May 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Jack Guy, Matias Grez, Adrienne Vogt, Veronica Rocha, Aditi Sangal and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022
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12:00 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

It's 7 a.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

NATO doesn't expect significant gains for either side on the battlefield in Ukraine in the coming weeks. "I think we'll be in a standstill for a while," a NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence said.

Here's the latest on the war in Ukraine:

  • Turkey could hold up NATO bids: Turkey's foreign minister said it is "unacceptable" for countries that want to become NATO members to impose defense export restrictions and support organizations that threaten Turkey. Ankara has said it would not support Finland and Sweden's bids to become NATO members if they sanction Turkey. The Nordic nations' leaders are set to meet US President Joe Biden on Thursday. Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan called their NATO application a "watershed moment in European security."

  • Shift in Ukraine: A NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence said the military alliance is seeing momentum in the war is shifting significantly in favor of Ukraine. The debate within NATO circles, the official said, is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian armed forces say they have recaptured another settlement in the Kharkiv region, as troops continue their counterattacks in the area.

  • US confirms ambassador: The US Senate has confirmed career foreign service officer Bridget Brink as US ambassador to Ukraine. The embassy has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019 by then-President Donald Trump.
  • Emergency food assistance: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would give an additional $215 million in new emergency food assistance for Ukraine and called on other countries to swiftly aid the growing global food crisis due to Russia’s invasion. Blinken also said it is “false” that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and its allies have deepened the food crisis.
  • War crimes trial: A 21-year-old captured Russian soldier plead "fully" guilty to war crimes at a trial in Kyiv. Vadim Shishimarin is accused of killing a 62-year-old man in the Sumy region. It is the first war crimes trial held since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
  • Mariupol evacuations: Russia's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a total of 959 Ukrainian soldiers, including 80 wounded, had laid down their arms and surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol since May 16. The Ukrainian President said on Tuesday the negotiation process on evacuating the last soldiers from the complex continues with Russia.
11:37 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Former Russian colonel contradicts earlier statements criticizing Russia's military operations in Ukraine

From CNN's Katya Krebs and Hira Humayun

Retired Russian colonel Mikhail Khodarenok speaks on Russian state TV on Wednesday.
Retired Russian colonel Mikhail Khodarenok speaks on Russian state TV on Wednesday. (Rossiya One)

Retired Russian colonel Mikhail Khodarenok said any talk about Ukraine being able to counterattack is a "big exaggeration," just a day after he criticized Russia's military operations in Ukraine saying the situation for Russia could "get worse."

Speaking to a Russian state TV channel on Wednesday, Khodarenok said, "When people talk about Ukraine acquiring the ability to counterattack, well it's a big exaggeration. And as concerns the actions of our supreme command, there is every reason to believe that the implementation of these plans will in the very near future give Ukraine an unpleasant surprise."

He also said it would be impossible for the Ukrainian armed forces to gain aerial supremacy in the next few months, and in terms of gaining naval supremacy, he said, "while our Black Sea Fleet is in the Black Sea, Ukraine's Black Sea Fleet having supremacy is out of the question."

On Tuesday however, Khodarenok said information being spread about a "moral or psychological breakdown" of Ukrainian armed forces is not even "close to reality." He also said Ukraine could arm 1 million people, and that Russia needs to consider that in its operational and strategic calculations.

"The situation for us, will frankly get worse," he said on Tuesday. He also criticized Russia's geopolitical isolation from the world, and prior to the invasion he warned that it would be more difficult than many anticipated to wage war in Ukraine.

Earlier reporting from CNN's Tim Lister, Anastasia Graham Yooll and Taras Zadorozhnyy.

11:24 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

Setbacks in Ukraine trigger rare criticism of Russia's war effort by Russian bloggers

From CNN's Tim Lister and Taras Zadorozhnyy

 A local resident looks at a destroyed Russian tank next to a house in the village of Mala Rogan, east of Kharkiv, on May 15.
 A local resident looks at a destroyed Russian tank next to a house in the village of Mala Rogan, east of Kharkiv, on May 15. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian army's performance in Ukraine has been less than impressive according to Western intelligence assessments — and that viewpoint is gaining ground among some in Russia itself.

Three Russian military bloggers have suddenly launched into damning criticism of the operation, and especially the debacle of a failed crossing of the Siverskyi Donets river last week. The three bloggers combined have more than 3 million subscribers on Telegram.

A prominent former officer who regularly appears on state television also weighed in with a gloomy view of Russia's military prospects in Ukraine.

Such public criticism of the military operation in Ukraine is very rare. The Kremlin insists the campaign is on schedule.

The carping appears to have been triggered by a catalog of setbacks, the worst being the disastrous attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets crossing last week. Satellite imagery shows at least 70 Russian armored vehicles and tanks were destroyed and hundreds of soldiers may have been killed.

On the evening of May 12, prominent Russian military correspondent Yuri Kotenok reposted accounts and images of the failed crossing, including one from a Ukrainian source.

Kotenok, who has nearly 300,000 subscribers to his Telegram channel, reposted one account that castigated the Russian officer responsible and blamed him for crowding so many vehicles in a small area by the river.

In response to criticism from some subscribers, Kotenok retorted: "If you want fairy tales, then you have come to the wrong place. In such a case you should go to officialdom."
He said his role was "to provide with correct assessment, to speak good of the good, and bad of the bad, but to say the TRUTH."

Read more:

11:43 p.m. ET, May 18, 2022

No major battlefield gains expected for either side in the coming weeks, NATO military official says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

A Russian serviceman patrols the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on May 18.
A Russian serviceman patrols the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol on May 18. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The NATO alliance doesn't expect significant gains for either side of the battlefield in Ukraine in coming weeks, a NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence told CNN on Wednesday. 

"I think we'll be in a standstill for a while," the official said.  

According to the official, the current NATO discussion is that the momentum has shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine and the debate within NATO circles is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories seized by Russia and Russian-backed separatists, respectively, in 2014. 

"I think they could [retake Crimea and the Donbas], yes," the official said. "Not now, not soon, but if they can keep up the fight I think so."
"I do question if they actually should fight to get their territory back," referencing a potential backlash by the local population in some of those areas. 
8:54 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Analysis: Why is Turkey causing problems for Finland and Sweden's plans to join NATO?

Analysis from CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Isil Sariyuce

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, Turkey on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, Turkey on Wednesday. (Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Just when it seemed like Finland and Sweden's accession into NATO was imminent, Turkey has taken its allies by surprise by throwing a wrench into the works.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he didn't view "positively" the Nordic countries' desire to join the alliance, accusing the two of being "like guesthouses for terror organizations." He told his party lawmakers in Ankara on Wednesday that he expects NATO members to "understand, respect and support" Turkey's security issues.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday at Allied headquarters in Brussels, driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The decision represents a setback for Moscow, with the war in Ukraine triggering the kind of enlargement of the alliance that it invaded Ukraine to prevent.

Accession of new states however requires consensus among existing members, and that's where Ankara comes in.

Turkey, which joined the alliance three years after it was established in 1949 and has the group's second largest army, has said it won't support the bids unless its demands are met.

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan's Workers Party, also known as PKK. The PKK, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with that country for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The crisis has brought to the fore longstanding Turkish grievances against Western nations and NATO allies, while it has given Ankara an opportunity to use its position in the alliance to extract concessions.

Read the full analysis: