May 12, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 9:00 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023
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3:45 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023

Large explosions reported in Russian-occupied Luhansk

From CNN's Tim Lister, Darya Tarasova and Julia Kesaieva

Smoke seen rising over Luhansk.
Smoke seen rising over Luhansk. LuhanskOblast/Twitter

Explosions have rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, which is occupied by Russian forces and is a significant hub for Moscow's so-called "special military operation," according to local officials.

The head of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), Leonid Pasechnik, blamed Ukraine for the attack, calling it "another attempt by the Kyiv terrorist regime to intimidate civilians."

"Firefighters and all emergency services are on the scene. The circumstances of the incident and information on the victims are being specified," he said.

Pasechnik said the Leninsky district of the city was shelled on "Republic Day," which is a holiday in the breakaway region.

Two missiles struck the city's industrial zone, the coordination committee of the LPR said on Telegram. The committee claimed the Ukrainian-made "Grom" missile system was used.

The Grom is a ballistic missile that would have the range to strike Luhansk and it has previously been used in the conflict. But no evidence that it was used in this attack has been provided by the local authorities in Luhansk.

The city has rarely come under attack by Ukrainian forces since the Russian invasion, as it is beyond the range of their long-range rocket and missile systems, such as HIMARS.

One Telegram account said there had been two explosions and that smoke was visible over the city. A video posted online shows a large column of black smoke.

Russian news agency TASS quoted a former official in Luhansk as saying that “for the first time the Ukrainian armed forces have used missiles with a range of 150 kilometers (about 93 miles),” after at least two explosions in the city late Friday. TASS cited a retired lieutenant colonel of the Luhansk People’s Republic Militia, Andrei Marochko, but said there had been no official confirmation of the information.

The United Kingdom announced this week that Storm Shadow cruise missiles had been transferred to Ukraine. They are typically air-launched.

Ukraine has made no comment about any attack against Russian forces in Luhansk.

2:19 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023

It's just past 8:30 p.m. in Kyiv. Catch up on the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN Staff

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Friday.
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Friday. (Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters)

Russia lost some ground around Bakhmut as the chief of the Wagner group continues to complain about the lack of support from Russia's defense ministry.

If you are just joining, here's a recap of Friday's developments in Russia's war in Ukraine:

Russia loses ground: The Russian Ministry of Defense has acknowledged its forces pulled back from areas north of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, claiming they moved to more advantageous defensive positions. But it effectively confirms the loss of some kilometers of territory by Russian forces. The head of the private military group Wagner described the regrouping as “a non-tactical retreat," adding that the ministry needs to "stop lying immediately.” Altogether, this retreat accounts for the loss of five square kilometers (nearly two square miles) "today alone," he claimed.

Ukrainian forces advance: Ukrainian forces have been able to push the Russians back 2 kilometers (or about 1.2 miles) around the eastern city of Bakhmut over the past week, the country's deputy defense minister said Friday.

Wagner complaints continue: Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, on Friday invited Russia's defense minister to visit the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut to assess the situation there — the latest provocative statement by the Wagner chief on the Kremlin's war leadership. This comes in a string of ramped up complaints about his own mercenary fighters' battlefield setbacks, claims of lack of ammunition to take Bakhmut.

Deadly Russian attacks: At least two people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded overnight after Russian forces shelled parts of Ukraine near the front lines of the war, officials said.

Chinese envoy will visit Ukraine: China’s special representative of Eurasian affairs Li Hui will visit Ukraine next week to “promote peace talks,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed Friday. Li’s trip will begin on May 15, and he will travel to Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany and Russia during the tour. The visit comes after Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke with his his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky by phone last month for the first time since Russia's invasion began last year. China has repeatedly attempted to portray itself as a peacemaker in the conflict, but Western countries have viewed Beijing’s intentions with deep suspicion as it forges deepening ties with Moscow.

The Black Sea grain deal: Ukraine and Russia are “moving towards” an agreement on extending the United Nations-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, Turkey's Defense Ministry said in a statement Friday. The current deal, which enables the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the countries' Black Sea ports, was renewed for 60 days in March and is set to expire next week.

Zelensky will not speak at Eurovision final: A request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address the Eurovision Song Contest final in the United Kingdom on Saturday has been denied, organizers have said — but a Zelensky spokesperson denied his office had contacted the contest in the first place.

12:08 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023

Belgium will send Ukraine $100 million of tax income on frozen Russian assets

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris 

Belgium will send the tax it collected on frozen Russian assets to Ukraine as its latest round of aid, amounting to $100 million, according to a government statement. 

"For the war to end, the counteroffensive planned by Ukraine must be successful. The additional aid that Belgium is providing today will contribute to this," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in the statement. 

Half of this aid will be for military purposes and the other half will be used to help civilians, he said. 

More context: Back in February, the European Union set up a working group to examine whether frozen Russian assets can be used to rebuild Ukraine.

Ukraine’s economy shrank by more than 30% in 2022 as the war destroyed infrastructure, hurt businesses and disrupted daily life, according to the country’s economy ministry.

The cost of reconstruction and recovery in the country was put at roughly $349 billion in a September 2022 assessment from the World Bank, the European Commission and Ukraine’s government — but ongoing fighting has raised the price tag since then.

A senior EU official estimated earlier this year that the European Union and Western allies had frozen more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets that could potentially be used to rebuild Ukraine.

12:18 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023

UK's missile delivery to Ukraine is "another extremely hostile step," Russia says

From Anna Chernova and Darya Tarasova

The UK’s decision to supply long-range Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine is “another extremely hostile step by London, aimed at further pumping up Ukraine with weapons and leading to a serious escalation of the situation in the zone of the special military operation,” the Russian foreign ministry said. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly used the term "special military operation" to refer to Russia's war in Ukraine.

“The transfer of long-range high-precision missile systems to the Kyiv regime clearly confirms the unprecedented level of involvement of the UK in the Ukrainian conflict,” it said.

Russia "reserves the right to take all necessary measures to neutralize the threats that may arise from the use of British cruise missiles by Ukraine,” it added.

Earlier on Friday, a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia is "undoubtedly" prepared for the continued supply of weapons by the West to Ukraine.

What the UK is saying: British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed Thursday that the United Kingdom delivered multiple “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine, calling the donation Ukraine’s "best chance to defend themselves against Russia’s continued brutality."

CNN had exclusively reported the deal earlier. The missiles give Ukraine a new long-range strike capability in advance of a highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces, multiple senior Western officials told CNN.

11:53 a.m. ET, May 12, 2023

Ukraine will deploy new Kharkiv-made tank, defense minister says

From CNN's Tim Lister and Julia Kesaieva

Ukraine is about to field the first examples of a new Ukrainian-made battle tank, according to Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

Reznikov posted video of a test drive of the new Ukrainian Oplot tank, saying, "It's always a pleasure to test drive equipment that goes to the front line. But when it is Ukrainian equipment, it is many times more pleasant."

“I am convinced that a Ukrainian tank, such as the Oplot, should be at the forefront of the tank coalition,” he said. 

The Oplot was built in Kharkiv by the state arms manufacturer Ukroboronprom and is an iteration of the Soviet-designed T-84 main battle tank.

Western analysts say it is fast and maneuverable, and it has a more advanced fire control system and armor protection than previous versions.

Reznikov did not say how many would be produced.

More background on tanks in the war: Ukraine clamored for battle tanks from the West late last year and into early 2023. While logistics, training and delivery take a long time, the country has been promised US Abrams M1s, UK Challengers, and German and Spanish Leopard tanks. Training on the Abrams tanks has been slated to begin this month, as training of Ukrainian troops on the other vehicles has already been completed.

Meanwhile, a report last month from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Russia has lost up to 3,500 of its tanks. Western officials have said that T-55 tanks, introduced in 1948, are now turning up on the battlefield.

10:35 a.m. ET, May 12, 2023

Russian-appointed official hurt in IED attack in Melitopol, other officials say

From Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Russian-appointed officials in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia have reported another assassination attempt against a local official.

An explosion in Melitopol early Friday "turned out to be an attempt on an employee of one of the ministries of the Zaporizhzhia region," said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration.

An investigation was launched into the attempted murder of the acting deputy minister of construction in the Zaporizhzhia region after an improvised explosive device (IED) was placed in a garbage container near the entrance to an apartment in Melitopol, he said.

“The device detonated when the official was coming out of the entranceway,” Rogov added, noting that the official had suffered blast injuries.

There have been several assassination attempts against Russian-appointed officials in occupied parts of southern Ukraine in recent weeks. In Melitopol, a police officer was killed, and another official escaped injury in a second incident.

10:10 a.m. ET, May 12, 2023

UK prime minister is "disappointed" that Ukraine's Zelensky was not allowed to address Eurovision final

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions, at the House of Commons in London, England, on May 10.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions, at the House of Commons in London, England, on May 10. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is "disappointed" that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was refused permission to address the Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool, UK, on Saturday, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

"The values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they’re fundamental," the spokesperson told journalists Friday. "The prime minister thinks it would be fitting for President Zelensky to address the event given that we’re hosting it on behalf of Ukraine."

In a statement posted on its website on Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union — an alliance of public service media organizations that oversees the event — stressed the importance of the "nonpolitical" nature of Eurovision, which "prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the Contest."

Meanwhile, a Zelensky spokesperson denied his office had contacted the contest in the first place.

Some background: Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the contest last year, with a wave of support across Europe sweeping the nation to victory. As is tradition, the winner earns the right to host the next year’s competition. But, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the UK is hosting this year’s event – the first time that the contest is being held on behalf of another nation. The UK's entry came second last year.

12:04 p.m. ET, May 12, 2023

South Africa calls in US ambassador over Russian arms accusations

From CNN’s David McKenzie

The Russian vessel, Lady R, is docked at the Simon's Town Naval Base near Cape Town, South Africa, on December 8.
The Russian vessel, Lady R, is docked at the Simon's Town Naval Base near Cape Town, South Africa, on December 8. (AP)

South Africa has summoned the US ambassador in Pretoria following his claims that a Russian ship was loaded with weapons and ammunition in Cape Town last December.    

The head of public diplomacy for the South African foreign ministry, Clayson Monyela, said it would “demarche the USA Ambassador to South Africa following his remarks yesterday,” in a statement released on Twitter Friday.

The US ambassador accused the South African government of delivering arms and ammunition to a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel late last year.

Monyela said a detailed statement will be released following the meeting. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor will also speak today to her US counterpart, Secretary Antony Blinken, on the matter, according to Monyela.

Ambassador Reuben Brigety II told local media Thursday that he was confident that the cargo ship was loaded with arms while it docked at a naval base in Simon’s Town near Cape Town for two days before setting off for Russia.

The office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that no evidence had been provided to support these allegations and that the government planned to form an independent inquiry into the matter.

Monyela added Friday that the National Conventional Arms Control Committee has “no record of an approved arms sale by the state to Russia related to the period/incident in question,” adding that the ministry “welcomes” the inquiry to “establish the facts and role players.” South Africa, he said, “values” its relations with the US, which he called “cordial, strong, and mutually beneficial.”

Some background: The South African government has come under intense criticism for its stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has routinely abstained from votes condemning Russia at the United Nations General Assembly.

While the South African leadership has repeatedly stated that it is neutral in the conflict and has frequently called for a negotiated settlement, its actions have come under increasing scrutiny from Western powers.

In February of this year, South Africa convened naval war games off its coast with the participation of both the Russian and Chinese military.

Later this year, South Africa will host the BRICS summit, a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Russian President Vladimir Putin was invited to that summit.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Friday said Putin expressed his support for bringing African leaders into discussions about ending the conflict in Ukraine in a phone call with Ramaphosa. Putin also confirmed that Russia is ready to "supply significant volumes of grain and fertilizers to needy African states, including on a no-cost basis," the statement said. 

CNN’s Xiaofei Xu and Darya Tarasova contributed reporting to this post.

9:52 a.m. ET, May 12, 2023

Wagner chief claims Russia lost 5 square kilometers near Bakhmut on Friday

From Anna Chernova and Tim Lister

The head of the private military group Wagner sharply criticized Russia’s Ministry of Defense over what he describes as the deteriorating position for Russian forces in Bakhmut. 

This comes after the ministry acknowledged its forces pulled back from areas north of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, claiming they moved to more advantageous defensive positions.

This statement “to put it mildly, was cunning,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said, adding that the ministry needs to "stop lying immediately.”
Prigozhin described the regrouping as “a non-tactical retreat," and claimed, "there was simply a flight of units of the Ministry of Defense from the flanks, therefore, an exit to the Berkhivka reservoir," which lies immediately northwest of Bakhmut.
Altogether, this retreat accounts for the loss of five square kilometers (nearly two square miles) "today alone," he claimed.

Ukraine will "be at a distance of 500 meters from Bakhmut, occupying all tactical heights,” Prigozhin claimed. He also noted that Ukrainian forces have "completely liberated" the hotly contested road from Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut, which is a key route for Kyiv's efforts to resupply its forces in Bakhmut.

The Wagner boss also reiterated his prior complaints about the lack of support from the defense ministry as their flanks crumble, and questioned if the group and its fighters will be accused to treason if they were to leave Bakhmut without the permission of the chief of general staff.