May 16, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Jessie Yeung, Amy Woodyatt, Matias Grez, Ed Upright and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022
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6:31 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Turkish president says he will not approve Sweden and Finland's NATO membership if they sanction Turkey

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul and Zahid Mahmood in London

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 16.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 16.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey. 

“First of all, we would not say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey joining NATO, which is a security organization. Because then NATO would not remain a security organization anymore, it becomes a place where representatives of the terror concentrate,” Erdogan said. 

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, Erdogan said Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Turkey to try to convince Turkey to approve the country’s NATO membership. 

Turkey’s foreign minister held “some” meetings with Swedish and Finnish counterparts, Erdogan said, adding that none of the two countries had a clear stance against terror organizations.

“Even if they say ‘we are against them,’ on the contrary they have statements saying that they do not hand over the terrorists that they need to hand over to Turkey,” he said. 

He added that Sweden is a “nest” for terror organizations, saying it allows terrorists to speak in parliaments. 

“They have special invitations to terrorists. They even have pro PKK MPs in their parliaments. How are we going to trust them?”

Erdogan reiterated the same stance last week when he told a news conference in Istanbul that he was not looking at the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively,” accusing both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations.”

The PKK, or Kurdistan Worker's Party, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with Turkey for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

1:54 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania endorse Sweden and Finland's "historic" decision to join NATO

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have endorsed Sweden and Finland’s plans to seek membership in NATO.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the foreign ministers called the decisions “historic” and said that they will “do what it takes to assist both countries.” 

“We are confident that both Sweden and Finland will contribute to unity, solidarity, cohesion and strength of the Alliance and whole Transatlantic area, at a time when the security environment we face is increasingly complex,” the statement says.

The ministers added that Sweden and Finland’s membership “will also greatly increase the security of the Baltic Sea region”, as well as “open new perspectives for Nordic-Baltic and other regional cooperation formats in defense and security matters.”

“We are committing ourselves to promote speedy ratification of the accession protocols once they are signed,” the joint statement adds.

1:19 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

McConnell thinks US Congress will vote "as rapidly as possible" to support Finland's application to NATO

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö speak to the press after their meeting in Helsinki on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö speak to the press after their meeting in Helsinki on Monday. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtukuva/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said on Monday that there’s “strong bipartisan support” in the US to help Finland become a member of NATO and that he thinks the US Congress will vote “as rapidly as possible” — likely before the chamber’s August recess — to support Finland’s application to join the alliance. 

“I think I'm safe in saying there's strong bipartisan support in the United States for admission of Finland to the world's most successful military alliances,” McConnell said in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

He added: “The goal of the United States will be able will be to approve that as rapidly as possible.” 

Two-thirds of the Senate is required to support the treaty in order for it to be ratified. McConnell said he expects the size of the vote in the chamber to be “very significant.”

When asked when Congress would vote, the Kentucky Republican said: “I think certainly we hope to achieve it before the August recess when Congress typically goes out of session. Obviously, that would be well before the fall election. With regard to the size of the vote, I think it will be very significant, not unanimous, but very significant.”

McConnell also said on Monday that Republicans are “absolutely” committed to NATO, when asked about reports that former President Trump has expressed wanting to pull the US out of NATO and whether the GOP still strongly support the alliance.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s not the majority view in the Republican party. Certainly not the majority view amongst Senate Republicans or House Republicans.”

McConnell led a US congressional delegation to Ukraine over the weekend and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv Saturday. McConnell was joined on the unannounced trip by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas.

McConnell and the other senators became the latest US officials to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded the eastern European nation in late February.

10:58 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Russians fired long range missiles targeting military training facility near Lviv, US defense official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Russian forces fired long-range missiles over the last 24 hours that appeared to be targeting the Yavoriv military training facility near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, a senior US defense official said Monday.

The official said there was “minimal damage” as a result of the strikes.

“I don't have perfect visibility on those strikes. They do appear to have been targeted at that training facility and again, what we what we can see from our perspective is minor damage to a few buildings,” the official said.

 

10:44 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Denmark, Iceland and Norway "strongly welcome" Finnish and Swedish decision to apply for NATO membership 

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London

The leaders of Denmark, Iceland and Norway have welcomed Finland and Sweden's decision to apply for membership of NATO. 

"We strongly welcome Finland and Sweden’s decisions to apply for NATO membership," the three nations said in a joint statement.

"We note that the decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership are sovereign national decisions in line with Finland and Sweden’s right to choose their own security arrangements. Finland and Sweden have the right to pursue their accession process without any attempts of outside interference," the statement said.

More context: On Monday, the Swedish government announced its decision to apply for NATO membership after determining that membership "is the best way to protect Sweden’s security in light of the fundamentally changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."

Last week, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Finland must apply for membership "without delay" and will complete the steps it needs to on the national level "in the next couple of days."

The three nations stressed Monday that Finnish and Swedish security are "a matter of common concern to us all."  

"Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary," the three nations pledged. 

They also vowed to do their "utmost to ensure a swift accession process, as Finland and Sweden already live up to the relevant criteria for NATO membership."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre pledged in a separate statement to "further develop our Nordic defense cooperation."  

9:57 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Swedish government says it has decided to apply for NATO membership 

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson gives a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 16.
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson gives a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 16. (Photo by Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

The Swedish government has said on its website that it has decided to apply for NATO membership.

"The Government’s assessment is that NATO membership is the best way to protect Sweden’s security in light of the fundamentally changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine," it said.

The statement said the decision is based on a "security analysis" that the government invited "other Riksdag (parliament) parties to take part in." Its conclusions were presented in a report on May 13.

Earlier Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden should join NATO together with neighboring Finland to "ensure the safety of Swedish people."

When asked when exactly the country will hand in the application, she said it could it happen this week — either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. She added that it needs to be done in coordination with Finland.

9:50 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

European Council president commends Sweden on decision to join NATO 

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London

President of the European Council Charles Michel commended Sweden and the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, on deciding to join NATO, calling it a “decision for the benefit of collective security and defense.”

In a tweet on Monday, Michel said, “With Sweden’s application to join NATO alongside its strategic partner Finland, our security becomes even stronger.”

“EU contribution to NATO deterrence is increasingly invaluable,” he added.

9:39 a.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Sweden should join NATO alongside Finland to "ensure the safety of Swedish people," prime minister says

From CNN's Per Bergfors Nyberg and Niamh Kennedy 

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, right, and the Moderate Party's leader Ulf Kristersson address a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 16.
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, right, and the Moderate Party's leader Ulf Kristersson address a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 16. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden should join NATO together with neighboring Finland to "ensure the safety of Swedish people," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Monday. 

Speaking during a joint news conference alongside Swedish opposition leader Ulf Kristersson in Stockholm Monday, Andersson emphasized that the current situation is "requiring" Sweden to join the military alliance. 

"To ensure the safety of Swedish people the best way forward is to join NATO together with Finland," Andersson said. 

Andersson said the Swedish government had decided to apply to become a member of NATO. 

When asked when exactly the country will hand in the application, she said it could it happen this week — either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. She added that it needs to be done in coordination with Finland.

 

3:42 p.m. ET, May 16, 2022

Putin: Finland and Sweden's NATO entry isn't a threat to Russia, but military expansion will cause a response

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 16.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 16. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

President Vladimir Putin said Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO will not create a threat to Russia, but the "expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response."

"As for the expansion of NATO, including through new members of the alliance which are Finland, Sweden — Russia has no problems with these states. Therefore, in this sense, expansion at the expense of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia," Putin said while speaking at the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow on Monday. 

"But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response. We will see what it will be based on the threats that will be created for us," he added.

According to the Russian leader, the NATO expansion is "artificial" as the alliance goes beyond its geographic purpose and is influencing other regions "not in the best way."

The Russian president said that CSTO plays a very important stabilizing role in the post-Soviet space and expressed the hope that the possibilities and influence of the organization will only increase in "these difficult times."

"I hope that the organization, which over the previous years has turned into a full-fledged international structure, will continue to develop. I mean, in these difficult times," Putin said. 

According to Putin, the leaders of the CSTO member countries on Monday will adopt a joint statement on military cooperation.

Putin added that he will inform the heads of states of the CSTO in detail about the course of the special military operation in Ukraine in the closed part of the summit.

Member states of the CSTO intend to hold a series of joint exercises this autumn, which will take place in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Putin said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday, hours after Sweden formally submitted its bid to join NATO, that Russia "will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security arising in this regard."

Russia has vehemently opposed Sweden's bid to join the alliance. The statement further added, "Sweden's entry into NATO will cause significant damage to the security of Northern Europe and the European continent as a whole."

“NATO membership will not increase the level of Sweden's security, if only because no one threatens the country, but it will certainly lead to the loss of sovereignty in making foreign policy decisions,” the statement continued.

The Scandinavian country has previously remained neutral and avoided conflict but by if it joins NATO, it will agree to take arms if need be to support other NATO members.

CNN's Aliza Kassim and Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting to this post.