Some 20 countries offer new security assistance packages for Ukraine to battle Russian forces in a meeting of allies, as Moscow's military offensive in Ukraine completes three months with no end in sight.

A self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika of pro-Russian troops fires a leaflet shell in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to disperse information materials from their combat positions in the Luhansk region.
A self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika of pro-Russian troops fires a leaflet shell in the direction of Sievierodonetsk to disperse information materials from their combat positions in the Luhansk region. (Reuters)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Situation in Ukraine's Luhansk worse 'with every hour'

The governor of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region has said that the situation there is worsening "with every hour" as advancing Russian troops seize more territory and "completely destroy" a key city.

"The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour," governor Sergiy Gaidai said in a video on Telegram. 

"Shelling is increasing more and more. The Russian army has decided to completely destroy (key city) Severodonetsk."

Fighting rages as Russia eyes prolonged conflict in Ukraine

Russia has signalled it was bedding in for a long conflict in Ukraine as the heavy fighting continues in the east but signs of some normality returning elsewhere.

"We will continue the special military operation until all the objectives have been achieved," Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said. 

Russia is now focused on securing and expanding its gains in the eastern Donbass region, near the border and home to pro-Russian separatists, as well as the southern coast.

Germany: Ukraine needs ‘massive military support’

Germany’s foreign minister has pledged further military support for Ukraine, despite strong warnings from Russia.

“Ukraine needs massive military support,” Annalena Baerbock told a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau, following their meeting in Berlin.

She said the US-led Ukraine Contact Group, which includes Germany, Poland and key NATO allies, discussed details of new military aid packages to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

Russian parliament passes bill allowing Moscow to close Western news bureaus

Russia's parliament has passed a bill giving prosecutors powers to shut foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a Western country has been "unfriendly" to Russian media, following the closure of some Russian state news outlets in the West. 

The bill, passed in the first reading by the lower house of parliament, or Duma, also prohibits the distribution of articles or other materials from media that have been closed by the prosecutor's office. It needs to undergo two more readings, be reviewed by the upper house of parliament, and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law. 

The journalists of a media organisation deemed to be an offender under the bill would have their foreign ministry accreditation withdrawn - meaning they could not work in Russia. 

Ukraine gathers Russian dead in chilled train for prisoner exchange

Ukraine is gathering the bodies of dead Russian soldiers strewn among the rubble of formerly occupied towns and using everything from DNA to tattoos to verify their identities in the hope of exchanging them for prisoners of war.

Volunteers have helped the military gather 60 bodies in the northeastern region of Kharkiv where Russian forces have retreated in recent weeks, stacking them up in a refrigerated rail carriage.

Bodies are sometimes used as part of prisoner exchanges and other times in exchanges for Ukrainian bodies, said Anton Ivannikov, captain of military-civil cooperation branch, Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is coordinating the effort. The bodies of those related to high ranking officials can be especially valuable to an exchange. 

Russia takes control of Donetsk region town of Svitlodarsk - governor

Russian forces have taken control of three Donetsk region towns including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told a local affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Earlier today, the Russian-backed so-called Donetsk People's Republic said in a post on the Telegram messaging service that its forces had taken control of the town and replaced the Ukrainian flag with a Russian flag.

Svitlodarsk is 80 kilometres southwest of Sievierodonetsk, the focus of Russian attacks in recent days. 

Hungary imposes state of emergency citing Ukraine conflict

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban has imposed a new state of emergency in the country, citing the challenges posed by the ongoing conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.

Hungary is already under a state of emergency, linked to the Covid pandemic, which was due to expire next Tuesday.

"The world is on the verge of an economic crisis. Hungary must stay out of this war and protect the financial security of its families," the nationalist leader said on Facebook, in comments that raised fresh concerns about the restriction of rights. 

Moscow deliberately slows down offensive in Ukraine - defence minister

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that the country's army is deliberately slowing down its movements in Ukraine to allow civilians to leave the war zone.

Hitting targets of the Ukrainian military, organised in objects of civilian infrastructure, the Russian army uses high-precision weapons to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, Shoigu said, speaking via videoconference at a meeting of the Council of Defense Ministers of the Moscow-led military bloc Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

"Silence regimes are being declared and humanitarian corridors are being created for residents to leave the encircled settlements. Of course, this slows down the pace of the offensive, but it is done deliberately to avoid civilian casualties," he said. 

EU calls for Russia dialogue to unlock Ukraine food exports

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has called for talks with Moscow on unlocking wheat exports that are trapped in Ukraine as a result of a Russian sea blockade.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week accused Russia of using food as a weapon by holding "hostage" supplies for not just Ukrainians, but also millions of people around the world. Moscow rejects this allegation.

"The most important (thing) is to deblock the Black Sea. This is a call on Russia," von der Leyen told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. 

NATO in show of force in the Mediterranean

A deafening stream of fighter jets land and take off from a US aircraft carrier, part of a long-planned NATO exercise in the Mediterranean to show military might while Russia wages war in Ukraine.

"I want us to be as ready as we can possibly be," US Rear Admiral Curt Renshaw, commander of the Carrier Strike Group Eight, told reporters this week on a visit onboard USS Harry S Truman.

"We look at the Russian capability and we look at our own capabilities and then we train to counter what they might do and to defend ourselves and to defend partners and allies." 

Kharkiv metro, a bomb shelter for Ukrainians, resumes services

The metro in Ukraine's second city Kharkiv, which has served as a bomb shelter since the Russian operation started in February, resumed services despite sporadic shelling in the north eastern region.

"We have restarted the Kharkiv metro and almost all its stations today," mayor Igor Terekhov told journalists.

"We decided to relaunch services because we have to relaunch the economy," he said, adding that train rides would be free for the next two weeks.

The Kharkiv metro, with 30 stations, has sheltered thousands of residents seeking to escape indiscriminate shelling on the city, which is adjacent to the Russian border.

EU Russia oil embargo in coming days 'very unlikely'

Budapest is unlikely to drop its opposition to an EU embargo on Russian oil soon and leaders should not discuss the issue at an upcoming summit, Hungary's leader Viktor Orban told Brussels in a letter seen by AFP news agency. 

"Looking at the gravity of the issues still open, it is very unlikely that a comprehensive solution could be found before the special meeting of the European Council on 30-31 May," Orban wrote in the letter to EU chief Charles Michel.

"I am convinced that discussing the sanctions package at the level of leaders in the absence of a consensus would be counterproductive," the letter, dated Monday, said.

Russia sanctions and NATO dominate WEF discussion

An international leaders panel on geopolitics at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos sparked discussions about Russia, sanctions and NATO membership.

On the military threat that Russia poses to Europe, United States Senator Gregory W Meeks said, "the Baltics are at stake, Poland's at stake, NATO's countries are at stake."

Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said one major concern of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East region was food security following the blocking of grain exports from Ukraine by Russia, and the resulting commodity price spikes. 

EU: Russia is using food supplies as a weapon

Russia is using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions, acting the same way as it does in the energy sector, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said.

Speaking at the annual World Economic Forum held in Davos, she said "global cooperation" was the "antidote to Russia's blackmail."

"In Russian-occupied Ukraine, the Kremlin's army is confiscating grain stocks and machinery (...) And Russian warships in the Black Sea are blockading Ukrainian ships full of wheat and sunflower seeds," von der Leyen added.

Ukraine must win this war, and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's aggression must be a strategic failure

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Russia says it's deliberately slowing Ukraine offensive to evacuate civilians

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said Moscow was deliberately slowing its offensive in Ukraine in order to allow civilians to evacuate, RIA news agency has reported.

"Ceasefires are being declared and humanitarian corridors are being created in order to get people out of the surrounded settlements," RIA cited Shoigu as saying. 

"Of course, this slows down the pace of the offensive, but this is done deliberately to avoid casualties among the civilian population."

Russia has not seen Italian peace plan for Ukraine

Russia has not yet seen an Italian peace plan for Ukraine, but hopes to receive it through diplomatic channels, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has said.

"We haven't seen it yet, we hope it will be delivered to us through diplomatic channels and we will familiarise ourselves with it," Peskov said.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio gave the broad outlines of the plan last week. 

It would involve international groups such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe — which would act as facilitators to organise localised ceasefires initially, Di Maio said in Italy last Friday.

Spain's PM: Sweden, Finland to attend the June NATO summit in Madrid

Sweden and Finland will attend the NATO summit in Madrid next month, Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez has said during the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos.

Finland and Sweden said they have been spurred into joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by Russia's February 24 attack against Ukraine, reversing generations of military non-alignment to bring about the biggest shakeup in European security in decades.

The NATO summit will be held in Madrid on June 28-30.

Poland: Crisis could lead to food shortages in Africa

If the conflict in Ukraine causes food shortages in North Africa, this will in turn lead to mass migration to Europe, Poland's President Andrzej Duda has said.

"If it turns out that there is hunger in North Africa... both Spain and the whole of southern Europe will have a huge migration problem," Duda told a panel in Davos. "Today we should focus on Ukraine being able to export its grain."

Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny lambasts Putin's 'stupid war' 

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has lambasted President Vladimir Putin in a live court hearing, casting him as a madman who had started a "stupid war" in Ukraine based on lies.

"This is a stupid war which your Putin started," Navalny, 45, told an appeal court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. "This war was built on lies."

Navalny, by far Russia's most prominent opposition leader, lost an appealing against a nine-year jail sentence he was handed in March for fraud and contempt of court.

Russia says it struck Ukrainian arms depot storing shells

Russia's defence ministry has said that its forces struck an arms depot in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass used to store shells for US-produced M777 howitzers, a type of artillery weapon. 

The ministry also said Russian forces had shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter jet and five drones Monday night and that air defence systems also intercepted four shells fired from the Smerch multiple rocket launcher.

Russia not 'chasing deadlines' in Ukraine

Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev has said that Russia will achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is not "chasing deadlines".

"All the goals set by the President will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise, because truth, including historical truth, is on our side," Patrushev said in an interview with the Russian Argumenty i Fakty newspaper. "We are not chasing deadlines," he added.

Russian gas flows through Ukraine rise

Russian gas deliveries via Ukraine to Europe have risen while eastward flows through the Yamal-Europe pipeline eased.

Nominations for flows into Slovakia from Ukraine via the Velke Kapusany border point stood at 440,480,201 kilowatts per hour, up from 421,455,208 the previous day, data from the Ukrainian transmission system operator showed.

Russian gas producer Gazprom said it continued to supply gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point, with volumes seen at 46.1 million cubic metres (mcm), up from 43 mcm on Monday.

Russia presses east offensive as conflict enters fourth month

Russia has stepped up offensive on the last pocket of resistance around Luhansk in Ukraine's east, as the conflict — which began with Moscow's February 24 incursion — entered its fourth month. 

"The coming weeks of the war will be difficult, and we must be aware of that," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday in his nightly address. "The most difficult fighting situation today is in Donbass," Zelenskyy said, singling out the worst-hit towns of Bakhmut, Popasna and Severodonetsk.

The governor of Luhansk, in Donbass, said Russia has sent thousands of troops to capture his entire region and that Severodonetsk was under massive attack, warning residents that it was too late to evacuate.

At this point I will not say: get out, evacuate. Now I will say: stay in a shelter...Because such a density of shelling will not allow us to calmly gather people and come for them

Luhansk Governor Sergiy Gaidai

Zelenskyy urges allies to pressure Moscow on prisoner swap

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Kiev is ready for an exchange of prisoners with Russia "even tomorrow" and called on his allies to put pressure on Moscow.

"The exchange of people — this is a humanitarian matter today and a very political decision that depends on the support of many states," Zelenskyy said in a question-and-answer video link with audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It is important...to pressure politically on any level, through powerful business, through the closure of businesses, oil embargo...and through these threats actively intensify the exchange of our people for Russian servicemen."

Russia may set up military base in Ukraine's Kherson region

The Russia-appointed administration of Ukraine's Kherson region will ask Moscow to set up a military base on its territory, Russia's RIA news agency has quoted a local official as saying.

Russia attacked Ukraine in February, seizing in particular the Kherson region which is adjacent to Crimea, the peninsula which Moscow annexed in 2014. 

"There should be a Russian military base in the Kherson region," Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of what Russia calls the "civil-military regional administration" of Kherson, told RIA. "We will ask for this and this is what the whole population wants. This is essential and will be a guarantor of security for the region and its inhabitants."

Russia accused of spreading disinformation

The US and Britain have accused Russia of spreading disinformation online and manipulating public opinion about the crisis in Ukraine.

Britain’s deputy ambassador James Roscoe told a UN Security Council meeting on the use of digital technologies in maintaining peace that Russia has conducted cyber-attacks and used “an online troll factory to spread disinformation and manipulate public opinion about their war”.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Russian government “continues to shut down, restrict and degrade internet connectivity, censor content, spread disinformation online, and intimidate and arrest journalists for reporting the truth about its invasion”.

Lavrov: Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West

Russia's foreign minister has said Moscow will consider offers from the West to re-establish ties and determine whether that is needed, but will focus on developing relations with China.

Sergey Lavrov, in a question and answer session at an event in Moscow, said Western countries had espoused "russophobia" since Russia launched its incursion into Ukraine — described by Moscow as a "special military operation".

Russia was working to replace goods imported from Western countries, he said, and in future, would rely only on "reliable" countries not beholden to the West. "If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not," Lavrov said.

We must cease being dependent in any way on supplies of absolutely everything from the West for ensuring the development of critically important sectors for security, the economy or our homeland's social sphere

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Zelenskyy: Russia aims for maximum casualties

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russia is waging "total war" on his country, and that includes inflicting as many casualties and as much infrastructure destruction as possible.

Zelenskyy made the comments in his nightly address, on the eve of the three-month anniversary of Russia's assault on Ukraine. 

In it, he noted that since February 24, the Russian army has launched 1,474 missile strikes on Ukraine, using 2,275 different missiles. He said the vast majority hit civilian targets. There have been more than 3,000 Russian air strikes over that period.

Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

For live updates from Monday (May 23), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies