May 19, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Leinz Vales, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 0357 GMT (1157 HKT) May 20, 2023
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1:58 p.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Zelensky, speaking to Arab leaders, urges sympathy from those "who turn a blind eye" to Ukraine

From CNN's Mick Krever

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks as he attends the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks as he attends the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19. (Saudi TV/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia that “here among you” are people who “turn a blind eye” to Ukraine’s suffering, urging them to “take an honest look.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended the Arab League summit for the first time in a decade and was seen on camera in the conference room minutes ahead of Zelensky’s speech. Syria was only one of only two countries in the world (along with North Korea) to recognize Russia’s claimed annexations last year of four Ukrainian regions.

Speaking in English, Zelensky told his counterparts: “Look at how much suffering the long-term wars have brought to Libya, Syria, Yemen, how many lives have been wasted by years of fighting Sudan and Somalia, in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“I hope that most of us are here for the sake of peace and justice,” he said. 

“Even if there are people here at the summit who have a different view on the war, on our land, calling it a conflict, I am sure that we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons. Unfortunately, there are some in the world, and here among you, who turn a blind eye to those cages and illegal annexations.”

“And I am here so that everyone can take an honest look, no matter how hard the Russians try to influence. There must still be independence. And I want to thank Saudi Arabia, I want to thank the majority of you, for supporting [inaudible] International positions and the UN Charter.”

Zelensky brought the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, with him on this trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“I am also sure all your nations will understand the main call I want to leave here in Jeddah, a noble call to all of you, to help protect our people, including Ukrainian Muslim community,” he said. “With me here is the Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, one of the indigenous peoples of Ukraine, whose home is Crimea, the center of Muslim culture in Ukraine.”

“For centuries the Crimean Tatar have been, and should remain, an integral and strong part of the Muslim community of the world," Zelensky added. "But Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation. And until now, most of those who are subjected to repression in the occupied Crimea are Muslims.”

Some context: Since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2021, Ukraine has launched multiple strikes against Russian positions in Crimea, which was previously annexed by Moscow in 2014 and is currently under Kremlin control.

Zelensky has repeatedly vowed to liberate Crimea, which he says remains “part of Ukrainian people and society."

Zelensky also met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and thanked him for inviting him to the Arab summit.

He said that during their bilateral meeting, he had outlined the Ukrainian Peace Formula, which demands the withdrawal of Russian forces from all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea. 

He also noted the Saudi role in mediating the release of 10 foreign prisoners of war from Russian captivity. 

“We are interested in continuing joint efforts to release people,” Zelensky said.

CNN's Yulia Kesaieva, Mariya Knight and Heather Chen contributed to this post.

8:27 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Zelensky and Assad in attendance of Arab League meeting in Saudi Arabia

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives to attend the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives to attend the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 19. (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are attending the Arab League meeting on Friday. 

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed both leaders for the 32nd summit. 

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to attend the Arab League summit, on May 18.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to attend the Arab League summit, on May 18. (SANA/Reuters)

Some context: Assad is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies globally and has been backed militarily by Putin during the Syrian civil war.  

Earlier this month, Arab nations agreed to re-admit Syria into the Arab League despite repeated objections from the United States to ending the more than decade-long isolation of a regime that it holds accountable for the deaths of more than 300,000 civilians and displacement of millions in the country’s civil war.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Laura Paddison contributed to this post.

8:15 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

It’s mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is capping a frenetic week of diplomacy with visits to Saudi Arabia on Friday and to the G7 summit in Japan this weekend, in a stark display of confidence as Ukraine’s wartime leader tries to harness as much support as possible in anticipation of his forces’ counteroffensive.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Zelensky attends Arab League summit: Zelensky arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday to attend the Arab League summit, where he will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, among others. Zelensky said his priority was “the return of … occupied territories” and “the presentation of our peace formula.”
  • Next, the G7: Zelensky will then travel to Hiroshima, Japan, on Saturday, in order to attend the G7 summit in person on Sunday, according to sources. It will be his first visit to Asia since Moscow launched its full-scale assault on Ukraine last February. It was initially thought that Zelensky would address the conference virtually, but his visit will aim to spur further support from Ukraine’s Western allies.
  • New sanctions: On the first morning of the three-day summit, G7 countries announced further sanctions on Russia and “reaffirmed” their commitment to oppose Moscow’s “illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked” war in Ukraine. The new sanctions will target “exports of industrial machinery, tools and other technology that Russia uses to rebuild its war machine,” a statement issued from the summit said.
  • Ukraine's counteroffensive: While Zelenksy’s message could hardly be clearer on the diplomatic stage, on other matters he is more coy. He hinted Thursday that his military’s brigades are gearing up for Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive, but again offered no concrete information. The confusion surrounding the counteroffensive may be part of the plan.
  • Grain deal: Global wheat prices fell after Ukraine and Russia agreed to extend a deal allowing grain to be exported from Ukraine's Black Sea ports. But Moscow renewed threats to let the deal expire if Western powers do not meet its demands to lift certain sanctions.
  • Accounting error: The Biden administration made an accounting error in assessing the value of the military support that the US has given to Ukraine – freeing up approximately $3 billion more in aid, multiple congressional and administrative officials told CNN. Those additional funds will likely mitigate the need for Congress to pass an additional support package before the end of the fiscal year in September.
  • Military aid: Long-range Storm Shadow missiles provided to Ukraine by Britain have been used in the war, the UK defense minister has said. Meanwhile, the US has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that it would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said.
8:05 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Russia says defense minister visited Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych in Kyiv and Anna Chernova

A still image from video, released by Russia's Defence Ministry, shows Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during what it said to be the inspection of the headquarters of Russian forces fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region at an unknown location on May 19.
A still image from video, released by Russia's Defence Ministry, shows Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during what it said to be the inspection of the headquarters of Russian forces fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region at an unknown location on May 19. (Russian Defence Ministry/Reuters)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has visited the Russian-occupied portion of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, which Russia considers to have annexed, Moscow has said.

“In the course of working in the zone of the special military operation, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Vostok group of troops in the Zaporizhzhia direction,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

It is unclear when the reported trip took place. The defense ministry released a video of Shoigu walking in an underground bunker, speaking with commanders, and awarding medals.

“The high awards are a high appreciation of your military work,” Shoigu says in the video. “Thank you for this. I hope you will continue to faithfully serve our country, for the benefit of its people. Congratulations, and take care of yourself.”

Some context: Zaporizhzhia, a region in southeastern Ukraine, is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power station. The plant’s position close to the front lines means shelling in the surrounding towns and near the facility is common, according to local reports.

More than 12,000 people have been evacuated from front line areas in the Zaporizhzhia region, according to a member of the Russian-installed main council of the military-civilian administration, Vladimir Rogov, earlier this month.

The evacuations are taking place amidst fears around the “very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant,” according to International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Grossi.

7:19 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

No "substantive" discussions on arms control between Russian and US governments, Kremlin says

From CNN’s Anna Chernova

There are currently no “substantive” discussions on arms control between the Russian and United States governments, the Kremlin’s spokesperson said on Friday.

“At the moment, we can only state with regret that there are no serious, substantive contacts on these issues between Moscow and Washington,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

According to Peskov, the limited remaining components of the international legal framework on nuclear arms control are rapidly eroding.

“The situation is lamentable,” he said. “And the responsibility for this lamentable situation lies entirely with Washington.”

Some context: The New START nuclear arms treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can have. It was last extended in 2021 and lasts for five years.

Peskov’s comments were made in relation to a proposal by a number of US Senate Republicans, made public on Thursday, to have the US exit the New START treaty. Senator Tom Cotton, who introduced the proposal, said in a press statement that the treaty has “handcuffed America,” while Russia has been able to repeatedly breach its terms.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February that Russia was suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, stating that “Washington must show political will, make conscientious efforts for a general de-escalation and create conditions for the resumption of the full functioning of the Treaty and, accordingly, comprehensively ensuring its viability.”

7:10 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Ukraine’s Zelensky caps frenetic week of diplomacy with plans to appear in person at Japan’s G7 summit

From CNN's Simone McCarthy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel in person to Japan for the Group of Seven (G7) summit, according to sources, a stark display of confidence and Western solidarity as Ukraine’s wartime leader tries to keep crucial support from allied nations flowing.

Zelensky's expected trip to Hiroshima for the summit follows his attendance at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on Friday, topping a frenetic week of diplomacy.

Earlier this week, Zelensky completed a whirlwind European tour, where he made a bid to restock Ukraine’s military arsenal during stops in Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

It comes as Kyiv is preparing a highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russia and building pressure on partner governments for more military aid amid intensifying aerial attacks.

His travels also send a signal of a confident and well-connected Ukraine that contrasts sharply with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who has become increasingly isolated and cut off in recent months.

Read more here.

6:35 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Fighter jets for Ukraine on G7 agenda for discussion Friday

From Mick Krever in London

An F-16 fighter jet takes part in the NATO Air Shielding exercise near the air base in Lask, central Poland on October 12, 2022.
An F-16 fighter jet takes part in the NATO Air Shielding exercise near the air base in Lask, central Poland on October 12, 2022. (Radoslaw Jozwiak/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the G7 plan to discuss the provision of fighter jets for Ukraine during the summit in Japan on Friday, the president of the European Council said during a press conference.

“In terms of fighter jets, you have seen probably that some countries have announced a coalition in order to start training for pilots. This is a topic today with the United States and with the other partners,” Charles Michel said Friday.

Michel was responding to a reporter who asked about the Biden administration signaling to European allies that it would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, as CNN reported Thursday.

Administration officials are not aware, CNN reported, 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 F-16s, including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, who have signaled a willingness to export some of the jets to Ukraine. But the US would have to approve that third party transfer because of the jets' sensitive US technology.

“We are in close coordination with our partners, with our allies, in order to have a common approach in terms of military support for Ukraine,” Michel said. “Today we have the occasion to discuss this topic.”

“And we’ll assess what’s the level of the additional support that will be needed. It’s very clear that Ukraine needs more military equipment. It’s why on the EU side we have decided to put in place a system in order to increase the level of provision of ammunition. And we need to speed up our efforts.”

6:45 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Zelensky arrives in Saudi Arabia for Arab League summit

From Victoria Butenko and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is welcomed as he arrives ahead of the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in this still image obtained from a video on May 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is welcomed as he arrives ahead of the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in this still image obtained from a video on May 19. (alekhbariyatv/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Saudi Arabia to attend the Arab League summit, he announced on Telegram.

“I have arrived in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I will speak at the Arab League summit. I will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and hold other bilateral talks.”

“Our priorities are the return of all political prisoners of Crimea and the temporarily occupied territories, the return of all prisoners and illegally deported persons, the presentation of our peace formula, the implementation of which should involve as many states as possible, and the guarantee of energy security next winter,” he said.

“Another priority is to protect the Muslim community of Ukraine. Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, is with us. Crimea was the first to suffer from the Russian occupation, and most of those who are being repressed in occupied Crimea are Muslims.”

This weekend, the Ukrainian leader is expected to travel in person to Japan for the Group of Seven (G7) summit, as he tries to keep crucial support from allied nations flowing to Kyiv.

Officials have declined to say exactly when Zelensky would arrive in Hiroshima or detail his travel arrangements. He has been traveling outside his country more as the war grinds onward, including a tour of Europe last week.

6:04 a.m. ET, May 19, 2023

G7 leaders agree to impose further sanctions on Russia

From CNN's Betsy Klein in Hiroshima, Alex Stambaugh and Mick Krever

Leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized economies attend the first day of their three-day summit on May 19, 2023, in the western Japan city of Hiroshima. Pictured clockwise from front right are Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized economies attend the first day of their three-day summit on May 19, 2023, in the western Japan city of Hiroshima. Pictured clockwise from front right are Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. (Kyodo News/Getty Images)

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries have agreed to impose further sanctions on Russia and have "reaffirmed" their commitment to stand against Moscow's "illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked" war in Ukraine.

The further sanctions and measures are intended "to increase the costs to Russia and those who are supporting its war effort," and build on efforts to "ensure that Russia is no longer able to weaponize the availability of energy," the G7 leaders said in a statement issued from the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

"We will broaden our actions to ensure that exports of all items critical to Russia’s aggression including those used by Russia on the battlefield are restricted across all our jurisdictions,” the statement said.

This will include “exports of industrial machinery, tools, and other technology that Russia uses to rebuild its war machine," the statement continued. Key sectors that will be targeted include manufacturing, construction, and transportation as well as business services.

Leaders said they "remain committed" to upholding the price caps on Russian oil and petroleum products and will enhance efforts "to counter evasion of these caps while avoiding spillover effects and maintaining global energy supply."

G7 leaders also renewed their commitment to provide "the financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support Ukraine requires for as long as it takes," echoing previous vows of support for Kyiv.

"Our support for Ukraine will not waver. We will not tire in our commitment to mitigate the impact of Russia’s illegal actions on the rest of the world," the statement said.

Furthermore, leaders underlined that peace "cannot be realized without the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment," and reiterated that threats by Russia of nuclear weapon use are "inadmissible."