Russia Claims Full Control of Mariupol
Russia’s defense chief says the country’s forces have taken full control of the massive steel plant in Mariupol that was the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
That would mark the end of a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of Ukraine’s vital Black Sea port of Mariupol to ruins and left over 20,000 people there feared dead.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol has been “completely liberated” from Ukrainian fighters.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying that a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at Azovstal have laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16, including 531 on Friday.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine that Mariupol has fallen completely to the Russians.
US Says Turkey’s Approach to Sweden, Finland NATO Bid Not a Bilateral Topic
Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession process of Sweden and Finland is not a bilateral issue between Washington and Ankara, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, but added that Washington was speaking with Ankara and it remained confident that the dispute would be overcome.
“The question of Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden, that is not a bilateral question between the United States and Turkey,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a telephone briefing.
His comments are similar to those by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who on Thursday told reporters, “this is not a U.S. issue,” but added that Washington wanted to see it resolved and it was ready to take action to be supportive.
US Consular Officer Visited Detained Basketball Player Griner in Russia
A U.S. consular officer visited detained Women’s National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner in Russia on Thursday, U.S. State Department said on Friday, while urging Moscow for more regular consular access.
Griner, 31, a two-time Olympic champion, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February as diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Authorities alleged that Griner, the 6-foot-nine-inch center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury was in possession of cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges. The Russian customs service said at the time that the alleged offence could carry a prison term of five to 10 years for Griner, who for years has played for a Russian professional team during the WNBA off-season.
“I can confirm that a Consular Officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday on Thursday, May 19th. The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances,” Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a telephonic briefing.
“But again, our message is a clear and simple one. We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient,” he added.
Moody’s Downgrades Ukraine to ‘Caa3’ on Debt Uncertainty
Moody’s on Friday downgraded Ukraine’s foreign currency sovereign credit rating to “Caa3” from “Caa2”, with a negative outlook, citing increased risks to the government’s “debt sustainability” following Russia’s invasion.
“While Ukraine is benefiting from large commitments of international financial support, helping to mitigate immediate liquidity risks, the resulting significant rise in government debt is likely to prove unsustainable over the medium term,” the ratings agency said.
The agency, which earlier kept the country’s outlook under review, revised it due to uncertainty around the evolution of the war and credit implications associated with it.
Germany and Qatar Signed Agreement to Deepen Cooperation on Energy
Germany and Qatar have signed an agreement to deepen their cooperation on energy, as Berlin seeks to diversify its natural gas supplies and ultimately stop using Russian gas.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a news conference alongside Qatar’s emir that the agreement signed Friday “opens many opportunities for successful cooperation.” He said that Qatar also “has enormous potential for renewable energies and for the production of hydrogen.”
Germany plans to build two liquefied natural gas terminals to bring in gas from suppliers such as Qatar.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said that “whatever we can provide for energy security in Europe even during this period, we will make sure that we can provide.” He didn’t give any figures.
Italy Submitted Peace Plan for Ukraine to UN Secretary-General
Italy’s foreign minister said Friday that Italy has submitted a peace plan for Ukraine to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said during a Council of Europe meeting in Turin, Italy, that the plan submitted Thursday calls for local cease-fires to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors, and creating the conditions for a general cease-fire leading “to a long-lasting peace.”
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he was aware of the plan, adding the European Union is “putting all our efforts into trying to bring this conflict to an end.”
Is Russia Fielding Laser Weapons in Ukraine? Pentagon Does Not Think So
The Pentagon said on Friday there were no indications that Russia had used laser weaponry in Ukraine, following claims by Moscow that it was fielding a new generation of powerful lasers there to strike enemy drones.
“We don’t have any indication of the use of lasers, at least weaponized lasers, in Ukraine. Nothing to confirm on that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.
Yury Borisov, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of military development, said earlier this week that Moscow had developed a new generation of laser weapons that would burn up their targets, with a prototype called “Zadira” being used in Ukraine.
Almost nothing is publicly known about Zadira, but in 2017, Russian media said state nuclear corporation Rosatom helped develop it.
Major Russian Assault Appears Aimed at Seizing Whole Ukrainian Province for Separatists
Russian troops bombarded a riverside city on Friday in what appeared to herald a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in a province Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had launched a massive artillery bombardment against Sievierodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian-held bastions in Luhansk, one of two southeastern provinces Moscow and its proxies proclaim as independent states.
The city, and its twin Lyshchansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskiy Donets river, form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture the capital Kyiv.
“The Russian army has started very intensive destruction of the town of Sievierodonetsk, the intensity of shelling doubled, they are shelling residential quarters, destroying house by house,” Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Gaidai said on his Telegram channel.
“We do not know how many people died, because it is simply impossible to go through and look at every apartment,” he said.
Ukraine’s general staff said it had pushed back an offensive on Sievierodonetsk, part of what it described as major Russian operations along a stretch of the frontline.
Ukraine: Russian Missile Hits Cultural Center
A Russian missile struck a Ukrainian cultural center in the Kharkiv region on Friday, injuring seven people, including an 11-year-old child, in an attack that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “absolute evil.”
Zelenskyy’s social media channel on Friday released video showing a large explosion hitting the newly renovated Palace of Culture in Lozova. The building was partly destroyed and the roof caught fire, Ukraine’s emergency services reported.
Lozova’s Palace of Culture is the site of classes, festivals, plays, and concerts. It opened in 1977 and includes an auditorium, a lecture hall, three dance halls, a gym, and multiple rooms for classes and club meetings.
The Kharkiv region is close to the border with Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ukrainian troops have been pushing back some Russian forces from the area.
Russia Continued Attacking Ukraine’s Eastern Cities
Russian forces on Friday continued attacking the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk to try to cut the area off from the rest of Ukraine, the region’s governor said.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press that Russian forces were focused on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, which he said is the only road for evacuating people and delivering humanitarian supplies.
“The road is extremely important because it’s the only connection to other regions of the country,” he said via email. “The Russians are trying to cut us off from it, to encircle the Luhansk region.”
Russian forces are constantly shelling the road from multiple directions, but Ukrainian armored transports are still able to get through, Haidai added.
Bach Says Russia Ban Is to Protect Athletes, Not Punish Them
Russian athletes and officials who have been banned from international sports because of the war in Ukraine are being protected rather than punished, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said Friday.
Most sports bodies have followed the IOC guidance given on Feb. 28—four days after Russia began its invasion—by taking teams and athletes out of their international competitions. In soccer, Russian teams were removed from World Cup qualifying for men and women.
Russian soccer is challenging those decisions and others at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Bach’s speech Friday will likely be echoed by defense lawyers at multiple pending hearings.
“Let me emphasize again that these are protective measures, not sanctions. Measures to protect the integrity of competitions,” Bach told IOC members in an online meeting. “The safety of the Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials could not be guaranteed because of the deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in so many countries following the invasion.”
Former German Chancellor Plans to Leave Rosneft’s Board of Directors Over Russia Ties Backlash
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder plans to leave the board of directors of Russian state energy company Rosneft as a backlash over his ties with Russia and its energy sector mounts.
Schroeder, 78, is the chairman of Rosneft’s board. Rosneft said Friday that Schroeder announced “the impossibility of extending his powers on the board of directors of the company.”
The announcement came a day after German lawmakers agreed to strip Schroeder of his taxpayer-funded office and staff.
Schroeder, 78, led Germany from 1998 to 2005. He has become increasingly isolated in recent months due to his work for state-controlled Russian energy companies.
Russia to Cut Finland’s Natural Gas
Russia will cut off natural gas to Finland after the Nordic country that applied for NATO membership this week refused President Vladimir Putin’s demand to pay in rubles, the Finnish state-owned energy company said Friday, the latest escalation over European energy amid the war in Ukraine.
Finland is the latest country to lose the energy supply, which is used to generate electricity and power industry, after rejecting Russia’s decree. Poland and Bulgaria were cut off late last month but, along with Finland, were relatively minor customers who had prepared to move away from Russian natural gas.
Putin has declared that “unfriendly foreign buyers” open two accounts in state-owned Gazprombank, one to pay in euros and dollars as specified in contracts and another in rubles. Italian energy company Eni said this week that it was “starting procedures” to open a euro and a ruble account.
Putin Promises to Bolster Russia’s IT Security in Face of Cyber Attacks
President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the number of cyberattacks on Russia by foreign “state structures” had increased several times over and that Russia must bolster its cyber defenses by reducing the use of foreign software and hardware.
The websites of many state-owned companies and news websites have suffered sporadic hacking attempts since Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, often to show information that is at odds with Moscow’s official line on the conflict.
“Targeted attempts are being made to disable the internet resources of Russia’s critical information infrastructure,” Putin said, adding that media and financial institutions had been targeted.
“Serious attacks have been launched against the official sites of government agencies. Attempts to illegally penetrate the corporate networks of leading Russian companies are much more frequent as well,” he said.
In a meeting with the Security Council, Putin said that Russia would need to improve information security in key sectors and switch to using domestic technology and equipment.
US Targets a Second Abramovich Plane Over Sanctions Violations
U.S. authorities on Friday moved to ground additional aircraft believed to be in violation of sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including a second airplane owned by businessman Roman Abramovich.
The Commerce Department said a 787 Dreamliner owned by Abramovich had likely violated U.S. export controls, after having identified in March a first aircraft owned by the Russian businessman suspected to be in violation of restrictions.
It also said that it was issuing an order denying export privileges to Rossiya Airlines due to ongoing export violations, the fifth Russian airline to which it has done so.
The Commerce Department warned that providing any service to aircraft subject to its Export Administration Regulations (EAR) that may have violated those controls requires U.S. government authorization.
Failure to do so could result in “substantial jail time, fines, loss of export privileges, or other restrictions,” the Commerce Department said.
Canada Imposes Additional Sanctions on Russian Oligarchs, Bans Some Luxury Goods Trade
Canada said on Friday it was imposing additional sanctions on Russian oligarchs and banning the import and export of targeted luxury goods from Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The new measures would put restrictions on 14 individuals including Russian oligarchs, their family members, and close associates of Vladimir Putin, according to an official statement.
The import ban would target Russian goods including alcoholic beverages, seafood, and non-industrial diamonds, while the export ban would target luxury goods such as footwear, luxury clothing, and jewelry.
Berlin to Deliver First 15 Gepard Tanks to Ukraine in July: German Defense Minister
Germany will deliver the first 15 Gepard tanks to Ukraine in July, a defense ministry spokesperson in Berlin said on Friday, confirming a media report.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had agreed this in a conversation with her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, via video link, he added.
At the end of April, Germany announced that it would for the first time supply Kyiv with heavy weapons, namely Gepard air-defense tanks, after critics accused Berlin of dragging its heels on heavy weapons deliveries to Kyiv.
Since then, Germany also pledged seven self-propelled howitzers to Kyiv and has started training Ukrainian troops on these guns.
Poland, Portugal Trying to Bring Ukraine Into the European Union
Poland and Portugal are trying to figure out ways of bringing Ukraine into the European Union even if some countries in the bloc balk at granting it speedy access.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the effort after talks Friday in Warsaw with visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Morawiecki said that “if some EU nations protest vehemently, together with Portugal we want to work out an appropriate package that would be attractive for Ukraine and will show that Ukraine’s place is in the EU.”
Costa said EU leaders should not stick to inflexible regulations but be “pragmatic and respond to the current events.” He urged a decision at an EU summit scheduled for June.
Italy to Lend Ukraine 200 Million Euros, Finance Minister Says
Italy will lend Ukraine 200 million euros ($211 million) to help it pay its bills, Italy’s finance minister Daniele Franco said on Friday after a meeting of G7 financial leaders.
He said this measure had already been published in Italy’s official journal of record.
Turkey’s Erdogan to Speak to Finland as NATO Application Row Simmers
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will speak to Finland on Saturday, while maintaining his opposition to Finnish and Swedish NATO membership bids over their history of hosting members of groups Ankara deems terrorists.
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Erdogan said he had discussed the issue with the Dutch prime minister on Friday and would also speak to Britain on Saturday. He did not specify the people he would speak to in Finland and Britain.
“Of course we will continue all these discussions for the sake of not interrupting diplomacy,” Erdogan told reporters.
Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
G-7 Countries to Provide $19.8 Billion in Aid to Ukraine
The Group of Seven leading economies and global financial institutions are providing $19.8 billion in aid to bolster Ukraine’s public finances, Germany’s finance minister said Friday.
Christian Lindner told reporters that $9.5 billion of the total was mobilized at meetings of the G-7 finance ministers in Koenigswinter, Germany. He said the goal is to ensure that Ukraine’s financial situation does not affect its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.
“We agreed on concrete actions to deepen multilateral economic cooperation and underlined our commitment to our united response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and to our unwavering support to Ukraine,” a G-7 statement reads.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other leaders spoke this week about the need for allies to put together enough additional aid to help Ukraine “get through” the Russian invasion.
“All of us pledged to do what’s necessary to fill the gap,” Yellen said Thursday as the ministers finished their first of two days of talks. “We’re going to put together the resources that they need.”
The finance ministers of the G-7—which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—also have grappled with deepening inflation, food security concerns, and other economic issues during their talks.
Ukraine Says It Repels Russian Attack as War Grinds in East
Ukrainian authorities said Friday that their troops repelled a Russian attack in the east, as Moscow struggled to gain ground in the region that is now the focus of the war even while intensifying its campaign there.
Battered by their monthslong siege of the vital port city of Mariupol, Russian troops need time to regroup, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an assessment—but they may not get it. The city and the steelworks where Ukrainian fighters have held off the Russian assault for weeks have become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance and ability to stymie a much larger force.
On Friday, a number of soldiers—just how many was unclear—were still holed up in the Azovstal plant, following the surrender of more than 1,700 soldiers in recent days. The dead from the battle are also being removed, according to Denis Prokopenko, the commander of the Azov Regiment, which is among those defending the plant.
Senate Ships $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Bill to Biden for Signature
The Senate has whisked a $40 billion package of military, economic, and food aid for Ukraine and U.S. allies to final congressional approval, putting a bipartisan stamp on America’s biggest commitment yet to turning Russia’s invasion into a painful quagmire for Moscow.
The legislation, approved 86–11 Thursday was backed by every voting Democrat and most Republicans. While many issues under President Joe Biden have collapsed under party-line gridlock, Thursday’s lopsided vote signaled that both parties were largely unified about sending Ukraine materiel and funding to continue fighting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s more numerous forces.
“I applaud the Congress for sending a clear bipartisan message to the world that the people of the United States stand together with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy and freedom,” Biden said in a written statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the United States. “This is a demonstration of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation.
Russian Forces Attacked Cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s Eastern Region of Luhansk: Governor
Russian forces attacked the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk, the region’s governor said Friday.
Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram messaging app post on Friday that 12 people were killed in Severodonetsk as a result of the assault, and more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region.
He added that the attack on Severodonetsk “was unsuccessful—the Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated.” His remarks could not be independently verified.
Russia Says It Will Beef up Forces Near Western Border
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday that moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO were part of an increase in military threats near Russia’s western borders, and it was taking “adequate countermeasures.”
In a speech, Shoigu also said the United States had stepped up strategic bomber flights in recent years, sent warships to the Baltic Sea, and intensified training exercises in the region with its NATO partners.
He said Russia would respond by forming 12 units and divisions in its western military district, and that it was working to improve the combat strength of its troops.
“Tension continues to grow in the zone of responsibility of the Western Military District. We are taking adequate countermeasures,” Shoigu said.
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the Western defense alliance NATO on Wednesday.
Russia Paves Way to Sign up Over-40s for Army
In a sign of Russia’s urgent need to bolster its war effort in Ukraine, parliament said on Friday it would consider a bill to allow Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to sign up for the military.
The website of the State Duma, parliament’s lower house, said the move would enable the military to utilize the skills of older professionals.
“For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40–45,” it said.
Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18–30 can enter into a first contract with the military.
Pro-Russian Hackers Attack Institutional Websites in Italy: Police
Pro-Russian hackers have attacked the websites of several Italian institutions and government ministries, the police said on Friday.
At 0800 GMT it was still not possible to access the websites of the Italian foreign ministry and its national magistrates association.
The attack was launched at around 2000 GMT on Thursday by the hacker group “Killnet,” Italian cyber-security group Yarix said in a statement.
A similar attack took place on May 11, and last weekend police said they had thwarted a cyber-assault on the latter stages of the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin which ended on Saturday with the victory of Ukraine’s entry.
The police attributed both attacks to the Killnet group and its affiliate Legion.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, many Western governments have raised alert levels in anticipation of possible cyber attacks on IT systems and infrastructure.
Ukrainian PM Says EU Disburses 600 Million Euros to Ukraine
The European Union has disbursed 600 million euros ($634.98 million) to Ukraine as part of a macro-financial assistance program, Denis Shmyhal, the Prime Minister, said on Friday.
“Today, #EU disbursed a new tranche of €600 million under the emergency Macro-Financial Assistance Program to #Ukraine,” Shmyhal wrote on his Twitter account.
Shmyhal also said he was grateful to the European Commission and its President Ursula von der Leyen. “We will win and rebuild Ukraine together,” he said.
Ukraine’s Azov Commander Says Civilians, Heavily Wounded Evacuated From Mariupol Plant
The commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment said in a video published on Friday that civilians and heavily wounded fighters had been evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks, giving no further clue about the fate of the rest of its defenders.
“We have constantly emphasized the three most important conditions for us: civilians, wounded and dead,” Lieutenant Colonel Denys Prokopenko, the commander, said in the video shared on the Telegram messaging app.
“The civilians have been evacuated. The heavily wounded received the necessary assistance and they were evacuated, to be later exchanged and delivered to territory controlled by Ukraine,” Prokopenko said.
Ukraine ordered its garrison in Mariupol to stand down on Monday but has since given few details of what it describes as an effort to rescue fighters from Azovstal, the last of Ukrainian resistance at the ruined port.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Azovstal had surrendered so far. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed that number and The Epoch Times has not been able to verify it.
Russia Says Almost 2,000 Ukrainian Fighters From Azovstal Have Surrendered so Far
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that almost 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks have surrendered so far, TASS news agency reported on Friday.
The Epoch Times was not able to independently verify the report.
Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the labyrinth of bunkers and tunnels below the plant, though Moscow and Kyiv have given different estimates on numbers.
US to Ship $100 Million in Military Aid to Ukraine
The United States has announced a shipment of $100 million in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40 billion approved Thursday by Congress.
The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the United States has provided to Ukraine already since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 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 United States has provided nearly $4 billion in military aid since Feb. 24 and $6.6 billion since 2014, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Kirby said the United States will consult with Ukraine, as it has frequently since the invasion, about what it needs in terms of equipment.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says Donbas Region Has Been Completely Destroyed
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said Russian forces had “completely destroyed” the industrial Donbas region and accused Moscow of carrying out senseless bombardments as it intensified its offensive.
Zelenskyy also accused Russian forces of attempting to kill as many Ukrainians and do as much damage as possible, repeating his charge that Russia was carrying out a genocide.
Zelenskyy said that while Ukrainian forces were continuing to liberate the Kharkiv region to the east of Kyiv, Russia was trying to exert even more pressure in the Donbas, which lies in the southeastern part of Ukraine.
Finland Wants to Avoid Overreactions in Security, Says President
Finland wants to remain flexible about joint exercises with NATO following its formal application to join the alliance and about bringing in any new military equipment on its territory to avoid overreactions, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Thursday.
“Flexibility is most important now. To keep an eye on the situation, to not overreact or give anyone reason to overreact while still being able to react immediately,” Niinisto told reporters after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington together with his Swedish counterpart.
Biden met with the Nordic leaders to offer robust U.S. support for their applications to join NATO, while Turkey threatened to block the Nordic nations from becoming members of the alliance.
Niinisto said Washington has promised Finland and Sweden similar measures to help ensure their security during their NATO application period when the applicants are not yet covered by NATO’s mutual defense clause.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.