- Russia claims full control of Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol
- Ukraine will receive 15 tanks from Germany in July
- G7 mobilizes almost $20 billion for Ukraine
- Russia's Duma to mull removal of military age limits
- Zelenskyy says Russia has destroyed the Donbas
This article was last updated at 19:48 UTC/GMT
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Russia claims full control of Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol
The Russian Defense Ministry has said it fully controls the territory of the Azovstal steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
According to the ministry, the last group of 531 Ukrainian fighters have now surrendered. Since May 16, a total of 2,439 Ukrainian soldiers have laid down their arms, Russia says.
A ministry spokesman said that Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had informed President Vladimir Putin of "the end of the operation and the complete liberation of the (Azovstal) industrial complex and the city of Mariupol."
The Azovstal plant was the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, the port city besieged by Russian troops since the early days of the invasion of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy says Western partners took part in planning Mariupol evacuation
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview with Ukrainian TV channels that the operation to ensure the withdrawal of Mariupol defenders from the Azovstal steel plant was carried out with the participation of Western partners.
"Civilians were taken away. Medics were taken away. The seriously wounded were taken away, the wounded were taken away," Zelenskyy said.
"It seems to me that in the nearest future, not even in the coming days, the evacuation of all will be completed," the Ukrainian president said, adding that the structure of negotiations with Russia was complex. "It was agreed that the unblocking [of Mariupol garrison] would be done by intermediaries – Western partners."
After that, the president said, Ukrainian soldiers have received a signal that they have every right to come out and save their lives.
Zelenskyy also said that Ukraine lost many pilots of helicopters supplying the Mariupol garrison. "A very large number of people died, our pilots. Unfortunately. Absolutely heroic people who knew that it was difficult, that it was almost impossible to reach Azovstal, bring medicine, food, water, pick up the wounded," he said.
Zelenskyy slams Russian strikes on culture center in Kharkiv region
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday lashed out against Russian airstrikes that destroyed a recently renovated cultural center in Lozova, in the eastern Kharkiv region. Seven people, including a child, were injured.
"The occupiers have identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies. And they do not spare missiles or bombs," Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram, describing the attack as "absolute evil" and "absolute stupidity."
Video of the attack shared by Zelenskyy showed black smoke engulfing a large building near apartment complexes and passing cars after a large explosion sent debris flying in all directions.
Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko said that Russian troops were deliberately aiming at the building. According to him, two more missiles were repulsed.
"Five people were inside the building at the time of the attack. People miraculously survived, almost all of them slightly injured," the minister wrote on Telegram.
OSCE sends team of human rights monitors to Ukraine
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is expanding its investigation into human rights violations committed during Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.
Observers have been sent to Ukraine to interview witnesses and survivors, the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a statement on Friday.
"After carrying out research remotely since the start of the conflict, ODIHR is now deploying monitors on the ground in Ukraine and outside of the country, conducting interviews with witnesses to violations as well as survivors," the statement said.
The OSCE is focusing on the civilian population and prisoners of war, including deliberate attacks on civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons, wilful killings, abductions, and torture.
According to ODIHR, a final public report will help efforts to ensure accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Italy submitted peace plan for Ukraine to UN
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Friday that Italy had submitted a peace plan for Ukraine to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
According to Di Maio, the plan submitted Thursday calls for local cease-fires to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors, and creating the conditions for a general cease-fire leading "to a long-lasting peace."
The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said he was aware of the plan, adding the European Union is "putting all our efforts into trying to bring this conflict to an end."
Borrell said it's up to Ukraine to decide the terms of any negotiations. He also said that he hopes that "when the time comes for negotiations to take place, Ukraine will be able to negotiate from a position of strength."
The spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleh Nikolenko, said that his ministry welcomes any international efforts that will help restore peace on Ukrainian soil and in Europe.
"Ukraine highly appreciates Italy's support within the European Union and at the bilateral level. The Italian side really shared its vision of ways to end Russia's war against Ukraine. Relevant proposals are currently being studied," Nikolenko said on Friday.
EU warns of global food shortages due to the war in Ukraine
The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell on Friday reiterated warnings of global food shortages due to the war in Ukraine.
"Food is missing and will be missing. And when it's not missing it is expensive, much more expensive than what many people can afford," Borrell said in a press conference after a meeting of EU development ministers to discuss the worsening situation.
Ukraine is one of the largest grain producers in the world and food cannot be exported or harvested or planted because of the fighting.
EU ministers decided to "support over 70 partners" to improve the "resilience and sustainability of their food systems to increase their food capacity in the medium term," Borrell said.
Borrell also stressed that the looming food crisis is caused by Russia's war and not by the EU's sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as claimed by the Kremlin.
Russia is currently blocking the export of 20 million tons of grain from Ukraine, primarily to North Africa and Asia, according to the German government, leading to price spikes.
Zelenskyy meets Irish lawmakers in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has met with Chairperson of the Upper House of the Irish Parliament Mark Daly and Chairperson of the Lower House Sean O Fearghail in Kyiv on Friday.
Zelenskyy thanked Ireland for its support of Ukraine's sovereignty since the early days of the Russian invasion.
"It is important for us that Europe remains united. This is the real strength and endurance. We demonstrated this to the world when our people united against Russian aggression," Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian president and the chairs of the Irish Parliament also discussed the prospects for post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy informed about the relevant planned work, which is already underway, and invited Ireland to join the implementation of future projects in the framework of the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Putin says Russia must cut dependence on foreign technology
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for "technological sovereignty," saying Russia has been hit by numerous cyberattacks since Moscow sent troops to Ukraine.
"The number of cyberattacks, including complex ones, has increased many times over" since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin said during a meeting of Russia's Security Council.
According to Putin, the attacks are coming from different countries but are "clearly coordinated."
Russia needs to "radically reduce the risks associated with the use of foreign programs, computer technology and telecommunications equipment", Putin said.
"In order to strengthen our technological sovereignty, the government needs to create a modern Russian electronic component base in the shortest time possible," he added.
Ukraine will receive 15 tanks from Germany in July
Germany will deliver the first 15 "Gepard" tanks to Ukraine in July, a German Defense Ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
It follows a conversation between German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.
The package also includes training support from the Bundeswehr, the provision of almost 60,000 rounds of ammunition and the delivery of a further 15 tanks in the summer.
"I spoke to my Ukrainian colleague Reznikov today, and he once again clearly confirmed that Ukraine wants the fastest possible delivery of Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, including the available 59,000 rounds of ammunition, from Germany," Lambrecht said..
"We are now working together to ensure that the first 15 tanks are ready for action from mid-July with fully-trained crews," she said.
Germany will also deliver seven Panzerhaubitz 2000 howitzers to Ukraine. The training of Ukrainian soldiers on the weapon system is already underway.
Reznikov wrote on Twitter on Friday that he had a very productive conversation with Lambrecht. According to Reznikov, the launch of an important new project to strengthen the capabilities of the Ukrainian army was discussed.
Ukrainian regiment in Mariupol gives up defense of Azovstal steel plant
The Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol have publicly admitted their surrender.
"The top military leadership issued an order to save the lives and health of the garrison defenders and to stop defending the city," said the commander of the national guard regiment "Azov", Denys Prokopenko, in a video message on Friday.
According to Prokopenko, civilians were evacuated from Azovstal, the wounded were provided with the necessary assistance and evacuated with further exchange and relocation to the territory controlled by Ukraine.
Prokopenko also said that the process of transferring the bodies of fallen soldiers is underway.
According to Russian sources, more than 1,900 Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal have already been taken prisoner.
However, garrison commanders are said to remain in bunkers at the plant.
G7 mobilizes almost $20 billion for Ukraine, pledges more if needed
Finance ministers and central bank heads from the Group of Seven (G7) wealthy democracies say they have mobilized $19.8 billion (18.7 billion) for Ukraine and pledged to give more financial support if needed.
"In 2022, we have mobilised 19.8 billion US dollars of budget support, including 9.5 billion US dollars of recent commitments ... to help Ukraine close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people," the G7 said in their communique following a meeting in Germany.
German ex-Chancellor Schröder gives up Rosneft position
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has told Russia's state-owned oil company Rosneft that he cannot continue serving on its board of directors, a statement on the company's website says.
Former Dresden Stasi chief turrned German businessman Matthias Warnig had also made the same move, it said.
"We are sympathetic to their decisions and thank them for their continued support," Rosneft said in the statement.
Schröder had come under intense criticism for retaining the post amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The German parliament announced on Thursday that he would lose his taxpayer-funded office and staff amid the controversy over his business and political ties to Russia.
The European Parliament also urged sanctions against him.
Russian gas to Finland to be cut on Saturday
Russian gas will stop flowing to neighboring Finland on Saturday morning, Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum has said in a statement.
"On the afternoon of Friday May 20, Gazprom Export informed Gasum that natural gas supplies to Finland under Gasum's supply contract will be cut on Saturday 21 May at 0400 (GMT)," Gasum said.
The move comes amid a spat over Moscow's demand for countries to pay for gas in rubles and Finland's application for NATO membership in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The company says it will keep supplying gas to Finnish customers from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline.
"We have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months," Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said.
According to Russia's Interfax news agency, Russian gas exports to Finland averaged around 3.2 million cubic metres per day from January 1 to March 16.
Russia claims to be nearing control of Lugansk
Moscow is nearing full control of the separatist region of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
Shoigu said the "liberation" of Lugansk was "nearing completion."
The minister also said that 1,908 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, the last bastion of defenders of the city, which is otherwise under Russian control.
The number of Ukrainian troops that have actually surrendered has not been independently verified. A remnant of fighters is reportedly still holding out in the complex's labyrinth of underground bunkers and tunnels.
Shoigu also said that Moscow would establish new military bases in western Russia in response to what he called an increase in military threats near the border owing to Finland and Sweden's likely accession to NATO in the near future.
Both countries formally applied to join the alliance on Wednesday.
Russia's Duma to mull removal of military age limits
Russia's lower house of parliament is to debate allowing Russians over 40 and foreigners over 30 to sign up for the military, the State Duma website said on Friday.
"For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40–45," the website said.
Up to now, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 have been able to enter into a first contract with the military.
The planned change in contractual age limits comes amid reports that Russia has suffered massive troop losses during its invasion of Ukraine.
The British Defence Ministry has suggested that around 50,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since February 24. Russia itself has declined to give any figures in many weeks.
Qatar hopes to deliver LNG to Germany by 2024: Foreign minister
Qatar wants to start supplying Germany with liquefied natural gas (LNG) by as early as 2024, a top official has told a German newspaper.
The gas would come from a plant in the US state of Texas in which Qatar Energy holds a 70% stake, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was cited as telling the German daily Handelsblatt.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is scheduled to hold talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin later on Friday.
Germany is accelarating plans to construct LNG terminals as the country tries to reduce reliance on gas from Russia in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck visited Qatar and the UAE in March to discuss potential gas imports from the Middle Eastern countries.
German budget committee OKs €40 billion supplementary debt over Ukraine fallout
Germany's parliamentary budget committee has approved plans to take out almost €40 billion ($42.3 billion) in additional debt this year to help consumers and businesses cope with the impact of the conflict in Ukraine.
The committee agreed the package to help fund a second energy relief package for consumers, business aid and costs for the integration of refugees from Ukraine.
In all, the government wants to take on almost €140 billion in new debt. Government expenditure is now expected to be around €495.79 billion.
Last year, Germany borrowed a record €215 billion amid the coronavirus pandemic.
By 2023, the coalition government of center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) wants to return to the constitutional "debt brake" that restricts new borrowing. The brake was temporarily suspended to enable financial measures to combat fallout from the pandemic.
Russia risks further force attrition through hasty Donbas redeployment: UK military intelligence
Russia is likely to move troops from Mariupol to support its military operations in Donbas after securing the Black Sea port despite stiff resistance by Ukrainian defenders, the UK's Ministry of Defence has said in an intelligence update.
It said Russian forces that had fought in Mariupol would need thorough reequipping and refurbishing after their fight against the staunch Ukrainian defense.
However, as Russian commanders were under pressure to show military successes, they were likely to redistribute their forces without adequate preparation, meaning that troops would possibly be vulnerable to attacks and suffer more losses, the update said.
It is unknown how many Ukrainian troops remain in the Azovstal steelworks, a large industrial complex that has been the last bastion for defenders of the city. It is also unclear how long they can hold out, though Svyatoslav Palamar, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense, said on Thursday in a video message that "an operation was underway."
He did not give details on the announced operation.
Zelenskyy: Russian forces 'completely destroyed' the Donbas
During his nightly video address to the nation on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had "completely destroyed" Ukraine's eastern industrial Donbas region.
Zelenskyy also accused Russia of carrying out a campaign of indiscriminate bombing in the region, as it has intensified its military campaign there following Russia's failed effort to encircle the capital, Kyiv.
He added that Russia was intent on killing as many Ukrainians as possible and doing as much damage to the country, adding that it is the politics and policy of genocide.
"It is hell there — and that is not an exaggeration," Zelenskyy said.
He added that 12 were dead following a "brutal and absolutely senseless bombardment" of Severodonetsk on Thursday.
Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin questions Scholz's commitment to deliver weapons
Andrij Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, has once again questioned German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's commitment to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Melnyk told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland Friday: "We have the impression that the chancellor does not want to deliver.”
He added, "One can get the impression that they are waiting until there is a cease-fire. Then the pressure on Germany will be gone and then there will be no need for courageous decisions to be made."
The Ukrainian ambassador added that so far none of the heavy equipment Germany promised such as Gepard tanks, nor Leopard 1s or Marders has been delivered. It is not known when the first of seven self-propelled howitzer 2000s from Bundeswehr stocks will be delivered or when ammunition sought abroad for them will materialize.
What happened in Russia's war on Ukraine on Thursday
The first Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine asked the widow of the civilian man he shot for forgiveness in court.
The New York Times obtained video and surveillance images of Russian paratroopers executing at least eight men in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha on March 4.
The videos show the eight men in Russian custody prior to their executions. Packing slips for crates of ammunition, surveillance footage and social media pointed to the 104th and 234th Airborne Assault Regiments of the Russian military as being responsible for the men's deaths.
Russia claimed Thursday that more than 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol this week. The Red Cross has registered hundreds of prisoners of war from the steelworks, including wounded soldiers.
Five foreign nationals quit working as vice-presidents at Russian oil giant Rosneft due to EU sanctions that block European citizens or Russians residing in the EU from working for the company. Their departure from Rosneft occurred days before a new wave of EU sanctions came into effect on May 15.
Russia's Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and top US General Mark Milley spoke on the phone, according to the Pentagon and Russia's Ministry of Defense. It is the first time they have held discussions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
US President Joe Biden also gave his full backing to Finland and Sweden's bid to join NATO, calling it "a very, very good day,” adding, "New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation.”
Turkey is currently blocking that effort, accusing both Finland and Sweden of harboring Kurdish militants and also seeking a return to inclusion in the F-35 program. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg believes Sweden and Finland will quickly be accepted into the military alliance, despite Turkey's temporary veto.
The US Senate overwhelmingly backed nearly $40 billion (€37.7 billion) in aid for Ukraine. Every Democrat and all but 11 Republicans backed the measure.
The German parliament opted to strip former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of his taxpayer-funded office and staff, but without touching his pension due to his unwillingness to distance himself from Russia and Vladimir Putin. The European Parliament on Thursday also urged sanctions against Schröder for his personal and business ties to Russia and Putin.
Finance ministers from G7 nations are gathering in Königswinter in western Germany to coordinate a response to assist Ukraine. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told German broadcaster ZDF that the EU is looking at ways that frozen assets of Russian oligarchs could be used to fund the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine.
dh, tj, ar/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)