The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 21. Click here for updates from May 20.
Ukrainian Negotiator Rules Out Ceasefire or Concessions to Russia
Ukraine on Saturday ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire with Russia and said Kyiv would not accept any deal with Moscow that involved ceding territory.
Acknowledging that Kyiv’s stance on the war was becoming more uncompromising, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting.
“The war will not stop [after any concessions]. It will just be put on pause for some time,” he told Reuters in an interview in the heavily guarded presidential office, where some of the windows and corridors are protected by sandbags.
Podolyak dismissed as “very strange” calls in the West for an urgent ceasefire that would involve Russian forces remaining in territory they have occupied in Ukraine’s south and east.
“The [Russian] forces must leave the country and after that the resumption of the peace process will be possible,” he said.
Both sides say peace talks have stagnated. Each blames the other.
Russia Intensifies Push for Donbas
Russia intensified an offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Saturday.
After ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is waging what appears to be a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas.
Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of territory in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk province before the Feb. 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donbas.
Ukrainian forces in those eastern separatist-controlled regions said on Saturday they had repelled nine attacks and destroyed five tanks and 10 other armored vehicles in the previous 24 hours. They said that as of 9 p.m. local time (1800 GMT), there was still fighting in four unspecified locations.
Russian forces were using aircraft, artillery, tanks, rockets, mortars, and missiles along the entire front line to attack civilian structures and residential areas, the Ukrainians said in a Facebook post. At least seven people were killed in the Donetsk region, the forces said.
The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured so far, could be crucial to its ambitions in Donbas. It gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.
The last Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s vast Azovstal steelworks surrendered on Friday, Russia’s defense ministry said.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Talked to Italian PM, Urged More Russia Sanctions
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he talked to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Saturday and stressed the importance of more sanctions on Russia and unblocking Ukrainian ports.
Zelenskyy said in a tweet that he had also thanked Draghi for his “unconditional support” of Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union. Draghi had initiated the call, he said.
Turkey’s Erdogan Discusses Concerns With NATO Hopefuls Sweden and Finland
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has objected to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, held phone calls with the leaders of the two countries on Saturday and discussed his concerns about terrorist organizations.
Turkey 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.
Erdogan told Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that Ankara expected concrete steps to address its concerns, according to the Turkish presidency. He also said an arms exports embargo imposed on Turkey after its Syria incursion in 2019 should be lifted, it added.
Andersson said she appreciated the call and that Sweden hoped to strengthen bilateral relations with Turkey.
“I emphasized that Sweden welcomes the possibility of cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and emphasized that Sweden clearly supports the fight against terrorism and the terrorist listing of the PKK,” she added in a statement.
In another call, Erdogan told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that failing to deal with terrorist organizations that posed a threat to a NATO ally would not suit the spirit of alliance, Ankara said.
Niinisto said he held “open and direct” talks with Erdogan and agreed to continue close dialogue.
All 30 NATO states must give their approval before a new member can be admitted and thus benefit from the collective-security guarantee.
Britain Wants to Arm Moldova to Protect It From Russian Threat: The Telegraph
Britain wants to send modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from the threat of invasion by Russia, The Telegraph reported, citing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
She told the newspaper that Russian President Vladimir Putin was determined to create a “greater Russia” even though his invasion of Ukraine had failed to achieve quick success.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest, is not a member of the NATO alliance.
Truss said talks were taking place to make sure that Moldova’s defenses could deter any future attack.
“I would want to see Moldova equipped to NATO standard. This is a discussion we’re having with our allies,” she told The Telegraph.
“Putin has been absolutely clear about his ambitions to create a greater Russia. And just because his attempts to take Kyiv weren’t successful doesn’t mean he’s abandoned those ambitions,” she said.
If Truss’s plans are adopted, NATO members would provide modern weaponry to Moldova, replacing its Soviet-era equipment, and will train soldiers on how to use it.
Russia Says 963 Americans Are Banned From Entering, Adds 26 New Canadians
Russia said on Saturday it had so far banned 963 Americans from entering the country—including previously announced moves against President Joe Biden and other top officials—and would continue to retaliate against what it called hostile U.S. actions.
The largely symbolic travel bans form part of a downward spiral in Russia’s relations with the West since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which prompted Washington and its allies to impose drastic sanctions on Moscow and step up arms supplies to Ukraine.
Separately, the Foreign Ministry said it had added 26 new names to a list of Canadians it has barred from traveling to Russia, including defense chiefs, defense industry executives, and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Publishing the full list of banned Americans for the first time, the ministry said: “We emphasize that the hostile actions taken by Washington, which boomerang against the United States itself, will continue to receive a proper rebuff.”
It said Russian counter-sanctions were a necessary response aimed at “forcing the ruling American regime, which is trying to impose a neo-colonial ‘rules-based world order’ on the rest of the world, to change its behavior, recognizing new geopolitical realities.”
Russia Stops Gas Flows to Finland Over Payments Dispute
Russia’s Gazprom on Saturday halted gas exports to neighboring Finland, in the latest escalation of an energy payments dispute with Western nations.
Gazprom Export has demanded that European countries pay for Russian gas supplies in roubles because of sanctions imposed over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but Finland refuses to do so.
The move by Gazprom comes at the same time as Finland is applying to join the NATO military alliance, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Gas imports through Imatra entry point have been stopped,” Finnish gas system operator Gasgrid Finland said in a statement on Saturday.
Imatra is the entry point for Russian gas into Finland.
Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum on Friday said Gazprom had warned that flows would be halted from 0400 GMT on Saturday morning.
Gasum and Gazprom also confirmed on Saturday the flows had stopped.
Biden Signs Ukraine Funding Bill: White House
U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a bill to provide nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine as part of efforts to boost military support over Russia’s invasion, the White House said.
Biden, who is in Seoul for his first summit with new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, also signed a bill aimed at improving access to baby formula, the White House said.
Poles Need EU Funds as They Help Ukrainians, Ambassador Says
Ukraine’s ambassador to neighboring Poland says his nation is grateful for the welcome that Poles have given to millions of Ukrainian refugees, but he hopes the European Union will soon release billions of euros to Poland so that the assistance does not come “at the cost of the Polish people.”
Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia said that while there have been no real social tensions in the three months since Ukrainians began crossing into Poland seeking safety, he worries they could appear in the future given the large extent of Polish help.
“I’m worried because I don’t know where the limits of this hospitality, of the hospitality of Polish people, are,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “It’s a warm and healthy welcome. But how long they can keep them? And it’s understandable for me, and it’s also understandable for my compatriots. They understand that there are some limits.”
Wider concerns are also at play. Poland is a major gateway for humanitarian aid and weapons from the West going into Ukraine, and it is working to help Ukraine transport grain and other food to world markets overland and through Baltic Sea ports.
The solution, as Deshchytsia sees it, is for the E.U. to release billions of euros of a pandemic recovery package. That would also have the benefit of preventing a large wave of Ukrainians getting frustrated in Poland and heading elsewhere in the E.U., he argued.
Zelenskyy: Russia Should Pay for Destruction
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy devoted his nightly video address to Ukraine’s demand that Russia be held financially responsible for the damage its forces are inflicting on Ukraine.
Just on Friday, he noted, the Russian army fired a missile at the northeastern Kharkiv region, destroying a cultural center in Lozova, and also hit the cities of Odesa in the south, Poltava in the east, and Zhytomyr in the west.
In the eastern Donbass, where the Russian attack has been fiercest, he said Russian troops turned the towns of Rubizhne and Volnovakha into ruins, just as they did with Mariupol, and were trying to do the same with Severodonetsk.
Zelenskyy said Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital, and business it destroys. He said a legal mechanism should be created through which everyone who suffered from Russia’s actions would be able to receive compensation.
Russian Military Says It Destroys Western Arms Consignment in Ukraine
The Russian military said on Saturday it had destroyed a major consignment of Western arms in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles.
The defense ministry said in a statement the strike took out “a large batch of weapons and military equipment delivered from the USA and European countries” and intended for Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbass region where the fighting is concentrated.
The Epoch Times could not independently verify the report, which also said Russian missiles had struck fuel storage facilities near Odesa on the Black Sea coast and shot down two Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft and 14 drones.
Russia Likely Facing Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles Shortage, UK Says
Russia is likely experiencing a shortage of appropriate reconnaissance Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which it has attempted to use to identify targets to be struck by combat jets or artillery, the British Defense ministry said on Saturday.
Russia is likely experiencing a shortage of appropriate reconnaissance UAVs, which is exacerbated by limitations in its domestic manufacturing capacity resulting from sanctions, the report said.
If Russia continues to lose UAVs at the current rate, Russian Forces intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability will be further degraded negatively impacting operational effectiveness, Britain said in a regular bulletin.
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 offense 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.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.