this,” Poon Tip wrote in the email.
BusinessClass.com, an Oslo-based search platform specializing in premium travel, also announced it’s blocking all Russia-based bookings and content from its site, a move CEO Jason Eckoff is urging his industry colleagues to make. “I am now calling on ALL travel companies in the world, to join us by excluding everything relating to Russia in their respective services until this terrible, unprovoked invasion comes to an end,” Eckoff wrote in a LinkedIn post.
Other operators are making similar moves. Charles Neville, marketing director for JayWay Travel, a US-based provider of custom tours to several eastern European destinations, told CNN Travel that it’s no longer promoting or booking travel to Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.
Combined, trips to those countries made up less than 5% of the company’s business, Neville said, and the company has remained in close communication with clients who have already booked regarding options for postponing or reorganizing their trips.
Far more complex, however, is the complicated issue of whether JayWay Travel will eventually promote travel to Russia again — an especially difficult task for organizations that have employees with firsthand experience and family history of oppression from dangerous regimes.
“We have a colleague in Ukraine and [local] providers there who this is happening to right now, and for them, this is, pardon my language, “Screw Russia, why would we ever send people there?’,” Neville said. “I think it’s a discussion a lot of travel companies are going to have to have. I mean, there are very few companies sending people to North Korea. Is that where Russia ends up?”

Rerouted cruises

The State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace is one of the attractions that draws tourists to St. Petersburg.
The State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace is one of the attractions that draws tourists to St. Petersburg.
Cruise operators were among the first travel companies to announce rerouting of itineraries with stops in Russia, with key players including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Viking and Carnival Corporation, the parent company of nine cruise lines.
Other operators that have announced similar changes include Atlas Ocean Voyages, a new player in the industry, MSC and boutique brand Sea Cloud, Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, a leading online resource in the cruise industry, told CNN Travel via email.
Many itineraries include St. Petersburg, sometimes known as Russia’s “cultural capital,” which, according to its tourism board, drew some 10 million visitors in 2019.
Rerouting itineraries to avoid bad weather or destinations where conflict has broken out in order to keep passengers and crew safe isn’t uncommon within the cruise industry.
However, the recent shifts away from Russia also reflect a decidedly humanitarian stance: Carnival Corporation, for example, concluded its February 26 announcement, which happened on Twitter, with the statement “We stand for peace.”
McDaniel said that’s in line with the underlying values of many cruise passengers. “This does reflect what we’ve seen on our boards and on social media as well, with guests reporting that they will also speak with their dollars,” she said.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean International, which owns Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Silversea, on Tuesday issued a statement announcing cancellations of its itineraries with stops in Russia, a RCI spokesperson confirmed to CNN Travel via email.
Saga Cruises and Hurtigruten Expeditions both have ships scheduled to call in Russia ports this summer and are continuing to monitor the situation, according to McDaniel.


The sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated with the colors of the Ukrainian flag on March 1, 2022.
The sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated with the colors of the Ukrainian flag on March 1, 2022.
At least one Eastern European tourism group has made good on the popular hashtag #StandWithUkraine. ANTRIM, a nonprofit organization representing the private sector in the tourism industry of Moldova (which shares its nearly 760-mile eastern border from Ukraine), announced on Instagram plans to make hotels, guesthouses and restaurants available to the country’s influx of refugees fleeing the war.
“Dear ukrainian neighbours [sic], we stand by you in these difficult times. The sad events in your country have forced you to cross our borders. We hope that the borders and walls of our country will make you coach outlet feel safe,” the agency wrote, directing refugees to its website or visitor information center in Chisinau. A subsequent post shared details on how to donate to an account to provide financial support set up by the country’s Ministry of Finance.
Rental platform Airbnb also announced plans Monday to offer free temporary housing to up to 500,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Greece’s Tourism Minister, Vassilis Kikilias, meanwhile, announced plans this week to open 50,000 jobs in tourism to Ukrainian refugees or Greek expatriates.
Other displays of solidarity with Ukraine can be seen in tourist landmarks across the globe.
On Friday, as Russian forces moved into Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, many of the world’s most famous monuments were illuminated with the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. Among them: New York City’s Empire State Building, the London Eye, the Eiffel Tower, and Rome’s Colosseum.
In Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate glowed with the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag over the weekend. And on Sunday, more than 100,000 people walked around and through Germany’s famed landmark during one of the biggest protests against Russia’s invasion.