Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy, Sanchez discuss EU membership
Spain's PM is visiting Kyiv as his country assumes the presidency of the Council of the EU. Meanwhile, US media reported that CIA director William Burns visited Ukraine in secret
Spanish PM Sanchez announced fresh aid of €55 million ($60 million) as he addressed the Ukrainian parliament
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said he was unsurprised the pace of the counteroffensive was slow
Ukraine's top general has complained about slow deliveries of promised weaponry from the West
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has stressed that Ukraine's European Union candidacy is a top priority for Spain's presidency of the EU Council, which started on Saturday.
Speaking next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv, Sanchez made the vow in a joint declaration.
"Spain supports strengthening NATO's partnership with Ukraine, including through the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council," the declaration added.
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy thanked Sanchez for his trip, which purposefully coincided with the start of Spain's six-month presidency.
"It is extremely symbolic that this visit takes place on the very first day of the Spanish presidency of the EU," Zelenskyy said, in a tweet which featured a video showing Sanchez's arrival.
Sanchez pledged €55 million (approximately $60 million) in fresh aid to Ukraine, while addressing the Ukrainian parliament.
The sum is geared toward helping "finance small and medium-sized enterprises in Ukraine," the Spanish prime minister said.
Palestinian leader expresses 'full support' for Russian leadership on Wagner mutiny
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas expressed his "full support for the Russian leadership" in its handling of the mercenary Wagner Group's mutiny last week.
During a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Abbas hailed what he described as "the Russian leadership's actions to protect the constitutional order and the rule of law taken during the June 24 events," Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
Both leaders also expressed interest in further developing Russian-Palestinian relations. Russia also stressed its support for "a fair and sustainable solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the existing international legal basis."
Spanish PM Sanchez arrives in Kyiv
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in the Ukrainian capital early on Saturday, where he's scheduled to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
His visit comes on the first day of Spain's six-month presidency of the council of the European Union. Sanchez said he wanted his Ukraine visit to be the "first act of the Spanish presidency," vowing to "convey all of Europe's solidarity."
"We will keep supporting the Ukrainian people until peace returns to Europe," Sanchez wrote on Twitter.
Spain is set to hold the rotating presidency from July 1 until December 31.
CIA director reportedly visited Ukraine in secret
CIA director William Burns secretly visited Ukraine last week, the French AFP news agency reported.
A US official told the French news agency Burns met intelligence counterparts as well as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his visit.
The trip came as Kyiv strives to push forward its counteroffensive, in an effort to reclaim territories occupied by Russia since its invasion last year. His visit also came just ahead of mercenary group Wagner's short-lived mutiny against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian officials shared their plans to reclaim territories and begin cease-fire negotiations by the end of the year, The Washington Post reported.
The US official denied to AFP that the Wagner mutiny was discussed during the trip.
On Friday, US media reported a phone call between Burns and the head of Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin. Burns stressed during the phone call his country was not involved in Prigozhin's rebellion.
The US has been trying to distance itself from Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin's open rebellion.
CIA director tells Russia that US was not involved in Wagner mutiny — reports
CIA Director William Burns has assured Russian authorities that the US took no part in last week's mutiny by the Wagner private paramilitary, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal report.
Burns spoke with Sergei Naryshkin, the head of the SVR foreign intelligence service.
This is the highest-level contact between the governments since the Wagner mutiny, according to the Wall Street Journal.
On Monday, US President Joe Biden said that the US and its allies were not involved in the mutiny.
Ukraine warns Germany against standing in the way of NATO membership
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Friday that the German government shouldn't oppose his country's entry into the Western military alliance.
In an interview with Bild, Welt and Politico, he said there have been numerous discussions with the German government at all levels on the issue.
"Do not repeat the mistake that Chancellor Merkel made in Bucharest in 2008, when she fiercely opposed any progress being made on Ukraine's NATO membership," Kuleba stressed.
The decision at the time, he noted, "opened the door for Putin's invasion of Georgia and, eventually, the illegal annexation of Crimea."
Had Ukraine already been a NATO member in 2014, the annexation of Crimea, the war in the Donbas and now the invasion of entire Ukraine would not have taken place, Kuleba said.
Belarus leader says nuclear arms will not be used
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday he was certain Russian tactical nuclear weapons deployed in his country would never be used.
In an address marking his ex-Soviet state's national day, he said the stationing of the weapons in Belarus was "my firmest initiative".
"I am certain that we will never have to use them while they are here. And no enemy will ever set foot on our land."
Lukashenko, like Russia, has repeatedly accused Western countries of trying to destroy his regime and says the nuclear deployment is necessary to deter potential aggressors.
US says Ukraine's counteroffensive 'advancing steadily'
Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Ukraine's counteroffensive was "advancing steadily, deliberately working its way through very difficult minefields ... 500 meters a day, 1,000 meters a day, 2,000 meters a day, that kind of thing."
He said he was unsurprised progress was slower than some people and computers might have predicted.
"War on paper and real war are different. In real war, real people die. Real people are on those front lines and real people are in those vehicles. Real bodies are being shredded by high explosives."
He added, "What I had said was this is going to take six, eight, 10 weeks, it's going to be very difficult. It's going to be very long, and it's going to be very, very bloody. And no one should have any illusions about any of that."
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the counteroffensive was "slower than desired," without getting too specific.
Ukraine says it has recaptured a cluster of villages in operations that liberated 130 square kilometers (50 square miles) in the south, but this is a small percentage of the total territory held by Russia.
On Friday, Zelenskyy said his forces advanced "in all directions of our active operations," while Hanna Maliar, the deputy defense minister, said the military assessed progress as "going according to plan," and that the counteroffensive should be evaluated by "a lot of different military tasks."
Ukraine's top general urges more arms for offensive
Ukraine's counteroffensive plans are hit by the lack of adequate firepower, the country's military commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhny said.
Zaluzhny told The Washington Post he is frustrated by the slow deliveries of promised weaponry from the West, from modern fighter jets to artillery ammunition.
Zaluzhny said Ukraine is still awaiting F-16 fighters promised by its allies.
"I do not need 120 planes. I'm not going to threaten the whole world. A very limited number would be enough," he told the newspaper.
"But they are needed. Because there is no other way. Because the enemy is using a different generation of aviation," he said.
He also complained he has a fraction of the artillery shells that Russia is firing, The Washington Post reported.
In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said the US and its allies were working hard to supply Ukraine. "We are giving them as much help as humanly possible," he said.
No mines sighted at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, IAEA says
International experts stationed at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant see no signs of mines recently being laid by the Russian occupiers, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said on Friday.
But he added that the IAEA expert team has not gained access to some areas of the facility.
Parts of the turbine halls and the cooling system still had to be inspected, he said.
The IAEA statement comes after Ukraine's military intelligence service said last week that Russia had mined the plant.
Moscow rejected the accusations.
"We take all such reports very seriously and I have instructed our experts at the site to look into this matter and request the access they need for doing their job," Grossi said in a statement.
"Until now they have not observed any mines or other explosives. Further access will still be needed."