May 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Helen Regan, Jack Guy, Matias Grez and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022
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1:03 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Treasury secretary: US will likely block Russian debt payments starting next week

From CNN’s Matt Egan

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations (G7) on May 18 in Koenigswinter near Bonn, western Germany.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations (G7) on May 18 in Koenigswinter near Bonn, western Germany. (Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images)

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday signaled US officials will likely end a carve-out in Western sanctions that has allowed Russia to continue making payments on its debt and avoid a default.

Speaking at a press conference in Germany, Yellen said it is “reasonably likely” to expect the license will be allowed to expire on May 25. 

“There has not been a final decision on that. But I think it’s unlikely it would continue,” Yellen said. 

Such a move would effectively block Russia from paying US bondholders, raising the risk of a default. Russia has not defaulted on its foreign debt since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago. 

US sanctions introduced after Russia invaded Ukraine ban transactions with Russia’s central bank, finance ministry and national wealth fund. However, the Treasury Department issued a license that allows for transactions related to debt payments.

“When we first imposed sanctions on Russia, we created an exemption that would allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place and for investors to be able to sell securities,” Yellen said. “And the expectation was that it was time-limited.”

Yellen signaled she is not concerned about the potential spillover caused by ending the license.

“Russia is not able right now to borrow in global financial markets. It has no access to capital markets,” Yellen said. “If Russia is unable to find a legal way to make these payments and they technically default on their debt, I don’t think that really represents a significant change in Russia’s situation. They’re already cut off from global capital markets and that would continue.”

1:03 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Turkish official holds calls with Swedish and Finnish counterparts on NATO membership applications

From Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held phone calls with his counterparts from Sweden and Finland as well as Germany, the US and the UK to discuss NATO membership applications of Sweden and Finland, among other topics.

“In the context of Sweden and Finland's membership applications to NATO, the expectation that concrete steps will be taken to address Turkey's national security concerns was communicated. It was underlined that if Turkey's expectations were not met, the progress of the process would not be possible,” according to a readout of the meeting.

“During the meetings, it was also emphasized that it is unacceptable to allow the terrorist organization PKK/PYD/YPG and FETO members to exist in NATO members and other countries. It was stated that there should be no discrimination between terrorist organizations and that all forms of terrorism should be fought in a spirit of unity and solidarity,” the readout added.

Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies. The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Erdogan also said Sweden did not extradite 30 people whom Turkey sees linked to terrorism. 

According to the readout, the reversal of defense export bans and of sanctions against Turkey were also addressed.

Earlier on Wednesday, Erdogan told his party's members of parliament in Ankara that he expects NATO member countries to “understand” Turkey’s security issues. 

1:12 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Ukrainians target Russian tank 8 miles from Ukraine-Russia border, videos show

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy 

(From Telegram)
(From Telegram)

Ukrainian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region targeted a Russian tank, with the tank firing back as well, according to new videos circulating on social media. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos. It's unclear when the firefight with the tank happened, but it took place near the village of Nove, just 8 miles (about 12 kilometers) south of the Ukraine-Russia border. 

The three videos show a Russian tank near a network of trenches dug on the western shoulder of Highway 105. Troops are seen in the trenches, but it's unclear whether they are Russian or Ukrainian. 

The Russian tank was seen on fire, spinning around and then firing. 

Although it's unclear how the tank caught on fire, the second video gives some indication of what may have started it. In the video, the tank was seen heading north back toward the border and Russian-occupied territory, as well as toward a Ukrainian soldier equipped with a shoulder-fired missile. 

The tank fired repeatedly in the direction where the soldier was last seen.

In a third video, a shoulder fired-missile was seen almost hitting the tank. Suddenly, the tank was seen firing and then crashing into a line of trees on the side of the road.

12:39 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

US defense secretary says if Sweden joins NATO, it will make alliance "better at defending ourselves"

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, left, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand during an enhanced honor cordon ceremony upon his arrival at the Pentagon today in Washington.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, left, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand during an enhanced honor cordon ceremony upon his arrival at the Pentagon today in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If Sweden joins NATO, the country will make the alliance “better at defending ourselves,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during opening remarks ahead of a bilateral meeting with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant, and your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves. And of course, that’s especially important at this crucial time,” Austin said, as the war in Ukraine continues.

“The United States strongly supports Sweden’s application for NATO membership,” Austin added.

Austin thanked Sweden for its help in supporting Ukraine through the past two-and-a-half months of the war. 

“Sweden has joined the United States and our allies and partners in rushing urgently needed security assistance and humanitarian aid to the brave people of Ukraine,” Austin said. “Your leadership has helped bring renewed resolve and resolve to the Swedish defense and security establishment.” 

Sweden has decided to formally apply to NATO for membership this week, along with Finland.

Hultqvist said Russia’s war in Ukraine poses a “long-term threat to European security,” and called it a “time where the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression.”

While the US and Sweden already work together militarily, Hultqvist said that “things have changed” because of Russia’s invasion.

“We’ve done a lot together to make interoperability to exercise together and to develop the relationship between our armed forces,” Hultqvist said. “From our point of view, we’ve seen it as something that has given stability to our part of Europe, but the war in Ukraine is a reality and things have changed.”

Hultqvist called Sweden’s decision to apply for NATO membership a “manifestation of our commitment to transatlantic security and transatlantic cooperation.”

“In tying our security even more closely to the security of the United States and others, we are exercising our right to make our own choices in providing for our security,” Hultqvist added.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday is set to welcome the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland to the White House in a key show of support.

The leaders are expected to discuss Finland and Sweden's NATO applications, European security and support for Ukraine amid Russia's invasion, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

2:09 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Russian soldier pleads "fully" guilty in Kyiv court during first Ukraine war crime trial

From CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, Daria Markina in Kyiv and Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box at the opening of his trial in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv on May 18.
Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box at the opening of his trial in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv on May 18. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

A Kyiv district court heard charges against a captured Russian soldier on Wednesday, as the country’s first war crime trial of symbolic importance gathers pace.

The Russian soldier stands accused of murder and “violating the laws and customs of war” under Article 438 of Ukraine's Criminal Code. 

21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin pleaded “fully” guilty on Wednesday and is facing a life sentence. 

In a detailed outline of events, the prosecutor told the court that Shishimarin, along with four other Russian servicemen, stole a vehicle to hide from the shelling by Ukrainian forces. The group drove into the village of Chupakhivka, where they encountered an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on a mobile phone. 

“Under the impression that the civilian intended to inform on them to Ukrainian Armed Forces, one of the soldiers ordered Shishimarin to kill the civilian,” the prosecutor said. 

Citing articles 50 and 51 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, the prosecutor accused Shishimarin of firing several targeted shots using a Kalashnikov rifle from the back window of his car, hitting the victim in the head. 

“The victim died from fractured skull injuries after the five soldiers left the scene,” the prosecutor said. After several days of hiding, the group eventually surrendered to local residents, the prosecutor added.

The trial has been adjourned until Thursday because too many members of the media were crowding the courtroom.

The judges will hear testimony from Shishimarin on Thursday, as well as from the victims’ widow. Two other witnesses will testify on behalf of the prosecution, including a Russian soldier present at the scene of the crime.

It is the first war crimes trial held since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The prosecutor expects there to be many more. So far, more than 12,000 war crimes have been recorded by Ukrainian authorities.

 

11:21 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

NATO should "understand, respect and support" Turkey's security sensitivity, Erdogan says

From Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul

Turkey's President and leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during his party'ss group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) in Ankara, on May 18.
Turkey's President and leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during his party'ss group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) in Ankara, on May 18. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party's members of parliament in Ankara that he expects NATO member countries to “understand” Turkey’s security issues over Finland and Sweden's bids to join the alliance.

“We expect our allies to understand, respect and support our sensitivity. We have a sensitivity to protect our borders against terrorism. None of our allies showed respect to this sensitivity as we expected,” he said. 

Erdogan said last week that he does not view the NATO applications of Sweden and Finland “positively” and would not support it if they sanction Turkey. 

“NATO's enlargement is meaningful to us only to the extent that our sensitivities are respected. Asking us for support to NATO membership while providing every kind of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization amounts to incoherence, to say the least,” Erdogan added. 

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies. 

The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. 

Erdogan also said Sweden did not extradite 30 people whom Turkey sees linked to terrorism. 

“You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to support you to join NATO. We cannot say 'yes' to making this security organization deprived of security,” he said. 

“They wanted to come on Monday. Do not bother, there is no need,” he added, regarding the high-level diplomatic delegation that was expected to come for the talks over the issue.

10:31 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

US secretary of state: Food insecurity has been "exacerbated dramatically" by Russia’s war in Ukraine

From CNN's Michael Conte and Kylie Atwood

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany, on May 15.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany, on May 15. (Kevin Lamarque/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for “adding another 40 million people to those who are food insecure."

“There was a preexisting condition, as it were, when it comes to food insecurity in many places. It’s been exacerbated dramatically by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, adding another 40 million people to those who are food insecure,” said Blinken in remarks before a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari.

Blinken is in New York to attend a ministerial on food security in the afternoon.

“We’re coming together… to look at concrete steps we can take to address the food insecurity issues, to help people in need around the world,” said Blinken.

More context: The Biden administration is working closely with European allies to try to develop routes to get Ukrainian wheat and corn out of the country after Russia blocked Ukrainian ships from departing with grain that is vital for food supplies around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

There is no silver bullet to solve the complicated challenge and officials are considering a wide array of options to get the food exports safely out by rail, sea and air, two US diplomats and four European diplomats told CNN. Possible scenarios are being studied and devised whether Russia consents or not. 

The challenge is a major focus for Blinken as he convenes a ministerial meeting on food security and chairs a discussion on the matter at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, the diplomats said.  

9:15 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

War crimes trial for Russian soldier in Ukraine adjourned until Thursday after he pleads guilty

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18.
Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The war crimes trial of a 21-year-old Russian soldier has been adjourned until Thursday because too many members of the media were crowding the courtroom in Kyiv.

Vadim Shishimarin appeared before the first war crimes trial since Russia invaded Ukraine back in February. He is accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian man in Ukraine’s Sumy region, according to the country's prosecutor general's office.

Shishimarin said “fully” guilty when asked how he pleaded. The Russian soldier appeared in a glass box in the packed court room at Kyiv courthouse, faced with dozens of cameras. He declined to speak when he was asked by the court. 

Shishimarin, wearing a blue-gray top with a shaved head, was seen listening to his Ukrainian-Russian interpreter as he was read the charges. His defense lawyer Viktor Ovsyannikov sat on the same bench as the interpreter. 

The victim's family was also in courtroom and was due to testify.

The Kremlin's response: Russia said it still has no details about Shishimarin's case in Ukraine, and it considers the charges “unacceptable,” “outrageous” and “staged,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“We still have no information about this case. And the ability to provide assistance is also very limited due to the absence of our diplomatic mission [in Ukraine]. But once again I repeat, I do not have any information on this case,” Peskov said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

When asked about the Kremlin’s position on charges of war crimes allegedly committed by the Russian military in Ukraine, Peskov said the accusations were “unacceptable” and claimed that most were “staged incidents.”

CNN's Saskya Vandoorne, Daria Markina and Melissa Bell contributed reporting to this post.

9:16 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Amnesty says Ukrainian captives from the Azovstal plant must get Red Cross access

From CNN's Tim Lister

Buses carrying members of Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17.
Buses carrying members of Ukrainian forces from the Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Amnesty International has said that Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol must not be ill-treated and should get immediate access to the International Red Cross.

“Ukraine’s soldiers deployed in Mariupol area have been dehumanized by Russian media and portrayed in Putin’s propaganda as ‘neo-Nazis’ throughout Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine," said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

"This characterization raises serious concerns over their fate as prisoners of war," he said. “Prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment, and should be given immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The relevant authorities must fully respect the rights of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva conventions.”

Amnesty had documented summary killings of captives by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine as well as extra-judicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces, Krivosheev said.

“The soldiers who surrendered today must not meet the same fate," Amnesty said.

The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said, "no one should doubt" that the fighters will be treated in accordance with international law.

Humanitarian laws "are sacred for the Russian side," Maria Zakharova said at a Foreign Ministry briefing underway in Moscow. 

Russian personnel are providing medical help to the injured Ukrainian soldiers, Zakharova said, adding "this is not for show" and will continue.