Russia Denies Ukraine Forces Damaged Navy Ship in Black Sea
Russia on Saturday dismissed Ukraine’s claim it had damaged a modern navy logistics ship in the Black Sea and showed photos of what it said was the vessel with no signs of damage.
Military authorities in the southern Odesa region said on Thursday that Ukrainian naval forces had struck the Vsevolod Bobrov, setting it alight.
In an online post, the Russian defense ministry published photos it said had been taken of the ship on Saturday in the Crimean Black Sea port of Sevastopol.
“It is now clear from the photographs that the ship is not damaged at all,” it said.
Last month the missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, sunk after catching fire. Ukraine said it hit the ship with a missile fired from the coast while Moscow blamed an ammunition explosion.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy: Situation in Donbas Region Remains Very Difficult
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday said the situation in the Donbas region remained very difficult, adding that Russian forces were still trying to demonstrate some kind of victory.
“On the 80th day of a full-scale invasion this seems especially crazy, but they are not stopping their efforts,” he said in a late night video address.
Greece Says Ready to Welcome Finland, Sweden in NATO
Greece fully supports Sweden’s and Finland’s plans to join NATO, its foreign minister said on Saturday.
“Greece has excellent relations with these two countries, which are also members of the European Union,” Nikos Dendias said in Berlin where he will attend an informal NATO ministers meeting.
“The Greek side has a very clear stance [on the matter], we are ready to welcome Sweden and Finland to the NATO family, we believe they have much to offer,” he said.
A day after Russia’s northeastern neighbor Finland committed to applying to join NATO, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said membership for her country would have a stabilizing effect and benefit countries around the Baltic Sea.
Turkey to Hold Talks With Sweden, Finland Over NATO Membership
Foreign ministers from Finland, Sweden, and Turkey will hold clear-the-air talks in Berlin on Saturday to resolve disagreements over Finnish and Swedish plans to join NATO, as the alliance meets against the backdrop of the Ukraine war.
The Nordic states are gearing up to apply for membership of the 30-strong transatlantic alliance in response to what they see as a fundamentally altered security situation due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That has drawn threats of retaliation from Moscow and objections from NATO member Turkey.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters as he arrived in Berlin that it was “unacceptable and outrageous” that prospective new NATO members gave support to the PKK Kurdish militant group, potentially complicating the alliance’s enlargement.
“The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with PKK and YPG. These are terrorist organizations that have been attacking our troops every day,” Cavusoglu said, adding he would hold talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts Saturday evening.
“A big majority of the Turkish people are against the membership of those countries … and are asking us to block this membership,” he said.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavesto said he was confident in the end a solution would be found. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish news agency TT she would seek to sort out any misunderstandings.
Ukraine: Russians Withdraw From Around Kharkiv, Batter East
Russian troops are withdrawing from around Ukraine’s second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Ukraine’s general staff said the Russian forces were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery, and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said Ukrainians were doing their “maximum” to drive out the invaders and that the outcome of the war would depend on support from Europe and other allies.
Portugal Blocks Mansion Sale Over ‘Strong Conviction’ It Belongs to Abramovich
Portugal blocked the sale of a 10 million euro ($10.4 million) luxury house over a “strong conviction” it belonged to sanctions-hit Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Foreign Minister Joao Cravinho said on Saturday.
The property registry of the mansion in the luxury Quinta do Lago resort in the Algarve was frozen—meaning it cannot be sold, rented, or mortgaged—on March 25 at the request of the foreign ministry, a month after Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine.
“We have a strong conviction, which hasn’t been fully confirmed, the house belongs to Roman Abramovich,” Cravinho said on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Berlin. “The challenge here is that many of those sanctioned do not have their properties and assets in their names.”
We Are 100 Percent Behind Finnish, Swedish NATO Membership, Norway Tells Turkey
Norway on Saturday backed Finnish and Swedish plans to join NATO against criticism from Turkey.
“We don’t know what Turkey really means but from [the] Norwegian perspective, we are 100 percent behind Finland and Sweden if they decide to apply for membership in NATO,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeld said as she arrived for a meeting with her NATO counterparts in Berlin.
“This will also strengthen the Nordic cooperation because we chose differently after World War II, so I think that this is a historic moment right now,” she added.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra echoed her, saying it was important that all NATO members showed unity.
Republican Delegation Led by McConnell Meets Zelenskyy in Kyiv
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) visited Kyiv and met Zelenskyy in an unannounced visit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the visit on various social media platforms.
“The visit of the U.S. Senate delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the United States Congress and the American people. Thank you for your leadership in helping us fight not only for our country but also for democratic values and freedoms,” he said in a social media post. “We really appreciate it.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) joined the trip.
G-7 Warn of Ukraine Grain Crisis, Ask China Not to Aid Russia
The Group of Seven leading economies warned Saturday that the war in Ukraine is stoking a global food and energy crisis that threatens poor countries, and urgent measures are needed to unblock stores of grain that Russia is preventing from leaving Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hosted a meeting of top G-7 diplomats, said the war had become a “global crisis.”
Baerbock said up to 50 million people, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, would face hunger in the coming months unless ways are found to release Ukrainian grain, which accounts for a sizeable share of the worldwide supply.
In statements released at the end of the three-day meeting on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, the G-7 pledged to provide further humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable.
“Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history which now threatens those most vulnerable across the globe,” the group said.
“We are determined to accelerate a coordinated multilateral response to preserve global food security and stand by our most vulnerable partners in this respect,” it added.
The G-7 nations also called on China not to help Russia, including by undermining international sanctions or justifying Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Russian Lawmaker Says Poland Next in Line for ‘Denazification’
A Russian lawmaker has issued a fiery warning that Warsaw is next in line for “denazification” after Poland’s prime minister penned an op-ed calling Russia’s imperialist “Russkiy Mir” ideology a “cancer” consuming Russian society and a “deadly threat” to other countries.
Oleg Morozov, chairman of Russia’s State Duma Committee on Control, wrote in a message on Telegram on Friday that the Polish leader’s comments have essentially made Poland a target.
In his remarks, Morozov resorted to the Kremlin’s rhetoric in its military operation in Ukraine of so-called “denazification,” a label Moscow has used to vilify its geopolitical adversaries and justify the war.
Russia Halts Electricity Supply to Finland
Russian state-owned utility Inter RAO has halted electricity supply to Finland on Saturday because it has not been paid.
The company’s Finnish subsidiary said in a statement on Friday that Inter RAO has not received payments for electricity sold via pan-European power exchange Nord Pool since May 6.
“This situation is exceptional and happened for the first time in over twenty years of our trading history,” RAO Nordic, said in a statement.
Power imports will be halted at 1 a.m. local time on Saturday (2200 GMT on Friday), Finnish grid operator Fingrid said in a separate statement, citing RAO Nordic, “for the time being.”
Fingrid confirmed that Finnish supplies of electricity were sufficient and that Russia accounted for about 10 percent of Finland’s total consumption.
“Missing imports can be replaced in the electricity market by importing more electricity from Sweden and also by domestic production,” it said.
Putin Tells Finland That Swapping Neutrality for NATO Is a Mistake
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Saturday that ditching neutrality and joining NATO would be a mistake that could damage relations between their two countries, the Kremlin said.
The two countries said their presidents spoke by phone two days after Finland declared its intention to join the Western alliance. Moscow has described that as a security threat that will require it to respond, but has not specified how.
Niinisto’s office said he told Putin “how fundamentally the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland.”
He said Finland wanted to handle relations with its Russian neighbor in a “correct and professional manner”.
The Kremlin said: “Vladimir Putin stressed that abandoning the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, since there are no threats to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s foreign policy may have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations.”
Moscow described the call as a “frank exchange of views,” normally a diplomatic euphemism for a difficult conversation.
Finland’s President Tells Putin: We Will Apply to Join NATO
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days.”
Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin in a phone conversation how thoroughly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.
“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of few Western leaders who has held regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.
Niinisto pointed out that had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximize its own security.”
“That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinisto said.
He stressed that Finland, despite its likely future membership in NATO, wants to continue to deal with Russia bilaterally in “practical issues generated by the border neighborhood” and hope to engage with Moscow “in a professional manner.”
The phone call was conducted on Finland’s initiative, Niinisto’s office said.
Moscow Will Respond If NATO Moves Nuclear Forces Closer to Russia’s Border
Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if NATO deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Saturday.
“It will be necessary to respond … by taking adequate precautionary measures that would ensure the viability of deterrence,” Interfax agency quoted Grushko as saying.
Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden and does not see “real” reasons for those two countries to be joining the NATO alliance, Grushko added.
He also reiterated the Kremlin’s earlier statement that Moscow’s response to NATO’s possible expansion will depend on how close the alliance moves military assets toward Russia and what infrastructure it deploys.
Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced on Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow, would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed to prevent.
Russian Fighter Jets Take Part in Baltic Sea Drills: Interfax
Russian Su-27 fighter jets have taken part in drills to repel a mock air strike on Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, Interfax news agency reported on Saturday, citing the Baltic Sea fleet.
The drills took place two days after Finland announced plans to apply to join NATO, with Sweden likely to follow—moves that would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he aims to prevent.
The Russian Baltic Sea fleet’s press service said Su-27 fighter jets “destroyed” the planes of the simulated adversary during the drills, Interfax reported.
According to the report, more than 10 crews of the Baltic Sea fleet’s Su-27 were involved in the exercises.
Ukraine Seeks Evacuation of Wounded Fighters as War Rages On
Very complex talks are underway to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war, Ukraine’s president said.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24, has slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances elsewhere in Ukraine too.
As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia is also reeling from economic sanctions. The Group of Seven leading Western economies pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
In a late night address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the plight of people trapped at the Azovstal site.
“At the moment very complex negotiations are under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission—the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” he said, adding that “influential” international intermediaries were involved in the talks.
Russia, which initially insisted the defenders in the sprawling Soviet-era bunkers beneath the steel works give themselves up, has said little publicly about the talks.
Duma Deputy Head Visits Ukraine’s Russian-Occupied Kherson: RIA
Senior Russian lawmaker Anna Kuznetsova visited the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine to discuss social and healthcare needs of the local population, the state RIA news agency reported on Saturday.
There have been sparse confirmed reports of Russian senior officials visiting areas of fighting since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24.
Kherson is the first region set to be annexed after Moscow said in April it had gained full control of the region, which has seen sporadic anti-Russian protests.
Kuznetsova, deputy head of Russia’s Duma or lower house of parliament, discussed the supply of foodstuffs as well as medical and other products needed for children, RIA reported.
Moscow-Administered Kherson to Ask to Be Included in Russia, UK Says
The Russian-imposed military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region said it will ask Russia to include it in the Russian federation, British defense ministry said on Saturday.
If Russia carries out an accession referendum in Kherson, it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favor of leaving Ukraine, Britain said in a regular Twitter bulletin.
Canada’s Joly Says Sweden, Finland Accession to NATO Should Be Quick
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Saturday that there should be consensus at NATO for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, but that their accession should be quick.
“It is important that we have a consensus,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting in northern Germany when asked about Turkey possibly blocking their accession.
“We wish that there not only be an accession of Finland and Sweden, but a quick accession, which is fundamental in the circumstances as Finland and Sweden are looking for security guarantees.”
Zelenskyy: No One Can Predict Length of War
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said although Ukrainians are doing everything they can to drive out the Russians, “no one today can predict how long this war will last.”
“This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”
He said he was thankful to all those who are working to strengthen the sanctions on Russia and increase military and financial support to Ukraine. “This is the only recipe for protecting freedom in the face of the Russian invasion. And for Western countries, this is not simply an expense. This is not about accounting, it’s about the future.”
Ukraine Preparing 41 Russian War Crimes Cases
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said Friday that her office was readying 41 war crimes cases against Russian soldiers.
“We have 41 suspects in cases with which we will be ready to go to court. All of them concern Article 438 of the [Ukrainian] criminal code on war crimes, but different types of war crimes. There is the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the killing of civilians, rape, and looting,” Iryna Venediktova said in a live briefing on Ukrainian TV on Friday evening.
It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects would be tried in absentia.
Friday marked the first war crime prosecution of a member of the Russian military in Kyiv, as a 21-year-old Russian soldier went on trial for the killing of an unarmed Ukrainian civilian in the early days of the war.
Venediktova said that two more of the suspects, who are physically in Ukraine, are likely to face preliminary hearings next week.
Shelling in Donetsk Region Kills 1, Harms 12
One civilian was killed and twelve more people were injured in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region as a result of Russian shelling, the regional governor said Friday.
The Donetsk region, one of two that make up the Donbass, has seen some of the war’s fiercest fighting in recent weeks, as Moscow mounts an offensive to capture Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.
“On May 13, the Russians killed one more civilian of Donbass—in [the city of] Avdiivka. 12 more people were injured today as a result of Russian shelling,” Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.
Turkey Not Supportive of NATO Membership for Finland, Sweden: Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan tossed cold water on any potential NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.
“We’re following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views,” Erdogan told reporters.
He criticized the Scandinavian countries as “guesthouses” for terrorist organizations and implied that some terrorists are in the parliament in some countries.
“It is not possible for us to be in favor,” he added.
Erdogan also said that allowing Greece to join NATO was a mistake that he doesn’t want to repeat with Finland and Sweden.
Turkey has repeatedly slammed Sweden and other Western European countries for their handling of organizations deemed terrorist organizations by Ankara, including the Kurdish militant groups PKK and YPG, and the followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Allen Zhong, Tom Ozimek, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.