‘Ball is in Russia’s court’ still on Griner talks, US official says

Olenivka prison in Donetsk seen in a satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies on July 30, following the attack on the facility. (Maxar Technologies/AP)

White House officials believe Russia is preparing to tamper with evidence to blame Ukrainian forces for the deadly explosion at Olenivka prison ahead of visits to the site by third parties.

An administration official told CNN they expect Russia to tamper with evidence, blame Ukrainian forces and even have “reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it seem like HIMARS Ukrainian was to blame before the journalists arrived”.

The United States provided Ukraine with the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system earlier this year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack on the prison, which is in separatist-held eastern Ukraine, was “a deliberate war crime by the Russians”.

Russia previously blamed Ukraine for the attack.

UN mission: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told a press conference on Wednesday that the UN was seeking to set up an investigative team to investigate the attack on the detention center that killed at least 50 dead and dozens injured among the Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Both Russia and Ukraine have called for an investigation into the attack, António Guterres told reporters in New York. He added that the panel’s terms of reference should be accepted by Russia and Ukraine before the start of the fact-finding mission.

Ukraine accuses a group of mercenaries: The intelligence service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed on Wednesday that the detonation of the building where Ukrainian soldiers were being held “was carried out by the fighters of the military command center ‘Wagner’ using a highly flammable substance, which resulted in the rapid spread of the fire in the premises.”

Wagner is a private military contractor whose fighters were involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as other conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

CNN is unable to verify the claim from Ukraine’s Department of Defense Intelligence, which has provided no evidence to support its claim.

What Russia says: The Russian government has rejected White House accusations that it tampers with evidence.

“One thing can be said here, which is absolutely obvious and absolutely proven about what happened in Olenivka. People, namely Ukrainian prisoners of war, who were held there, died at the hands of the Ukrainian army Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a call on Thursday.

“Ukraine killed its soldiers who were in captivity. Many injured. Therefore, there is hard evidence here and there is nothing to hide,” Peskov said.

In Thursday’s call, Peskov said Russia had invited the UN and ICRC to visit the site. However, in a statement on Wednesday, the ICRC said it had still not been granted access to the site.

CNN’s Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting for this post.

Elna M. Lemons