Moscow says 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant as top US and Russian generals speak for the first time since the beginning of Ukraine fighting — now in its 85th day.

A local resident rides a bicycle past a charred armoured vehicle in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region.
A local resident rides a bicycle past a charred armoured vehicle in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. (Reuters)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Ukraine's Zelenskyy: Donbass region completely destroyed

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russian forces had "completely destroyed" the eastern Donbass region and accused Moscow of carrying out senseless bombardments as it intensified its military offensive.

"In the Donbass, the occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there - and that is not an exaggeration," he said in a late-night video address.

US to ship $100M in military aid to Ukraine

The US has announced a shipment of $100 million in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40 billion approved by Congress.

The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the US has provided to Ukraine already since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the equipment will be in the hands of Ukrainian forces "very, very soon."

With this latest shipment, the US has provided nearly $4 billion in military aid since February 24 and $6.6 billion since 2014, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Kirby said the US will consult with Ukraine, as it has frequently since the assault, about what it needs in terms of equipment.

US Congress approves $40B for Ukraine

The US Congress has approved a $40-billion aid package for Ukraine, the latest tranche of US assistance under President Joe Biden's promise of unwavering support for Kiev in its fight against Russia's forces. 

The vote was an unusually bipartisan move for harshly divided Washington. The US House of Representatives had already approved the $40 billion package — the equivalent to the 2020 GDP of Cameroon — last week. It now heads to Biden's desk for his signature.

The bundle includes $6 billion earmarked for Ukraine to boost its armoured vehicle inventory and air defence system. Nearly $9 billion is set aside to help with Ukrainian "continuity of government," among other items, including humanitarian aid. Congress approved almost $14 billion for Ukraine in mid-March.

Ukraine thanks US after $40B aid package

A top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked the US Senate after it approved $40 billion in aid, saying this would help ensure the defeat of Russia.

"We are moving towards victory confidently and strategically. We thank our allies," Zelenskyy's chief of staff Andriy Yermak said in an online post minutes after the vote. The Senate voted 86-11 in favour of the package of military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

Blinken accuses Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding "hostage" the food supply for not just millions of Ukrainians, but also millions around the world who rely on Ukrainian exports.

Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Blinken appealed to Russia to stop blockading Ukrainian ports. Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24 to carry out what Moscow calls a "special military operation".

"The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not — to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people," he said. 

The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Top US, Russian generals speak for first time since Ukraine conflict began

Top US General Mark Milley has spoken by telephone with his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov, their first discussion since Russian forces attacked Ukraine on February 24, the Pentagon has said.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, "discussed several security-related issues of concern," according to a spokesperson for the US Joint Staff, offering no other details.

According to a report by TV Zvezda, which is controlled by the Russian Defence Ministry, the call took place at the request of Milley and the two spoke about the situation in Ukraine. The last time the two spoke by telephone was on February 11, when Washington was warning publicly of Russian plans to attacks Ukraine.

G7 countries commit $18.4B in funds for Ukraine: Draft

The Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nations have committed $18.4 billion in transfers and loans to help Ukraine meet its immediate financing needs, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters. They were meeting near Bonn, Germany, on Thursday and Friday.

"We have mobilised 18.4 billion US dollars of budget support, including 9.2 billion US dollars of recent commitments in the lead up to the Petersberg meeting, to help Ukraine close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people," the G7 finance ministers and central bankers said in the draft document.

EU to extend budget rule suspension because of Ukraine conflict

Rules against overspending by EU governments will remain suspended through 2023, extending a pandemic-era reprieve because of the conflict in Ukraine, sources have said. The European Commission, the EU's executive, will make its decision on Monday.

The European Union suspended the public spending rules for national governments in March 2020 as the bloc sank into its deepest recession since World War II because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Known as the Stability and Growth Pact, the EU rules limit deficit spending at three percent of a country's overall economy and debt at 60 percent. The pact was supposed to be reactivated on January 1, 2023, with the return of solid growth, but Russia's offensive against Ukraine has changed the situation.

US aims to arm Ukraine with advanced anti-ship missiles

The White House is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia's naval blockade, officials have told Reuters, amid concerns more powerful weapons that could sink Russian warships would intensify the conflict.

Three US officials and two congressional sources said two types of powerful anti-ship missiles, the Harpoon made by Boeing and the Naval Strike Missile made by Kongsberg and Raytheon Technologies, were in active consideration for either direct shipment to Ukraine, or through a transfer from a European ally that has the missiles.

A handful of countries would be willing to send Harpoons to Ukraine, the US officials and the congressional sources said. But no one wants to be the first or only nation to do so, fearing reprisals from Russia if a ship is sunk with a Harpoon from their stockpile, a US official said.

Evacuation of troops from Mariupol continues: Ukrainian general

A Ukrainian general has said the evacuation of Ukrainian troops from the city of Mariupol was continuing but provided no details.

"In the Mariupol direction, measures are being taken to evacuate our heroes," Oleksiy Gromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces, told an online briefing.

Moscow said earlier that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Mariupol over three days. The Red Cross worked to register the soldiers as prisoners of war in a step toward ensuring their humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions.

Macron defends 'European political community' idea

French President Emmanuel Macron has defended his idea of a "European political community" of nations seeking to join the European Union, saying it was not intended to be an alternative to membership of the bloc.

The idea was to "create a new framework to structure our cooperation, bringing together democratic European nations that adhere to the core of our values and that are aspiring or not to join the European Union", Macron said before talks at the Elysee Palace with Moldova's President Maia Sandu.

Macron said “a spread of the conflict to neighbouring countries cannot be excluded" pointing to “recent incidents” in the Transnistria region of Moldova, where Russian troops are already stationed and where there have been explosions.

Twitter to tackle Ukraine conflict misinformation with warning labels

Twitter Inc will begin placing warning notices in front of some misleading content regarding the conflict in Ukraine and limit the spread of claims debunked by humanitarian groups or other credible sources.

The step-up against misinformation around Russia's offensive against Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special military operation," is part of a new policy that outlines how Twitter will approach misinformation during crises.

The new warning notices will alert users that a tweet has violated Twitter's rules, but still allow people to view and comment. The platform will not amplify or recommend such tweets and retweeting will also be disabled.

Belarus buys S-400, Iskander missiles from Russia: Lukashenko

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says his country bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles and S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia.

The announcement came on the 85th day of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, with thousands killed. Belarus, Moscow's main ally, has allowed Russian troops to use the country bordering Ukraine as a rear base.

"We've come to an agreement with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," Lukashenko said in remarks released by the Telegram channel of the Belarusian presidency. He provided few details, only saying the Belarusian authorities bought as many Iskander missiles and S-400 systems as were "needed" for the army.

UN urges Russia, Ukraine to resume peace talks

The United Nations has urged Russia and Ukraine to "build on" contacts and coordination that enabled the evacuation operations from Mariupol in order to resume stalled peace talks, stressing that they need "to get back to the table".

The successful operations to evacuate civilians and later fighters from the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in the devastated Ukrainian port points the way back towards broader negotiations to end the brutal conflict, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said.

"Those operations could not have happened had it not been for cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine authorities," he told reporters in Geneva.

I would like to think that the fact that this cooperation has worked relatively well, certainly better than in previous weeks of this war, suggests there is something to build on

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths

At least 12 killed in Russian shelling of Severodonetsk

Russian shelling of the eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk has left at least 12 people dead and another 40 injured, the region's governor Sergei Gaiday says, as Moscow's army continues its slow push into Donbass.

The Luhansk regional governor said on social media that there were "12 dead and more than 40 injured in Severodonetsk," accusing Russian forces of "randomly" shelling the urban hub with heavy weapons, and that the toll could rise. 

There was no immediate reacting from Russia, which denies targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Biden welcomes Sweden, Finland leaders in push for NATO bid

US President Joe Biden has welcomed the leaders of Finland and Sweden in a strong show of support for their bids to join NATO in the face of Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

To the pomp of a red carpet and military honour guard, Biden received Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto just days after they officially said they would seek to join the US-backed alliance.

Italy impounds Russian-controlled jets, assets

Italy says it has impounded aircraft and frozen monetary assets linked to Russia's state-controlled United Aircraft Corp as part of EU sanctions against Kremlin-linked entities.

The Italian government put the value of the frozen assets of the Russian aerospace and defence company at more than 146 million euros ($154 million).

Financial police froze 90 percent of the capital of Superjet International, based in Venice, and impounded four of its aircraft, the government said. Superjet is a joint venture between Russia's Sukhoi Holding Company and Italy's aerospace multinational Leonardo.

Life sentence requested for Russian soldier in Kiev 'war crimes' trial

Ukrainian prosecutors have requested a life sentence for the first Russian soldier on trial for "war crimes" since the start of Moscow's offensive.

The prosecution asked the judge to sentence the 21-year-old Russian army sergeant to "life imprisonment" for killing 62-year-old civilian Oleksandr Shelipov in the first days of the Russian offensive.

The request came just a day after the landmark trial opened and as two other Russian soldiers were in court on Thursday for crimes against civilians. Kiev says it has opened thousands of "war crimes" cases since Moscow launched its attacks.

WHO chief says he spoke with Russia's Lavrov about Ukraine

The head of the World Health Organization has said via Twitter that he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about Russia's role in global health matters and the situation in Ukraine.

"I requested safe access to Mariupol, Kherson, Southern Zaporizhzhia & other besieged areas to deliver health aid. Civilians must be protected," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on his Twitter feed, urging Russia to ensure safe access to places in Ukraine that its troops control or are besieging in order to allow healthcare to be delivered to people.

Russian government to help new McDonald's owner 

Russia's government will provide the new owners of the Russian business of McDonald's with all the assistance they need to set up, the TASS news agency has quoted Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov as saying.

The world's largest burger chain said on Thursday that it would sell its Russian business to its current licensee, Alexander Govor, who would operate the restaurants under a new brand.

Moscow says opening Ukraine ports would need review of sanctions

Moscow has said sanctions on Russia would have to be reviewed if it were to heed a UN appeal to open access to Ukraine's Black Sea ports so that grain could be exported, according to an Interfax news agency report.

Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain producers, used to export most of its goods through its seaports, but since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.

UN food chief David Beasley appealed on Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: "If you have any heart at all, please open these ports."

You have to not only appeal to the Russian Federation but also look deeply at the whole complex of reasons that caused the current food crisis and, in the first instance, these are the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia by the US and the EU that interfere with normal free trade, encompassing food products including wheat, fertilisers and others.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko

Ukraine's PM, G7 finance ministers discuss recovery steps

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says he and the finance ministers of the Group of Seven nations have discussed "practical steps" to help Ukraine recover from Russia's offensive. He also sought more financial aid to cover a monthly budget deficit of around $5 billion.

“We need at least $15 billion over the next three months to cover these needs. For us, this is as important as the weapons that you provide to fight Russian aggression,” a statement quoted Shmyhal as saying. He also welcomed a European Commission proposal to provide Ukraine with 9 billion euros ($9.51 billion).

Meanwhile, the G7 countries are launching a new Global Alliance for Food Security that is aimed in part at addressing the impact of the crisis Ukraine. German minister Svenja Schulze said the aim is to better coordinate the efforts of aid donors and to ensure that looming crises don’t get overlooked.

Russia seeking to wrest seized nuclear plant from Ukraine

Russia has hinted it is seeking to cut off Ukraine from Europe's largest nuclear plant unless Kiev pays Moscow for electricity. The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by Russian troops following its military operation in Ukraine launched on February 24.

"If the energy system of Ukraine is ready to receive and pay, then (the plant) will work for Ukraine. If not, then ( the plant) will work for Russia," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said during a trip to the region on Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported.

His remarks came after Russian officials indicated that Moscow intends to remain in territories it controls in southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson region and large parts of Zaporizhzhia. "We have a lot of experience of working with nuclear power plants...," Khusnullin said.

Ukraine: 'Do not offer us a ceasefire'

An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the country won’t accept any ceasefire until all the Russian troops pull back.

“Do not offer us a ceasefire – this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” Mykhailo Podolyak, who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, wrote on Twitter. In a reference to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Podolyak wrote: “Ukraine is not interested in new 'Minsk' and the war renewal in a few years.”

Several Ukrainian officials have recently issued similar statements. Podolyak didn’t specify what would constitute “total” withdrawal. He added that “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”

Russian soldier on trial in Ukraine asks 'forgiveness': AFP

The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine has asked for "forgiveness" in a Kiev court as he gives a detailed account on how he killed a civilian early during Moscow's offensive.

"I know that you will not be able to forgive me, but nevertheless I ask you for forgiveness," 21-year-old Russian sergeant Vadim Shishimarin said in court, addressing the wife of a 62-year-old civilian whom he admitted killing in the first days of the offensive.

Russia expels five Portuguese diplomats in retaliatory move

Russia's foreign ministry says that it is expelling five Portuguese diplomats in response to Lisbon ordering out 10 Russians last month.

The move was part of a long series of tit-for-tat moves by Moscow after European countries expelled more than 300 Russian embassy staff following Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.

"They are required to leave the country within 14 days of the delivery of the corresponding note to the Ambassador", the foreign ministry said.

UK hits Russian airlines with fresh sanctions

The UK government says it is slapping further sanctions on Russia's main airlines by barring them from selling landing slots they are already banned from using.

"State-owned Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline, Ural Airlines and Rossiya Airlines will now be unable to sell their unused, lucrative landing slots at UK airports," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move will prevent Russia "from cashing in on an estimated $62 million (£50 million, 59 million euros)", it added.

Moscow says opening Ukraine ports would need review of sanctions on Russia - Interfax

Russia's Foreign Ministry says that if it is to heed a United Nations appeal to open access to Ukraine's Black Sea ports, the removal of sanctions against Russia will also have to be considered, the Interfax news agency reports.

Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain producers, used to export most of its goods through its seaports, but since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.

UN food chief David Beasley appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: "If you have any heart at all, please open these ports." Beasley's World Food Programme feeds some 125 million people and buys 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine.

'No shortcuts' to Ukraine EU membership: Scholz

Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up despite the Russian offensive, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says, adding that the bloc must find a 'fast and pragmatic' way to help Kiev.

"There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU," Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership. "The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years," he said.

Kiev complains of 'second-class treatment' by 'some EU capitals'

Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has criticised the "second-class treatment" of Kiev by some EU countries, after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the war-torn country's bid to join the bloc cannot be speeded up.

"Strategic ambiguity on Ukraine's European perspective practised by some EU capitals in the past years has failed and must end," Kuleba said on Twitter.

He slammed the "second-class treatment" of Ukraine that he said "hurt feelings of Ukrainians".

Red Cross registers hundreds of Ukrainian POWs from Mariupol

The international Red Cross says it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who left the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

The Red Cross said in a statement that the operation continued Wednesday and was still ongoing. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is not transporting them to the places where they are held, which is in separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.

“The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative,” it said. “This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families.”

No nuclear arms or NATO bases on Finland's soil, PM tells paper

Finland does not want NATO to deploy nuclear weapons or set up military bases on its territory even if Finland becomes a member, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin tells an Italian newspaper in an interview.

"I think at this stage it is important to stay calm, to have discussions with Türkiye and all other member countries, answering questions that may exist and correcting any misunderstandings," Marin told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Marin also said the question of NATO deploying nuclear weapons or opening bases in Finland was not part of Helsinki's membership negotiations with the Western military alliance. "Nor do I think there is any interest in deploying nuclear weapons or opening NATO bases in Finland," she said.

Poland to help Sweden, Finland if they are attacked before NATO accession

Poland will assist Sweden and Finland, should they be attacked before obtaining NATO membership, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says.

"I consider the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO as an important signal of strengthening security in Europe," he said during a conference.

"I want to make it clear that in the event of an attack on Sweden or Finland during their accession (process), Poland will come to their aid."

Russia says 771 Ukrainian fighters surrendered from Azovstal plant in last 24 hours -RIA

Russia's defence ministry says 771 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 1,730 since Monday, RIA reports.

The ministry said 80 of those were wounded, RIA reported.

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels below the plant, though Moscow and Kiev have given different estimates on numbers.

Japan to double Ukraine aid to $600 million

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says his country will double its financial aid for Ukraine to $600 million in support of the country badly damaged by Russia’s offensive.

Japan will provide the additional $300 million through the World Bank to help Ukraine’s financial difficulties because of the Russian offensive, Kishida said.

The announcement comes just before Japan hosts US President Joe Biden and two other leaders for a regional strategic framework known as the Quad summit and bilateral meetings next week when Kishida is expected to emphasise Japanese support for Ukraine.

Ukraine shells village in Russia's Kursk, killing one

Ukrainian forces have shelled a border village in Russia's western region of Kursk at dawn, killing at least one civilian and injuring others, regional governor Roman Starovoit said.

Shells have hit an alcohol factory in the village of Tyotkino and several other buildings, Starovoit wrote on messaging app Telegram. 

"Another enemy attack on Tyotkino, which took place at dawn unfortunately ended in tragedy. At the moment, we know of at least one civilian death," Starovoit said, adding that others were wounded and receiving medical attention.

Zelenskyy: Russia made 'catastrophic mistakes' in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that "catastrophic mistakes" have been made by Russia during its military aggression on Ukraine.

Speaking during his nightly address from Kiev, Zelenskyy said that the Russian Army has allegedly started to use laser weapons systems due to a lack of missiles.

"This clearly indicates the complete failure of the invasion," he said, adding the Russian Army fired missiles at Mykolaiv and also at Dnipro on Wednesday.

Russia using prototype of new laser weapon

Russia has begun using the prototype of a new laser weapon in Ukraine that is capable of hitting a target 5 kilometres away, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.

The state news agency Tass quoted Borisov as saying on national television that the prototype of a new laser weapon was tested on Tuesday against a drone and incinerated it within five seconds.

Borisov said a new generation of laser weapons will eventually allow Russia to conserve its expensive long-range missiles.

Türkiye: Ukraine conflict should end to ensure hunger crisis does not worsen

Türkiye has called for international collaboration to ensure that the fighting in Ukraine does not worsen the hunger crisis.

Speaking at a high-level ministerial meeting on "Global Food Security-Call to Action" at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Russia's aggression in Ukraine poses a significant challenge "as both countries are major global food suppliers and decreasing their ability to produce and export will directly impact global food security."

"We need international collaboration to ensure that this war doesn't worsen the hunger crisis. This is yet another reason why we should end this war and we should work for the peaceful resolution of conflicts," said Cavusoglu.

For live updates from Wednesday (May 18), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies