May 17, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 7:53 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023
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11:44 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Council of Europe creates "register of damage" for Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls in London

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric speaks with the media at the Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 17.
Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric speaks with the media at the Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 17. (Alastair Grant/AP)

The Council of Europe (COE) announced that it has established a "register of damage" to help hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine, the organization announced on Wednesday at the conclusion of a two-day summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The register — officially the "Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation Against Ukraine" — will document "damage, loss or injury caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine," the COE said, in an initiative that will last for an initial period of three years.

The system is "vital" if Moscow is to be held liable for compensation to victims of the war, said Marija Pejčinović Burić, secretary general of the COE.

"It is one of the first legally binding decisions to hold Russia accountable for its acts," she added.

The COE has 46 member states. The gathering in Reykjavik is only the fourth summit since the council was established in 1949. The summit’s "top priority" was supporting Ukraine in Russia’s war, according to the COE’s website.

"The register is an important step towards accountability for crimes committed in Russia’s brutal war and a strong message of support to Ukraine," Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that the register is "an important milestone on the road to justice and reparations for Ukraine and the Ukrainians who have suffered so much from this war."

"We invite other states, from all corners of the world, to join the Register of Damage as a sign of support for the important issue of Russia's accountability for its war against Ukraine," he added.

Forty nations — including some, like the United States, who had observer status at the summit — have joined the register, with a further three having expressed an intention to join.

Nine countries who are either member or observer states of the council have not yet joined the agreement: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia, Turkey, The Holy See, Israel and Mexico.

2:19 p.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Black Sea grain deal will be extended for 2 months

From CNN's Tim Lister and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Bulk carrier ARGO I is docked at the grain terminal of the port of Odessa, Ukraine, on April 10.
Bulk carrier ARGO I is docked at the grain terminal of the port of Odessa, Ukraine, on April 10. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images)

An agreement has been reached to extend the deal that allows grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, according to Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian officials.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first to announce that the deal, which was scheduled to expire Thursday, will be extended for two months. 

The agreement, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, was originally signed last year and has since been extended. 

What Ukraine says: Oleksandr Kubrakov, the Ukrainian minister of Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development, has confirmed that the grain deal has been extended.

“The grain deal has been unblocked and will continue to be in effect until July 18. The world will continue to receive Ukrainian products thanks to the efforts of our partners in the agreement - Turkey and the UN," Kubrakov said on Facebook.
“We are grateful to our partners for their unwavering and focused position that the agreement should continue to work and on the terms signed by all parties,” Kubrakov added.

Russia had balked at extending the deal without better guarantees for its own exports.

“In mid-April, Russia began to unreasonably restrict the work of the Initiative, and in May it actually blocked it by refusing to register a new fleet and conduct inspections of the fleet that is being loaded at Ukrainian ports,” said Kubrakov.

“Almost 70 vessels are currently waiting in Turkish territorial waters, 90% of them are ready to deliver the products of our farmers to the world,” he claimed.

“We welcome the continuation of the Initiative, but emphasize that it must work effectively. For this purpose, it is necessary to eliminate the problems that Russia has been creating for several months now by sabotaging inspections and registration of the new fleet,” he added.

What Russia says: Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has also confirmed the extension of the Black Sea Grain initiative.

However, Zakharova said that "distortions in the implementation of the grain deal should be corrected as quickly as possible."

US praises extension: The US State Department praised the two-month extension Wednesday, with spokesperson Vedant Patel saying in a briefing that we "strongly support the UN's and Turkey's efforts on the deal, which keeps the global food and grain prices low."

Patel also chastised Russia for the need to repeatedly extend the deal.

“We should not need to remind Moscow every few weeks to keep their promises and to stop using people's hunger as a weapon in their war against Ukraine,” said Patel.

CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Michael Conte contributed reporting to this post.

7:53 a.m. ET, May 23, 2023

Senior Russian officials are forbidden to resign, independent Russian outlet claims

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Tim Lister

A view of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on September 19, 2021.
A view of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on September 19, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Senior Russian officials at the Kremlin and in the regions have been forbidden from leaving their posts, claims IStories, an independent Russian media outlet.

IStories is an online investigative news outlet based outside Russia and is run by a well-known journalist Roman Anin, who said his sources included acquaintances of high-ranking officials in the Presidential Administration.

Anin told CNN he did not know how many people had tried to quit but had not been allowed to. “However, I know of concrete examples of those who tried to quit. These are governors, [from the] security forces, and people from the presidential administration," he said.

The journalist declined to provide names so as to protect his sources.

IStories said it had been told by a former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) that he knew of “at least two cases when governors tried to leave their posts,” but the Internal Policy Department of the Presidential Administration had banned them from resigning and had hinted at criminal cases against them.

There is no way to verify the claims, and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Tuesday that reports about high-ranking officials being banned from resigning for the duration of the "special military operation" — as Moscow refers to the war in Ukraine — were “another hoax.”

Anin said the policy was not formal and never conveyed in writing. “There can be no written refusals or recommendations, because the ban is illegal. It all happens informally. A governor of the region submits his resignation, he is summoned to the Department of Internal Policy, intimidated, called a traitor and threatened with a criminal case if he insists," he noted.

According to a presidential decree, servicemen under contract (which would include the majority of FSB employees) cannot leave even after their contract expires.

The ban has two goals, Anin said. If many people leave, then public administration may become unmanageable, so the ban would "prevent the loss of control," he said, adding that the other goal is to "show the people and subordinates that the authorities are united, that everyone is in place and no one is going to run away.”

10:15 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Russia froze the Finnish embassy bank accounts inside the country, Finland's foreign ministry says

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris 

Bank accounts of the Finnish Embassy in Moscow and General consulate in St. Petersburg have been frozen by the Russian government at the end of April, Finland’s Foreign Ministry in Helsinki told CNN Wednesday. 

“Finland has been in contact with the Russian authorities and demanded an investigation. Also, Finland has demanded Russia to secure Finland´s diplomatic missions' local money and payment transactions,” the ministry said in a statement. 

Russian authorities have yet to explain their decision to the Finnish side to freeze the accounts, according to the Finnish Foreign Ministry. 

Some context: In April, Finland officially became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), marking a major shift in the security landscape in northeastern Europe that added some 1,300 kilometers (830 miles) to the alliance’s frontier with Russia.

Finland’s acceptance into the US-led security alliance presented a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long sought to undermine NATO, and before invading Ukraine, demanded the bloc refrain from further expansion.

Earlier this year, Finland began construction of barrier fences on its eastern border with Russia. The project, which launched at the end of 2022, included plans to build a 130 to 260-kilometer (80 to 161 miles) fence along the country's eastern border. 

CNN's Tara John, Jessie Gretener and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this post.

9:17 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Patriot system has minimal damage following Russian attack near Kyiv on Tuesday, US officials say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Jim Sciutto

The damage to a Patriot air defense system following a Russian missile attack near Kyiv on Tuesday morning is minimal, three US officials tell CNN, with one official describing it as "minor" damage. 

The US sent inspectors to examine the system on Tuesday, after being told by the Ukrainians that the system appeared to have been damaged, one official said.

The system itself is still operational, the officials said, and the radar component of the Patriot, one of its most important elements, was not damaged. US officials do not believe the Patriot will need to be removed from the battlefield for repairs. 

A complete Patriot battery has six major components: generators, a radar set, a control station, antennas, a launcher station and interceptor missiles. The components operate together to fire a Patriot missile and successfully guide it to its target.

It is not clear what part of the Patriot was damaged or if it was damaged by an actual missile strike or falling debris. The Ukrainians said they successfully intercepted all six Russian Kinzhal missiles on Tuesday morning. 

Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, has told Ukrainian TV that the US-made Patriot air defense system could not be destroyed by a Kinzhal missile. 

"Do not worry about the fate of the Patriot. From a technical point of view, Patriot is a ... system," he said, noting that it consisted of components that can be located at a distance from one another.


8:36 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Ukrainian troops are still advancing in areas of Bakhmut, deputy defense minister says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank on a road to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 12.
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop a tank on a road to the frontline town of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on May 12. Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

Ukraine is holding on to the substantial areas around Bakhmut that it claims to have taken back from Russian troops, and Ukrainian forces are still advancing in certain areas, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

"Almost 20 square kilometers liberated in the suburbs in recent days have not been lost. We are moving on. We are advancing in some areas," Maliar said on her Telegram account.

She said "fierce fighting" continues around the embattled eastern city, adding that Russian troops are also "advancing somewhat."

Maliar’s statement cannot be verified, and many observers think Ukrainian progress has been more modest than claimed.

On Tuesday, Maliar said Ukrainian troops "liberated about 20 square kilometers (more than 7 square miles) of the Bakhmut suburbs in the north and south of the city."

CNN's Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.

8:31 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

Ukraine edges a step closer to receiving F-16 fighter jets as UK, Netherlands pledge support

From CNN's Lauren Kent, Julia Kesaieva and Brad Lendon

F-16 fighter jets during the NATO international air force exercise Frisian Flag, at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, on March 28, 2022.
F-16 fighter jets during the NATO international air force exercise Frisian Flag, at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, on March 28, 2022. Jeffrey Groeneweg/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Britain and the Netherlands are working on an “international coalition” to help Ukraine procure F-16 fighter jets that Kyiv says are vital to its defense as Russia ramps up its its aerial strikes, a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday.

The two NATO allies are trying to get the US-made warplanes to Ukraine as well as training Kyiv’s pilots to fly them, according to the Downing Street readout following a meeting between Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Council of Europe Summit in Iceland.

Ukraine, which has been saying the fighter jets are essential to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks, welcomed the announcement from the British and Dutch leaders.

“We need F-16s, and I am grateful to our allies for their decision to work in this direction, including training our pilots,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Yermak said Belgium, another NATO ally, in particular, had “confirmed its readiness to train” Ukrainian pilots.

Britain does not have F-16s in its air force, but the Netherlands and Belgium do. The US Air Force has almost 800 F-16s in its fleet.

Read the full story here.

8:07 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

US Army Special Forces veteran killed in "barrage" of Russian artillery in Bakhmut

From CNN's Haley Britzky and Alex Marquardt 

Nicholas Maimer, left, is pictured with Senator James Risch.
Nicholas Maimer, left, is pictured with Senator James Risch. Senator James Risch

A retired US Army Special Forces soldier has been identified as the American citizen killed by Russian artillery in the embattled city of Bakhmut this week, according to a close friend and the founder of a non-profit group working in Ukraine.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Maimer was in a building in Bakhmut that collapsed after being hit by artillery fire, according to Retired Lt. Col. Perry Blackburn, founder of the non-profit AFGFree, with which Maimer was working in Ukraine.

Ukrainians who were with Maimer believed he was either trapped in the collapsed building or killed by a “barrage” of Russian artillery fire, Blackburn said.

“They got in the position that they were, artillery started coming in heavy and the building started to collapse. That’s when most of the Americans and Ukrainians there were able to escape. Unfortunately, Nick was not able to escape,” an American friend of Maimer in Ukraine also told CNN.

Confirmation of Maimer’s death comes after the leader of Russian private military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed to show the body of an American in a video posted on the Wagner Telegram group on Tuesday. 

Read more here.

8:23 a.m. ET, May 17, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

Rescuers work at the site of a shopping mall that was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on May 17.
Rescuers work at the site of a shopping mall that was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on May 17. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters

At least one person has died and several were injured in the latest Russian shelling to hit frontline regions in eastern and southern Ukraine. But in Kyiv, air defenses are looking virtually impenetrable – in defiance of the expectations of Western analysts and Russian military commanders.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Strikes in the south: Missile strikes on the city of Mykolaiv late Tuesday injured one person and damaged a shopping mall, according to the regional governor. Russia also fired 400 shells in the nearby Kherson region, injuring seven people, including three children.
  • And in the east: In Donetsk region, one person was killed and another wounded in Kurakhove in the latest Russian missile strike. Russia also shelled 16 towns and villages close to the southern frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region, governor Yuri Malashko said.
  • Kyiv’s robust air defenses: Until recently most analysts doubted Ukraine’s air defenses would be able to withstand a sustained Russian assault. And yet Kyiv has claimed to have escaped from Russia’s latest barrage – which involved at least 18 types of missiles and a swarm of drones on Tuesday – left them with barely a scratch. We report on what’s made Ukraine’s air defenses so impenetrable all of a sudden.
  • US inspects damage: However, the United States is investigating reports that one of Kyiv’s US-made Patriot air defense systems was likely damaged, but not destroyed, as a result of Tuesday’s missile barrage. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that a Kinzhal hypersonic missile hit the Patriot system.
  • Ukraine investigates leakers: Ukraine’s security service has registered criminal proceedings against six “bloggers” in Kyiv who it alleges took photos and videos showing the country’s air defense systems at work during Russia’s missile strike on Tuesday and posted them on social media. The six suspects face up to eight years in prison, amid fears that the material could be used by Russia to breach Kyiv’s defenses.
  • Gains in Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces have liberated substantial areas to the north and south of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, according to deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar. She claimed their troops have liberated “about 20 square kilometers (more than 7 square miles) of the Bakhmut suburbs,” although her claim cannot yet be verified.
  • Grain deal deadline: The last ship under the current Black Sea grain deal left Ukraine on Wednesday, according to the Joint Coordination Center. The deal – which allows Ukraine to export grain by sea – has been extended multiple times but is set to expire on Thursday if not renewed again, amid fears of global food security.
  • Zelenska in South Korea: Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska asked South Korea to provide air defense systems as well as non-lethal military hardware when she met with President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday, both countries have reported. Zelenska told Yoon that her country needed help with technologies South Korea “is famous for.”