Russia–Ukraine War (May 31): US Agrees to Send Advanced Rockets to Ukraine

Russia–Ukraine War (May 31): US Agrees to Send Advanced Rockets to Ukraine
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on May 31, 2022. (Saul Toeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 31. Click here for updates from May 30.

US Agrees to Send Advanced Rockets to Ukraine

Russian troops fought to take complete control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday as the United States said it will provide Ukraine with advanced rockets to help it force Moscow to negotiate an end to the war.

President Joe Biden said the United States would provide Ukraine with more advanced rocket systems and munitions so it can “more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield”.

“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” Biden wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

A senior Biden administration official said weaponry provided would include the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which Ukraine‘s armed forces chief said a month ago was “crucial” to counter Russian missile attacks.

Addressing concerns that such weapons could draw the United States into a direct conflict with Russia, senior administration officials said Ukraine gave assurances the missiles would not be used to strike inside Russia.

“These systems will be used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory, but they will not be used on targets in Russian territory,” the U.S. official told reporters.


Sievierodonetsk Mayor Says Russian Forces Seize Half of City

Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of Sievierodonetsk, the eastern Ukrainian city that is key to Moscow’s efforts to complete the capture of the industrial Donbas region, the mayor said Tuesday.

“The city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk said. He said heavy street fighting continued and artillery barrages threatened the lives of the estimated 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined city that once was home to more than 100,000.

A Russian airstrike on Sievierodonetsk hit a tank of nitric acid at a chemical factory, causing a huge leak of fumes, according to Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region. He posted a picture of a big cloud hanging over the city and urged residents to stay inside and wear gas masks or improvised ones.

Haidai said later Tuesday that “most of Sievierodonetsk” was under Russian control, though he added that fierce fighting continued and the city wasn’t surrounded.

Sievierodonetsk is important to Russian efforts to capture the Donbas before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defense. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the region for eight years and held swaths of territory even before the invasion.


No Farm Trade Barriers, European Union Warns

The European Union urged its international partners to avoid placing trade barriers on farm products as the war in Ukraine risks further fueling a possible global food crisis.

“We call on all partners not to restrict trade on agricultural products,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after an EU summit Tuesday in Brussels.

Ukraine has said Russia is blocking the export of 22 million tons of its grain, some of it destined for Africa. African countries imported 44 percent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to the U.N.

Von der Leyen said the EU is trying to help get food out by road and rail, but land transport assistance might only provide for a fifth of Ukraine’s usual monthly exports.

“It is of course more tedious and expensive, but it is necessary to get this wheat out,” she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the EU’s sanctions are making things worse. Putin said he’s willing to help ease concerns if the restrictive measures are lifted


Greece, Germany Partner on Ukraine Weapons

Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany is working on a deal with Greece that would see Athens deliver old military equipment to Ukraine and get armored personnel carriers from Germany to fill the gap.

Germany has faced criticism for a perceived reluctance to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, which the government rejects. It points among other things to arrangements for NATO allies to deliver older equipment—particularly of Soviet design—to Kyiv and then have modern material supplied by Germany.

Scholz pointed Tuesday to an arrangement already made with the Czech Republic. He said he had agreed with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to draw up a similar deal after a European Union summit. He didn’t give details, but said it will be finalized by the countries’ defense ministries and can be implemented quickly.

Scholz said he also spoke to his Polish counterpart about such arrangements.


Ukraine Jails Two Russian Soldiers to Over 11 Years for
Alleged Shelling of Civilians

A Ukrainian court sentenced two captured Russian soldiers to 11 and a half years in jail on Tuesday for allegedly shelling a town in eastern Ukraine, the second “war crimes” verdict since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, who listened to the verdict standing in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelevska district court in central Ukraine, both pleaded guilty last week.

Prosecutors had asked for 12 years, but defense lawyers said the sentence should be eight years, taking into account that the soldiers had pleaded guilty and expressed remorse, and had been following orders.

On May 23, a Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for allegedly killing an unarmed civilian.

Kyiv has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.


Russia Slams Sanctions, Seeks to Blame West for Food Crisis

Russia’s top diplomat has again blamed the hampering of exports of Ukrainian grain and a global food crisis on Kyiv and the West.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia guarantees “free export of Ukrainian grain by ships that are now locked in Ukrainian ports,” but first Ukraine needs to “de-mine the coastal waters that are in the territorial sea of Ukraine.”

Lavrov told a news conference after meeting with his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani that if that is done, “in the open sea … Russia’s naval forces will ensure the unimpeded passage of these ships to the Mediterranean Sea and further to their destinations.”

He also blamed Western nations for creating “a flurry of artificial problems with closing their ports for Russian vessels, with cutting logistical and financial chains.” He added that they must “seriously think what is more important for them—to do PR on the issue of the food security or solve the problem with concrete steps.”


Russian Official: Hatred Motive for Sanctions

The deputy head of Russia’s Security Council is alleging that sanctions against the country, including new measures targeting oil exports, are aimed at hurting ordinary Russians and motivated by hatred.

Dmitry Medvedev, who is also a former president and prime minister, wrote on Telegram Tuesday that sanctions don’t affect the Russian political elite and won’t be “fatal” for big business, but are “directed precisely against the people of Russia.”

He claimed that measures affecting oil and gas are aimed at forcing the government to introduce budget cuts.

“An embargo on buying oil and gas from Russia? The same thing: to reduce the budget incomes and force the state to abandon its social obligations” such as raising payments in line with inflation, he wrote.

After listing sanctions in various sectors, Medvedev wrote, “They hate us all! The basis for these decisions is hatred for Russia, for Russians and for all its inhabitants.”


Lavrov in Turkey June 8 for Talks on Ukraine Grain Exports

Turkey’s foreign minister says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Turkey on June 8 for talks that will address among other things opening a Black Sea corridor for Ukrainian grain exports.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said in a video interview Tuesday with the state-run Anadolu news agency that the French and German ambassadors had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry over demonstrations in their countries by groups considered to be terrorists by Ankara.

Turkey has said activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are one of its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.


Erdogan Stresses Need to Set Up a Corridor for Ukrainian Agricultural Products in Call With Zelenskyy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office says he has stressed the need to set up a corridor for Ukrainian agricultural products in a phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Ukraine says Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea ports is preventing the supply of millions of tons of grain around the world.

Erdogan’s office said late Monday he told his Ukrainian counterpart that he “attaches particular importance” to securing safe passage for ships carrying agricultural exports.

He also wants Turkey to be part of an Istanbul-based “control center” including Ukraine, Russia, and the United Nations to find a way to end the war.

Earlier Monday, Erdogan spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A readout of that call from Erdogan’s office referred to an “observation mechanism” involving Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, and the U.N. No further details were given.


‘Best We Could Get’: EU Bows to Hungarian Demands to Agree Russian Oil Ban

European Union leaders handed Hungary concessions to agree with an oil embargo on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, sealing a deal in the wee hours on Tuesday that aims to cut 90 percent of Russia’s crude imports into the bloc by the end of the year.

By making a promise that the EU’s embargo excludes the pipeline that landlocked Hungary relies on for Russian oil, the bloc aims to reduce Moscow’s income to finance the war it launched more than three months ago in Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, fresh from reelection and now one of the bloc’s longest-serving leaders, repeated that a full embargo would have been an “atomic bomb” for his country’s economy.

“It would have been unbearable for us to operate the Hungarian economy with the more expensive [non-Russian] oil … this would have amounted to an atomic bomb but we have managed to avoid that,” Orban said in a video posted on Facebook.

“It’s a fair compromise … this was the best we could get,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters as she arrived for the second day of an EU summit, where leaders will now discuss ways to mitigate soaring energy prices.

Oil prices extended a bull run after the EU’s agreement, stoking concern about inflation, which ran at a record high of 8.1 percent year-on-year in eurozone countries this month, Eurostat said on Tuesday.

Leaders will ask the EU’s executive Commission to examine temporary price caps and work on potential reforms to Europe’s electricity market—a move backed by countries including Spain and Greece, but which countries including Germany have opposed.

They will call for better contingency planning in case of further gas supply shocks. Moscow on Wednesday cut gas supplies to the Netherlands for refusing to comply with a demand to pay for gas in rubles, having already cut off Poland, Bulgaria, and Finland.


UK Says Russia Making Slow Inroads Into Ukraine’s Luhansk Region

British military intelligence said on Tuesday that Russia was advancing slowly into Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast, adding that the massing of its forces in a small area raised risks for others elsewhere.

“Progress has been slow but gains are being held. Routes into the pocket likely remain under Ukrainian control,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter update.

“Russia has achieved greater local successes than earlier in the campaign by massing forces and fires in a relatively small area. This forces Russia to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory.”


Ukraine Troops Hold Out as Russia Assaults Sievierodonetsk Wasteland

Ukrainian forces were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, resisting Russia’s all-out assault to capture a bombed-out wasteland that Moscow has made the principal objective of its invasion in recent days.

Both sides said Russian forces now controlled between a third and half of the city. Russia’s separatist proxies acknowledged that capturing it was taking longer than hoped, despite one of the biggest ground assaults of the war.

Western military analysts say Moscow has drained manpower and firepower from across the rest of the front to concentrate on Sievierodonetsk, hoping a massive offensive on the small industrial city will deliver something Russia can call a victory in one of its stated aims in the east.

“We can say already that a third of Sievierodonetsk is already under our control,” Russia’s TASS state news agency quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying.

Fighting was raging in the city, but Russian forces were not advancing as rapidly as might have been hoped, he said, claiming that pro-Moscow forces wanted to “maintain the city’s infrastructure” and were moving slowly because of caution around chemical factories.

The Ukrainian head of the city administration, Oleksandr Stryuk, said the Russians now controlled half of the city.

Thousands of residents remain trapped. Russian forces are advancing toward the city center, but slowly, and have not succeeded in encircling the Ukrainian defenders holding out there.

Regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television there did not appear to be a risk of Ukrainian forces being encircled, though they could ultimately be forced to retreat across the Siverskiy Donets river to Lysychansk, the twin city on the opposite bank.

Stryuk, head of the city administration, said evacuating civilians was no longer possible. Authorities canceled efforts to evacuate residents after an attack on Monday that killed a French journalist.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, there were few reports of major action on Tuesday. In the east, Ukraine says Moscow is trying to assault other areas along the main front, including pressing toward the city of Sloviansk. In the south, Ukraine claimed in recent days to have pushed back Russian forces on a bank of the Inhulets River that forms a border of Russian-held Kherson Province.


Moscow Shrugs Off EU Oil Ban: ‘Russia Will Find Other Importers’

Moscow struck a defiant tone in reaction to the European Union’s new partial ban on Russian oil imports, with a senior Kremlin official saying his country would simply pivot to other importers.

E.U. leaders agreed at a May 30 summit in Brussels to embargo the majority of Russian oil imports into the bloc by the end of 2022 as part of the sixth package of sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Ursula Von der Leyen, the head of the E.U.’s executive branch, said the move would cut around 90 percent of oil imports from Russia to the bloc by the end of the year, while Charles Michel, chief of the E.U. Council, said the agreement covers over two-thirds of oil imports from Russia.

Read the full article here 


Senior Ukraine Official Says EU Sanctions on Russia Still ‘Not Enough’

The latest European Union sanctions on Russia, which ban most imports of its oil, are “not enough” and the pace of sanctions so far has been too slow, a senior official in the Ukrainian president’s office said in a speech in Madrid on Tuesday.

In the bloc’s toughest reprisals against Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine three months ago, an E.U. summit in Brussels on Monday agreed to measures that officials said would immediately cut more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia, and 90 percent by the end of the year.

“If you ask me, I would say far too slow, far too late, and definitely not enough,” Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said.

Ukraine is also not happy with the pace of weapons deliveries from the West, he said.

“We are definitely not satisfied,” Zhovkva said in response to a question after his speech.

“Had we been satisfied, we would have begun the liberation of Mariupol immediately and thrown away Russian forces from Donbass,” he claimed. “We believe in promises.”


Russia Says It Downed Ukrainian Su-25 Fighter Jet in Mykolaiv Region

Russia’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that its forces had downed a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region and bombed a radar station and two ammunition depots in eastern Ukraine.


Finland Doesn’t Take Turkish Woes Seriously, Erdogan’s Spox Tells Paper

Finland has to stop “protecting” what Turkey considers a terrorist organization and take Turkey’s security concerns seriously if it wants Turkey to accept it in NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson told a Finnish newspaper on Tuesday.

“The problem is not that Finland would not understand Turkey. Finland refuses to take Turkey’s security concerns seriously,” Communications Director of the Turkish President, Fahrettin Altun told Finland’s largest daily Helsingin Sanomat by email.

Turkey has objected to Finland’s and Sweden’s joining the Western defense alliance on the grounds they harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and others it deems terrorists, and because Finland and Sweden halted arms exports to Turkey in 2019.

Altun’s words echoed what Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin told his U.S. counterpart on Monday, calling for the two Nordic countries to “take concrete steps regarding the terrorist organizations that threaten Turkey’s national security.”

“Eventually Finland’s government must decide which is more important, to join NATO or protect these kinds of organizations,” Altun told the paper.


EU Leaders Agree to Ban 90 Percent of Russian Oil by Year-End

European Union leaders agreed Monday to embargo most Russian oil imports into the bloc by year-end as part of new sanctions on Moscow worked out at a summit focused on helping Ukraine with a long-delayed package of new financial support.

The embargo covers Russian oil brought in by sea, allowing a temporary exemption for imports delivered by pipeline, a move that was crucial to bring landlocked Hungary on board a decision that required consensus.

E.U. Council President Charles Michel said the agreement covers more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia. Ursula Von der Leyen, the head of the E.U.’s executive branch, said the punitive move will “effectively cut around 90 percent of oil imports from Russia to the E.U. by the end of the year.”

Michel said leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with a 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion) tranche of assistance to support the war-torn country’s economy. It was unclear whether the money would come in grants or loans.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, responded to the E.U.’s decision on Twitter, saying: “As she rightly said yesterday, Russia will find other importers.”

The new package of sanctions will also include an asset freeze and travel ban on individuals, while Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, will be excluded from SWIFT, the major global system for financial transfers from which the E.U. previously banned several smaller Russian banks. Three big Russian state-owned broadcasters will be prevented from distributing their content in the E.U.


Turkey Tells US It Wants ‘Concrete Steps’ From Finland, Sweden for NATO Bids

A chief adviser to Turkey’s president told his U.S. counterpart that Turkey wanted “concrete steps” on the existence of what it calls “terrorist organizations” in Finland and Sweden before it would consider their NATO bids, the Turkish presidency said.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Ibrahim Kalin, chief foreign policy adviser to President Tayyip Erdogan, spoke on Monday to discuss the NATO bids and the war in Ukraine, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Turkey has objected to the two countries joining the Western defense alliance on the grounds that they harbor people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist group and others it deems terrorists, and because Finland and Sweden halted arms exports to Turkey in 2019.

In a statement, the Turkish presidency said Kalin had told Sullivan in a phone call that nations wanting to join NATO must “internalize the alliance’s values and principles on security and counter-terrorism.”

“It was emphasized that it is imperative for Sweden and Finland to take concrete steps regarding the terrorist organizations that threaten Turkey’s national security,” it added.


Gazprom Cutting Gas Sales to Dutch Supplier

Russian state gas giant Gazprom confirmed on Monday it will halt gas supplies to a Dutch gas trader starting Tuesday due to its refusal to pay for deliveries in rubles, a requirement for European nations Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward earlier this year.

GasTerra, based in the northern Dutch city of Groningen, announced the shutoff Monday. It said the move means Gazprom will not deliver some 2 billion cubic meters of gas through Oct. 1, the date the supply contract ends.

In its statement cited by the Russian state news agency Tass, Gazprom said that GasTerra has not paid for the gas supplied in April.

The Dutch trader said it has bought gas from other providers in anticipation of a possible Gazprom shutoff and Dutch Climate and Energy Minister Rob Jetten said in a statement that the government understands the cutoff will “have no effect on the physical delivery of gas to Dutch households.”

GasTerra is a private company that is owned by the Dutch arms of energy giants Shell and Esso and the Dutch government.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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