May 20, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Heather Chen, Andrew Raine, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT) May 21, 2023
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12:12 a.m. ET, May 21, 2023

That concludes our coverage for the day. Visit here for the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine.

10:59 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Macron says it's "up to the Ukrainian authorities" to state their forces' situation in Bakhmut

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh in Hong Kong, with previous reporting from Yulia Kesaieva and Andrew Carey in Kyiv and Sugam Pokharel in London

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday it is "up to the Ukrainian authorities to state the developments of their forces on the ground," following claims from the chief of Russian private military group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, that his forces have taken complete control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

"I think it is up to the Ukrainian authorities to state the developments of their forces on the ground and so I will stay at this stage extremely cautious," Macron said in Hiroshima, speaking on camera to reporters on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

The operation "shows the difficulty the Russian army had in advancing" on the city, Macron said.

CNN could not independently verify Prigozhin’s claim, but an initial response from the Ukrainian side disputed it.

Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, in a Telegram post less than an hour after the Russian mercenary’s claim was published, admitted the situation in Bakhmut was “critical” but said Ukrainian troops were still “holding the defense” in a district on Bakhmut’s western-most edge.

Macron did not speak further on the Wagner claim, but said the presence of Zelensky at the G7 summit in Hiroshima is "important."

The French president also said the G7 is an opportunity to "discuss, exchange views and convince partners" invited this year – including India, Indonesia and Brazil – regarding Ukraine.

"There will be the opportunity to explain the situation," he told reporters.

10:37 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Zelensky discusses security, defense and training of soldiers with Canadian leader Trudeau

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday he had discussed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "further cooperation" on security and defense, the situation on the front line and the training of Ukrainian soldiers. 

"Started another day of the G7 Summit with a meeting with Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau," Zelensky tweeted

"We discussed further cooperation in the security and defense sphere, the situation on the front line, training of Ukrainian officers within the UNIFIER Canadian training mission, the importance of implementing all points of the Ukrainian Peace Formula and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration," he wrote. 

Operation UNIFIER is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) military training and capacity building mission in support of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which launched in 2015 and in 2022 was expanded and extended until March 2025. 

Zelensky also said that he was "grateful" to Trudeau and Canada for their assistance in de-mining its territories and for the "prompt processing of our requests by the government of Canada and Canadian manufacturers."

Zelensky is currently in Hiroshima, Japan, where he is joining G7 summit talks and meeting with G7 leaders on Sunday. 

10:35 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Putin congratulates Wagner mercenaries, Russian armed forces amid claims they have taken Bakhmut 

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a press conference in Moscow on September 9, 2021. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a press conference in Moscow on September 9, 2021.  Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/FILE

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday congratulated Wagner mercenaries and Russia's armed forces after they claimed to have taken control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

The Kremlin said: "Vladimir Putin congratulates the Wagner assault detachments, as well as all units of the Russian Armed Forces, which confirmed the presence and closure of the flanks, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk [the Soviet-Russian name for Bakhmut]," the Russian state news agency TASS said, citing the Kremlin. 

"All distinguished fighters will be granted state awards," the Kremlin added.

10:31 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

The Russian foreign minister's family visited Georgia despite sanctions, president says, sparking protests

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a press conference in Moscow on May 17.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a press conference in Moscow on May 17. Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool/Reuters

Police removed several people Saturday outside the Kvareli Lake Hotel in the country of Georgia, where relatives of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were reportedly staying, according to Georgian public broadcaster First Channel. 

The opposition United National Movement party held a protest outside the hotel in northeastern Georgia to express their anger following local media reports that Lavrov's relatives were staying there.

Videos posted on social media showed violent scenes of police officers roughly grabbing protesters gathered outside the hotel. In one video, police officers can be seen holding a protester by the throat. 

Georgian media reported that Lavrov's relatives had traveled to Georgia for the wedding of the brother of Lavrov's son-in-law, Alexandre Vinokourov. 

Lavrov's daughter, Ekaterina Vinokurova — who is married to Vinokourov — has been sanctioned by the UK, the United States and Canada.

Police removed several people outside the Kvareli Lake Hotel in Georgia on May 20.
Police removed several people outside the Kvareli Lake Hotel in Georgia on May 20. Formula News/Twitter

Tensions are already high this week, after direct flights between Russia and Georgia resumed Friday, lifting restrictions imposed in 2019.

The move was condemned by the country's President Salome Zourabichvili, who holds a largely ceremonial role and has opposed the government's alignment with Russia.

Zourabichvili expressed disbelief Saturday that the Georgian government didn't know that "the daughter of the highest-ranking official, from Putin’s immediate circle, who is under sanctions" had entered Georgia for the wedding, First Channel said.

The president said she had been informed by a government official that the family has now left the country, but she urged authorities to heed the lists of Russian individuals sanctioned by Georgia's "partner countries."

More about Georgia: Since winning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has played a balancing act between pro-European sentiment among its citizens and the influence of its powerful neighbor Russia. The country's ruling party, Georgian Dream, has faced repeated accusations of close ties with Moscow, most notably during efforts to pass a foreign agents bill in March, which critics said mirrored controversial Russian laws. 

6:06 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Russian defense ministry declares victory in Bakhmut, while Ukraine insists it's still fighting for the city

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Russia's Ministry of Defense claimed Saturday that it has seized the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, echoing claims from the Wagner mercenary group that officials in Ukraine have so far disputed.

Calling the city by it's Soviet-Russian name, the ministry said: "As a result of offensive actions by Wagner assault units, supported by artillery and aviation of the Yug Group of Forces, the liberation of Artyomovsk has been completed."

Wagner's chief claimed his troops had completely captured the city earlier Saturday, while Ukraine's deputy defense minister insisted fighting continued, with Kyiv's forces holding on to the city's westernmost edge.

CNN cannot independently verify battlefield claims.

In recent reports from the front, Ukraine's military had focused on progress made in areas surrounding the city, while Wagner forces had said they were consolidating territory closer to the city center.

5:53 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

International Criminal Court denounces Russian arrest warrant for one of its prosecutor

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Mohammed Tawfeeq

International Criminal Court (ICC) leadership expressed deep concern over the arrest warrant issued by Russia's government for one of the court's prosecutors this week.

In a statement Saturday, the ICC called Russia's actions against prosecutor Karim Khan, "acts of intimidation and unacceptable attempts to undermine the mandate of the International Criminal Court to investigate, sanction and prevent the commission of the gravest international crimes."

The court's oversight and legislative body, the Presidency of the Assembly of State Parties, "stands firmly by the International Criminal Court, its elected officials, and its personnel," the statement reads.
"We reiterate our full confidence in the ICC as an independent and impartial court of law," the statement added.

The ICC said in a separate statement Saturday that it is "aware and profoundly concerned about unwarranted and unjustified coercive measures reportedly taken against ICC officials, notably the Prosecutor of the Court and the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber II by the authorities of the Russian Federation."

Some context: In March, the ICC — whose jurisdiction is not recognized by Russia — issued a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin and another Moscow official, Maria Lvova-Belova, alleging they were involved in the deportation and "reeducation" of Ukrainian children in Russia. 

Later in March, Russia's Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the ICC judges Tomoko Akane, Rosario Aytala, and Sergio Godinez, as well as Khan. 

On Friday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs had issued an arrest warrant for Khan.

CNN's Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting.

4:19 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Biden will meet with Ukraine's Zelensky in Japan on Sunday

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Joe Biden is set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, underscoring US support for Ukraine as top US officials herald a unified Group of Seven summit. 

“We do expect that the president will have a bilateral meeting with President Zelensky,” a senior administration official told reporters, adding that the meeting will be “a little bit after 2 o’clock” p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).

Biden, the official said, “will continue to reiterate the United States’ firm and resolute support for Ukraine going forward.”  

The official pointed to a “powerful statement of unity” from the G7 countries standing against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at this week’s summit, including sanctions and the announcement of a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 aircraft — efforts that were “spearheaded” by US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Asked about the possibility of China playing a role in ending Russia’s war, the official said the US hopes Chinese President Xi Jinping views this week’s summit as a signal of “resolve.” 

“We would hope that President Xi and the (People's Republic of China) extract from what they’ve been seeing here … is that there’s an awful lot of resolve to continue to support Ukraine, as the G7 continues to say, for as long as it takes, and that China could have a meaningful role in helping end this war,” the official said. 

Biden is also expected to have a trilateral meeting with South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida early Sunday afternoon local time. The official called the relationships a “priority” for Biden. The leaders will discuss security, economics and other topics.

Remember: The G7 comprises the world’s most advanced industrialized democracies: the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Italy. Tokyo has also invited several other rising economic powers and regional players to the meetings.

3:51 p.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Pope entrusts cardinal with Ukraine peace mission

From CNN’s Delia Gallagher and Barbie Latza Nadeau in Rome

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi speaks at the opening of the inter-religious meeting "The Cry of Peace" in Rome on October 23, 2022.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi speaks at the opening of the inter-religious meeting "The Cry of Peace" in Rome on October 23, 2022. Remo Casilli/Reuters

Pope Francis has entrusted Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, with leading a peace mission to address the war in Ukraine, according to the Holy See press office.

The mission is aimed to contribute "to an easing of tensions in the Ukraine conflict, in the hopes that this can initiate paths of peace, something never abandoned by the Holy Father," Matteo Bruni, the director of the office, told journalists Saturday in the statement.

The statement added that the Vatican is still looking into how and when Zuppi will undertake the mission.