May 15, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Andrew Raine, Tara John, Sana Noor Haq, Laura Smith-Spark and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022
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9:47 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Turkey's intention "is not to block" NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, says secretary general

From CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin

Turkey has made it clear that their intention is not to block membership, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday.

During a video news conference, he expressed confidence that NATO will be able to address Turkey's concerns and that the ascension process for Sweden and Finland into NATO is "faster than we have seen before."

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he is not looking at Finland and Sweden joining NATO "positively," accusing both countries of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

"Unfortunately, Scandinavian countries are like guesthouses of terror organizations. PKK and DHKPC have taken shelter in Sweden and Netherlands. They have even taken place in their parliaments. At this stage, it is not possible for us to see this positively." Erdogan had said. 

Following this, the NATO secretary general said, "I'm confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn't delay the membership or the accession process, so my intention is still to have a quick and swift process," he said.

The ratification process will take time, as it is standard when going through 30 parliaments, he added, but emphasized the need to move quicker.

"This is a historic opportunity we need to seize," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg added NATO will work with Sweden and Finland on any potential threats from Russia "to provide assurance measures is in the intermediate."

10:26 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

"Ukraine can win this war," says NATO secretary general

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on April 28.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on April 28. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, "Ukraine can win this war," while speaking to reporters via a video link on Sunday.

"Russia's war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow have planned. It failed to take Kyiv," Stoltenberg said, "They’re pulling back from around Kharkiv, their major offensive in Donbass has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives."

"Ukrainians are bravely defending their homeland. To help them to do so, allies have committed and delivered security assistance to Ukraine worth billions of dollars," Stoltenberg said.

Allies expressed strong support for Ukraine and "further strengthening of NATO's deterrence on defense and the longer-term implications of the war including on our future stance towards Russia," he added.

Moreover, he said, "NATO's door is open" to Sweden and Finland, calling their decision to apply "historic."

10:23 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Vast bunker cut into Helsinki’s bedrock demonstrates Finland’s preparations for times of crisis

From CNN's Nic Robertson, Chris Liakos and Frederick Wheeler in Helsinki, Finland

A sports hall inside the Merihaka bunker.
A sports hall inside the Merihaka bunker. (Chris Liakos/CNN)

As Finland edges closer to joining NATO, Russia has warned that it “will be forced to take retaliatory steps” in order to “stop the threats to its national security.”

But it seems Finland has been preparing for a potential conflict with its neighbor to the east for decades.

Since the 1960s, the Finnish government has built more than 50,000 bunkers across the country, which are enough to shelter 80% of the country’s 5.5 million people.

A CNN team visited two of the 5,500 or so shelters in Helsinki, the capital.

The Itäkeskus Swimming Hall, in the city's northeast, can be converted into a shelter in less than a day by draining its Olympic-sized swimming pool of water.

Itäkeskus Swimming Hall.
Itäkeskus Swimming Hall. (Chris Liakos/CNN)

Meanwhile, about 20 meters (60 feet) below a parking garage, the Merihaka bunker is cut into the bedrock of the city. An emergency shelter with capacity for 6,000 people can be set up within 72 hours in case of crisis.

Parts of the space are already in use, to help offset the costs — children play hockey inside sports halls and enjoy play areas, while members of the public use the cafes.

“We are a half-star hotel,” Tomi Rask, who works for the Helsinki City Rescue Department, tells CNN.

However, the bunker is not just fit for recreational use.

The 2 billion-year-old bedrock is blast-proof and could absorb the radiation from a nuclear bomb, while the curved tunnels that run through the shelter "take most of the hit," according to Rask.

Merihaka bunker.
Merihaka bunker. (Frederick Wheeler/CNN)

Rask adds that despite the city’s preparations, he can’t predict how things will turn out “when this many people get put in a small space and it’s tight and you close the doors."

Everyone has a role in here,” he says.

Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917, refusing to align itself with the Soviet Union or the United States. Even after it joined the European Union in 1995 and gradually aligned its defense policies with the West, it still avoided joining NATO outright due to the geopolitical threat from Russia, with whom it shares an 830-mile border.

But the Mayor of Helsinki, Juhana Vartiainen, said the city had "never had any illusions about the Soviet Union, nor its follower, Russia."

“I have been more (and) more surprised by the fact that such shelters do not exist in all European countries,” he said.

Take a look inside Helsinki's extensive bunkers:

CNN's Luke McGee contributed reporting to this post.

7:46 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Finnish President “confused” over Turkish leader's comments about Finland and Sweden joining NATO

From CNN's Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos in Helsinki

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gives a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gives a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has said he is “confused” over comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is not looking at the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively."

“To be frank, I’m a bit confused, because I had a telephone discussion with the President Erdogan approximately a month ago. And actually, he took up himself before I had the possibility to do that, that you're applying for NATO membership, and we will assess it favourable," Niinistö told CNN's Nic Robertson during a press conference Sunday in Helsinki.

"I thanked him and he was very pleased to receiving my thanks. So you got to understand that I'm a bit confused. What we heard two days ago was different then yesterday, we again heard that Turkey is open to our membership, but, it turned back to no or let's say negative side."

"I think that what we need now is a very clear answer. I'm prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised."

Erdogan said Friday he was not looking at Finland and Sweden joining NATO "positively," accusing both counties of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

6:37 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Finland will apply to join NATO, leaders say, ditching decades of neutrality despite Russia's threats of retaliation

From CNN's Tara John and Chandler Thornton

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on May 15. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland's government announced Sunday it will apply to join NATO, ditching decades of wartime neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country attempts to strengthen its security following the onset of the war in Ukraine.

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move must be ratified by the country's parliament before it can go forward.

"We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days," Marin said during a press conference in Helsinki.

"It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with governments of NATO member states and NATO itself," Marin added.

The move would bring the US-led military alliance up to Finland's 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as the legislatures of all 30 current NATO members must approve new applicants.

It also risks provoking the ire of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a "mistake."

CNN's Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting to this post.

Read the full story:

6:02 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

It's 1 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

NATO foreign ministers are meeting in Germany, while Finland and Sweden consider joining the US-led military alliance.

Here are the latest headlines from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland set to seek NATO membership: Finland's President Sauli Niinistö told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday that the Nordic nation will decide "to seek NATO membership in the next few days," Niinistö's office said in a statement. Putin called such a move a "mistake" as Russia suspended its power exports to Finland. Germany has “prepared everything to do a quick ratification process” if Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday.

Where the fighting is happening: In the country's north, Ukraine continues to press on with a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, where its troops have made significant advances to the north and east towards the Russian border. The aim of the Ukrainian offensive is to cut Russia's supply lines to its forces trying to advance into the eastern Donetsk region. The pullback of Russian forces from areas around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has revealed new evidence of atrocities. Ukrainian officials say there were further air strikes on the Chernihiv and Sumy regions of northern Ukraine.

Several industrial towns in the east have seen relentless bombardment for weeks as Russian forces try to break down Ukrainian defenses. One is Severodonetsk, where a chemical plant and high-rise buildings have been hit, according to Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, who warns "Russians are gathering equipment and manpower closer to Severodonetsk and preparing to attack it."

On the southern front, Ukrainian regional authorities say the Russians have begun digging trenches in some front-line positions, while in the country's west, four missiles hit a military infrastructure facility in the Yavoriv district, Ukrainian officials said.

Russian losses: Russia may have lost as much as one third of the ground force it committed when it invaded Ukraine, according to an intelligence assessment from Britain's defense ministry. It added that Russian forces had sustained heavy losses in their Donbas offensive and that "under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days." It is unclear how the ministry has arrived at that assessment. Russia is thought to have committed about 100 battalion tactical groups to the offensive in eastern Ukraine, but Western officials say many of these groups are under strength.

Mariupol convoy: A convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars containing people evacuated from Mariupol entered the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, Petro Andryushchenko, aide to Mariupol's mayor, said on his telegram channel.

Zelensky meets US delegation: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met a congressional delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kyiv on Saturday, and called for Russia to be officially recognized as a "terrorist state."

Ukraine wins Eurovision: Ukraine's folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra has won this year's Eurovision Song Contest, surfing a wave of goodwill from European nations to clinch the country's third win at the glitzy event. The band's song "Stefania," written about the frontman's mother, beat competition from main rivals the United Kingdom and Spain at the competition in the Italian city of Turin.

5:49 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

“More weapons and other aid" on the way to Ukraine, Ukrainian foreign minister says after meeting US counterpart Blinken

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday that he'd met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Germany and that “more weapons and other aid (are) on the way to Ukraine.”

Kuleba and Blinken met in the German capital, Berlin, where NATO foreign ministers are holding an informal meeting over the weekend. Finland is expected to make a decision Sunday on whether it will make a formal application to join the bloc. It's widely anticipated that Sweden will follow the move.

“We agreed to work closely together to ensure that Ukrainian food exports reach consumers in Africa and Asia. Grateful to Secretary Blinken and the U.S. for their leadership and unwavering support,” Kuleba’s tweet read.

5:31 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

UK claims Russian losses may amount to one third of ground combat force in Ukraine

From CNN's Tim Lister in Lviv

A destroyed pontoon bridge is seen on the Siverskyi Donets River near Bilohorivka, Ukraine on May 12.
A destroyed pontoon bridge is seen on the Siverskyi Donets River near Bilohorivka, Ukraine on May 12. (From Ukraine Armed Forces)

Russia may have lost as much as one third of the ground force it committed when it invaded Ukraine, according to Britain's defense ministry.

In its latest defense intelligence update, the ministry said Russian forces had sustained heavy losses in their Donbas offensive and that "under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days."

The ministry assessed that the offensive has "fallen significantly behind schedule. Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition."

"Russia has now likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February," the ministry added on Sunday.

It is unclear how the ministry has arrived at that assessment. Russia is thought to have committed about 100 battalion tactical groups to the offensive in eastern Ukraine, but Western officials say many of these groups are under strength.

The UK intelligence assessment says delays in Russian operations will "almost certainly be exacerbated by the loss of critical enablers such as bridging equipment and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones."

"Russian bridging equipment has been in short supply throughout the conflict, slowing and restricting offensive manoeuvre. Russian UAVs are vital for tactical awareness and directing artillery but have been vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-air capabilities," it adds.

"Many of these capabilities cannot be quickly replaced or reconstituted and are likely to continue to hinder Russian operations in Ukraine."

Some background: In the past week, Russia has lost substantial bridging equipment while trying to cross the Siverskyi Donets river. The Russians have tried and apparently failed to put several pontoons across the river in an effort to encircle Ukrainian troops. Satellite imagery analyzed by CNN shows at least three bridges were destroyed this week and the Russians sustained heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military claimed to have substantially degraded Russian drone capabilities. 

5:15 a.m. ET, May 15, 2022

Germany has laid the groundwork for "quick ratification" if Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO, German foreign minister says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, talks to Mircea Geoana, Nato Deputy Secretary General prior to an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers' session in Berlin on Sunday, May 15.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, talks to Mircea Geoana, Nato Deputy Secretary General prior to an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers' session in Berlin on Sunday, May 15. (Michael Sohn/AP)

Germany has “prepared everything to do a quick ratification process” if Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for talks with NATO counterparts in Berlin on Sunday.

Baerbock said it was important not to have an in-between "gray zone," but that if these two countries decide to join the US-led military alliance, "they can join very quickly.”

Germany’s top diplomat added that if Sweden’s and Finland’s parliaments and societies decided to join NATO, their integration into the alliance would “make us even stronger, defense-wise but also with our values as democratic partners.”

“NATO was always an alliance for defense. It will stay always an alliance for defense, but before February 24, it was for some countries, not the most important thing to join," Baerbock told reporters.

“This has changed especially for our friends in Nordic Europe or Sweden and Finland. People didn't want to join NATO but now they are being pushed into NATO,” she added. 

Some context: The Finnish government is planning to issue a second white paper on Sunday proposing that the country joins NATO, Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters on Thursday. The proposal would then be put to a parliamentary vote with a plenary scheduled for Monday morning.

Russia has warned of retaliatory countermeasures, with Russian President Vladimir Putin telling his Finnish counterpart that ending decades of Finland's military neutrality would be a "mistake."