May 18, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Catherine Nicholls, Christian Edwards, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 1444 GMT (2244 HKT) May 19, 2023
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5:29 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

US signals to allies that it won’t block them from exporting F-16 jets to Ukraine

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann

File photo of a F-16C Fighting Falcon fighter jet.
File photo of a F-16C Fighting Falcon fighter jet. Larry MacDougal/MCDOL/AP/FILE

The Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said. It comes as the White House has been facing increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help Ukraine procure the planes amid intensifying Russian aerial attacks. 

Administration officials are not aware, however, of any formal requests by any allies to export F-16s, and State Department officials who would normally be tasked with the paperwork to approve such third-party transfers have not been told to get to work, officials said.  

A handful of European countries have a supply of the US-made jets, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the United States would have to approve that third-party transfer because of the jets' sensitive US technology.

While the US remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kyiv, US officials told CNN that the administration is prepared to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine if that is what allies decide to do with their supply. 

Top Ukrainian officials have escalated their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16s in recent months, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks. 

Looking ahead: The issue is expected to be a subject of debate at the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, officials said.  

Another open question is where Ukrainian pilots would train on these F-16s. A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week that the UK and the Netherlands were looking to form an "international coalition" not only to procure the jets for Ukraine but also to train Ukrainian pilots.

In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and to assess how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s. But the US has no plans as of now to expand that training, a defense official told CNN, despite Congress setting aside money in the 2023 budget.

CNN's Zachary Cohen contributed reporting to this post.

3:22 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Zelensky says offensive brigades are preparing, but offers no details

From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Chequers, the prime minister's official country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London, on May 15.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Chequers, the prime minister's official country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London, on May 15. Carl

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting with senior commanders Thursday, hinting afterward that his military's offensive brigades are gearing up for a fight but offering no concrete information.

“The offensive brigades are doing well, we are preparing, but no details," Zelensky said.

Ukraine has made significant gains along the conflict's front lines in recent days, raising speculation that its highly anticipated counteroffensive may already be underway.

A senior US official told CNN “shaping operations” began last week, but Ukraine has yet to state outright that its counterattack has formally begun.

After several days of heavy Russian missile attacks on Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, Zelensky said his military will prioritize bolstering its air defense systems and missile stocks, training troops and acquiring more long-range weapons.

Solemn anniversary: Zelensky also marked the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Tatar people from Crimea in 1944.

“We honor the memory of all the victims of the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people," the Ukrainian leader said in his nightly address. "It was one of the most serious crimes of the 20th century — the entire nation was forcibly deported from its native land and forced to live in a foreign land for decades. And when people returned home, Russia once again brought its evil to their home.”

3:42 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukraine has successfully used UK-provided Storm Shadow missiles, British official says

From CNN's Haley Britzky

Ukraine has used the Storm Shadow missiles provided by the United Kingdom against Russian forces, a British defense official said Thursday.

"All I can confirm is it has been used successfully, that is the information I received from the Ukrainians, and I'm pleased it is helping them to defend their country," British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN’s Jim Sciutto in an exclusive interview on “News Central.”

The Storm Shadow missiles, the longest-range weapon in Ukraine's arsenal, were just recently given to Kyiv ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive against the Russian military. The long-range cruise missile has stealth capabilities and a firing range of more than 250km, or 155 miles.

Asked about a potential counteroffensive and Ukrainian attempt to retake Crimea from Russia, Wallace said that under international law, Ukraine has "every right to do that in accordance of self-defense."

"It's their sovereign soil," he said. "It's a bit like you asking me if the US were choosing to take back parts of Texas from an enemy that had invaded it. You wouldn't take anyone else from abroad telling you what you can and can't take back, it is Ukrainian soil, it is their sovereign territory, it has been invaded, they've lost thousands of lives as a result of that invasion, and I think ultimately it will be Ukraine's decision."

"Britain isn't going to stand in the way of that," he added.

Recent fighting: In the last several days, Russia has continued pounding Ukraine with missiles, killing one civilian and injuring two others in Odesa overnight. Ukraine, however, has maintained that it has been able to knock down many of Russia's missiles before impact, particularly in the capital of Kyiv.

On Tuesday morning, Russia launched what Ukraine described as an "exceptional" assault on Kyiv that was largely intercepted by air defenses. 

While the battle rages, there has been confusion on whether Ukraine's counteroffensive has started yet — though that may be the point. US and NATO-supplied equipment has continued pouring into the country, and Wallace said Thursday that the international community's support of Ukraine is only growing stronger.

5:17 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Patriot missile battery damaged in Ukraine is now repaired, Pentagon says

From CNN's Michael Conte

A Patriot missile battery damaged by a Russian missile barrage against Kyiv has been fixed, the Pentagon said Thursday.

“One Patriot system was damaged, but it has now been fixed and is fully back and operational,” said Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.

CNN reported on Wednesday that the damage was minimal. 

1:33 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Storm Shadow missiles have been used in Ukraine, UK defense minister says

From CNN's Sarah Dean

In this 2018 photo, a member of the military walks past a MBDA Storm Shadow/Scalp missile at the Farnborough Airshow southwest of London.
In this 2018 photo, a member of the military walks past a MBDA Storm Shadow/Scalp missile at the Farnborough Airshow southwest of London. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

United Kingdom Defense Minister Ben Wallace said long-range Storm Shadow missiles, which were provided to Ukraine by Britain, have been used since the deployment was announced.

Speaking at a news conference in London alongside his Norwegian counterpart Bjørn Arild Gram on Thursday, Wallace said he would not give more operational details.

"All I can say is it is my understanding that it has been used since we announced its deployment to Ukraine, but I'm not going to go into further details," he said.

About the missiles: The Storm Shadow is a long-range cruise missile with stealth capabilities, jointly developed by the UK and France, which is typically launched from the air. With a firing range in excess of 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, it is just short of the 185-mile range capability of the US-made surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, that Ukraine has long asked for.

The missiles have the range to strike deep into Russian-held territory in eastern Ukraine. A Western official told CNN that the UK has received assurances from the Ukrainian government that these missiles will be used only within Ukrainian sovereign territory and not inside Russia. 

Last week, Wallace called the donation Ukraine’s “best chance to defend themselves against Russia’s continued brutality.”

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed reporting to this post.

1:21 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russia says latest grain deal extension will be the last if the West doesn't lift sanctions

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova and Julia Kesaieva

Workers load grain at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26.
Workers load grain at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26. Andrew Kravchenko/AP

After agreeing to extend the Black Sea grain initiative again this week, Russia renewed threats to let the deal expire if Western powers do not meet its demands to lift certain sanctions.

Russia has agreed to a two-month extension of the deal, viewed as pivotal for addressing world hunger, through July 17.

Moscow has frequently complained that while the deal allows Ukraine to export its grain through Black Sea ports, its own exports are impeded by Western sanctions. An agreement with the United Nations to help facilitate Russian shipments has not yielded results, the Kremlin claims.

The Russian foreign ministry said Thursday there will be not talks of expanding the deal further unless it gets concessions.

“The Russian Federation reminds the US, Britain and the EU of the need for a real lifting of unilateral sanctions on Russian fertilizers and food; even donations of Russian fertilizers to the poorest countries continue to face blocking due to sanctions,” the ministry statement reads.

Some context: The grain deal became necessary in the first place after Russia launched its war in Ukraine. Following its full-scale invasion, Moscow blockaded exports from key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, including Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

The blockages kept millions of tons of Ukrainian grain from reaching the countries that rely on it, until the United Nations and Turkey helped broker the deal.

What Ukraine is saying: The current extension does not provide for satisfying Russia’s outside demands, said Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine’s ambassador in Turkey.

"What Russia is trying to attach now are issues related to the ammonia pipeline, issues related to the lifting of sanctions against banks and organizations involved in grain and fertilizer trade. This issue is still under discussion,” he said. 

The grain initiative exists separately from Russia's demands, which are between the Kremlin and UN leadership, Bodnar insisted.

CNN's Sophie Tanno contributed to this report.

1:12 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russian governor says 2 civilians killed by Ukrainian fire near the border

From CNN's Josh Pennington and Julia Kesaieva

The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region says that two civilians were killed by Ukrainian fire in a district close to the border.

Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that two people were killed and one person was hospitalized in critical condition in the Shebekinsky district.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces killed these civilians while they were in their vegetable garden planting potatoes,” Gladkov said.

A number of Russian civilians have been killed or injured in areas close to the border since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. 

On May 10, a man in the Belgorod region died after sustaining a head injury because of Ukrainian shelling, Gladkov said.

In Ukraine, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said Thursday that one person had been killed in the village of Tsyrkuny by a Russian rocket attack. Two more civilians were wounded, he said.

Ukraine said its northern border regions are under fire almost daily by Russian forces, resulting in dozens of casualties in recent months. 

12:41 p.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Global wheat prices fall as Black Sea grain deal gets 2-month extension

From CNN's Anna Cooban

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference on the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative at the UN headquarters in New York, on May 17.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference on the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative at the UN headquarters in New York, on May 17. (Xie E/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Global wheat prices fell Thursday after Ukraine and Russia agreed to extend a deal allowing grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea.

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade dropped 2% to $6.12 a bushel. Prices have fallen 23% since the start of the year and 57% since hitting an all-time high of $14.30 a bushel in March last year.

“These agreements matter for global food security,” António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, told journalists Wednesday. “Ukrainian and Russian products feed the world.”

The grain deal, first signed in July 2022, was due to expire on Thursday, but Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday that it would be extended for another two months.

Russia had previously threatened to pull out of the deal, complaining about a related agreement with the UN to facilitate shipments of Russian grain and fertilizers.

Why the initiative is important: Ukraine and Russia together account for nearly a third of global wheat exports, according to Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data firm. They are also among the top three global exporters of barley, maize, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil.

Following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Moscow blockaded crucial grain shipments from the country’s Black Sea ports. That meant that millions of tons of the region’s grain went undelivered to the many countries that rely on it.

In the days after the invasion, global wheat prices skyrocketed, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warning that as many as 47 million people could be pushed into “acute food insecurity” because of the war.

But the July grain deal and its renewals have helped "stabilize markets and reduce volatility," the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, an intergovernmental body, said in a press release on Wednesday, noting that global food prices had fallen 20% since hitting all-time highs in March 2022.

CNN's Anna Chernova contributed reporting.

11:08 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukrainian brigade claims breakthrough on western outskirts of Bakhmut

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton and Yulia Kesaieva

As intense combat continues in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, one Ukrainian unit says it has made more progress on the western outskirts of the city. 

The Third Separate Assault Brigade said its recent "offensive actions" have helped it stake out a strong position ahead of Ukraine's anticipated counteroffensive. Brigade leaders said the breakthrough came in an area about 2000 meters (about 1.25 miles) wide and 700 meters (a little less than half-a-mile) deep.

The Ukrainian fighters claim they've killed at least 50 Russian troops and wounded as many as 100 more, taking an additional four Russians prisoner. This has significantly cut into the enemy's reserves in the area, the brigade said.

CNN cannot independently verify the brigade's claims.

Other recent developments in Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces have claimed advancements in several areas surrounding the embattled eastern city in recent days, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops.

Ukrainian fighters from another unit, the 46th Separate Air Assault Brigade, said on Telegram that they're focused on a promising territory in a rural area south of the city, as well as villages close to the main highway that runs northwest from Bakhmut toward Sloviansk.

The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed Thursday that Russian army units pulled back in an area north of Bakhmut, leaving his own fighters exposed.

However, Prigozhin said his fighters in the city itself continue to take streets and buildings along the western edge of Bakhmut.