Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has landed in Japan, where he is to meet world leaders at the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
May 20, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Heather Chen, Andrew Raine, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN
Zelensky lands in Japan
From CNN staff
French government plane lands in Hiroshima
From Xiaofei Xu in Paris and Jake Kwon in Hong Kong
A French government plane has landed in Hiroshima, as seen on a live feed from Japan's Public Broadcaster NHK.
Earlier Saturday, a diplomatic source told CNN that Zelensky would arrive at the Hiroshima G7 summit on a French government plane.
New sanctions, secret shipments and other headlines you should know
From CNN staff
Russia is banning "500 Americans" from entering the country.
The move is in response to the "regularly anti-Russian sanctions" imposed by the US administration, according to a statement from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.
The rambling, indiscriminate list of names includes former President Barack Obama, former US Ambassador John Huntsman, several US senators and the next expected chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Charles Q. Brown Jr. Also included is CNN anchor Erin Burnett.
Hours earlier, at the Group of Seven summit, the Biden administration unveiled new sanctions targeting Moscow for its war in Ukraine.
Here are other headlines to know:
Zelensky heads to Japan: President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel in person to Japan for the G7 summit, according to officials familiar with the planning, a stark display of confidence and Western solidarity as Ukraine’s wartime leader tries to keep crucial support from allied nations flowing. The surprise trip – which would be the Ukrainian president’s first to Asia since Moscow’s invasion of his country last February – 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.
Arab League meeting: Zelensky told Arab leaders Friday 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.
On the ground: There were at least two explosions Friday night in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, according to social media video and the accounts of residents on community channels. An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine claims the explosions took place at a base for Moscow's forces. CNN cannot independently verify the officials' claims, and the local Russian-installed administration has not yet commented on the explosions or what caused them
Meanwhile, the pace of Ukrainian counterattacks around Bakhmut slowed down Friday, but "very fierce fighting continues" in the eastern city, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. Ukrainian forces have claimed advancements in several areas in recent days, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops. But Maliar acknowledged that Russian forces had made advances within the city limits.
US diplomatic appointment: US President Joe Biden formally nominated James O'Brien to serve as the top State Department official for European affairs — a key role for guiding Washington's response to Russia's war in Ukraine.
CNN's Kylie Atwood first reported that O'Brien was expected to be tapped for the role. He currently serves as the head of the sanctions coordination office at the State Department.
Secret shipments: The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group has been working to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by trying to source the materials from Mali, where the group has a strong foothold, a US official told CNN. There are no signs yet that Wagner has successfully procured the equipment, but the group has continued working to procure mines, drones, radar and counter-battery systems from contacts in Mali for use in Ukraine, the official said.
US assistance for pilots: President Joe Biden on Friday told G7 leaders the United States will support an effort to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced aircraft, including F-16s, a senior administration official tells CNN. The joint training effort is not expected to happen in the US, the official said, and will likely happen entirely in Europe. But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners, the official said. It is expected to take several months to complete.
NATO developments: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN he is still not prepared to support Sweden's NATO membership, repeating his claim that Stockholm has allowed terrorist organizations to harbor in the country. “As long as Sweden continues to allow the offshoots of terror groups in Turkey to roam free in Sweden, in the streets of Stockholm, we cannot look favorably on Sweden’s membership in NATO,” Erdogan said.
Zelensky to arrive in Hiroshima on a French government plane, diplomatic source says
From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will arrive at the Hiroshima G7 summit aboard a French government plane, a diplomatic source confirmed to CNN Saturday.
The source declined to comment on when Zelensky would arrive in Hiroshima.
Zelensky traveled to the Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday also aboard a French government plane, according to the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Biden will meet with Zelensky in Hiroshima, White House says
From CNN's Betsy Klein
National security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed the in-person attendance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, and indicated that President Joe Biden will meet with him.
“I think it’s a safe bet that President Biden will meet with him,” Sullivan told reporters in Hiroshima Saturday morning local time.
He added that he did not have a formal announcement on a meeting to share at this time, but that Biden “looks forward to the opportunity to be able to sit down face-to-face” with Zelensky.
Sullivan did not provide details on Zelensky’s travel to Japan, but said the US was “not the party – the country – that flew him here.”
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also confirmed Zelensky's attendance.
Kishida said in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement that Japan's government has decided to hold a session on Ukraine with G7 leaders on Sunday, which is the last day of the summit.
"The decision was made to hold a session on Ukraine with the G7 leaders, with face-to-face participation by President Zelensky," the statement read. "President Zelensky will also participate as a guest in the session on peace and stability with the G7 Heads of State and Government and the leaders of the invited countries."
The statement confirmed that Kishida and Zelensky also plan to hold a bilateral meeting on Sunday.
Kishida reiterated that "the situation in Ukraine" is one of the main agenda items of the G7 Hiroshima Summit and that it "is important to reflect the voice of Ukraine."
Some context: Zelensky’s in-person participation seemed more in flux Saturday morning in Japan, leaving open the possibility he could ultimately join only virtually. The sensitive nature of his security arrangements meant officials were wary of saying exactly how he would participate in the meeting.
CNN's Junko Ogura in Hiroshima, Japan, contributed reporting.
Source: The US will support F-16 training effort for Ukrainians, Biden tells G7 allies
From CNN's Natasha Bertrand
President Joe Biden on Friday told G7 leaders the United States will support an effort to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced aircraft, including F-16s, a senior administration official tells CNN.
The joint training effort is not expected to happen in the US, the official said, and will likely happen entirely in Europe. But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners, the official said. It is expected to take several months to complete.
“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the official said.
The official repeated a US refrain on the subject of military assistance for Ukraine, saying it has been primarily focused thus far on preparing Kyiv with weapons, equipment and training it needs immediately to fight its anticipated counteroffensive.
"Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense," the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is on his way to the G7 summit, said he welcomes the United States' "historic decision" to support "an international fighter jet coalition."
“This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima," Zelensky said on Twitter Friday.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelensky’s office, said the president would discuss the issue in detail when he meets with Biden.
“Ukraine will very soon get everything necessary in order to protect our Ukrainian sky, our cities and our citizens,” Yermak told Ukrainian television.
The push for fighter jets: 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.
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 told CNN, though the US remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kyiv.
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. Congress set aside money in the 2023 budget for such training.
A spokesperson for United Kingdom 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 on the fourth generation fighters, which are more advanced than the Ukrainian fleet.
CNN's Yulia Kesaieva contributed reporting to this post.
Moscow bans "500 Americans" from entry into Russia, including late-night TV hosts and CNN journalists
From CNN's Jonny Hallam
Russia is banning "500 Americans," including many prominent figures of US executive power, from entering the country "in a response to the regularly anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the Joe Biden administration," according to a statement from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.
The list includes former President Barack Obama, former US Ambassador John Huntsman, several US senators and the next expected chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Charles Q. Brown Jr.
The rambling, indiscriminate list of names also includes late-night television hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.
"The attached 'list-500' also includes those in government and law enforcement agencies who are directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called Storming the Capitol," the statement said.
Also included is CNN anchor Erin Burnett. It is an update of a previously published longer list of sanctioned individuals that includes CNN's chief international security correspondent Nick Paton Walsh and CNN contributors Bianna Golodryga and Timothy Naftali. While the list was labeled “500 Americans,” Paton Walsh is a British citizen.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified the publication of the list in a statement on its website, saying, "It is high time for Washington to learn that not a single hostile attack against Russia will go without a strong reaction."
Russia's MFA did not specify complaints against each individual or explain what the sanctions would mean beyond a ban from entering the county.
In addition, the MFA said it is continuing to deny a US embassy request for consular access to US journalist Evan Gershkovich "due to the failure to issue visas to Russian journalists from the Lavrov pool," referencing the visit to the United Nations last month by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Some background: The Biden administration on Friday unveiled new sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine.
The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on “22 individuals and 104 entities, with touchpoints in more than 20 countries or jurisdictions,” the agency said in a news release.
Ukrainian units are still defending parts of Bakhmut as counterattacks continue, official says
From CNN's Tim Lister and Yulia Kesaiev
The pace of Ukrainian counterattacks around Bakhmut slowed down Friday, but "very fierce fighting continues" in the eastern city, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.
In an update, Maliar claimed the Russians had “increased the presence of troops in the Bakhmut sector by several thousand people and is trying to use its advantage in heavy artillery and the number of shells.”
“Russian troops continue to attack at the cost of heavy losses, which disproportionately exceed our losses,” she said on Telegram.
Maliar added that Ukraine's defense of Bakhmut was reducing Russia’s offensive potential and was gaining time for “other planned actions.”
She said Russians were reducing buildings in the city to ashes.
“They leave only the foundation, which is impossible to defend," Maliar said.
But Ukrainian troops were still holding an area near the city’s airplane monument and remained in the vicinity of the monument in the far-southwest corner of Bakhmut, she added.
The State Border Guard Service, which has units in the Bakhmut area, said enemy infantry was repelled and had taken casualties.
A commander in the Ukrainian military’s Third Assault Brigade, Andriy Biletsky, said over the past two days, two companies of the Russian 72nd Brigade had been defeated and retreated. On Thursday, the Brigade said it had gained an area two kilometers wide and 700 meters deep.
But Biletsky noted that “the offensive does not come at small price for us.”
Ukrainian tennis player refuses to shake Russian opponent’s hand after semifinal victory
From CNN’s Matt Foster
Ukrainian tennis player Anhelina Kalinina refused to shake hands with her Russian opponent following her victory in the semifinals of the Rome Masters in Italy on Friday.
“We didn't shake hands because the girl is from Russia basically. It's no secret why I didn't shake, because this country actually attack Ukraine," Kalinina told reporters after the match against Russian player Veronika Kudermetova.
“So yeah, this is sport, I understand, but it's also kind of political thing. So, yeah, it has nothing personal. But in general, yes, it's not acceptable," she said.
Kudermetova, when asked about her relationship with Kalinina and the influence of “political overtones," said, "Here we're athletes. We're here, and we love what we do here. Doesn't matter from which country you are. We're athletes and that's it. We are here to play tennis.”
Kalinina denied the idea that her opponent’s nationality influenced the topsy-turvy nature of the match, describing Kudermetova as “a top player, a very great player. It was about tennis.”
Kalinina, who came into the tournament ranked 47th in the world compared to Kudermetova at 12th, won in three sets.
The 26-year-old Ukrainian said a bomb exploded near the tennis academy where her parents work in Kyiv. She also said her grandparents had moved away from Nova Kakhovka, her hometown, after an explosion near their house.