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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8:03 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

No EU sanctions on Russia's state-run nuclear company in 11th sanctions package, EU source says

From CNN's James Frater and Niamh Kennedy in London

Smoke rises from the Leningrad nuclear power plant, Russia, on September 11, 2022.
Smoke rises from the Leningrad nuclear power plant, Russia, on September 11, 2022. (Sezgin Pancar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The European Union is not planning on formally sanctioning Russia's state-run nuclear company Rosatom in its eleventh sanctions package, according to a senior EU official.

The official told journalists during a briefing Thursday that, although member states are reducing their dependencies on Russian energy, the bloc will not be formally targeting Rosatom in the upcoming package. 

The bloc believes that "sanctions alone" will not bring about independence from Russian energy supplies, the official said, stressing that there are "other ways to reach the same goal."

The end of the G7 Hiroshima summit statement is expected to outline the group's sustained commitment towards independence from Russian nuclear energy sources.

Some context: Before the war, Europe was the largest buyer of Russian gas. The EU imported nearly 100 billion euros ($110 billion) worth of Russian energy in 2021.

While the bloc has placed punishing economic sanctions on Russia, their stance on importing Russian energy has been rather soft. Kyiv has urged European countries to commit to a permanent boycott of Russian gas, but some have found it costly and painful to wean their economies off the cheap Russian supply.

7:22 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

EU "confident" Russian diamond sanctions to come

From CNN's James Frater and Niamh Kennedy in London

The European Union is "confident" that a plan for sanctioning Russian diamonds will be put in place at the upcoming G7 meeting in Japan, according to a senior EU official.

At a briefing with journalists Thursday, the senior EU official stressed that the "main focus" of the G7's sanctions is "circumvention."

"What we have been pushing to (do), which we think would be important in the coming months, is diamonds, and you can expect this to be mentioned in the G7 communique," the official said. 

Brussels does not yet have a formal proposal for how these sanctions would take effect, the official said, stressing that the bloc needs to "engage with partners first" rather than do it alone. The official called the "traceability of diamonds" a "crucial" matter, reiterating the roles of different actors in the chain of producing diamonds.

"It's of huge value for the industry what comes from Russia, so we believe we need to limit exports from Russia in the sector and it will be important to be able to implement,” the official said.

A “diplomatic dance”: India, named as a "crucial actor" in the diamond industry, will need to be considered as a significant player in the G7’s prospective sanctions, according to the official.

The official spoke of a "diplomatic dance" with regard to how the G7 approaches the issue of sanctions with different countries. Those in the EU are more likely to be supportive of Ukraine, but the G7 will need to "to be careful" when discussing sanctions with other nations, the official said. 

The EU would like to engage carefully with countries such as India, where the diamond industry is "quite important", the official added, not just " in terms of numbers, but in terms of politics, symbolism.”

US tightening rules on Russian diamonds: One G7 nation, the United States, has already placed export restrictions on Russian diamonds. Last March, President Joe Biden issued an executive order which included a prohibition on non-industrial Russian diamonds. The ban directly targeted Alrosa, identified by the US government as the world's largest diamond mining company, responsible for 90% of Russia's diamond mining capacity and accounting for 28% of global diamond output.

“These sanctions will continue to apply pressure to key entities that enable and fund Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine,” said Brian Nelson, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in a statement released in April.

7:01 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Moscow froze Finnish bank accounts in response to “unfriendly actions,” Kremlin spokesperson says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

Moscow has decided to freeze the bank accounts of Finland’s embassy and consulate in response to “unfriendly actions” by western nations, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.  

“This was not the initiative of the Russian side. We are reacting to the situation created by the authorities of a number of countries in the collective West, including, unfortunately, Finland. We always say that we cannot and will not leave unfriendly actions unanswered,” he said.

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

In a statement, the ministry added that it had “demanded Russia secure Finland´s diplomatic missions’ local money and payment transactions.”

Russia hits back: Finland is among the host of European countries to have imposed sanctions on Russia, since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine. The Baltic nation, which shares over 1,000 kilometers or 621 miles of land border with Russia, has also sought to shore up its own defenses against its neighbor by joining NATO in April.

Russia’s retort shows that it can use similar economic weapons as those used by the West. But it is unclear whether it plans to take similar actions against other nations – or if it has singled out Finland.

6:25 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Analysis: What the G7 meeting could mean for the war in Ukraine

From CNN’s Brad Lendon

This year’s G7 meeting in Japan holds special significance, not only for its location.

The leaders of the world’s most advanced democracies are meeting in Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first ever nuclear attack – a fitting reminder of the risks of nuclear war as they discuss Russia and the conflict in Ukraine.

While plenty of topics will be discussed – from countering China’s influence in the region to the United States’ looming debt ceiling – the war in Ukraine will likely remain top of the agenda.

Kyiv’s forces have been bolstered significantly by weapons supplied by most of the countries gathering in Hiroshima – the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan.

When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – who hails from Hiroshima – visited Kyiv in March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised him for keeping the G7 united behind Ukraine.

“Prime Minister Kishida stated that, as the G7 Presidency, Japan would maintain the unity of the G7 in imposing strict sanctions against Russia and providing support to Ukraine,” a joint statement from the two leaders said.

After a week in which Zelensky continued to secure further aid commitments from many of these countries, don’t expect any cracks in G7 unity at the summit.

Read our full analysis here.

5:58 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukrainian military claims gains around Bakhmut

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian forces have made advancements around the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut over the past day, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said Thursday. 

“In the course of the fighting, our units continue to advance on the flanks, despite the fact that they do not currently have an advantage in personnel, ammunition and equipment,” Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told Ukrainian TV. 

“We managed to advance from 150 (492 feet) to 1,700 meters (5,577 feet),” he added.

CNN cannot verify the battlefield reports.

The head of the Russian paramilitary Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has also claimed that his fighters have advanced within the eastern city, as fierce fighting continues for the territory still controlled by Ukrainian troops.

Some background: Bakhmut has been the target of a months-long assault by Russian forces that has so far failed to capture the city. 

Last week, Ukrainian forces claimed to have conducted “effective counterattacks” in the area. Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian Land Forces, said his army had forced Russian troops to retreat by “a distance of up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).”

Those gains have reportedly continued this week. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar claimed Wednesday that “our troops liberated about 20 square kilometers (more than 7 square miles) of the Bakhmut suburbs in the north and south of the city.”

However, Maliar acknowledged that Russia is also making advances in Bakhmut, bringing in paratroopers and "destroying the city with artillery."

4:58 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russian missile strikes on Kyiv “unprecedented,” authorities say, after ninth attack this month

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

A police officer inspects remains of a Russian cruise missile shot down by air defences in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18.
A police officer inspects remains of a Russian cruise missile shot down by air defences in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

The wave of Russian missile strikes launched at Kyiv this month has been “unprecedented in its power,” city authorities said early Thursday.

"A series of air attacks on Kyiv, unprecedented in its power, intensity and variety, continues. The ninth air attack on the capital since the beginning of May,” said Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city administration, in a Telegram post.

Popko said that the latest wave of missiles was fired toward Kyiv from Russian strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea.

After the launch, Russian reconnaissance drones were seen over the capital, he added.  

All the missiles that crossed Kyiv’s airspace were intercepted, Popko said, but falling debris caused a fire at a garage. Andrii Nebytov, police chief for the Kyiv region, posted photos on Telegram of what he said were missile fragments in fields outside the capital.

Kyiv under strike: Until recently, most analysts and even United States defense officials simply doubted Ukraine’s air defenses would be up to the job of repelling a sustained Russian assault – and this latest Moscow offensive has been particularly sustained.

But Kyiv’s air defenses are holding firm – thanks, in large part, to US-made Patriot missile defense systems.

Read our full report on how Kyiv has steeled its skies.

4:09 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Guard killed by falling missile fragments in Odesa, Ukrainian military says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

An industrial building damaged by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine, in this handout picture released May 18.
An industrial building damaged by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine, in this handout picture released May 18. (Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Armed Forces/Reuters)

A civilian security guard was killed in Odesa overnight after fragments of a Russian missile shot down by air defenses fell on an industrial building in the southern port city, the Ukrainian military said.

“As a result of the air battle, the downed missiles fell on industrial buildings, which were damaged. Unfortunately, as a result of the destruction, one civilian guard was killed and two others were injured,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South said on Facebook.

The command said the missiles were launched at Ukraine’s southern coast from Russian carriers in the Black Sea and ground-based missile systems in occupied territory. 

Missiles shot down: Ukraine said its air defenses intercepted 29 out of 30 cruise missiles launched by Russia overnight at cities nationwide, including Kyiv.

Kyiv police chief Andrii Nebytov posted photos on Telegram of what he said were fragments of Russian missiles downed over fields outside the capital. 

“Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or casualties,” in the Kyiv region, he said.

3:48 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Russia's war in Ukraine is weakening its influence in Central Asia. China aims to fill the void

From CNN's Simone McCarthy

Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Tajikistan's President in Xi'an on Thursday.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Tajikistan's President in Xi'an on Thursday. Florence Lo/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is rolling out the red carpet for Central Asian nations this week as Beijing attempts to expand its reach into a region that has long been regarded as Russia’s sphere of influence.

The leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are gathering in the central Chinese city of Xi’an for a summit that began Thursday.

It is the first in-person meeting of the heads of state together with China since they established diplomatic relations after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to China’s state media, and comes as the region grapples with the knock-on economic effects of neighboring Russia’s war in Ukraine.

China has billed the meeting as the “first major diplomatic activity” its hosted this year and an opportunity to draw a “new blueprint” with the sprawling bloc of post-Soviet states that lie between between its western borders, Europe and the Middle East.

The two-day event is also a play from Beijing to expand its influence in Central Asia, where Russia — now distracted by its debilitating and unsuccessful invasion of Ukraine — has long been the dominant great power partner.

“The most important context of this summit is the Ukraine war and the region’s uncertainty with Russia’s future commitment, influence and role in the region,” said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
“Central Asia is always seen as Russia’s backyard, and China has been expanding its influence in the region … and there are new aspirations and directions for China-Central Asia relations — opportunities that were not present or available in the past,” she said.

Read the full story here.

5:36 a.m. ET, May 18, 2023

Ukraine says Russia launched 30 missiles overnight and it intercepted all but one

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukraine claims to have downed 29 out of 30 cruise missiles launched by Russia overnight, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Air Force on Telegram.  

The missiles came in “several waves” and “from different directions,” the statement said.

"A total of 30 sea-, air-, and land-launched cruise missiles were launched,” the Ukrainian Air Force said in the statement, adding that air defenses “destroyed 29 cruise missiles.”

The Air Force also claimed to have also shot down two attack drones and two reconnaissance drones. 

Some background: Several explosions were heard overnight across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, as authorities activated air defenses against a nationwide Russian attack.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South said earlier Thursday that one person had been killed and two injured when a Russian missile hit an industrial infrastructure facility in the southern port city of Odesa.