The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 16. Click here for updates from May 15.
Lviv Is Rocked by a Number of Loud Explosions
The western Ukrainian city of Lviv has been rocked by number of very loud explosions.
An Associated Press team in the city witnessed the glare of bright explosions which lit up the night sky to the west of the city shortly after midnight local time. Witnesses counted at least eight explosions accompanied by distant booms. The smell of burning was apparent some time later. The city is currently under curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Makysym Kozytskyy, chairman of the Lviv Regional Military Administration, said the Russians had fired on military infrastructure in the Yavoriv district. The city of Yavoriv is about 15 kilometers (less than 10 miles) from the Polish border.
Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, said on Facebook that there was no confirmed information about the missiles hitting the city.
“Let’s thank those who protect our sky for this!,” Sadovyi said. “In the morning we will give more accurate information. Take care of yourself and do not ignore air alarms!”
Moscow Says G7 Attempts to Isolate Russia Make Global Food Crisis Worse
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday that attempts by the West and the G7 group of nations in particular to isolate Moscow have worsened global food shortages.
G7 foreign ministers promised on Saturday to reinforce Russia’s economic and political isolation, continue supplying weapons to Ukraine and work to ease food shortages stemming from Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor.
“Attempts to divert Russia economically, financially and logistically from long-standing channels of international cooperation are only exacerbating economic and food crises,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
“It should be noted that it was the unilateral actions of Western countries, primarily from the Group of Seven, that exacerbated the problem of breaking the logistics and financial chains of food supplies to world markets.”
Before the war Ukraine and Russia combined accounted for about 29 percent of wheat production for the world market.
Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
US Backs UN Push to Get Ukraine Grain Back to Global Market
The United States supports efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to get Ukrainian grain back into the international marketplace amid the war, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday.
“He has spoken to us about his plans and his discussions with the Ukrainians and the Russians on this issue,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters without giving further details.
After visiting Moscow and Kyiv late last month, Guterres said he was determined to help bring back to world markets the agriculture production of Ukraine and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus despite the war.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Guterres has asked Russia to allow the shipment of some Ukrainian grain in return for moves to help facilitate Russian and Belarusian exports of potash fertilizer.
Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, declined to comment. Russia’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Austria Says EU Will Find Agreement on Russia Sanctions in the Next Days
Austria expects the European Union to agree on a sixth sanctions package on Russia in the coming days, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Monday.
“I am confident that we will manage to get the sixth sanctions package done in the next days,” Schallenberg told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.
“It is clear that there still is a certain need for discussion but I believe we should aim to have these discussions where they belong, at the council, in order not give an image of disaccord in public. Russia is watching us.”
Mariupol Steelworks Defenders Appear to Signal End of Siege
The Ukrainian unit holed up beneath the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol said on Monday its garrison was fulfilling orders to save the lives of troops, an apparent indication that the long siege there was coming to an end.
The fighting at Azovstal in ruined Mariupol has symbolized Ukrainian resistance throughout Russia’s nearly 3-month-old invasion. Most civilians who had sought shelter at the vast Soviet-era plant were evacuated earlier this month.
“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov Regiment said in a social media post.
In an accompanying video, one of the unit’s senior commanders, Denys Prokopenko, said: “The main thing is to realize all the risks, is there a plan B, are you fully committed to that plan which must allow for fulfilling the assigned tasks and preserve the lives and health of personnel?”
“This is the highest level of overseeing troops. All the more so when your decision is endorsed by the highest military command.”
Prokopenko did not spell out what action the defenders were taking. The video was released hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk.
Turkey Opposes Finland and Sweden Joining NATO: Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country opposes Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance after both nations’ leaders announced they would pursue it.
“First of all, we would not say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey to join NATO, a security organization, during this process,” Erdogan said Monday, according to state-run Anadolu news. The Turkish leader said that Sweden and Finland should not bother to send diplomats to Ankara in a bid to convince him, either.
Both Sweden and Finland have remained mostly neutral since the end of World War II. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has triggered leaders of both countries to increasingly maneuver toward NATO membership.
Nine Civilians Killed in Russian Attacks in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region: Governor
Nine civilians were killed by Russian attacks on Monday in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, the region’s governor said.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, in a post on the Telegram messaging app, said nine residents were killed and six injured.
The Epoch Times was not able to independently verify the report.
West Will Not Allow Russia a ‘Diktat Peace’ in Ukraine, Says Germany’s Scholz
Russia will not get away with trying to redraw Ukraine’s borders by creating facts on the ground and waiting out Kyiv and its allies, Olaf Scholz said, insisting that the West would not stand for a “diktat,” or dictated, peace forced on the country.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that Kyiv would not trade territory for peace with Russia, telling Italy’s RAI television that he had been asked by French President Emmanuel Macron to consider doing so.
The French government has denied that any such suggestion had been made. On Monday, Scholz said that such stealth border changes would not be accepted by the West if Ukraine objected to them.
“There is only one way out of this for Russia and that is reaching an agreement with Ukraine,” he told RTL television. “And that doesn’t mean a diktat peace, taking a bit of territory and then saying ‘sign here.’
“And it also won’t work as in the case of Crimea, where the war is over in the sense that there is no more shooting, but a new border has been drawn, and then they wait until everything goes back to normal,” he added.
Poland’s Agriculture Minister: Ukraine’s Grain Exports Could Be Routed Through Poland
Poland’s agriculture minister said Monday that Ukraine’s grain exports could be routed through Poland as long as Russia’s war prevents them from departing Black Sea ports.
Henryk Kowalczyk, the agriculture minister and a deputy prime minister, spoke in Warsaw alongside U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Ukraine’s agriculture secretary and the European Union’s commission for agriculture, who is Polish.
Ukraine is a bread basket whose exports to world markets have been disrupted, threatening to exacerbate food shortages, hunger, and inflation across the world.
Vilsack denounced Russia’s theft of Ukraine’s grain and its use of hunger as a tool of war. He said the United States would do what it could to prevent Russia from profiting from the theft.
Kowalczyk said that Poland’s ports on the Baltic Sea are prepared to be put to use to transport Ukraine’s grain abroad.
Putin Sees No Threat From NATO Expansion, Warns Against Military Build-Up
President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that there was no threat to Russia if Sweden and Finland joined NATO but cautioned that Moscow would respond if the U.S.-led alliance bolstered military infrastructure in the new Nordic members.
Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, has repeatedly cited the post-Soviet enlargement of the NATO alliance eastwards toward Russia’s borders as a reason for the conflict in Ukraine.
But Putin, who has in recent months rattled Russia’s nuclear saber at the West over Ukraine, made an unusually calm response to Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, the biggest strategic consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to date.
“As to enlargement, Russia has no problem with these states—none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion (of NATO) to include these countries,” Putin told the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states.
Putin, though, laced his newly found tranquility on NATO with a warning.
“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response,” Putin said.
“What that (response) will be—we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin told the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Hungary to Resist Sanctions on Russian Oil
As European Union leaders continue to push for an embargo on Russian oil, Hungary’s prime minister insisted Monday that his country would not support any sanctions that negatively affect Hungary’s energy security.
In a speech in Hungary’s parliament, nationalist leader Viktor Orban said Hungary would not block EU sanctions as long as they “don’t go beyond the red line of Hungary’s economic protection. That is, as long as they don’t jeopardize Hungary’s energy security.”
Orban said that EU leaders are “convinced that European sanctions can force Russia to its knees … but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember any continental blockade ever being successful.”
Orban’s government has remained firm in its rejection of sanctions on Russian energy exports.
Earlier EU offers to Hungary to extend the deadline for dropping Russian oil from its energy mix have not swayed the government in Budapest.
McConnell Says the US Would Move Quickly to Approve Sweden’s Application to Join the NATO Military Alliance
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says the U.S. would move quickly to approve Sweden’s application to join the NATO military alliance.
McConnell said during a press conference in Stockholm that while other countries in the Western alliance may be able to approve Sweden’s application sooner, he had no doubt it will be approved in the U.S. Congress, likely by August.
“We anticipate moving this rapid—in a more rapid fashion than past applications for NATO,” McConnell said.
“We hope to approve it before August,” he said. “We are confident it will be approved.”
Russian Defense Ministry: Agreement Being Organized for Injured Ukrainian Troops at Azovstal Steel Plant to Leave for Medical Treatment
The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday said there is an agreement for injured Ukrainian troops at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to leave the plant for medical treatment under a local cease-fire.
The Defense Ministry on Monday said in a statement that following talks with Ukrainian representatives at the site a so-called humanitarian corridor would be organized to transport wounded troops to a medical facility in the town of Novoazovsk. That town has been held by Russia-backed separatists since before the wider invasion of Ukrainian territory in February.
There was no word on whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Ukrainian side. It was not clear how many wounded Ukrainians might leave the site and if any had so far done so.
Russian Shelling Kills 10 Civilians in Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk: Regional Governor
At least 10 civilians were killed by Russian shelling of the city of Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine on Monday, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.
Gaidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, had said earlier on Monday that heavy shelling had caused fires in residential areas.
Ukrainian Court Seizes Assets of Russian Billionaire Mikhail Fridman: Prosecutor General
A Ukrainian court has seized assets of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman worth 12.4 billion hryvnias ($420 million), Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Monday.
She wrote on Facebook that the assets were securities in Cypriot companies that were held in Ukraine. Fridman has been sanctioned by the European Union as part of the EU’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s President Discusses Need for Financial Support With IMF’s Georgieva
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday he had discussed the need for financial support for Ukraine’s economy during a video conference with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
“The IMF is our important partner. We look forward to further fruitful joint work in maintaining financial stability of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.
Zelenskyy’s office said in a statement after the video conference that he had asked for financial support to be sped up for the country, which is trying to fend off Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
He said the state budget faced a monthly deficit of about $5 billion because the government had to increase war-related spending while revenues have shrunk as many businesses have shut down and stopped paying taxes.
Zelenskyy also stressed the importance of financial support to Ukraine from partner countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union, his office said.
Ukraine’s President Replaces Head of Territorial Defense Forces
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has replaced the head of its Territorial Defense Forces nearly three months into the war with Russia without giving a reason.
The Defense Ministry said on Monday Zelenskyy had appointed Major General Ihor Tantsyura to take over from Yuriy Halushkin as commander of the forces that are helping the Ukrainian army defend the country following Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
The ministry described Tantsyura as an experienced officer who was previously chief of staff of Ukraine’s ground forces.
It said the Territorial Defense Forces had grown rapidly since being established shortly before the invasion and were playing an important role in the conflict with Russia.
EU to Offer Ukraine New Loans to Plug Immediate Needs
The European Commission is set to propose on Wednesday a new package of financial aid to Ukraine including new loans to provide immediate liquidity to Kyiv and commitments for the long-term financing of the country’s reconstruction, officials said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in April that Ukraine needed around $5 billion dollars a month for at least three months to plug the immediate financial shortfall caused by Russia’s invasion.
The Fund’s chief, Kristalina Georgieva, has called for this support to come in the form of grants rather than loans.
The scale of EU support will depend also on how much G7 countries are willing to contribute. A meeting of finance ministers of the Group of Seven major economies is scheduled in the second half of this week, just after the Commission is expected to unveil its proposals.
A spokesperson for the Commission declined to comment on the new package.
McDonald’s to Sell Its Russian Business, Try to Keep Workers
More than three decades after it became the first American fast food restaurant to open in the Soviet Union, McDonald’s said Monday that it has started the process of selling its business in Russia, another symbol of the country’s increasing isolation over its war in Ukraine.
The company, which has 850 restaurants in Russia that employ 62,000 people, pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, saying holding on to its business in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.”
The Chicago-based fast-food giant said in early March that it was temporarily closing its stores in Russia but would continue to pay its employees. Without naming a prospective Russian buyer, McDonald’s said Monday that it would seek one to hire its workers and pay them until the sale closes.
CEO Chris Kempczinski said the “dedication and loyalty to McDonald’s” of employees and hundreds of Russian suppliers made it a difficult decision to leave.
“However, we have a commitment to our global community and must remain steadfast in our values,” Kempczinski said in a statement, “and our commitment to our values means that we can no longer keep the arches shining there.”
Sweden Ends Neutrality, Joins Finland in Seeking NATO Berth
Sweden’s prime minister announced Monday that Sweden will join Finland in seeking NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The historic shift, which comes after more than 200 years of military nonalignment in the Nordic country, is likely to upset Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.
The announcement came after a debate in Riksdagen, or Parliament, earlier Monday showed that there is a huge support for joining NATO. Out of Sweden’s eight parties, only two smaller left-leaning parties opposed it.
On Sunday, the Swedish Social Democrats broke with the party’s long-standing position that Sweden must remain nonaligned, paving the way for a clear majority for NATO membership in the parliament.
The move in Sweden came after neighboring Finland announced Sunday that it too would seek to join the 30-country alliance.
US Could Ratify Finnish NATO Membership Before August, Senate Republican Leader Says
The U.S. Congress will seek to ratify Finland’s application to join the Western military alliance NATO before going on holiday in August, U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in Helsinki after meeting with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto.
Canada, NATO’s other North American ally, also promised a quick ratification.
“Certainly we hope to achieve it before the August recess when Congress typically goes out of session,” McConnell told reporters on Monday.
Niinisto confirmed on Sunday that Finland would apply for NATO membership, in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Sweden is also planning to join.
McConnell said there was broad bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers for Finnish membership.
“With regard to the size of the vote, it will be very significant. Not unanimous, but very significant,” he said.
McConnell stressed the Republican Party’s commitment to continued U.S. participation in the military alliance.
Putin Says Russia Will Respond If NATO Bolsters Sweden, Finland Militarily
President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Monday that Russia would respond if NATO began to bolster the military infrastructure of Sweden and Finland which have both decided to join the U.S. military alliance after the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since the last day of 1999, has repeatedly cited the post-Soviet enlargement of the NATO alliance eastwards toward Russia’s borders as a reason for the conflict in Ukraine.
Speaking to the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states, Putin said the enlargement of NATO was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation.
Russia, Putin said, had no problem with Finland or Sweden, so there was no direct threat from NATO enlargement which included those countries.
Russia Closely Following Progress of Finnish, Swedish NATO Bids: Kremlin
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Monday said Russia was closely following Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance, and was convinced that their accession would in no way strengthen Europe’s security architecture.
Earlier on Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying the West should not think Moscow would simply put up with the expansion of NATO, casting it as a mistake that would stoke military tension.
EU’s Top Diplomats: No Quick Guarantee on Russia’s Sanction
The European Union’s top diplomat says there is no guarantee that the 27-nation bloc will be able to quickly agree on a new set of sanctions against Russia, as a small group of countries led by Hungary oppose an oil embargo.
The European Commission proposed on May 4 a sixth package of Ukraine war sanctions that included a ban on oil imports from Russia. Hungary is one of a number of landlocked countries that are highly dependent on Russian oil, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says “we will do our best in order to deblock the situation. I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because positions are quite strong.” His remarks Monday came as he prepared to chair a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.
Sweden Seeks to Overcome Turkish Objections to Its NATO Bid
Sweden will start diplomatic discussions with Turkey to try to overcome Ankara’s objections to its plan to join NATO, Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said, with a formal decision to apply for membership of the 30-nation alliance expected on Monday.
Sweden’s governing Social Democrats dropped their 73-year opposition to joining NATO on Sunday and are hoping for a quick accession, following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson will hold a press conference at 1300 GMT on Monday at which she is expected to officially announce plans for a NATO application, and Sweden’s top military chief Micael Byden will hold a press conference at 1430 GMT.
The decision to abandon the military non-alignment that has been a central part of Swedish national identity for more than 200 years marks a sea change in public perceptions in the Nordic region following Russia’s attack on its neighbor.
Ukraine Says Russia Attempt in North Repelled
Ukrainian border guards say they repelled a Russian attempt Monday morning to send troops into the northern Sumy region, which is outside the current focus of fighting.
The border guard service said Russian forces deployed mortars, grenade launchers, and machine guns in an attempt to cover a “sabotage and reconnaissance group” crossing the border from Russia.
The border guard service said its officers returned fire and forced the Russian group to retreat back across the border into Russia.
The area is largely rural and hasn’t seen intense fighting in more than a month. Russian troops moved through the Sumy region early in the war in an attempt to join up with forces around the capital, Kyiv, but they retreated in early April to focus on fighting in eastern Ukraine.
There was no immediate word from Russia about the incident described by Ukraine.
Renault Carmaker Says It Is Selling the Russian Branch to Moscow City
French carmaker Renault says it is selling its Russian branch to Moscow City and its stake in Russian company Avtovaz to a local state-owned institute.
Renault said Monday its board of directors approved the deal to sell its 67.69 percent stake in Avtovaz, the company making Lada, to NAMI, the scientific research automobile and automotive engine institute of the Russian Federation.
The agreement provides for a 6-year option for Renault to buy back its stake in Avtovaz.
The CEO of Renault Group, Luca de Meo, called it “a difficult but necessary decision.”
He says “we are making a responsible choice towards our 45,000 employees in Russia while preserving the Group’s performance and our ability to return to the country in the future, in a different context.”
Canada Says It Supports Plans From Finland and Sweden to Join NATO
Canada says it supports plans from Finland and Sweden to join NATO amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Melanie Joly, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, spoke Monday in Brussels ahead of meeting with the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell.
Joly said Canada is in favor of a “quick accession” for both countries. “Our goal is to be among the first countries to be able to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland,” she said. That process in the past has taken eight months to a year.
Ukraine Forces Claim to Have Reached Russia Border
Ukraine on Sunday released footage it said showed its troops reaching the border with Russia and reinstalling a blue and yellow border post.
The location wasn’t specified, but some reports suggested the footage may have been filmed in the Kharkiv region.
The video’s release came as Ukraine said it held off Russian offensives in the east, with Western military officials saying that Moscow’s campaign there had slowed to a snail’s pace.
The Ukrainian military said it held off a renewed offensive in the Dontesk area of the Donbass.
Russian troops also tried to advance near the eastern city of Izyum, but Ukrainian forces stopped them, the governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region reported.
Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped soldiers are based in eastern Ukraine, where they have fought Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.
Russia Says It Strikes Ukraine Positions in Battle for Donbas
Russia pummeled positions in the east of Ukraine on Sunday, its defense ministry said, as it sought to encircle Ukrainian forces in the battle for Donbas and fend off a counteroffensive around the strategic Russian-controlled city of Izium.
Since mid-April, Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on trying to capture two eastern provinces known as the Donbas after failing to take Kyiv.
Russia’s defense ministry said rockets had hit two command points, 11 company positions, and four artillery stores in four regions of the eastern Donetsk region, some deep in Ukrainian-controlled territory between Donetsk and Izium.
The defense ministry said Russian forces had hit areas near the cities of Baxmut and Kostyantynivka.
Russia also destroyed two S-300 missile systems and a radar post in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine, the defense ministry said.
Russia said that since the start of the military operation, its forces had destroyed 165 aircraft, 125 helicopters, 879 unmanned aerial vehicles, 306 anti-aircraft missile systems, and 3,098 tanks and other armored combat vehicles.
NATO Chief Stoltenberg: Ukraine Can Win This War
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is failing and its operation in the Donbas region has stalled, NATO’s secretary general said on Sunday.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned. They failed to take Kyiv,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters by video link. “They are pulling back from Kharkiv and their major offensive in Donbas has stalled.”
“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to step up its military support to the country.
Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.