Russian forces capture almost the entire strategic Mariupol city as Ukraine moves to abandon the last bastion, making it the biggest city to be taken by Moscow in fighting, now in its 84th day.

Conflict in Ukraine is compounding global food insecurity already worsened by warming temperatures and the coronavirus pandemic, UN chief says.
Conflict in Ukraine is compounding global food insecurity already worsened by warming temperatures and the coronavirus pandemic, UN chief says. (Reuters)

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

UN chief warns of famine, urges Russia to free Ukrainian grain

UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned of years of mass hunger and famine if a growing global food crisis goes unchecked as he urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain.

Speaking at a major United Nations summit in New York, Guterres said the conflict in Ukraine was compounding global food insecurity already worsened by warming temperatures and the coronavirus pandemic.

Guterres said that in just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled –– from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today. He added that more than half a million people are living in famine conditions, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2016.

"Now the war in Ukraine is amplifying and accelerating all these factors: climate change, Covid-19 and inequality," he told the meeting, adding, "It threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years," Guterres added.

Russia and Ukraine blame each other after peace talks stall

The Kremlin has said Ukraine is showing no willingness to continue peace talks, while officials in Kiev blamed Russia for the lack of progress. The last known face-to-face negotiations were on March 29. Officials said contacts had continued remotely but both sides then indicated that the talks had stagnated.

"Negotiations are not progressing and we note the complete unwillingness of Ukrainian negotiators...," said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko as saying that Kiev had "practically withdrawn from the negotiation process".

Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko blamed Russia. " (President Vladimir) Putin is not ready to hold talks," he said on the Telegram app. "The only chance (for peace) is the destruction of the Russian occupiers. As for when they will be ready to accept defeat, I think it's a matter of months."

EU works on 'European Geopolitical Community'

The EU has said it will work to create a "European Geopolitical Community" that would be a sort of waiting room with privileges for neighbouring countries hoping to join the bloc.

European Council chief Charles Michel pledged to put the project on track around the middle of the year, fleshing out an idea put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron to MEPs last week.

"I will propose that a conference be held around or after the summer" that would bring together EU leaders and partner countries "to discuss the concrete options," Michel told the bloc's advisory Europe an Economic and Social Committee.

The aim is to forge convergence and deepen operational cooperation to address common challenges, peace, stability and security on our continent

European Council chief Charles Michel

US reopens Kiev embassy after three-month closure

The US embassy in Kiev has reopened after a three-month closure due to Russia's offensive against Ukraine. "We are officially reopening operations," spokesperson Daniel Langenkamp told Reuters shortly before the US flag was raised above the embassy.

He said a small number of diplomats would return initially to staff the mission. Consular operations will not resume immediately and a no travel advisory from the State Department remains in place across Ukraine, Langenkamp said.

The US embassy closed on February 14, ten days before Russia launched a full-scale military campaign. Embassy staff spent the first two months of the conflict in Poland, but Charge d’Affaires Kristina Kvien returned to the country on May 2, visiting the western city of Lviv.

EU urges members to work together to renew weapons stocks

The European Union has urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment, and offered financial incentives to those willing to work together to replace materiel sent to Ukraine.

Many of the EU’s 27 members have sent equipment to help Ukrainian troops since Russia launched an attack on February 24. At first it was mostly ammunition, but now includes portable missiles to destroy warplanes and tanks, as well as heavier equipment.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, is offering a fund of 500 million euros ($526 million) over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks. Officials declined to say, for security reasons, exactly what kinds of shortages nations have.

Russia says Q1 economic growth seen at 3.5 percent

Russia's state statistics agency has said it expects economic growth to stand at 3.5 percent in the first quarter of this year. The figures by Rosstat were the first estimate of Russian economic growth since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine and the West slapped retaliatory sanctions.

The growth is expected to be driven by passenger transport and the extraction of mineral resources, according to Rosstat. By comparison, Russia's economy expanded by five percent in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Economists believe that the worst economic impact of the sanctions is still to come and expect Russia, which has relied heavily on imports of manufacturing equipment and consumer goods, to plunge into a deep recession.

Russia: Ukrainian fighters surrendered at Azovstal sent to hospital in Novoazovsk

Ukrainian fighters who surrendered at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have been taken to a hospital at Novoazovsk in the breakaway Donetsk republic, the Russian defence ministry has said.

Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters who barricaded themselves into tunnels at the site have given themselves up to Russian and pro-Russian forces since Monday. Ukrainian officials have halted all public discussion of the fate of fighters who had made their last stand at Azovstal.

According to Denis Pushilin, the leader of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, said there had been about 2,000 fighters in the industrial complex and "a little more than half" remained inside. "Commanders and high-ranking fighters of (the) Azov (regiment) have not yet come out," he said.

Yellen: Not legal for US government to seize Russian central bank assets

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that it would not be legal for the United States to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to help rebuild Ukraine after Russia's offensive ends.

"I think it's very natural that given the enormous destruction in Ukraine, and huge rebuilding costs that they will face, that we will look to Russia to help pay at least a portion of the price that will be involved," Yellen told reporters ahead of a meeting of G7 finance ministers in Bonn, Germany.

"That said, while we're beginning to look at this, it would not be legal now in the United States for the government to seize those" assets. "It's not something that is legally permissible in the United States."

United States 'likely' to scrap Russia debt payment exemption

The United States will likely end an exemption allowing Moscow to pay its foreign debts with dollars held in Russia, the US treasury secretary has said, a move that could push Vladimir Putin's country into default.

"When we first imposed sanctions on Russia, we created an exemption that would allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place and for investors to be able to sell securities," said Janet Yellen. "And the expectation was, that it was time limited. So I think it's reasonably likely that the licence will be allowed to expire."

Punishing sanctions imposed following Russia's incursion into Ukraine in late February have largely severed the country from the international financial system, blocking Moscow's ability to access dollars held in US banks to pay its debts.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy's life story told in new comic book

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's life story — from comedian to a leader in the hour of crisis — has been given the graphic novel treatment in TidalWave Comics' latest biography, "Political Power: Volodymyr Zelenskyy."

The 22-page glossy, set for release on Friday, tells the story of how Zelenskyy, who once played a fictional president in a TV show, swept to power in 2019 promising to end a war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"Who is he? What makes him tick? Why is he the right leader for Ukraine at this moment? Those are the things I was curious about when I started the research," said writer Michael Frizell. The artist, Pablo Martinena, has also drawn biographies on David Beckham, Nelson Mandela and Donald Trump.

Ukrainian flag on summit of Everest

On the roof of the world, Antonina Samoilova held up a blue and yellow panel emblazoned "Stand With Ukraine" while her father and brother were serving in the army defending their country against Russia's offensive.

The 33-year-old had tears in her eyes as she unfurled the Ukrainian flag on the summit of Mount Everest last week, she said on Wednesday after returning to Kathmandu. The world's attention was turning away from her country's plight, she worried.

"I knew already before the expedition that I am the only Ukrainian on Everest this year. That made me push myself to go to the summit because I knew if it's not me, then who?" she told AFP. "...it's not good for us Ukrainians because we need more help, we need all the world to help us," she said.

Moscow will rebuild "freed" territories in Ukraine: Russian deputy PM

Russia will finance the reconstruction of territories in Ukraine that it has taken control of and will repair roads that link those areas with Russia, RIA has quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin as saying. Khusnullin said Russia had "freed" the territories.

He also said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe by capacity, will supply energy to Russia and to Ukraine if the latter pays for it, RIA reported. Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant from Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch documents 'apparent war crimes' by Russia in Ukraine

A leading human rights watchdog says it has documented further cases of "apparent war crimes" by Russian troops in two regions in Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Russian forces controlling much of the Kiev and Chernihiv regions from late February through March had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses.

The report pointed to what HRW said were 22 apparent summary executions, nine other unlawful killings, six possible enforced disappearances and seven cases of torture.

Finland and Sweden to buy firearms, anti-tank weapons together

Finland and Sweden will buy portable firearms and anti-tank weapons together, Finland's defence ministry has said, as the two Nordic country's handed in their applications to join the Western military alliance NATO.

The two countries will step up their cooperation in defence procurement by Finland joining an agreement to acquire anti-tank weapons from Swedish weapons maker Saab Dynamics, a subsidiary of Saab, the ministry said.

Finland's Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen also authorised preparations for a joint purchase of small fire arms including assault rifles, shotguns and arms for personal protection, the ministry said.

Senior Turkish official holds phone calls on Sweden, Finland's NATO bid

The spokesperson of Turkish Presidency has held a series of phone calls with his German, Swedish, Finnish, British and US counterparts, discussing his country's position over Sweden and Finland's NATO bid and other regional issues.

According to a statement by his office, Ibrahim Kalin held phone calls with the German chancellor's foreign policy aide Jens Plotner, Swedish Foreign Ministry State Secretary Robert Rydberg, the Finnish president's chief adviser Petri Hakkarainen, British National Security Adviser Stephen Lovegrove and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Türkiye, a NATO member, has voiced objections to Finland and Sweden's  bids, criticising the two countries for tolerating and even supporting terror groups like the YPG/PKK. Kalin told the other officials that Türkiye expects concrete steps to resolve its national security concerns on the issue of Sweden and Finland's applications.

Biden says 'strongly' supports Finland, Sweden NATO bid

President Joe Biden has expressed strong backing for the bid by Finland and Sweden to join NATO in the face of Russia's offensive against Ukraine, and offered US support in the event of "aggression" during the application process.

"The United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression" while their bid is considered, Biden said in a statement.

Biden, who will welcome Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson to the White House on Thursday, said he was looking "forward to working with the US Congress and our NATO allies to quickly bring Finland and Sweden into the strongest defensive alliance in history".

Moscow expels 34 French, 24 Italian, 27 Spanish diplomats

Russia has moved to expel a total of 85 European embassy staff, responding to similar moves by those countries. The Foreign Ministry said it was ordering out 34 diplomatic staff from France, 27 from Spain and 24 from Italy.

The three countries are among European nations that have collectively thrown out more than 300 Russians since Moscow's February 24 incursion of Ukraine. In many cases, they accused Russian diplomats of spying, which Moscow has denied. 

Russia's response has included sending home 45 Polish staff and 40 Germans last month. It has also announced tit-for-tat moves against Finland, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Japan, among others.

Russian soldier pleads guilty at Kiev 'war crimes' trial

The first Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine for "war crimes" has pleaded guilty, facing possible life imprisonment in Kiev. He is accused of killing a 62-year-old civilian in northeast Ukraine in the first days of the Kremlin's offensive.

Asked in court if he was guilty of the allegations, including "war crimes" and premeditated murder, 21-year-old sergeant Vadim Shishimarin responded "yes". As a prosecutor read out charges against him in Ukrainian, an interpreter translated for him into Russian.

Prosecutors say Shishimarin — from the Siberian region of Irkutsk — was commanding a unit in a tank division when his convoy came under attack. He and four others stole a car and encountered a 62-year-old man. According to prosecutors, Shishimarin was ordered to kill the civilian and used a Kalashnikov assault rifle to do so.

EU proposes up to 9B euros in more aid to Ukraine

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has proposed extra aid to Ukraine of up to nine billion euros ($9.5 billion) this year to help Kiev cope with the ravages of Russia's offensive.

The money would be raised by the EU on the markets and offered to Ukraine in the form of loans, an official in von der Leyen's European Commission told AFP news agency.

In a broadcast statement, von der Leyen also said it was time to think about rebuilding Ukraine whenever the conflict ends, adding the EU has "a strategic interest in leading this reconstruction effort". Other countries and international institutions should also be part of the reconstruction project, she said.

EU rushes out $300B roadmap to ditch Russian energy

The European Union’s executive arm has moved to jump-start plans for the bloc to abandon Russian energy amid the Kremlin’s Ukraine offensive, proposing a nearly 300 billion-euro ($315 billion) package that includes more efficient use of fuels and faster rollout of renewable power.

The European Commission’s investment initiative is meant to help the 27 EU countries start weaning themselves off Russian fossil fuels this year. The goal is to deprive Russia, the EU’s main supplier of oil, natural gas and coal, of tens of billions in revenue and strengthen EU climate policies.

We are taking our ambition to yet another level to make sure that we become independent from Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

US, banks, unveil plan to ease food crisis from Russia's offensive

The US, several global development banks and other groups have unveiled a multi-billion dollar plan meant to address a worldwide food security crisis exacerbated by Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

The Treasury Department announced that several global development banks are “working swiftly to bring to bear their financing, policy engagement, technical assistance” to prevent starvation prompted by the conflict, rising food costs and climate damage to crops.

The Asian Development Bank will contribute funds to feeding Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and the African Development bank will use $1.5 billion to assist 20 million African farmers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank will also contribute tens of billions in the coming months and years.

Ukraine colours daubed on Swiss monument to Russian soldiers

Vandals have daubed blue and yellow paint — Ukraine's national colours — on a Russian monument to soldiers who perished fighting Napoleon's forces in Switzerland in the 18th century.

"Hundreds of Russian men died fighting the French in the Swiss Alps. They have nothing to do with 21 century events, and their memory must not be desecrated," the Russian mission in Geneva tweeted. 

Erected by Russia in 1899, it is dedicated to Russian General Alexander Suvorov and his fallen soldiers who fought the French in the Schoellenen Gorge in September 1799. Uri police said they were investigating the case and a separate incident in which the town hall in Altdorf was defaced.

Germany got over 200 asylum applications from Russians in April

Germany has registered a slight increase in the number of Russian nationals applying for asylum since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, an interior ministry spokesperson has said. 

In April, the second full month of the offensive, 222 people from Russia applied for asylum in Germany, the spokesperson said in Berlin.

Russia expels 34 French diplomats: foreign ministry

Moscow says it is expelling 34 "employees of French diplomatic missions" in a retaliatory move following the expulsion of Russian diplomats from France as part of joint European action over Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

"Thirty-four employees of French diplomatic missions in Russia have been declared persona non grata," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that they have two weeks to leave the country. France "strongly" condemned the move soon after.

France in April kicked out 35 Russians with diplomatic status as part of a broader wave of expulsions that saw more than 300 Russians sent home from European capitals.

Ukraine claims 28,300 Russian troops killed since start of conflict

At least 28,300 Russian soldiers have so far been killed during the conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry announces.

Some 400 Russian troops have been killed over the past 24 hours, the ministry said in a statement.

The Ukrainian forces have also destroyed 202 Russian aircraft, 167 helicopters, 441 unmanned aerial vehicles, 1,251 tanks, 3,043 armoured vehicles, and 586 cannons since February 24, according to the latest update.

Japan urges China to play 'responsible' role on Ukraine crisis

Japan's foreign minister has urged Beijing to "play a responsible role" over Russia's offensive in Ukraine in his first talks with his Chinese counterpart in six months.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that Russia's offensive "is a clear violation of the UN Charter and other international laws," Japan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

He "urged China to play a responsible role in maintaining international peace and security," it added.

At least 229 children killed so far in Russian attacks: Ukraine

At least 229 children have been killed and 424 others injured so far in the fighting with Russia, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Office says.

Children in the eastern Donetsk, north-central Kiev, and northeastern Kharkiv regions have been the most affected in Ukraine, the office said in a statement.

Russia's daily bombings and shelling have damaged 1,772 educational institutions, with 161 of them completely destroyed. Some 12,118 “crimes of aggression and war crimes,” as well as 5,750 “crimes against national security” have been recorded since the start of the conflict, read the statement.

Kremlin says Ukraine 'lacks will' to continue peace talks

The Kremlin accuses Kiev authorities of not wanting to continue talks to end hostilities that started after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine.

"Talks are indeed not moving forward and we note the complete lack of will of Ukrainian negotiators to continue this process," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Kremlin has 'no information' about Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine

The Kremlin says it has no information about a Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian in Ukraine, the first "war crimes" trial since Moscow sent troops into its pro-Western neighbour.

"We still have no information. And the ability to provide assistance due to the lack of our diplomatic mission there is also very limited," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

German group says US support higher than EU's

The United States has mobilised about three times as much support for Ukraine as the European Union, according to figures compiled by a German think tank.

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy said that a new aid package passed by the US House of Representatives takes American military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine to over $45 billion ( almost 43 billion euros) between January 24 and May 10.

The institute found that aid from the EU amounted to just $16.8 billion (under 16 billion euros) during the same period. However, some countries in the 27-nation bloc have shied away from giving the value of their Ukraine aid, particularly for arms supplies. Compared to their gross domestic products, Estonia, Latvia and Poland provided the most support, ahead of the United States, according to the think tank's calculations.

Moscow says possible import tariffs on Russian oil will force buyers to pay more

A US proposal to levy tariffs on Russian oil means buyers will have to pay more or seek alternative suppliers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Tuesday the European Union could combine import tariffs on Russian oil with the phased oil embargo it is trying to put in place to shrink Russia's energy revenues.

The tariff concept will be presented at a G7 finance leaders meeting this week as an economically less costly way to siphon away oil revenues from Moscow while producing faster results, US Treasury officials told reporters.

959 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered at Azovstal since Monday: Russia

Russia's defence ministry says that 959 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered this week at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol.

"Over the past 24 hours, 694 militants surrendered, including 29 wounded," the ministry said in its daily briefing on the conflict.

"In total since May 16, 959 militants surrendered, including 80 wounded."

Israel delivers helmets, vests to emergency and civilian groups in Ukraine

Israel has delivered 2,000 helmets and 500 protective vests for emergency and civilian organisations in Ukraine, Israel's Defence Ministry says.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said last month he would authorise the delivery of helmets and vests, signaling a shift in Israel's position on providing such equipment. 

It follows a request by Ukraine for the supplies.

Ukrainian guerrillas 'kill' several Russian officers in Melitopol city

Ukrainian guerrilla fighters reportedly have killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the southern city of Melitopol, the regional administration said on Telegram.

Russian forces have occupied the city since early in the offensive.

According to the regional administration, the Russian occupiers are trying to conceal the situation but Russian troops were more actively checking private cars in the city, most likely looking for the guerrillas.

No details of the killings were given and the report could not immediately be confirmed. Throughout the conflict, the Ukrainians have claimed to have killed many Russian generals and other officers. A few of the deaths have been confirmed by the Russians.

For live updates from Tuesday (May 17), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies