Ukraine latest updates: Sweden confirms NATO membership bid

Ukraine news from May 16: Announcement comes day after Finland said it intends to join the alliance in shake-up of Europe’s security architecture.

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is seen holding a news conference in Stockholm
Sweden's government has said it will submit its NATO membership application together with Finland [TT News Agency/Henrik Montgomery via Reuters]
  • Sweden’s government confirms the Nordic country will follow Finland and apply for NATO membership after decades of non-alignment.
  • Hungary says a proposed European Union ban on Russian oil imports is unacceptable in its current form as the bloc weighs a possible sixth round of sanctions on Russia.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin warns new military infrastructure in Finland and Sweden would necessitate a response from Moscow.
  • Ukraine says troops defending the country’s northeastern region of Kharkiv have pushed Moscow’s forces back to the Russian border.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what Day 82

This live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Follow our continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine on our new live blog.

These were the updates on Wednesday, May 16:

Moscow says G7 attempts to isolate Russia make global food crisis worse

Russia’s foreign ministry has said that attempts by the West and the G7 group of nations in particular to isolate Moscow have worsened global food shortages.

“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.”

‘Further escalation remains possible’: Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he sees no sign of an imminent end to the war in Ukraine and warned that a further escalation remains possible.

There had so far been no sign that people had realized the importance of ending the conflict “as quickly as possible,” Scholz told German broadcaster RTL, adding that he was also concerned there could be “an escalation of the war.”

“We must be able to make sensible, very deliberate and also very courageous decisions – and we have made those,” Scholz said, before reiterating that he would not make any decision that could lead to a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

Ukraine says 20 civilians killed in eastern regions

Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force said that 20 civilians, including a child, were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The military task force said in a statement on its Facebook page that 25 communities in the regions were fired at, with 42 residential buildings and a school among locations hit.

There was no immediate response from Russia to the report.

About a dozen buses carrying Ukrainian Azovstal servicemen leave plant: Reuters

A Reuters witness says about dozen buses carrying Ukrainian servicemen who were holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s southeast left the structure.

The new agency said it was impossible to determine how many servicemen were aboard the buses. It was also unclear whether those on board were all among the 40 wounded fighters Ukrainian officers said to have been beneath the plant. Some 600 servicemen were said to have been inside.

INTERACTIVE Russia Ukraine War Who controls what in Mariupol Day 82

Nine killed in Donetsk

At least nine people were killed due to Russian shelling in the eastern Donetsk region, its governor has said.

Six other people were wounded, Pavlo Kyrylenko added on his Telegram channel.

France will defend Finland, Sweden against whatever threat or attack

The French presidential office has said that France stands ready to support Finland and Sweden, who recently chose to join  NATO, politically and through “enhanced military interactions”, and protect the country against any threats or aggressions.

“Whomever [sic] would seek to test European solidarity by threatening or attacking their sovereignty… must be certain that France will stand shoulder to shoulder with Finland and Sweden”, the Elysee said in the English version of a press release.

EU has not yet found agreement on oil embargo against Russia, Borrell says

The European Union has not yet found agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia, its top diplomat Josep Borrell said after a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

“Unhappily, it has not been possible to reach an agreement today,” Borrell told reporters.

He said foreign ministers had decided, however, to provide an additional 500 million euros for arms purchases in support of Kyiv, taking the total sum of money the EU has earmarked for that purpose to 2 billion euros.

Erdogan says Swedish, Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Ankara to convince it to approve their NATO bid.

In a news conference, Erdogan said Turkey would not approve their bids to join NATO, calling Sweden a “hatchery” for terrorist organisations, and adding they had terrorists in their parliament.

Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbor people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey ‘will not say yes’ to NATO membership for Sweden, Finland, Erdogan says

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed Turkey’s opposition to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, again accusing them of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism.

“We will not say ‘yes’ to those [countries] who apply sanctions to Turkey to join security organisation NATO,” Erdogan said.

Russia raises ceiling for cross-border transactions for individuals

The Russian central bank has said Russian residents and non-residents from friendly states will be able to channel foreign currency abroad equivalent to up to $50,000 a month, from the previous limit of $10,000.

Non-residents from unfriendly countries will now be able to send foreign currency abroad to the value of their salaries or incomes from services they provide without the need to open accounts, the central bank said, scrapping the previous limit of up to $10,000 a month.

‘100% we will win, and Russia will be defeated’, Ukrainian FM says

Al Jazeera has spoken to Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba on the Russian oil embargo, NATO and how he thinks the war will end.

Read more here.

Canada says it is in favour of ‘quick’ accession to NATO for Sweden, Finland

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has said Canada was in favour of a “quick” accession to the NATO military alliance for Sweden and Finland.

“Canada not only favors their accession [to NATO], I would say we favor a quick accession of these two countries,” Joly told reporters.

At least 10 killed in Severodonetsk amid Russian shelling, governor says

At least ten people were killed in the latest shelling in Severodonetsk in the east of Ukraine, as the city is almost surrounded by Russian troops, the Lugansk region governor Sergiy Gaiday has said.

Russian troops “are shelling Severodonetsk without stopping,” Gaiday said in a statement in Telegram.

“At least ten people were killed. It is currently extremely difficult to check the area due to new shelling,” he added, urging the locals not to leave the shelters.

Swedish, Finnish diplomats to head to Turkey for NATO talks

Senior representatives of Sweden and Finland plan to travel to Turkey for talks to address Ankara’s objections to NATO membership for the two Nordic countries, the Swedish foreign office has said.

The representatives would meet their Turkish counterparts, in the capital, a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Russian shelling kills 10 civilians in Luhansk: Governor

Russian shelling has killed at least 10 civilians in the city of Sievierodonetsk, in Ukraine’s southeastern region of Luhansk, according to its governor.

Serhiy Haidai had said earlier on Monday that heavy shelling had caused fires in residential areas.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify Haidai’s claim.

Has the war in Ukraine given NATO new purpose?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanised NATO.

Watch this episode of Al Jazeera’s Start Here series, filmed in Lithuania, to understand more about the alliance.

Ukrainian court seizes assets of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman

A Ukrainian court has seized assets worth 12.4 billion hryvnia ($420m) from Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, Ukraine’s prosecutor general says.

Iryna Venediktova said in a post on Facebook that the assets were securities in Cypriot companies that were held in Ukraine. Fridman has been sanctioned by the EU as part of the bloc’s response to Russia’s invasion.

Hungary will resist sanctions that affect its energy security: Orban

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that he will not support any EU sanctions that negatively affect Hungary’s energy security.

Speaking to the Hungarian parliament, Orban said his government would not block any measures as long as they “don’t go beyond the red line of Hungary’s economic protection”.

He added that EU leaders “convinced that European sanctions can force Russia to its knees” but said he could not “remember any continental blockade ever being successful”.

Orban’s government has remained firm in its rejection of sanctions on Russian energy exports.

Moscow’s ‘defeat’ as Finland, Sweden move to join NATO

Analysts have told Al Jazeera that moves by Sweden and Finland to apply for NATO membership represent a “defeat” for Putin on two fronts, both “foreign and domestic”.

Read more here.

Zelenskyy says he discussed financial support with IMF chief

Ukraine’s president says he discussed the need for financial support for the country’s economy with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

“The IMF is our important partner. We look forward to further fruitful joint work in maintaining [the] financial stability of Ukraine,”  Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.

More than 1,000 Russian troops killed in failed river crossing attempts: Luhansk governor

Ukrainian forces killed “more than a thousand” Russian troops who tried for days to cross a strategically important river in the southeastern region of Luhansk, its governor has said.

Haidai said in a post on Telegram that Moscow’s forces had made multiple attempts to cross the Siversky Donets near the town of Bilohorivka last week but were repeatedly repelled.

“Bilohorivka will definitely go down in the history of this war,” he said.

There was no immediate reaction to the claims from Kyiv, while Al Jazeera could not independently verify the ministry’s report.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Nordic neighbours pledge to help Finland and Sweden in event of attack

Norway, Denmark and Iceland have said in a joint statement that they stand ready to support NATO applicants Finland and Sweden in the event the two Nordic nations come under attack.

“Together with Denmark and Iceland, Norway stands ready to assist its Nordic neighbours by all means necessary should they be the victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining NATO membership,” said Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

Turkish nuclear plant threatened by Russian sanctions

Sweeping sanctions against Russia have led to fresh concerns about the fate of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which is being built by Moscow’s state-owned nuclear company.

Read more here.

Sweden confirms it will apply for NATO membership

Sweden’s government says it has taken the formal decision to apply for NATO membership, following in the footsteps of its neighbour Finland in a move that will redraw the geopolitical map of northern Europe.

“There is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for joining NATO,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said following a debate on security policy in parliament. “The best thing for Sweden and the Swedish population is to join NATO.”

INTERACTIVE- NATO history and expansion

Russia announces agreement to evacuate wounded soldiers from Azovstal

Russia’s defence ministry says that an agreement had been reached to transport wounded Ukrainian soldiers out of the besieged Azovstal steel works in Mariupol to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk.

“An agreement was reached with representatives of the Ukrainian military blocked at Azovstal in Mariupol to evacuate the wounded,” the ministry said, adding that a “regime of silence” was introduced for the duration of the evacuation.

Ukraine war: Global fertiliser crunch pressures Brazil’s Amazon

With the Ukraine conflict in its third month, and as potassium prices have tripled in the past year over fears of looming shortages amid sanctions and logistical bottlenecks, long-held interests in mining huge reserves of potassium in the Brazilian Amazon are being revived.

Read more here.

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

President Vladimir Putin says Russia any expansion of military infrastructure in Finland and Sweden, which are edging closer to joining NATO, would demand a reaction from Moscow.

“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 said in the Russian capital at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response,” he added. “What that [response] will be – we will see what threats are created for us.”

Putin also accused NATO of having an “endless expansion policy” and said the alliance was reaching far beyond its Euro-Atlantic remit – a trend he said that Russia was following carefully.

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, its defence minister says.

“We will send a group of diplomats to hold discussions and have a dialogue with Turkey so we can see how this can be resolved and what this is really about,” Peter Hultqvist told public service broadcaster SVT.

Sweden’s government is expected to officially announce plans for a NATO application later on Monday.

The decision to abandon the military non-alignment that has been a central part of Swedish national identity for decades marks a sea change in public perceptions in the Nordic region following Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Can Ukraine hold Russia accountable for environmental crimes?

As forensic investigators in Ukraine uncover evidence of killings that may amount to war crimes, experts of a different kind are at work to document the effect of Russia’s war on the environment.

Read more here.

Hungary still has no acceptable proposal from EU on Russia oil embargo: minister

Hungary’s foreign minister says his country has not yet received any new serious proposal from the European Commission regarding an embargo on Russian oil imports after Budapest demanded mitigations over the cost of ditching Russian crude.

“The European Commission has caused a problem with a proposal so it’s a rightful expectation from Hungary… that the EU should offer a solution: to finance the investments and compensate for … the [resulting] price rises which necessitates a total modernisation of Hungary’s energy structure,” Peter Szijjarto said in a Facebook post.

He added another solution would be to make oil shipments via pipeline exempt from the planned embargo.

Which countries have the most oil

Kharkiv counteroffensive is ‘unstoppable’: Ukrainian official

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s second largest city and the region around it “cannot be stopped”, a Ukrainian official says.

“This counterattack of ours can’t be stopped, and the Russians feel it. That’s why they sometimes retreat chaotically, blowing up bridges to stop the counteroffensive,” interior ministry adviser Vadim Denysenko said in televised remarks.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Lukashenko urges Russia-led CSTO military alliance to unite against West

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has urged other members of a Russian-dominated military alliance to stand united amid Western pressure and sanctions against Moscow and Minsk, and accused Kyiv’s allies of hoping to prolong the conflict in Ukraine to try to weaken Russia as much as possible.

Lukashenko, speaking at the CSTO summit in Moscow, said “hellish sanctions” against his country and Russia could have been avoided if the group had spoken with one voice.

“Without a united front, the collective West will build up pressure on the post-Soviet space,” Lukashenko said in televised opening remarks, addressing Putin and the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Lukashenko is a longtime ally of Russia’s Putin [File: Markus Schreiber/AP]

Dozens of Russian troops killed in Kherson: Ukraine’s military

Ukrainian forces have hit Russian positions in the southern region of Kherson, killing 75 troops, according to Kyiv.

Ukraine’s defence ministry claimed to have struck the troops on Sunday, as they tried to land for a 20th time at the airport near the town of Chornobaivka.

Each previous Russian attempt had been thwarted in what has been likened to a “television series” about Ukraine’s military triumphs.

“We had a spectacular premiere of yet another episode of [the] Chornobaivka [series],” the defence ministry said in a video posted on Facebook.

“The loss of 75 Rashists has been confirmed,” it added, using a derogatory term used in Ukraine combining Russian, racist and fascist.

Reporting by Mansur Mirovalev in Kyiv.

Kremlin scolds US over ‘attempts to recruit’ Russian embassy staff

The Kremlin has criticised reported attempts by the FBI or the CIA to recruit embassy staff in Washington, DC as “unacceptable”.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, told state media that embassy employees had been threatened with physical violence, and were frequently badgered in the vicinity of the embassy to work for the two departments.

“We do share the concerns of the head of our diplomatic mission in the United States about the really rather brazen behaviour of the American intelligence agencies in relation to our citizens and to the employees of our mission,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

US could ratify Finnish NATO membership before August: Senator

The US Congress will seek to ratify Finland’s application to join the Western military alliance NATO before going into recess in August, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said.

McConnell told reporters in Helsinki after meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto that there was broad bipartisan support among US legislators for Finnish membership.

Canada, another North American ally of NATO, has also said it is in favour of a rapid NATO accession for Finland and Sweden.

McDonald’s to sell its Russian business, try to keep workers

McDonald’s says it has started the process of selling its Russian business, which includes 850 restaurants that employ 62,000 people, making it the latest major Western corporation to exit Russia in the wake of its invasion.

The fast-food giant pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the offensive, saying holding on to its business in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values”.

The Chicago-based company announced in early March that it was temporarily closing its stores in Russia but would continue to pay employees. On Monday, it said it would seek to have a Russian buyer hire those workers and pay them until the sale closes. It did not identify a prospective buyer.

Read more here.

Ukrainian forces repelled Russian incursion in Sumy: Governor

Ukrainian border guards have repelled an incursion by a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group in the northeastern region of Sumy, its governor says.

Dmytro Zhyvytsky said in a Telegram post that the Russian group had entered Ukrainian territory under the cover of mortar shells, grenades and machine-gun fire but retreated after the border guards fought back.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify his account.

Battle for Kharkiv ‘won by the Ukrainians’: AJE correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from near Kharkiv, says the battle for control of the city has been “won by the Ukrainians”.

“When we first came to Kharkiv [a month ago] we couldn’t enter without wearing body armour, the streets were empty and there was constant firing and shelling going on all around us,” Baig said.

“Now people have returned, people are outside, and some cafes and restaurants have opened up. Today is also the first day that public transport is running,” he added.

“People are walking their dogs and riding their bikes – the atmosphere has completely changed and that’s because the Ukrainians have managed to push the Russians further away [from the city].”

Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city and shares the same name as the wider region within which it sits.

Kharkiv map

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces focusing attacks on Donetsk

Moscow’s troops have focused their latest attacks in Ukraine on the country’s eastern Donetsk region, targeting civilian and military sites in multiple towns, Ukraine’s military says.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces had used a range of weaponry on Ukrainian military fortifications and units and fired artillery at civilian infrastructure in the towns of Dovhenke, Ruski Tyshki, Ternova and Petrivka.

It said Moscow’s troops had also continued air and artillery attacks around the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the southeastern port city.

Russia says its forces shot down three Ukrainian fighter jets

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have shot down three Ukrainian fighter jets.

The ministry said its forces had shot down Su-25 aircraft near the settlements of Yevhenivka in the Mykolaiv region and Velyka Komyshuvakha in Kharkiv, and an Su-24 jet near Snake Island in the Black Sea.

High-precision Russian missiles also hit two command posts in the Kharkiv region, the ministry added, and struck other targets including weapons depots and locations where Ukrainian troops and equipment were concentrated.

The ministry said it had made similar attacks in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. There was no immediate reaction to the claims from Kyiv, while Al Jazeera could not independently verify the ministry’s report.

One country holding EU ‘hostage’ on Russian oil embargo: Lithuania

Lithuania’s foreign minister says the EU’s plans to impose an oil embargo on Russia are being blocked by just one of its 27 member states.

“The whole union is being held hostage by one member state … we have to agree, we cannot be held hostage,” Gabrielius Landsbergis said as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Hungary is the country that is holding out, the Reuters news agency reported, citing unnamed EU diplomats.

Russia warns Finland, Sweden NATO bids are a ‘grave mistake’

Russia’s deputy foreign minister has said potential bids by Finland and Sweden to join the NATO military alliance are a “grave mistake” that will increase “military tension” in Europe.

“The fact that the security of Sweden and Finland will not be strengthened as a result of this decision is very clear to us,” the Interfax news agency quoted Sergey Ryabkov as saying.

“They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it,” he added. “The general level of military tension will rise, and predictability in this sphere will decrease.”

The moves to try and join the US-led alliance from two historically neutral powers mark one of the biggest changes to Europe’s security architecture for decades, reflecting a sweeping shift in perceptions in the Nordic region since Russia launched its invasion in late February.


Austria says EU will find agreement on Russia sanctions soon

Austria expects the EU to agree on a sixth sanctions package on Russia in the coming days, the country’s foreign minister says.

“I am confident that we will manage to get the sixth sanctions package done in the next days,” Alexander Schallenberg told reporters as he arrived for the meeting 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.”

Zelenskyy dismisses commander of Ukraine’s reserves

Zelenskyy has dismissed the commander of the Territorial Defence Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Yurii Halushkin, from the post, the Interfax news agency has reported.

The president then appointed Ihor Tantsiura to the position, according to documents published on the president’s website.

Halushkin was made commander of the Territorial Defence Forces, the military reserve component of Ukraine’s armed forces, on January 1 this year. Tantsyura previously held the position of chief of staff to the deputy commander of the APU land forces.

The reasons for the dismissal and reappointment have not been published.

Kharkiv’s governor says Ukrainian troops have reached Russian border

The governor of Kharkiv has reiterated earlier claims that Ukrainian troops defending the region had reached Ukraine’s border with Russia.

“We are proud of the soldiers of the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who restored the border sign on the state border!,” Oleh Sinegubov wrote on Telegram.

His post included an earlier released video that claims to show Ukraine’s troops reinstalling a blue and yellow border post in the northern Kharkiv region.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claims.

Two people dead, one injured in Luhansk: Governor

Two people have died and one has been wounded in Luhansk due to shelling, the region’s governor has said.

“A man and a woman died on the spot. The Russians fired on a house in the old districts of the city at about 16:00. Another man was hospitalised,” Haidai wrote on his Telegram channel on Monday morning.

Roman Pryhodchenko cries inside his house damaged by shelling in Kharkiv.
Roman Pryhodchenko cries inside his house damaged by shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 15, 2022 [Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]

US, EU to boost coordination on semiconductor supply

The US and the EU plan to announce a joint effort aimed at identifying semiconductor supply disruptions as well as countering Russian disinformation, officials have said.

Top US officials are visiting the French scientific hub of Saclay for a meet up of the Trade and Technology Council, created last year as China increasingly exerts its technology clout.

US officials acknowledged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has broadened the council’s scope, but said the Western bloc still has its eye on competition from China.

The two sides will announce an “early warning system” for semiconductors supply disruptions, hoping to avoid excessive competition between Western powers for the vital tech component. They will also announce joint measures on fighting disinformation and hacking, such as false Russian claims related to its invasion of Ukraine.

Lukashenko balancing Russia allegiance with sanctions threat: UK

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko is in a fine balancing act, maintaining support for Russia’s Ukraine invasion but hesitating to get involved militarily, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has suggested.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry said Belarus is deploying special operations forces along the border with Ukraine, as well as air defence, artillery and missile units to training ranges in the west of the country.

“The presence of Belarusian forces near the border will likely fix Ukrainian troops, so they cannot deploy in support of operations in the Donbas,” the ministry said.

It added that Belarus had not been involved in the war to date. This is likely due to Lukashenko “balancing support for Russia’s invasion with a desire to avoid direct military participation with the risk of Western sanctions”, the ministry said. Lukashenko likely also wants to avoid Ukrainian retaliation and “possible dissatisfaction in the Belarusian military”, it added.

Russia still shelling Mariupol and Azovstal: Army

The Russian military has continued artillery and air attacks on Mariupol, particularly on the Azovstal plant where some Ukrainian fighters are holed up, Ukraine’s army reports.

“The main efforts of the occupiers focused on blocking and impacting our units in the area of the Azovstal plant,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in its latest update.

Over the past day, the general staff said Ukraine’s army repelled 17 attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk. It also destroyed three Russian tanks, one artillery system and six units of armoured equipment. It added that the losses of Russian personnel were being clarified.

Polish Nobel laureate says Russia threat to ‘free world’

A Polish Nobel Prize-winning author has called Russia a threat to the “free world”, saying its attack on neighbouring Ukraine had echoes of the second world war.

“The Poles share the Ukrainian feeling of danger that Russia presents to the free world,” Olga Tokarczuk said at a writers’ festival in Jerusalem on Sunday.

“Nobody could imagine that this war would be so cruel so anachronistic and this war brings to mind the horrible images of World War Two,” she added.

Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2018 for her 18th-century epic – The Books of Jacob – about a Jewish mystic and sect leader named Jacob Frank.

Ukraine forces claim to reach Russia border

Ukraine has released footage that it said showed its troops reaching the border with Russia and reinstalling a blue and yellow border post.

The video, released on Sunday, did not specify the location but reports suggested the footage might have been filed in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

It came as Vadim Denisenko, an aide to Ukraine’s interior ministry, said Ukrainian troops have made so much progress in the north that they have almost reached the border with Russia.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claim.

The reported development comes as Russian troops withdraw from around Kharkiv following a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ukrainian troops at the Ukraine-Russia border in what is reportedly the Kharkiv region.
Ukrainian troops have reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Ukraine-Russia border in the Kharkiv region [Ukrainian Ministry of Defence/Handout via Reuters]

Germany to ban Russian oil regardless of EU: Bloomberg

Germany plans to stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year, even if the EU fails to agree on a ban in its next set of sanctions, the Bloomberg news agency has reported, citing government officials.

“Efforts to seal deals with alternative suppliers are progressing in the chancellery in Berlin and the government is confident it can solve remaining logistical problems within the next six to seven months, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” Bloomberg said.

Europe’s dependence on Russian energy coming ‘to an end’: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s president has again pointed to the need to strengthen sanctions against Russia, particularly urging European nations to ban Moscow’s oil imports.

“Partners need to make decisions that limit Russia’s ties to the world every week. The occupiers must feel the rising cost of war for them, feel it constantly,” Zelenskyy said in his night-time address.

“Now the priority is the oil embargo. No matter how hard Moscow tries to disrupt this decision, the time of Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources is coming to an end,” he added.

US diplomats to return to Kyiv ‘very soon’: Blinken

Washington’s top diplomat has said the US embassy in Kyiv will resume operations “very soon”.

“American diplomats have returned to Ukraine after several weeks working out of Poland. We’re reopening our embassy in Kyiv – we’re taking all necessary precautions, but that work is under way – and we will resume operations very soon,” Blinken told journalists in Berlin on Sunday.

Russian army likely out of combat-ready reservists: Think-tank

Russia’s military has likely run out of combat-ready reservists, forcing Moscow to bring in soldiers from different elements, including private military companies’ proxy militias, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

In its latest campaign assessment, the institute said Ukraine’s army had about 2,500 Russian reservists training in Russia’s Belgorod, Voronezh and Rostov regions to reinforce Moscow’s operations in Ukraine. It added this number was not enough to replenish Russian units “that have reportedly lost up to 20 percent of staffing in some areas”.

The institute said Ukraine’s intelligence reported that Russian forces were conducting covert mobilisation and creating new units with personnel who likely have insufficient training to be effective and little motivation to fight.

“Russian forces also deployed new conscripts from occupied settlements in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to maintain an offensive around Kharkiv City, likely due to the lack of Russian reserves,” it said.

Blinken meets French counterpart to discuss Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris before the US-EU Trade and Technology Council ministerial dinner.

“The two discussed issues of importance in the bilateral relationship, especially the urgent need to confront global food insecurity exacerbated by Russia’s unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” a statement from Blinken’s office said on Sunday.

Ukraine restarts gas supplies in Kharkiv

Ukraine’s gas transit system operator says it has resumed operations at two distribution stations in the Kharkiv region and restarted gas supply to more than 3,000 consumers.

Ukraine’s forces recently made rapid gains to drive Russia’s military away from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city.

“Both stations were shut down due to damage to the main gas pipeline in the Kharkiv region as a result of hostilities,” the operator said in a statement, adding that the damage has now been repaired.

Some 54 gas distribution stations in seven regions of Ukraine remain shut down, the operator added.

Residential area destroyed by Russian bombing in Kharkiv.
A residential area destroyed by Russian bombing in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 15, 2022 [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

Turkey sets demands, not opposed to Finland, Sweden NATO bid

NATO and the US say they are confident Turkey will not impede the membership of Finland and Sweden in the Western military alliance, despite Ankara expressing reservations.

Turkey laid out demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, saying it wanted the two Nordic countries to end support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift the ban on sales of some arms to Turkey.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident “that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership”.

Read more here.

Chechen leader appeals to Erdogan not to aid in Azovstal rescue

Chechnya’s leader has appealed to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reconsider helping Ukraine rescue the remaining fighters trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.

In a post on his Telegram channel, Ramzan Kadyrov told Erdogan not to let himself be fooled by “criminals who want to avoid trial and well-deserved punishment with your help”.

Speaking of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, Kadyrov said: “These are murderers and atheists, whom they now want to present to you as innocent victims of Russian aggression.”

Sanctions block up to $18bn of Belarusian EU, US exports

Sanctions imposed on Belarus have blocked $16-18bn worth of its annual exports to the West, the Belta state news agency reported citing Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko.

“Because of the sanctions, almost all of Belarus’s exports to the countries of the European Union and North America have been blocked,” Golovchenko said, according to a transcript of an interview with the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television published by Belta.

“This … comes to about $16 billion to $18 billion a year.”

President Lukashenko has insisted that Belarus must be involved in negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, saying also that Belarus had been unfairly labelled “an accomplice of the aggressor”.

Locals say intentional flooding in Ukrainian village ‘worth it’

The intentional flooding of a small village north of Kyiv that created a quagmire and submerged cellars and fields, but prevented a Russian attack on the capital, was worth all the sacrifice, residents have said.

Ukrainian forces opened a dam early in the war in Demydiv, causing the Irpin River to flood the village and thousands of acres around. The move has since been credited with stopping Russian soldiers and tanks from breaking through Ukraine’s lines.

“Of course, it was good,” said Volodymyr Artemchuk, a 60-year-old resident of Demydiv. “What would have happened if they [Russian forces] … were able to cross the little river and then went onto Kyiv?”

Another resident, Oleksandr Rybalko, told Reuters news agency that more than a third of some fields have been flooded. Some two months later, people in the village were still dealing with the aftermath of the flooding, using inflatable boats to move around and planting whatever dry swaths of land were left with flowers and vegetables.

A house flooded after Ukrainian military forces opened a dam to flood a residential area in order to stop advance of Russian forces towards Kyiv
A house flooded after Ukrainian forces opened a dam to stop Russian forces from advancing towards Kyiv, in Demydiv, Ukraine, May 15, 2022 [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

Finland, Sweden ‘important additions’ to NATO: McConnell

Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the US Senate, says Sweden and Finland would be “important additions” to NATO as he led a delegation of Republican senators to the region in a show of support against Russian aggression.

McConnell also called on US President Joe Biden to designate Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism” over its invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters from Stockholm, McConnell said Finland and Sweden, unlike some members of the Western alliance, would likely be in a position to pay their NATO obligations and would offer significant military capabilities.

“They will be important additions to NATO if they choose to join,” he said, adding, ”I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 14, 2022 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Russian soldiers will bring ‘evil back to Russia’: Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy has denounced Russian attacks on several Ukrainian cities on Sunday, saying the brutality “which Ukraine is experiencing every day, will only lead to the fact that Russian surviving soldiers will bring this evil back to Russia”.

He mentioned missile attacks on Lviv and the shelling of Hulyaipole, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, as well as the cities and communities of the Donetsk region.

“They will bring it back because they will retreat. This is how all the feverish activity of the Russian military we see now will end,” he said.

Zelenskyy says Russians ‘at dead end’ in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has said the Russian troops were “at a dead end” in the conflict with Ukraine.

His nightly address comes as Ukraine said it held off Russian offensives in the east and Western military officials said the campaign Moscow launched there after its forces failed to seize the capital of Kyiv has slowed to a snail’s pace.

Zelenskyy said “the time will surely come when the Ukrainian people fully force” Russia to “recognise reality”.

Ukraine still holds 10 percent of Luhansk: Governor

The Ukrainian army continues to control around a tenth of the eastern region of Luhansk despite coming under heavy Russian attacks, according to its governor.

Serhiy Haidai said on Sunday the Russians had not yet been able to capture the outskirts of the cities of Rubizhne, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

Moscow had declared last week that pro-Russian separatists had advanced to the administrative borders of Luhansk with the help of the Russian army.

Haidai said these claims were “fantasy”.

Ukraine says Russia attempting to encircle its forces in Donbas

Russia is pummelling positions in the east of Ukraine, its defence ministry has said, as it seeks to encircle Ukrainian forces in the battle for Donbas and fend off a counteroffensive around the strategic Russian-controlled city of Izyum.

Russia said it had struck Ukrainian positions in the east with missiles, targeting command centres and arsenals as its forces seek to surround Ukrainian units between Izyum and Donetsk.

Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force said its troops had repelled 17 attacks and destroyed 11 pieces of Russian equipment while its air defences shot down two Russian helicopters and five drones.

The Ukrainian president said the situation in Donbas remained very difficult and Russian forces were still trying to salvage some kind of victory in a region riven by conflict since 2014. “They are not stopping their efforts,” he said.

NATO chief says Ukraine can win the war, calls for military support

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine could win the war against Russia, calling for the fast-track approval of expected bids by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance.

“Ukraine can win this war. Ukrainians are bravely defending their homeland,” Stoltenberg said following a NATO meeting in Germany.

Russian military advances appear to be faltering, he said, adding that NATO must continue to step up its military support to the country.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned. They failed to take Kyiv. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv. Their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks next to European Council President Donald Tusk.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia’s offensive is not going as planned [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Read all the updates from Sunday, May 15 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies