May 12, 2022: Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Jessie Yeung, Travis Caldwell, Adrienne Vogt, Seán Federico O'Murchú, George Ramsay, Jack Guy and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 3:21 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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5:46 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Situation along Luhansk front lines "significantly deteriorated," says Ukrainian official

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

There has been intense shelling along the front lines in the Luhansk region on Thursday, a Ukrainian official has said.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said the enemy had "completely destroyed the captured settlements in Luhansk ... Shelling intensified along the entire Luhansk front."

Hayday spoke of heavy fighting around Severodonetsk (in Belohorivka, Komyshuvaha and on the outskirts of Severodonetsk) and said the situation "has significantly deteriorated."

He said that Ukrainian units in Belohorivka are "now holding back the Russian invasion ... our defenders have twice destroyed pontoon crossings, and based on the actions of the Russians, the third time will be the same."

Hayday gave no indication that any towns or villages in the area had fallen to the Russians.

He said the Russians "do not change tactics: They destroy cities and only then enter the scorched earth."

5:18 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Ukraine reports shelling of villages near north-eastern border with Russia

From CNN's Tim Lister and Kostan Nechyporenko

Destroyed houses seen from above in Vilhivka village near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 11.
Destroyed houses seen from above in Vilhivka village near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 11. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

As fighting in north-eastern Ukraine gets closer to the border with Russia, Ukrainian officials are claiming that more border villages are coming under fire from Russian forces.

One person was killed when the small village of Novi Vykry was bombarded early Thursday by a barrage of 20 artillery shells, according to Ukrainian officials in Sumy.

Shelling of border settlements in Sumy from across the border in Russia has picked up in recent days, at the same time as Ukrainian forces are advancing towards a different section of the international border in the Kharkiv region. 

Earlier Thursday, the Ukrainian armed forces said that Russian forces had launched an air strike in the Shostka district of the Sumy region.

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Finland joining NATO would "strengthen" security in northern Europe, says Finnish foreign minister

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 6.
Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 6. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

The accession of Finland to NATO would "strengthen" the security of the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe, according to the country's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

Haavisto addressed the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs Thursday, just minutes after a joint statement was published from the Finnish President and Prime Minister announcing their support for applying for NATO membership. 

"Should Finland decide to apply, the accession of Finland would strengthen the security and stability for the Baltic Sea region and north of Europe," Haavisto told EU lawmakers.

Stressing that the country is now "fast approaching the point of national decision making," Haavisto laid out further benefits of Finnish membership. 

"From NATO's perspective Finland has solid democratic credentials that meet NATO's membership criteria, and has a strong and credible national defense that is interoperable with NATO," he said.

"We are convinced that Finland would bring added value to NATO. Our war time strength of the defense forces is 280,000 troops, and the trained reserve is 900,000 men and women," Haavisto continued. 

He also set out the threats created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling Moscow's "unpredictable behavior" an "imminent issue." 

The invasion of Ukraine is "an attack against the entire European security order," said Haavisto, who emphasized the need for the EU to do its "utmost to give Ukraine political, military, economic and humanitarian support." 

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

NATO members Denmark and Estonia would welcome Finland joining alliance

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Chris Liakos in Helsinki, and Antonia Mortensen in Milan

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks during a joint media conference with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at the President's palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, on March 31.
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen speaks during a joint media conference with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at the President's palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, on March 31. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

NATO members Denmark and Estonia said they would welcome Finland joining the alliance.

In a tweet posted by Denmark’s Ministry of State Thursday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: "Strong messages from the President and Prime Minister of Finland. DK [Denmark] will of course warmly welcome Finland to NATO. Will strengthen NATO and our common security. DK will do everything for a rapid accession process after the formal application."

Earlier on Thursday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their support for NATO membership, saying in a joint statement: "Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days."

Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that Estonia supports "a rapid accession process" for Finland to join NATO, adding that Finland's potential application will have the country's "full support."

Kallas said in a tweet: "History being made by our northern neighbours."

"You can count on our full support. We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly," Kallas added.

Some background: Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for joining NATO in Finland has leaped from around 30% to nearly 80% in some polls.

Once parliament has approved the idea in principle and any other domestic legislative hurdles have been cleared, it is expected that NATO would invite Finland to negotiate its accession.

Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia, which has warned against joining NATO by saying there would be consequences.

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Analysis: Why Finland joining NATO is bad news for Putin

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

Crew from a CV9030 light assault tank during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise in Niinisalo, Finland, on May 4.
Crew from a CV9030 light assault tank during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise in Niinisalo, Finland, on May 4. (Roni Rekomaa/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO had edged too close to Russia and should be stripped back to its borders of the 1990s, before some countries that either neighbor Russia or were ex-Soviet states joined the military alliance.

Russia currently shares about 755 miles of land border with five NATO members, according to the alliance.

Finland's accession would mean that a nation with which Russia shares an 800-mile border would become formally militarily aligned with the United States.

Not only would this be bad news for the Kremlin, but the addition of Finland would be quite a boon for NATO.

Despite its relatively small population, Finland is a serious military power that has been unofficially aligned with the West.

Its military has for decades used equipment purchased from the US that is compatible with NATO allies, meaning it could easily join NATO missions should it choose to do so.

Read the full analysis:

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Finland’s political leadership makes history in signaling desire to join NATO. And Sweden could be next

From CNN's Luke McGee

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, left, and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin, right.
Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, left, and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin, right. (Getty Images)

The statement of support for NATO from Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin had been expected, after the Finnish government recently submitted to the country’s parliament a report on national security which outlined the path to joining the alliance as one of Finland’s options.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for joining NATO has leaped from around 30% to nearly 80%.

Once parliament has approved the idea in principle and any other domestic legislative hurdles have been cleared, it is expected that NATO would invite Finland to negotiate its accession.

Sweden could be next: It is also expected that Sweden, Finland’s neighbor to the west, will soon announce its intention to join the alliance through a similar process.

Russia has warned both countries against joining NATO, saying there would be consequences.

Finland joining NATO would have both practical and symbolic consequences for Russia and the Western alliance.

Change in stance: Since the end of World War II, Finland has been non-aligned militarily and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. It has indulged the Kremlin’s security concerns at times and tried to maintain good trading relations.

The war in Ukraine, however, has sufficiently changed the calculation, so that joining NATO now seems the best way forward, regardless of what Russia’s reaction might be.

Read the full story here:

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

What to know about Finland announcing support for NATO membership

From CNN's Chris Liakos, Lauren Kent and Nic Robertson in Helsinki.

A Leopard 2A6 battle tank during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise, with participating forces from the U.K., Latvia, U.S. and Estonia, in Niinisalo, Finland, on May 4.
A Leopard 2A6 battle tank during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise, with participating forces from the U.K., Latvia, U.S. and Estonia, in Niinisalo, Finland, on May 4. (Roni Rekomaa/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Finland's leaders have just announced in a joint statement they are in favor of applying for NATO membership.

Here's some context on the announcement:

  • The leaders' stance does not constitute a formal decision on the country's NATO application.
  • The coalition government and the President are expected to issue a decision on NATO membership in the next few days, according to the Office of the Prime Minister.
  • The final decision to apply for NATO membership would then require a vote in parliament, which is expected early next week. 

How will parliament vote? Parliamentarian Johannes Koskinen told CNN he expects the overwhelming majority of the Finnish Parliament to vote in favor. 

"I think in the plenary, the results, maybe around 180 out of 200 are in favor of membership," Koskinen said. 

Is joining NATO popular? More than 75% of Finns support joining the military alliance, according to the latest state media polling data. 

What are the next steps? Should Finland and Sweden decide to apply to NATO, the accession process would “go quickly” and interim measures would be put in place until they become formal members of the alliance, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in April.

What is Russia's reaction? Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia is closely monitoring NATO configuration close to its borders, commenting on the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.

Read more here:

3:22 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Ukraine acknowledges some Russian advances in east

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

The Ukrainian military has acknowledged Russian advances in some areas in the east of the country — though it says the extent of the progress is difficult to measure.

In its daily operational update, the General Staff said Russian forces had crossed the Siverskiy Donets river in the direction of Lyman, which is in the Donetsk region. 

Lyman is a town to the northeast of Sloviansk, one of the Russians' strategic objectives. Several bridges across the river had been brought down during earlier fighting. CNN is unable to quantify the scale of the Russian advance. 

"In the Sloviansk direction, the occupiers are regrouping troops to resume the offensive on Barvinkove and Sloviansk. The enemy moved the battalion tactical group in order to strengthen the advanced units," the update said.

CNN has previously reported that Russia has added further battalion tactical groups to its offensive in this area.  

The General Staff also said that further east "the enemy is advancing in the direction of Kudriashivka bear Severodonetsk; with partial success ... Their main task is to establish full control over Rubizhne, to capture Lyman and Severodonetsk."

Kudriashivka is a small settlement close to Severodonetsk and Rubizhne, where Ukrainian forces have been holding off a Russian advance for weeks. The humanitarian situation in Severodonetsk, where some 15,000 people still live, is said to be dire.

River crossing attempts in Luhansk: The regional military administration in Luhansk said that "in total, towns and villages of Luhansk region were fired at 26 times during May 11. The largest number was in Severodonetsk."

The Russians have repeatedly tried to cross the Siverskiy Donets in this area, but Ukrainian forces have quickly destroyed several pontoon bridges in recent days, according to a CNN analysis of satellite imagery. The General Staff said Thursday that another attempt to cross the river was being made near Kreminna.

An aerial view of burnt vehicles and the remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this image distributed on May 12.
An aerial view of burnt vehicles and the remains of what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this image distributed on May 12. (Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Reuters)

If the Russians were able to sustain a river crossing, Ukrainian troops in the Severodonetsk area would be vulnerable to being cut off.

Northeastern battles: In the Kharkiv region, a Ukrainian counterattack continues, and the General Staff says the Russians are reinforcing units in the border area.

"The enemy is regrouping troops in order to prevent a further advance of our troops in the direction of the state border. ... In the areas north of Kharkiv city, the enemy fires artillery at units of our troops."

Line holds to the south: In the south of Ukraine, the Ukrainian military reports further shelling by Russian forces but no changes in frontline positions. The authorities in Dnipro said there had been shelling throughout the night and one civilian had been killed.

UK weighs in: The UK Defense Ministry commented Thursday that "Russia’s prioritisation of operations in the Donbas has left elements deployed in the Kharkiv Oblast vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukrainian counter-attacking force. Despite Russia’s success in encircling Kharkiv in the initial stages of the conflict, it has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganise and replenish its forces following heavy losses."

8:12 a.m. ET, May 12, 2022

Finnish President and Prime Minister say "Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay"

In a joint statement Thursday, Finland's President and Prime Minister announced their support for joining NATO, moving the Nordic nation – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – one step closer to membership of the US-led military alliance.

"During this spring, an important discussion on Finland's possible NATO membership has taken place," said Finland's President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
"Time has been needed to let parliament and the whole society establish their stands on the matter. Time has been needed for close international contacts with NATO and its member countries, as well as with Sweden. We have wanted to give the discussion the space it required."

The leaders said that the "moment of decision-making is near" and Finland must apply for NATO membership.

"NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days," the joint statement said.