- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a “global food shortage” in the coming months but says talks can avert a crisis.
- Washington reopens its embassy in Kyiv after abandoning the diplomatic post shortly before the Russian invasion.
- Mariupol’s fall appears near as Ukraine declares an end to the Azovstal steelworks operation, where its soldiers held out for months.
- Zelenskyy has said Ukraine is determined to reclaim control over the southern cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Berdiansk, Enerhodar and Mariupol, now occupied by Russian troops.
- President Joe Biden’s national security team “emphatically” support bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, says top US official.
- The Associated Press reports a senior defence official saying US Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia.
Here are all the latest updates:
US unlikely to extend license allowing Russian debt payments: Yellen
Janet Yellen has said it is likely that the special license granted to allow Russia to make payments to its US bondholders would not be extended when it expires next week. This would leave Russian officials a fast-narrowing window to avoid its first external debt default since the 1917 Russian revolution.
Russia has some $40 billion of international bonds. A temporary license from the Treasury granted an exception allowing banks to accept dollar-denominated payments from Russia’s finance ministry despite crippling sanctions on Russia.
The license expires on May 25, with the next major payment due that day.
“There’s not been a final decision on that, but I think it’s unlikely that it would continue,” Yellen said in Germany. She added that a technical default would not alter the current situation regarding Russia’s access to capital as the country is “already cut off from global markets”.
Not legal for US to seize frozen Russian assets: Yellen
The US does not have legal authority to seize Russian central bank assets frozen due to its invasion of Ukraine, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said.
Some European officials have advocated that the EU, the United States and other allies seize some $300 billion in Russian central bank foreign currency assets frozen by sanctions to foot the bill for Ukraine’s reconstruction. The World Bank estimates Ukraine is suffering $4 billion in weekly physical damage.
“I think it’s very natural that given the enormous destruction in Ukraine, and huge rebuilding costs that they will face, that we will look to Russia to help pay at least a portion of the price that will be involved,” Yellen told reporters in Germany ahead of this week’s meetings of the Group of Seven finance ministers.
“While we’re beginning to look at this, it would not be legal now in the United States for the government to seize those” assets, Yellen said.
Bridget Brink confirmed as US ambassador to Ukraine
The US Senate confirmed Bridget Brink as the US ambassador to Ukraine as officials plan to return American diplomats to Kyiv.
The veteran foreign service officer, who has spent most of her career in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, was nominated to the position last month by President Joe Biden.
Brink was confirmed by the Senate unanimously without a formal roll call vote.
Ukrainian acts of resistance in occupied Melitopol
The military administration for the region that includes Melitopol has reported more actions of resistance on Wednesday against the Russian troops who have occupied the southern city since early in the war, the Associated Press reports.
It said a grenade exploded near a Russian command post, followed by an exchange of fire. No casualties were reported.
On Tuesday, the regional administration said Ukrainian resistance fighters killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the occupied city.
The report could not be independently confirmed.
Australia to send Ukraine armoured personnel carriers, more Bushmasters
Australia is sending Ukraine an extra 20 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, 14 M113 armoured personnel carriers and radiation monitoring and personal protective equipment, pushing the nation’s contribution to Kyiv’s war effort above AU$285 million ($199 m), the Australian newspaper has reported.
The support package includes 60 pallets of medical supplies donated by Australian citizens.
“The Australian government will continue to identify opportunities for further military assistance where it is able to provide a required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces expeditiously,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.
Australia has previously sent Ukraine 20 Bushmasters following a request from Zelenskyy.
Ukraine officials give conflicting accounts of attack on Russian train: Reuters
Ukraine’s territorial defence force said on Wednesday that its fighters had blown up an armoured train carrying Russian troops, but an adviser to President Zelenskyy later said the attack had been confined to rails near the train, Reuters reports.
The defence force said that explosives had detonated under a rail car carrying military personnel in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, in the Zaporizhzhia region. It did not elaborate on the extent of the damage.
But several hours later, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych gave a conflicting account, saying Ukrainian forces had blown up the tracks ahead of the train.
“The partisans got it, although they did not blow up the armoured train itself,” he said in a video posted on social media, saying the Russians “got off lightly.”
Zelenskyy’s life story told in new comic book
Zelenskyy’s life story – from comedian to war-time leader – has been given the graphic novel treatment in TidalWave Comics’ latest biography: “Political Power: Volodymyr Zelenskyy.”
The 22-page glossy, released on Wednesday, tells the story of how Zelenskyy, who once played a fictional president in a TV show, swept to power in 2019 promising to end a war with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He had no political experience when he took office as the country’s sixth president.
“Who is he? What makes him tick? Why is he the right leader for Ukraine at this moment? Those are the things I was curious about when I started the research,” said writer Michael Frizell.
A portion of sale proceeds will be donated to the International Red Cross.
Here is a sneak peak. The book is out today. You can order it on Amazon now: https://t.co/B5hheecyMD
— TidalWave Comics (@TidalWaveProd) May 18, 2022
US intel shows Russians fear Mariupol abuse will backfire
The US has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Russian forces in the ravaged port city of Mariupol are carrying out grievous abuses, a US official familiar with the findings has said, Associated Press reports.
The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will backfire and further inspire Mariupol residents to resist the Russian occupation.
The US official, who was not authorised to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the Russians, who were not identified, also feared that the abuses will undercut Russia’s claim that they’ve liberated the Russian-speaking city.
The abuses include beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to the intelligence finding.
Pentagon discusses Russia threats with Sweden, Finland: Officials
A senior defence official has said US Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia as both move toward NATO membership, the Associated Press reports.
The official said Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.
There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defence.
Zelenskyy thanks EC for €9 bn loan
Zelenskyy has thanked the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for the EU’s 9 billion euro macro-financial aid and recovery program for Ukraine.
“This step by the European Commission is a testament to the true leadership that the European Union is capable of. And it will definitely help us in the struggle for our common freedom,” he said in his late night address.
The European Commission proposed on Wednesday a 9 billion euro ($9.5 billion) loan to Ukraine to keep the country going as it struggles to fend off the Russian invasion and wants to set up a reconstruction facility for after the war.
The money for the loan would be borrowed by the Commission on the markets under the macro-financial assistance mechanism, backed by guarantees of EU governments.
We will continue to be by Ukraine’s side – throughout this war and when they start rebuilding.
We are proposing new macro-financial assistance for Ukraine of up to €9 billion in 2022. pic.twitter.com/zC1dTTq49o
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 18, 2022
Zelenskyy mocks Russia’s new ‘laser’ weapons
Zelenskyy has mockingly compared Russia’s news that it was using laser weapons in Ukraine to the so-called wonder weapons Nazi Germany unveiled in a bid to prevent defeat in World War Two.
“The clearer it became that they had no chance in the war, the more propaganda there was about an amazing weapon that would be so powerful as to ensure a turning point,” he said in a late night video address.
“And so we see that in the third month of a full-scale war, Russia is trying to find its ‘wonder weapon’ … this all clearly shows the complete failure of the mission,” he added.
Russia says it is deploying ‘laser’ weapons in Ukraine
Russia has said it is using a new generation of powerful lasers in Ukraine to burn up drones.
Little is known about the specifics of the new laser. But Yury Borisov, the deputy prime minister in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that one prototype called Peresvet was already being widely deployed and it could blind satellites up to 1,500 km above Earth.
He added there were already more powerful systems. “If Peresvet blinds, then the new generation of laser weapons lead to the physical destruction of the target – thermal destruction, they burn up,” he told Russian state television.
Asked if such weapons were being used in Ukraine, Borisov said: “Yes. The first prototypes are already being used there.” He said the weapon was called “Zadira”.
World Bank to offer $30 bn as Ukraine war threatens food security
The World Bank has said it will make $30 billion available to help stem the food security crisis threatened by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The total will include $12 billion in new projects and over $18 billion funds from existing food and nutrition-related projects that have been approved but have not yet been disbursed, the bank said.
The bank said the new projects are expected to support agriculture, social protection to cushion the effects of higher food prices on the poor, and water and irrigation projects.
The majority of resources are going to areas hardest hit by the crisis – Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
UN food chief appeals to Putin to open ports
The UN food chief has appealed to Putin to open Ukraine’s ports so that exports can reach the “poorest countries”.
“It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine. This is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak,” David Beasley said at a UN meeting on global food security.
“So I ask President Putin, ‘If you have any heart at all, please open these ports. Please assure everyone concerned that the passageways will be clear so that we can feed the poorest of the poor and avert famine…” he added.
Zelenskyy says Russian-occupied cities ‘will return’ to Ukraine
Zelenskyy has said Ukraine is determined to reclaim control over the southern cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Berdiansk, Enerhodar and Mariupol, now occupied by Russian troops.
“All of our cities and communities under occupation – under temporary occupation – should know that Ukraine will return,” Zelenskyy said.
Russia has fired more than 2,000 missiles in Ukraine: Zelenskyy
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russia has fired more than 2,000 missiles during its attack on Ukraine.
He said the majority of the missiles hit civilian infrastructure and brought no strategic military benefit. In the past day, Russian missiles hit the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Dnipro, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.
Zelenskyy also noted Russia’s claims to have deployed new laser weapons in Ukraine, saying it reflected a desire to find an alternative to its missiles.
Google’s Russian subsidiary to file for bankruptcy after bank account seized
Google’s Russian subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors, but free services including search and YouTube will keep operating, a company spokesperson has said.
The Alphabet Inc unit has been under pressure in Russia for months for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media on YouTube, but the Kremlin has so far stopped short of blocking access to the company’s services.
“The Russian authorities seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations,” a Google spokesperson said.
“Google Russia has published a notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy.”
US promises push to improve global food security
Blinken has promised to work with allies to improve global food security amid the war in Ukraine.
“President Putin is blocking export of Ukraine’s grain and foodstuffs. We will continue working with our allies and partners to build resilient, sustainable, and inclusive food systems to improve global food security,” the top US diplomat wrote on Twitter.
President Putin is blocking export of Ukraine’s grain and foodstuffs. We will continue working with our allies and partners to build resilient, sustainable, and inclusive food systems to improve global food security. https://t.co/wKnrH3RlTb
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 18, 2022
Croatia president wants to block new NATO members
President Zoran Milanovic of Croatia wants his country to follow Turkey’s example by trying to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.
Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted.
Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change in neighbouring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easier for their nationalist Bosnian Croat allies to get elected to leadership positions.
US national security officials ’emphatically’ support NATO expansion: Sullivan
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said President Joe Biden asked his national security team and cabinet members about the risks and benefits of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
He said the team “emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden”.
Sullivan said Finland and Sweden will not be covered by NATO’s mutual defence agreement until all 30 members have ratified their accession, but US and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process”.
US in talks with Sweden, Finland: Defence official
A senior US defence official has said the Pentagon is having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs, as both move towards NATO membership amid the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and spoke about the interim period between when the country’s NATO application is formally submitted and when it is approved, The Associated Press news agency reported.
There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defence.
UN chief ‘hopeful’ about averting global food shortage
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of a “global food shortage” in the coming months due to issues linked to the war in Ukraine, but said he is “hopeful” the crisis can be averted.
Guterres said he is in “intense contact” with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the US and the European Union to try and resume Ukrainian grain shipments and revive Russian fertiliser exports.
“I am hopeful, but there is still a way to go,” he said during a food security meeting at the UN hosted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides.”
US, Turkey affirm support for ‘solution to end the war’
The US and Turkey have affirmed their support for finding a solution to end the war in Ukraine, reasserting that they back the country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
After a meeting between Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Ankara and Washington released a joint statement pledging to “intensify consultations on a range of regional issues”.
“They also reiterated their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia’s unacceptable war. Within this framework, the United States and Turkey reaffirmed their support to find a solution to end the war,” the statement said.
US reopens embassy in Ukraine’s capital
The US has reopened its embassy in Kyiv after abandoning the diplomatic post shortly before the Russian invasion began three months ago.
“Today we are officially resuming operations at the US Embassy in Kyiv,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” he added, referring to the flag of the United States.
Ukrainian forces had fended off a Russian offensive to capture the capital in the first weeks of the war.
The Stars and Stripes fly again over Embassy Kyiv. I can announce that we have officially resumed Embassy operations in Ukraine’s capital. We stand proudly with the government and people of Ukraine as they bravely defend their country from Putin’s brutal invasion. Slava Ukraini! pic.twitter.com/lGRdzqbVbG
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 18, 2022
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the war in Ukraine.
Read all the updates from Wednesday, May 18 here.