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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1:10 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Top US general speaks with Russian counterpart for first time since Russian invasion of Ukraine started

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Gen. Mark Milley attends a hearing on May 11, in Washington, DC. 
Gen. Mark Milley attends a hearing on May 11, in Washington, DC.  (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart, General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, by phone on Thursday, a readout of the conversation from Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler said.

This is the first conversation between the two leaders since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

“The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” the readout of the conversation said.

Milley’s conversation with Gerasimov comes six days after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

The conversation between Austin and Shoigu lasted approximately an hour. Austin used the call to urge Shoigu to implement an “immediate ceasefire” in Ukraine, according to a brief readout of the call. The last time the two had spoken was Feb. 18, before Russia began their invasion of Ukraine.

2:41 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

A Ukrainian commander still inside the Azovstal plant vows that the "fight continues"

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 15.
The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 15. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

While hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have left the Azovstal plant this week, there are likely still hundreds inside the besieged complex on the edge of Mariupol — and they appear to include some senior commanders.

One of them is Maj. Bohdan Krotevych, chief of staff of the Azov Regiment. Over the past few days, he has posted on his social media accounts frequently, talking about military tactics and the fight ahead for Ukraine, but not about what might happen to him.

In a post Wednesday, he suggested that he would not be surrendering, saying that "the fight continues."

Russia's defense ministry said over 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol since May 16. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian military official said the evacuation of the plant continues, and he believes Russia will uphold its word to treat soldiers according to international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has registered hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war who have left the plant.

In one Instagram post, Krotevych told his fellow fighters: "The war is not over, the full-scale war has just begun. You will have to become commanders and take control, or run away and then you will suffer even greater losses." 

Krotevych said that "Russia, like the United States, was accustomed to fighting against much weaker countries, and every problem was solved by massive artillery shelling or air raids. We are weaker in military potential, but the self-confidence of the enemy is our trump card."

Another one of the Azov Regiment officers still in the steel plant issued a short video statement Thursday evening.

Sviatoslav Palamar, Azov’s deputy commander, said: "My command and I are on the territory of the Azovstal plant. An operation is underway. I will not give any details. I’m grateful to the whole world and to Ukraine for support. I will be seeing you!"

Palamar provided no further indication of what the operation might be.

Some Russian politicians have proposed that Azov commanders be tried as war criminals if they are detained. Russian state media frequently refers to them as "neo-Nazis" and militant nationalists.

Kostan Nechyporenko contributed reporting to this post.

12:53 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Here's what you need to know about the meeting between the US, Sweden and Finland

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö depart the Rose Garden of the White House after speaking on May 19.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö depart the Rose Garden of the White House after speaking on May 19. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

On Thursday, leaders of Sweden and Finland met with US President Joe Biden at the White House after they submitted their NATO membership applications on Wednesday.

Here's what you need to know about what the leaders said at the press conference in the Rose Garden after their meeting in the Cabinet Room.

Biden offers "strong support" for Finland and Sweden's NATO bids

"Finnish and Swedish troops, they have already served shoulder to shoulder with US and NATO forces in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And both Finland and Sweden are already working in coordination with the United States and our other allies and partners to support the brave people of Ukraine," Biden said, adding that the countries already meet all of NATO requirements, "and then some."

The Biden administration will submit reports to the US Congress on this NATO accession for both countries

This is "so the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty," Biden announced Thursday. Within the US, at least two-third of the Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance. Similarly, the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new NATO applicants.

Leaders of Finland and Sweden expressed their hopes for a quick ratification

"Russia's war in Ukraine has changed Europe and our security environment. Finland takes the step of NATO membership in order to strengthen not only its own security, but also in order to strengthen wider transatlantic security," Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said.

Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia.

Sweden's government "has come to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance, and this is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament," Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

Turkey was also mentioned by every leader

As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated earlier on Thursday that his country “will say no to Sweden’s and Finland’s entry into NATO."

In explanation he has cited national security concerns. Earlier this week, Erdogan accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations."

He was mainly referencing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which seeks an independent state in Turkey. The group has been in an armed struggle with Ankara for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

12:11 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

12 civilians killed in Luhansk region as Russian bombardment intensifies, military administration says

From Kostan Nechyporenko

Twelve civilians have been killed and more than 40 wounded in a day of heavy shelling by Russian forces, the military administration in the Luhansk region said.

Luhansk administration head Serhiy Haidai said all the casualties occurred in the city of Severodonetsk.

Haidai described the shelling as chaotic, adding that "mostly the Russians targeted hits on residential buildings."

He said the number of casualties was not final, "as it is impossible to inspect the area under fire."

12:47 p.m. ET, May 19, 2022

The US is not planning to send military security to Kyiv embassy, senior defense official says

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Barbara Starr

Employees raise a flag outside the US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18, as the embassy reopens after being closed for three months due to the Russian invasion.
Employees raise a flag outside the US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 18, as the embassy reopens after being closed for three months due to the Russian invasion. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

The US military is not currently planning to send any troops to the US embassy in Kyiv that reopened on Wednesday, according to a senior US defense official, though that doesn’t mean US troops won’t be deployed there in the future.

The defense officials told reporters that the Pentagon would defer to the State Department on embassy security needs, noting that moving US troops to the US embassy in Ukraine has not been ruled out in the future.

“Right now, there’s no US military security component to their embassy security needs. But that is not to say that that couldn’t change over time,” the official said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not yet made a decision one way or the other about whether the US military should be at the embassy, which had closed ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the official added. 

“There has not been a specific decision by the secretary one way or the other on this,” the official said. “And he certainly has not expressed an opinion that he does not or never will want to provide any military assistance should it be needed by the State Department.”

11:54 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Former German chancellor loses office over Russia ties 

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin and James Frater in London

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröeder speaks during an interview in Berlin, Germany, on September 14.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröeder speaks during an interview in Berlin, Germany, on September 14. (Zhang Yuan/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has come under fire for not severing his Russian business ties following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, will have to give up his office at the German Parliament (Bundestag), a parliamentary budget committee ruled Thursday.   

Germany's governing coalition — led by the Social Democrat Party (SPD) of which Schröder is still a member of and the party he once led — decided to cut back Schröder's special rights as a former chancellor, following his ongoing business ties to Russia, a statement posted on the website of the Bundestag said. The former chancellor will however still continue to receive a pension and personal protection, the statement added.  

Schröder, 78, led Germany as chancellor from 1998 until 2005 and is known for his long time personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Schröder also faced calls from the European Parliament on Thursday to be sanctioned due to his ongoing business and political links to Russia. A resolution by the EU Parliament said that EU sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine should be extended "to the European members of the boards of major Russian companies and to politicians who continue to receive Russian money."  

The resolution named former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and former French prime minister François Fillon as two examples who recently resigned from their positions in Russian companies — and ''strongly demands that others, such as Karin Kneissl (a former Austrian foreign minister) and Gerhard Schröder, do the same.''  

Schröder currently holds leading positions with Russian energy companies Nord Stream 1 and 2 and the oil company Rosneft, where he is chairman of the supervisory board. Schröder is also slated to take on a supervisory board post for Kremlin-controlled Gazprom.   

In March, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz asked Schröder to resign from his multiple positions at Russian state-owned companies, saying that Schröder's Russia connections are in the public interest. Politicians across Germany rebuked the former chancellor for months for not cutting business ties with Russia. In early March, Schröder's own team at the Bundestag resigned in protest having failed to persuade him to severe his business links to Russia.  

11:32 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

"Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance," prime minister says

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks at the White House on May 19.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks at the White House on May 19. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Russia's "full-scale aggression" against Ukraine led to the "watershed moment" for Sweden to decide to apply for a NATO membership, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Thursday at the Rose Garden.

"My government has come to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance, and this is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament," she said as she stood with US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

She emphasized that NATO will also be stronger with Sweden and Finland as members.

"We are security providers with sophisticated defense capabilities. And we are champions of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We have a long tradition of extensive military cooperation with NATO, including all missions. And we are right now ramping up our defense spending and we will reach 2% of GDP as soon as practically possible," she added.

Andersson called US support for Sweden's NATO membership of "fundamental importance," but said she's looking forward to a dialogue with Turkey to address its concerns.

Sweden looks forward to "a swift ratification process," she added, saying it is "prepared to shoulder its responsibility as an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."

11:35 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Finnish president vows to be "strong NATO ally" and condemns terrorism after Turkey outlines concerns

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö speaks in the Rose Garden on May 19, in Washington, DC.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö speaks in the Rose Garden on May 19, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

In remarks at the White House, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said that "Finland will become a strong NATO ally" after meeting with US President Joe Biden along with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

He said he hoped there would be "swift ratification" of Finland's NATO application.

Niinistö also addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he will refuse both Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO.

"Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey. As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms, and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner. These discussions have already taken place, and they will continue in the next days," he said.

Earlier this week, Erdogan accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations." He was mainly referencing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks an independent state in Turkey. The group has been in an armed struggle with Ankara for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The legislatures of all 30 current NATO members must approve new applicants.

Niinistö also spoke about how Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted his country to seek NATO membership.

"[On] 24th February, I said that that the masks have fallen and we see only the cold faces of war. Russia's war in Ukraine has changed Europe and our security environment. Finland takes the step of NATO membership in order to strengthen not only its own security, but also in order to strengthen wider transatlantic security. This is not away from anybody. Like you, Mr. President [Biden] said, NATO is protective, defensive, not a threat to anybody," he said.

Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia.

11:27 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Biden says his administration is submitting reports to Congress on NATO accession for Sweden and Finland

US President Joe Biden speaks alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on May 19, in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden speaks alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on May 19, in Washington, DC. (Evelyn Hockstein /Reuters)

After US President Joe Biden announced the United States' full support for Sweden and Finland's applications for NATO membership, he said his administration will submit reports to the US Congress on this NATO accession for both countries.

"Today, my administration is submitting to the United States Congress reports on NATO accession for both countries so the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty," he said Thursday at the Rose Garden.

He urged Senate leadership to move this approval "as quickly as possible, once perspective of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocol."

Remember: Within the US, at least two-third of the Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance. Similarly, the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new NATO applicants.