Russian forces have lost about 1,000 tanks in Ukraine so far, according to senior US defense official
From CNN's Ellie Kaufman
Russian forces have lost “nearly about 1,000 tanks” and “well over 350 artillery pieces,” as well as “almost three dozen fighter bomber fixed-wing aircraft and more than 50 helicopters” so far in the ongoing war in Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.
Still, with all of that loss, the US assesses that Russians “still have the … majority of their capability left to them,” the official added. “They have invested an awful lot of their hardware and their personnel in this fight, and the Ukrainians have suffered losses, the Russians have suffered losses."
“Russians do have a superiority here in terms of number of assets they can apply to this fight in terms of people, and equipment and weapons, and we just have to bear that in mind,” the official added.
12:46 p.m. ET, May 26, 2022
US official: Russian forces have made "some incremental gains" in their push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk
From CNN's Ellie Kaufman
There are now 110 operational Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) inside of Ukraine, which is an increase from 97 BTGs the US assessed were inside of Ukraine as of May 9, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday. That is an increase of about 13 BTGs in about two and a half weeks.
“The largest contingent remains in the south. But the western grouping, the central grouping and the eastern grouping each have roughly the same number of BTGs inside Ukraine,” the official said.
Russian forces have made “some incremental gains” in their push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the official added, “not a lot but some incremental gains.”
Around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, the US assesses that Ukrainians have “continued to push Russian forces further away" in a range of “a few kilometers to more than 10 kilometers within the Russian border,” the official said, “so no major change there.”
Meanwhile, 85 of the M-777 howitzers that the US has provided to Ukraine over the course of the last three military assistance packages are “forward,” meaning they are being used on the frontlines of the war, the official told reporters Thursday.
Out of the 209,000 155 mm projectiles that were promised to Ukraine from the US, 190,000 of them have been transferred to Ukraine, the official added.
US and NATO allies continue to train Ukrainian soldiers on US and NATO weapons systems outside of Ukraine, the official added. 419 Ukrainians soldiers have completed M-777 howitzer training, about 30 Ukrainians have completed the basic howitzer maintenance course, and another 17 have completed the more advanced 14-day maintainer course for the Howitzer systems, the official continued.
About 20 Ukrainian soldiers are completing the second iteration of the training on the Phoenix Ghost Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, that the US provided to Ukraine, the official added.
The US is “also helping facilitate training” for Ukrainians on coastal defense missiles now that Denmark has agreed to contribute Harpoon launchers and vehicles to Ukraine, the official said.
“Some training that needs to be done on how to use the Harpoon was not designed for coastal defense, it was designed for anti-ship warfare, ship-to-ship warfare, so this is a relatively new application of the missile, and therefore we know they’re going to need a little bit of training on that,” the official said.
12:34 p.m. ET, May 26, 2022
Zelensky slams peace proposals that "appease" Russia
From CNN's Nathan Hodge
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed peace proposals that would "appease" Russia in a speech Thursday to the parliament of Latvia.
"There are people — and many of them among the powerful of this world — who believe that not all nations matter, who believe that a nation can simply be forgotten to try to keep peace," Zelensky said. "Even the temporary peace, even the illusory one. Even peace at the cost of tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands deported, or millions deprived of their homeland. They are OK with that. Peace at the cost of the lives of others. But this should not be normal."
Zelensky's remarks follow remarks from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who appeared to suggest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that peace negotiations should be aimed at "status quo ante" boundaries that preceded the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 — in essence, conceding Crimea and parts of the Donbas to Russia. It also comes amid reports that Italy has concocted its own embryonic peace plan.
"Now we hear again that Russia should be given what it wants," Zelensky said. "That supposedly it is necessary to accept that some nations may be deprived of part of their foreign policy rights, because certain — as they say — 'historical force' wants it. There are quite serious talks about drawing some dividing lines along the body of a sovereign state in order to allegedly 'appease' the aggressor. And allegedly concessions, concessions and concessions again are needed — of course, at the expense of the state, which was attacked, so that the aggressor allegedly mercifully stops."
In his remarks to the Latvian parliament, the Ukrainian president urged additional sanctions on Russia, particularly on its powerful energy sector exports.
"It is necessary not only to finally agree on the sixth sanctions package against the Russian Federation, including the embargo on oil, oil blends and petroleum products," he said. "But also prepare the seventh sanctions package, with even more powerful restrictions on Russia for terror against Ukraine. Just like Latvia, the whole of Europe must restrict Russia's energy weapons. Fully."
12:29 p.m. ET, May 26, 2022
China's support of Putin "should raise alarm bells," US secretary of state says
From CNN's Michael Conte and Kylie Atwood
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed China for defending Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, saying that defense “should raise alarm bells for all of us who call the Indo-Pacific region home.”
“Even while Russia was clearly mobilizing to invade Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin declared that the friendship between their countries was, and I quote, ‘without limits,’” Blinken said in a speech on the Biden administration’s policy towards China at George Washington University.
He emphasized that the US is not seeking a conflict or a new Cold War with China.
“Our task is to prove once again, that democracy can meet urgent challenges, create opportunity, advance human dignity, that the future belongs to those who believe in freedom and that all countries will be free to chart their own paths without coercion,” said Blinken. “We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both."
"Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that’s posed by the People’s Republic of China,” he added.
11:20 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
Grain shortage caused by war now having "significant impact" in some African countries, US general nominee says
From CNN's Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman
Grain shortages around the world caused by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine are “being felt on the African continent,” the nominee to be the next top US general overseeing the US military presence in Europe, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, told lawmakers Thursday.
Cavoli, who currently serves as commander of US Army Europe-Africa, said he saw the impacts of the grain shortage on a recent trip to Kenya.
“There was a significant impact there already. We know that in other countries such as Tunisia, the prices have skyrocketed for basic foodstuffs. So there is food insecurity in Africa that is being provoked by the shortage of grain,” Cavoli said.
While the shortage is being experienced in Africa, this will “largely be a European concern, because of the close connection between African security issues and European security issues,” he added.
Some countries, like Germany and Romania, are already starting to try to alleviate the problem, Cavoli said.
Romania has “made the port at Constanța available,” Cavoli said, but that port will only allow “about 90,000 tons” of grain a day through, while there’s about 22 million tons of grain backed up, he added.
The German national railroad agency, Deutsche Bahn, also recently announced a new plan called the Berlin train lift to “dedicate trains to pulling wheat right out of Ukraine into western Europe,” Cavoli said.
“Poland has established a new border crossing regime with Germany to facilitate that. So I think some efforts are taking place, much more remains to be done, senator,” he told lawmakers.
He also addressed the NATO bids of Finland and Sweden, saying they will bring “quite a lot of capability and capacity” to the alliance if they join.
Cavoli is nominated to succeed the current US European Command Commander Gen. Tod Wolters.
10:23 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
Russians intensify attacks against vastly outnumbered Ukrainian forces across Donetsk and Luhansk
From CNN's Tim Lister
Russian forces are applying a wide array of weapons across several fronts in eastern Ukraine as they try to break down stubborn Ukrainian defenses, which are outnumbered and outgunned, according to Ukrainian officials.
Several of those officials describe the situation as "very difficult" and admit Ukrainian units may have to fall back in some places.
In recent days, Ukrainian officials say, the Russians have combined short-range ballistic missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, heavy artillery and tanks in a remorseless bombardment of towns and cities in Luhansk and Donetsk regions still under Ukrainian control.
The National Police of Ukraine said that civilians were killed in attacks on 13 settlements in Donetsk, with several towns not previously targeted suffering damage. Russian forces seem to be broadening the number of towns they are shelling as they try to destroy Ukrainian defenses and supply lines.
Their chief objective appears to be taking Sloviansk, which has seen an increase in shelling in recent days. Mayor Vadym Liakh said half the city is now without water, and there will be "no gas supply until the heating season."
A growing number of Ukrainian officials describe the military situation in dire terms, although Russian advances on the ground have been modest.
Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of Ukraine's parliament who is on the National Security Committee, described the situation as "difficult."
He told Ukrainian television that "the hottest spots are Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The enemy is trying to encircle our troops."
The twin cities in Luhansk are almost entirely destroyed, but Ukrainian troops are still present. Nearly 15,000 civilians are estimated still to be in Severodonetsk.
According to the Institute for the Study of War's latest battlefield assessment, "Russian forces may need to conduct a ground offensive on Severodonetsk in upcoming days to maintain their pace after committing a significant portion of personnel, artillery, aviation, and logistics to the front."
Venislavskyi said that if the Russians could break Ukrainian resistance there, "their next targets are Bakhmut, Soledar," towns that are further west.
In particular, regional officials say that the highway linking Bakhmut and Lysychansk — a resupply route for Ukrainian forces — is under constant attack.
"The enemy partially controls Lyman and goes to the outskirts of Severodonetsk. The situation in this operational area will be very difficult in the coming days," he said.
He also suggested that additional Russian forces were being brought in, saying "the enemy continues to accumulate reserves near Izium to attack Sloviansk and Barvinkove."
"The enemy is sending units from the Primorsky Krai, the Far East, and Siberia to Ukraine. Battalion groups are formed, loaded on the railway and sent to Ukraine," Venislavskyi said.
Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, said the "Armed Forces have been defending for the fourth month now. Our defensive positions are destroyed by the enemy every day."
"Luhansk region, the part that is under the control of Ukraine, is very small in terms of territory. Therefore, the Russians will try their best to take it. For them, this is the easiest way to win at least some intermediate victory. ... Our forces are gradually moving to more fortified positions," he said.
Haidai is one of several Ukrainian officials to stress that the defenses in the east are vastly outnumbered.
"You need to understand that a huge amount of equipment and people are fighting against us," he said.
"It takes time for [Western] weapons to reach us. They must pass from the west to the east of Ukraine. One or two howitzers will not change the position; we will simply lose them. Therefore, we need to wait and regroup," Haidai said.
He also acknowledged the probability that Ukrainian forces would have to fall back.
"Perhaps we will have to leave one more two settlements. But we need to win the war, not the battle," Haidai said.
Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to the minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, told Ukrainian television that "the advantage of the Russians in [terms of] personnel is eight to one," and the advantage in equipment more than twice that.
10:10 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
2 Russian soldiers plead guilty to war crimes in Ukrainian court
From Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
Two captured Russian soldiers pleaded guilty in Kotelevsky court in Ukraine’s Poltava region on Thursday to “violating laws and customs of war conducted with preliminary group conspiracy.”
Oleksandr Bobykin and Oleksandr Ivanov are accused of firing Grad rockets from Russia’s Belgorod region towards Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Feb. 24.
According to the case details made public on the court website, the men fired artillery and damaged “objects of civil and critical infrastructure, including private homes” in Kazacha Lopan and Veterynrne in the Kharkiv region. The soldiers were captured by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region, according to the court memos.
The court is due to deliver a verdict on May 31.
9:31 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
4 killed in shelling in Kharkiv region, military governor says
From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll
At least four people have been killed and seven more wounded in shelling of regional centers in the Kharkiv area, according to Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the regional military administration.
In a message posted on his Telegram channel on Thursday, Syniehubov urged residents to stay in shelters during the ongoing exchanges of fire between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
“The most intense fighting is happening in Izium region. The Russian forces are trying to improve their strategic positions in the Izium area and renew their offensive on Sloviansk,” he said.
Syniehubov added that a number of other towns have been shelled in the last 24 hours, including Pyatyhatky, Balakliya, Tsyrkuny and the Chuhuyiv area.
9:48 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022
French and Turkish presidents discuss Finland and Sweden NATO applications in call
From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London, Pierre Bairin in Paris and Yusuf Gezer in Istanbul
French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Finland and Sweden's applications to join NATO in a phone call on Thursday.
According to a Élysée Palace readout of the call, Macron stressed to Erdogan "the importance of respecting the sovereign choice of these two countries" which he maintained was "the result of a democratic process" and "a reaction to the evolution of their security environment."
Erdogan has voiced his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance, claiming that their alleged sheltering of Kurdish "terrorist organizations" should bar them from entry.
The Turkish president told Macron that "Sweden and Finland's contacts with individuals and so-called organizations under the control of the terrorist organization PKK/YPG would not be compatible with the spirit of alliance under NATO,” according to the Turkish Directorate of Communications readout of the call.
The two leaders also addressed the food security crisis, focusing particularly on the "urgent need to enable the export of Ukrainian grain," according to the Élysée.
"They discussed the various possible ways to transport crops out of Ukraine, identified in conjunction with the United Nations, and agreed to remain in contact in order to find a solution quickly," the Élysée said.