Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
May 24, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Tara Subramaniam, Sophie Tanno, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN
Russia denies that a fire broke out at the country's defense ministry building in Moscow, state media says
From CNN's Jonny Hallam
Russia is now denying that there was a fire at the Ministry of Defense building, according to state news agency TASS on Thursday.
The Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) did not detect a fire at the MOD building, TASS quoted the Moscow City MES Department as saying.
"The presence of a fire has not been confirmed, as no fire was detected by the fire brigade upon arrival. Neither is there any information about victims," the press service of the Moscow department said, according to TASS.
Video seen by CNN showed smoke surrounding the MOD building and a woman heard saying “the smell of burning is horrible.”
Earlier, TASS reported that a fire broke out at the Russian Ministry of Defense building in central Moscow, citing an emergency services source.
"A fire broke-out on a balcony at the Ministry of Defense building on Frunzenskaya Naberezhnaya," according to TASS.
The news agency also noted emergency services were working at the scene.
Russia says it will respond "extremely harshly" to future incursions. Here's what to know
From CNN staff
Nine people were hospitalized following drone attacks on the Russian region of Belgorod overnight, its governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Wednesday.
The attacks followed the earlier incursion claimed by the anti-Moscow groups known as Freedom for Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps.
Here's what else to know:
- What we know about the anti-Putin groups: The anti-Putin Russian groups that claimed responsibility for the attack on Belgorod said their operation is "ongoing." Denis Nikitin, the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, said the group coordinates with the Ukrainian military on operations inside Ukraine, but not outside. The Ukrainian government has distanced itself from the Russian fighters, saying they are operating independently in Russia. The Russian Ministry of Defense said the fighters who crossed the border on Monday were pushed back into Ukrainian territory.
- Warning from Russia: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called the cross-border raid in Belgorod a “terrorist act” and warned that Russia will respond "promptly and extremely harshly" to any further attempts. Shoigu also claimed that more than 70 saboteurs were killed, as well as automotive and armored vehicles. CNN could not independently verify Shoigu's claim.
- F-16 jets: Norway will support the training of Ukrainian personnel on US-made F-16 fighter jets, the Norwegian Defense Ministry said. Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden gave his backing for Kyiv’s pilots to be trained to fly the US-made planes and signaled to allies that the US would allow exports of the jets from other countries. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the planned supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine is “one of the strongest signals from the world that Russia will only lose."
- New US aid: The Biden administration approved the $285 million sale of a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System to Ukraine, the State Department said. That means Ukraine will have a total of nine NASAMS when the delivery is completed. In November, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the NASAMS had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles.
- NATO membership: Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the alliance while it is engaged in a war with Russia is "not on the agenda," according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. He acknowledged that there are some "different views in the alliance" on the issue of NATO membership for Kyiv, but he added that all members are in agreement that Ukraine will become a member.
- Potential prisoner swap: Lawyers for an accused Russian money launderer in US custody want their client to be considered for any potential US-Russia prisoner swap for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a court filing said. The Russian man, Alexander Vinnik, is accused of running a multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange that allegedly did business with drug dealers and identity thieves.
- Kremlin attack: US officials have picked up chatter amongst Ukrainian officials blaming each other for a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month. This contributes to a US assessment that a Ukrainian group may have been responsible, sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.
Ukrainians may have launched drone attack on Kremlin, US intelligence indicates
From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Zachary Cohen
US officials have picked up chatter amongst Ukrainian officials blaming each other for a drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month.
This contributes to a US assessment that a Ukrainian group may have been responsible, sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN.
The intercepts include some members of Ukraine's military and intelligence bureaucracy speculating that Ukrainian special operations forces conducted the operation.
The chatter, combined with other intercepted communications of Russian officials blaming Ukraine for the attack and wondering how it happened, has led US officials to consider the possibility that a Ukrainian group was behind the incident on May 3.
On that morning, two drones flew up toward the Kremlin's Senate Palace and struck the top of the building.
However, the US has not been able to reach a definitive conclusion on who was responsible and only assesses with low confidence that a Ukrainian group may have been behind the incident, officials said.
They still have no definitive proof as to who launched the drones, and US officials still believe it is unlikely that senior Ukrainian government officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, ordered the attack or knew about it beforehand.
Recent US intelligence reports have assessed that Russian officials have speculated privately, as they have publicly, that Ukraine was behind the attack, leading officials to believe that the incident was likely not a state-sponsored false-flag operation intended to give Russia a pretext to further escalate its war on Ukraine.
The Kremlin has also made some internal security changes in response to the attack, one source familiar with the intelligence said, declining to go into detail.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said publicly following the episode that the city's air defenses would be tightened.
The drones that hit the Kremlin appeared small, with a relatively light payload, which is probably why they didn't trigger Russian air defenses, sources told CNN.
Russian forces using 3 power units in Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as military base, Ukrainian intelligence says
From CNN’s Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv
Russian forces are using three power units at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a logistics and military base, Ukraine's intelligence service claimed Wednesday.
“Despite numerous appeals from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and world leaders, the occupiers do not reduce their presence at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence said in a statement.
It accused Russian forces of using three power units as a staging ground for military equipment.
“Currently, the territory of power units 1, 2, 4 is actually used as a logistics and military base [by Russia],” the statement said. “Russian military personnel, armored vehicles and trucks are permanently stationed at these sites.”
The statement notes that the number of vehicles and military personnel at the plant are constantly changing to be near each power unit. "The rotation takes place covertly during the curfew (from 23:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. local time),” the statement said.
Moscow has previously said the only military equipment at the plant is related to guard duties.
The statement comes ahead of an expected update Thursday from the IAEA on the situation in the plant.
Three IAEA inspectors from Argentina, Ireland and Morocco will arrive for a new rotation, according to Russian state media.
Earlier this week Rafael Grossi, the IAEA chief said the Zaporizhzhia plant was “extremely vulnerable” after external power had been lost to the plant.
CNN's Jo Shelley contributed to this report.
Allies' supply of F-16 jets is a signal that Russia will lose, Zelensky says
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva and Hira Humayun
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the planned supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine is “one of the strongest signals from the world that Russia will only lose."
Speaking during his nightly address, Zelensky referenced an international coalition with the UK and the Netherlands. Both countries said in early May that they are working to help Ukraine procure US-made F-16 fighter jets.
President Joe Biden later said the US will support a joint effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation aircrafts, including F-16s.
On Wednesday, Norway said it would support the training and will consider different ways to do so.
“This will be a signal that Russian terror has lost, and our world, which is based on respect for independent nations and the right of peoples to choose their own path, has survived,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine will prepare all the necessary conditions to make sure the air transition takes place as quickly and efficiently as possible, the president added.
5 foreign fighters to be tried in absentia in Russia for involvement in Ukraine, state media says
From CNN’s Florence Davey-Attlee, Josh Pennington, Sugam Pokharel and Jessie Gretener
Five foreigners who fought for Ukraine are to stand trial in absentia in Russia, according to state media.
They will stand trial at a court in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on May 31 at 10 a.m. local time, according to RIA Novosti, citing the court’s press service.
The group all fought for Ukraine in the defense of the southern city of Mariupol.
Swedish citizen Matthias Gustavsson, Croatian citizen Vekoslav Prebeg, and British citizen John Harding have been charged with “forcible seizure or forcible retention of power” and “mercenary participation in an armed conflict or hostilities.”
Another two British citizens, Andrew Hill and Dylan Healy, were charged with "participating as a mercenary in armed conflict or hostilities" and "aiding and abetting in the recruitment of mercenaries for use in armed conflict,” respectively.
The three British citizens — Harding, Hill and Healy — were all released as part of a prisoner swap in September 2022, according to the UK government.
CNN has contacted the governments of the UK, Sweden and Croatia for a response.
CNN's Mick Krever, Arnaud Siad, Vasco Cotovio and Olga Voitovych contributed to this report.
Biden administration approves $285 million sale of air defense system to Ukraine
From CNN's Oren Liebermann
The Biden administration approved the $285 million sale of a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System to Ukraine, the US State Department announced.
NASAMS is an advanced medium-range air defense system that Ukraine has used effectively to repel and intercept Russian aerial attacks. Ukraine already has two such systems, and the US has committed to providing another six under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
This latest purchase would give Ukraine a total of nine NASAMS when delivery is completed.
In November, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the NASAMS had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles.
State Department: US is "deeply concerned" over a UN official meeting with a wanted Russian official
From CNN's Michael Conte and Christian Sierra
The United States is “deeply concerned" that a senior UN diplomat met with Maria Lvova-Belova, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia, the State Department said Wednesday.
“We are deeply concerned that a senior UN diplomat met with a fugitive subject to an ICC arrest warrant for committing war crimes against children,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said, repeating the allegations that “Russia is forcibly deporting children from Ukraine.”
“They're denying parents and legal guardians access to those children… and giving children from Ukraine Russian passports and attempt to take away a part of their identity,” Miller said.
Some background: A report released in February by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab, backed by the US State Department, found that Moscow attempted to relocate, re-educate, and sometimes militarily train or forcibly adopt out Ukrainian children. It also said the Russian government is operating an expansive network of dozens of camps where it has held thousands of Ukrainian children since the start of the war against Ukraine last year.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin and for Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, for their roles in the alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.