The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 19. Click here for updates from May 18.
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.
US, France, Sweden, Poland Conduct Military Exercise
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, the country’s defense minister and the U.S. ambassador to Poland, watched a joint military exercise dubbed DEFENDER-Europe 22 by Polish, U.S., French, and Swedish troops in northeastern Poland on Thursday.
The troops’ task was to cross the Narew River near the town of Nowogrod, in a region about two hours’ drive from the borders of Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad and of Russian ally Belarus.
Duda said that, as Ukraine is fighting Russia’s invasion, everyone is “aware of the potential threat” in the region.
Duda said the exercise—which had been planned earlier—would help “show the cooperation and the efficiency of NATO in collective defense.”
Biden Says Finland, Sweden ‘Meet Every NATO Requirement’
President Joe Biden on May 19 wholeheartedly backed the bids of Finland and Sweden for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership, saying the two countries meet every requirement for joining the alliance.
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” Biden said in prepared remarks in the White House’s Rose Garden.
Having two new members in northern Europe “will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board,” he added.
Top US, Russian Generals Speak for First Time Since Ukraine Invasion
The top U.S. military officer, General Mark Milley, spoke by telephone with Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the Pentagon said on Thursday, the first conversation between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” said a spokesman for Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private,” the spokesman added.
The U.S. military readout did not mention any specific issues that were discussed.
RIA news agency, citing the Russian defense ministry, said the two military leaders discussed issues of “mutual interest,” including Ukraine.
The call took place after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart last week, and the Pentagon chief called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.
The United States and Russia have established a hotline since the invasion—which Moscow calls a “special military operation”—began on Feb. 24 to prevent miscalculation and any widening of the conflict.
Blinken Accuses Russia of Using Food as a Weapon in Ukraine
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Thursday of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding “hostage” the food supply for not just millions of Ukrainians, but also millions around the world who rely on Ukrainian exports.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Blinken appealed to Russia to stop blockading Ukrainian ports. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 to carry out what Moscow calls a “special military operation.”
“The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not – to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” he said. “The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military.”
The war in Ukraine has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer to soar.
NATO Head ‘Confident’ of Sweden, Finland Bid
Turkey’s leader opposes having Sweden and Finland join NATO, but the military alliance’s top official says he expects the issue to be resolved and the two Nordic nations to become members soon.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he was ”confident that we will come to a quick decision to welcome both Sweden and Finland to join the NATO family.”
Stoltenberg told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark that “we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed.”
Turkey’s approval of Finland and Sweden’s application to join the Western military alliance is crucial because NATO makes decisions by consensus.
Twitter to Tackle Ukraine Conflict Misinformation With Warning Labels
Twitter will begin placing warning notices in front of some misleading content regarding the conflict in Ukraine and limit the spread of claims debunked by humanitarian groups or other credible sources, the social media company said on Thursday.
The step-up against misinformation around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” is part of a new policy that outlines how Twitter will approach misinformation during crises.
Social media platforms have faced increasing scrutiny over how they determine and handle misinformation. Twitter has agreed to sell itself to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who has said he believes the site should be a platform for free speech.
The new warning notices will alert users that a tweet has violated Twitter’s rules, but still allow people to view and comment. The platform will not amplify or recommend such tweets and retweeting will also be disabled.
The approach could be “a more effective way to intervene to prevent harm, while still preserving and protecting speech on Twitter,” said Yoel Roth, head of safety and integrity at Twitter, during a call with reporters.
Macron Reiterated Concerns About Risk of Ukraine’s War Spreading to Surrounding Countries
French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated concerns about the risk of the war in Ukraine spreading to surrounding countries, as he hosted the president of Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor.
Macron said Thursday that “a spread of the conflict to neighboring countries cannot be excluded” pointing to “recent incidents” in the Transnistria region of Moldova, where Russian troops are already stationed and where there have been explosions.
“France remains particularly alert to the security situation in the region,” the French leader said.
He praised Moldova’s help for refugees from Ukraine. The small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic is coping with an influx of refugees. Macron appealed to European leaders to give a rapid initial response to Moldova’s application to join the European Union.
UN Nuclear Watchdog: New Wildfires Near Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Not Posing Radioactive Threat to People
The U.N. nuclear watchdog says Ukraine has informed it new wildfires near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant don’t pose a radioactive threat to people.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Kyiv told it gamma dose rate levels near the plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, were “not exceeding the reference levels.”
It said previous experience suggests such fires could lead to a “very small increase” of radioactive concentration in the air but the IAEA supports Ukraine’s assessment that it wouldn’t endanger human health. It noted “spontaneous fires” often occur in the area this time of year.
Russian forces took control of Chernobyl at the beginning of the invasion in February and withdrew at the end of March.
Germany’s Scholz Confident Sweden, Finland Will Join NATO
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday he was confident that Sweden and Finland would succeed in joining the NATO defence alliance and that Germany was doing everything possible to make that happen.
At a news conference with his Dutch counterpart, Scholz reiterated that Germany welcomed the Nordic countries’ bids and said he had the impression many other countries shared his view.
“If you identify a general will, then it is that Sweden and Finland should quickly become members so I am confident that the many efforts that are underway to enable a joint decision will be successful,” Scholz said.
Kremlin: Residents of Areas in Ukraine Controlled by Russia Should Determine Their Future Status
The Kremlin says it will be up to residents of areas in Ukraine controlled by Russian troops to determine their future status.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that people living in such places must “determine how and with whom they want to live.”
Peskov made the statement during a conference call with reporters after being asked about some Russian officials saying that Russia could move to incorporate the captured Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
The Kremlin spokesman responded by saying that authorities need to focus on providing basic services to the residents of areas under Russian control.
Asked about a plan reportedly proposed by Italy for a political settlement of the fighting in Ukraine, Peskov said the Kremlin was unaware of it but only learned about it from media reports.
G-7 to Tackle Food Security Amid Ukraine War
The Group of Seven countries is launching a new Global Alliance for Food Security that is aimed in part at addressing the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said Thursday after meeting her counterparts from the G-7’s major economies that the aim is to better coordinate the efforts of aid donors and to ensure that looming crises don’t get overlooked.
She said the G-7 will seek to bring as many partners on board as possible, including emerging countries that may have supplies. The alliance “is really open. It’s not a closed club,” Schulze said. The World Bank is helping to implement the project.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a sharp increase in food and energy prices. Both countries are big exporters of wheat, barley, and sunflower oil.
Moscow Says Opening Ukraine Ports Would Need Review of Sanctions on Russia: Interfax
Moscow said on Thursday that sanctions on Russia would have to be reviewed if it were to heed a U.N. appeal to open access to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports so that grain could be exported, according to an Interfax news agency report.
U.N. food chief David Beasley appealed on Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: “If you have any heart at all, please open these ports.”
Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain producers, used to export most of its goods through its seaports, but since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.
As NATO Member, Finland Will Commit to Turkey’s Security, Finnish President Says
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Thursday vowed to commit to Turkey’s security when and if his country becomes a NATO member, and said Finland was open to discussing Ankara’s concerns over its membership bid.
Speaking at the White House, where President Joe Biden is hosting the leaders of Finland and Sweden following their formal application for NATO membership, Niinisto said his country was already in discussions to address Turkey’s concerns and that those conversations would continue in the coming days.
“Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey. As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will commit to our security,” Niinisto said.
“We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner,” he said.
Ukraine’s PM and G-7 Finance Ministers Discuss Steps to Recover From War
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Thursday he and the finance ministers of the Group of Seven rich nations had discussed “practical steps” to help Ukraine recover from the war with Russia.
“Ukraine protects the whole civilized world. Support of partners will speed up our victory,” he wrote on Twitter without giving details. “Despite Russia’s efforts to destroy our economy, together we will win!”
In a separate statement, the government said Shmyhal also sought more financial aid to cover Ukraine’s monthly budget deficit of around $5 billion.
“We need at least $15 billion over the next three months to cover these needs. For us, this is as important as the weapons that you provide to fight Russian aggression,” the statement quoted Shmyhal as saying.
He also welcomed the proposal of the European Commission to provide Ukraine with 9 billion euros ($9.51 billion) in macro-financial assistance.
Ukraine also hopes for an early decision by the United States about a $40 billion aid package, of which up to $9 billion could be allocated to the budget, the statement said.
Turkey’s President Says No to Sweden’s and Finland’s Bid to Join NATO
Turkey’s president emphasized his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, stating Ankara would say “no” to their bid.
Speaking to a group of Turkish youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two countries—and especially Sweden—of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” The video of their conversation was released Thursday.
Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stems from Turkey’s grievances with Stockholm’s—and to a lesser degree with Helsinki’s—perceived support for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses them of harboring the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey’s approval is crucial because the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus. Each of its 30 member countries can veto who can join.
Portugal Says Russia Expelling Its Diplomats
The Portuguese government says Russia is expelling five diplomats from its Moscow embassy, a day after the Kremlin also expelled diplomats from Spain, France, and Italy.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Russia’s decision was “unjustified” and merely a tit-for-tat step after Portugal last month expelled Russian diplomats from the Lisbon embassy.
“Unlike the Russian staff expelled from Portugal, these Portuguese staff members were involved in strictly diplomatic tasks,” a Portuguese Foreign Ministry statement said.
Zelenskyy’s Adviser: No Cease-Fire Until All Russian Troops Pull Back
An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the country won’t accept any cease-fire until all the Russian troops pull back.
Thursday’s statement from Mykhailo Podolyak, who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, reflects an increasingly confident stand taken by Ukraine as it has fought the Russian offensive to an effective standstill.
“Do not offer us a ceasefire—this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. In a reference to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Podolyak wrote: “Ukraine is not interested in new ‘Minsk’ and the war renewal in a few years.”
Several Ukrainian officials have recently issued similar statements. Podolyak didn’t specify what would constitute “total” withdrawal.
He added that “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”
Switzerland to Reopen Kyiv Embassy After 2 1/2 Months
Switzerland is reopening its embassy in Kyiv, with five staff members, including the ambassador, set to return to the Ukrainian capital over the next few days, said the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).
The decision to reopen the embassy after it was temporarily closed two and a half months ago was based on an in-depth analysis of the security situation, added the FDFA.
Senate Confirms Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine
The Senate confirmed Bridget Brink late Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, filling the post as officials plan to return American diplomats to Kyiv during the nation’s continuing battle against the Russian invasion.
The veteran foreign service officer, who has spent most of her career in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, was nominated to the position last month by President Joe Biden.
Brink was confirmed by the Senate unanimously without a formal roll call vote.
American diplomats evacuated Kyiv when the war began three months ago, but Brink told senators during her confirmation hearing earlier this month that she would work to reopen the embassy.
NATO Has No Plans for Nuclear Arms or Bases in Finland, PM Tells Paper
The NATO alliance has not expressed any interest in placing nuclear weapons or permanent bases in Finland, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told an Italian newspaper in an interview published on Thursday during a visit to Rome.
“There isn’t even interest (within NATO) to put nuclear weapons or bases in Finland,” Marin told daily Corriere della Sera, her office said.
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but face objections from Turkey to an accession process that was originally expected to be relatively rapid.
Marin, on a visit to Rome to meet with Italian counterpart Mario Draghi, said she believed the matter could be solved through dialogue.
“I think at this stage it is important to stay calm, to have discussions with Turkey and all other member countries, answering questions that may exist and correcting any misunderstandings,” Marin told the newspaper.
She also said the question of NATO deploying nuclear weapons or opening bases in Finland was not part of Helsinki’s membership negotiations with the Western military alliance.
Japan to Double Fiscal Support for Ukraine to $600 Million
Japan will double fiscal aid for Ukraine to $600 million in a coordinated move with the World Bank to back the country’s near-term fiscal necessities damaged by Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Thursday.
“Our country stands with Ukraine,” Kishida said, adding Japan will emphasize its fundamental stance to provide strong support to Ukraine with other nations in next week’s U.S.-Japan summit and broader Quad group meeting with Australia and India.
Japan, a member of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, had previously announced $300 million in loans to Ukraine in April.
Japan has also joined other G-7 countries and allies in sanctioning Russia for what Moscow calls a special military operation in Ukraine, by freezing assets as well as banning certain export and import items, including energy resources.
Russia Uses New Laser Weapons in Ukraine
Russia on Wednesday said it was using a new generation of powerful laser weapons in Ukraine to burn up drones, deploying some of Moscow’s secret weapons to counter a flood of Western arms supplied to its former Soviet neighbor.
President Vladimir Putin in 2018 unveiled an array of new weapons including a new intercontinental ballistic missile, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon, and a new laser weapon.
Little is known about the specifics of the new laser weapons. Putin mentioned one called Peresvet, named after medieval Orthodox warrior monk Alexander Peresvet who perished in mortal combat.
Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) above Earth.
He said, though, that there were already more powerful Russian systems than Peresvet that could burn up drones and other equipment. Borisov cited a test on Tuesday which he said had burned up a drone 5 kilometers (3 miles) away within five seconds.
“If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target—thermal destruction, they burn up,” Borisov told Russian state television.
Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira.”
Almost nothing is publicly known about Zadira but in 2017 Russian media said Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, helped develop it as part of a program to create weapons-based new physical principles, known by the Russian acronym ONFP.
Official: US in Talks With Sweden, Finland
A senior defense official says U.S. Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia as both move toward NATO membership.
The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.
There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defense.
Sullivan Says Biden Asked National Security About the Risks and Benefits of Finland and Sweden Joining NATO
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says Biden asked his national security team and cabinet principals about the risks and benefits of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
He said the team “emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden.”
Sullivan said Finland and Sweden won’t be covered by NATO’s mutual defense agreement until all 30 members have ratified the accession, but U.S. and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.