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Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy praises Germany's 'determination'

Published May 31, 2023last updated May 31, 2023

Ukraine's president thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for providing air defense systems to protect cities from Russian strikes. Meanwhile, the US is to announce an aid package worth $300 million. DW has the latest.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Olaf Scholz standing in front of a battle tank at an official visit
Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on a phone call and thanked him for providing air defense systemsImage: The Presidential Office of Ukraine/SvenSimon/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised the "determination" of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in providing aid to the war-torn country.

Zelenskyy, in his nightly video message, said he spoke to Scholz by phone and thanked him for providing air defense systems that were crucial in saving the lives of many Ukrainians from attacks by Russia.

"And I thank Olaf, Mr. Chancellor, for his personal determination, which in many ways becomes the determination for all of Europe," he continued in the video message.

"The Russian terror must be defeated every day and every night, in the skies of every Ukrainian city and village," he said.

Germany's initial hesitance to provide military aid to Ukraine drew flak. But Berlin has since changed its stance and has started providing Ukraine with heavy battle tanks and air defense systems.

Zelenskyy said the air defense systems were key to his defense policy. He said that so far Germany has provided the Ukraine military with aid worth €3 billion ($3.21 billion).

Putin blames Ukraine for Moscow drone attack

Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Wednesday, May 31:

Rutte says EU wants to sanction Russians involved in child abductions

The European Union is looking to broaden sanctions against Russia to target people involved in the abduction of children from Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

"The eleventh package of sanctions we are working on includes the option to go after those responsible for child abductions," Rutte said at a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in The Hague.

"That's something we are working on. The other point of focus is sanction circumvention. Making it possible to go after the people responsible," Rutte said.

In March, the International Criminal Court, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ombudsman for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, on two counts of war crimes for moving hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.

US announces new military aid package for Ukraine

The White House announced the latest in a series of aid packages for Ukraine that includes up to $300 million (roughly €280 million) worth of air defense systems, ammunition and other defense equipment.

The security assistance package represents the 39th drawdown of equipment from the Department of Defense inventories, the Pentagon said. 

The package includes Patriot air defense batteries, Stinger anti-aircraft systems, tank ammunition and a list of other equipment, according to the Pentagon.

In total, the US says it has committed more than $38.3 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $37.6 billion since Russia's invasion in February 2022.

Norwegian Foreign Minister tells DW Swedish NATO membership is inevitable

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told DW that "it is important to tell Ukraine that we still have an 'open door' policy and that it is not the question of [whether] Ukraine should be a member or not, but when and how."

The comment came ahead of an informal NATO meeting being held in Oslo this week.

Huitfeldt called on Hungary and Turkey to move forward with approving Sweden's accession.

"There are absolutely no reasons for holding Sweden back," she later told a press conference.

Turkey has withheld its ratification, claiming that Sweden has refused to cooperate in fighting terrorism, with Ankara mostly referring to Turkish Kurds living in the Scandinavian country.

Twice asked whether Huitfeldt supports the idea of Ukrainian attacks within Russian territory, the foreign minister sidestepped the question, telling DW that "Russia can end this war when it wants. They have to withdraw from Ukrainian territory and then this war will come to an end."

Czech Republic passes 2% NATO defense spending target law

The Czech parliament's upper house has approved a bill that sets minimum defense spending at 2% of GDP starting in 2024.

European countries have increased their defense expenditure since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Czech defense spending is planned at 1.52% of GDP in 2023.

In 2014, NATO member states agreed to spend 2% of GDP on defense within ten years.

Germany has also fallen short of the NATO target, spending around 1.5% in 2022 and with just 1.6% projected for 2023.

Russia says it destroyed Ukraine's 'last warship'

Russia's army claims to have destroyed Ukraine's last naval vessel with a high-precision missile.

"On May 29, a high-precision strike by the Russian Air Force on a ship anchorage site in the port of Odesa destroyed the last warship of the Ukrainian Navy, the 'Yuri Olefirenko'," the Russian

Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov that the vessel was a landing ship commissioned in 1971.

Ukraine has not confirmed the strike.

Wagner's Prigozhin asks Russian prosecutors to probe Defense Ministry

The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, says he asked prosecutors to investigate senior Russian defense officials.

"Today I have sent letters to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation with a request to check on the fact of the commission of a crime during the preparation and during the conduct of the SMO (Special Military Operation) by a host of senior functionaries of the Defence Ministry," Prigozhin said, using Moscow's official term for the invasion of Ukraine.

"These letters will not be published due to the fact that the investigative authorities will deal with this," he said.

While Prigozhin did not on this occasion make any specific allegations, he has in the past accused Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov of treachery over the conduct of the war.

On Tuesday, Prigozhin made expletive-laden comments condemning members of Russia's elite after reports that drones had been shot down over the affluent Moscow suburb of Rublyovka, with three drones causing minor damage to residential buildings.

"Let your houses burn," he declared. "I'm angry and I upset bureaucrats who have a great life."

Last week, Prigozhin criticized accused Kremlin officials of censoring media coverage of him.

The mercenary chief has also repeatedly accused Russia's Defense Ministry of refusing to provide his forces with sufficient ammunition during operations in eastern Ukraine.

Russia to evacuate children over Belgorod shelling

Russia said it would evacuate hundreds of children from villages, citing an "alarming" situation in the western Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.

"We are starting today to evacuate children from the Shebekino and Graivoron districts," Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Gladkov said that the situation was "worsening" in Shebekino, which was hit by a rocket at 3:15 p.m. local time (0015 UTC).

The governor said that there had been no casualties in the attack.

"The situation is quite alarming," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said of the shelling in the Belgorod region. "We have not heard a single word of condemnation from the West so far."

Ukraine war 'woke up' NATO, Macron says

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine "woke up" the NATO military alliance with the "worst kind of electroshock."

"Today we need to help Ukraine mount an effective counter-offensive by all means possible," he said in comments at the Globsec forum in Slovak capital Bratislava.

He called for Ukraine to be provided with "credible security guarantees with us within a multilateral framework".

The French president said that Kyiv's allies must increase their support in the coming months in order to reach a "chosen" peace that would be "durable."

"We Europeans need to in the future have our own ability to defend ourselves and deal with our neighbors," Macron said, echoing his previous comments on establishing European strategic autonomy.

"A Europe of defence, a European pillar within NATO, is indispensable. It's the only way to be credible... in the long-term," he said.

"Russia will stay Russia within the same borders," he stressed. He called for the establishment of a "space" that would allow the EU to "coexist peacefully, without any naivete, with the Russia of tomorrow."

"Our geography won't change," he said.

In 2019, Macron had courted controversy by saying that NATO had become "braindead" — comments made three years into former US President Donald Trump's term in office when the alliance had appeared rather more fragile and long before Russia's actions in Ukraine helped galvanize the group. 

Russian governor says Ukrainian drone sparks refinery fire

The governor of of the southern Russian region of Krasnodar said a drone was the likely cause of a fire that broke out at the Afipsky oil refinery.

Governor Veniamin Kondratyev said on the Telegram messaging app that the fire was soon extinguished and there were no casualties. 

Meanwhile, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Ukrainian forces had shelled the Russian town of Shebekino, damaging buildings and setting vehicles on fire.

On Monday, Gladkov said two industrial facilities in the town, some 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, had been hit. The governor on Saturday said he himself had come under artillery fire when trying to enter the town.

Russian officials say 5 killed in Luhansk

Russian administrators in Ukraine's eastern region of Luhansk said at least five people were killed and 19 wounded in a nighttime bombardment that they blamed on Ukraine.  

"The strike on the village of Karpaty by Ukrainian armed groups... killed five and wounded 19," the Russian security authorities posted on Telegram.

They said a poultry farm and temporary accommodation for workers were damaged in the attack on Karpaty, 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of Luhansk city.

Russia, Ukraine evade watchdog's rules for protecting Zaporizhzhia plant

Rafael Grossi, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has proposed five principles to prevent damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that has been occupied by Russian-backed forces.

"There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure, or personnel," Grossi said at the UN Security Council in New York.

However, both Ukraine and Russia have not committed to the proposed guidelines.

Russia said it will do all it can to protect the power plant, but it did not commit to the proposal.

Ukraine, on the other hand, said the principles "must be complemented with the demand of full demilitarization and deoccupation of the station."

Repeated military encounters near Zaporizhzhia, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, have stoked fears of a nuclear disaster.

The UN nuclear chief this week described the situation at Zaporizhzhia as "extremely fragile and dangerous."

The six units of the power plant have been shut down but the nuclear material must continue to be cooled. Grossi also asked for external power supply for the plant.

Missile hits Zaporizhzhia apartment building

Ukraine is working with BAE to produce weapons: Zelenskyy

Ukraine is collaborating with major British defense company BAE Systems to set up a Ukrainian weapons production unit, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

"It is indeed a massive manufacturer of weaponry, the kind of weaponry that we need now and will continue to need," Zelenskyy said in a video after holding talks with senior BAE officials, including Chief Executive Charles Woodburn.

"We are working on establishing a suitable base in Ukraine for production and repair. This encompasses a wide range of weaponry, from tanks to artillery," he added.

Earlier in the day, he said that both the parties had agreed to open a BAE office in Ukraine.

US set to announce new aid package worth $300 million 

The United States is expected to announce a new aid package this week that will total up to $300 million and include weapons for drones, US officials said.

The new aid package comes at a crucial point in the war. On Tuesday,  unmanned aircraft attacked Moscow, with the Kremlin blaming Kyiv.

Ukraine, however, did not make any direct comment about the attack.

The White House said it did not support attacks inside of Russia and that it was still gathering information on the incident.

The attack came after Russia captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a 9-month battle.

US officials have said the incident would not affect the aid package. They also did not provide more details about the drone ammunition reportedly included in the aid package.

EU announces sanctions over Moldova destabilization

The European Council has announced sanctions against seven politicians and businessmen with Moldovan or Russian citizenship.

The EU alleged the individuals attempted to destabilize the Republic of Moldova on behalf of Russia through indirect actions like planning violent demonstrations or unauthorized capital exports.

The sanctions imposed travel bans to and through the European Union.

"Moldova is one of the countries most affected by the consequences of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. There are serious, intensified and persistent attempts to destabilize the country," said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

The legal framework for such sanctions was created by the EU in April at Moldova's request.

‘By defending itself, Ukraine is defending Moldova’

mf/nm (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy  is briefed on the combat situatio in a previous visit to frontline positions in the Donetsk region
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