May 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Andrew Raine, Jack Guy, Hannah Ryan, Adrienne Vogt, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, June 1, 2022
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11:14 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

New US rocket systems will enable Ukraine to hit targets 50 miles away -- its greatest range yet, US administration officials say

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

Ato fire a High Mobility Artillery Rockeduring m during a live-fire training mission in Florida on May 10.
Ato fire a High Mobility Artillery Rockeduring m during a live-fire training mission in Florida on May 10. (Senior Airman Joseph P. LeVeille/U.S. Air Force)

Senior US administration officials confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the United States will be sending Ukraine US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, as part of the country's 11th package of security assistance to Ukraine. 

The officials said the HIMARS will be equipped with munitions that will allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles).

Some context: That is far less than the maximum range of the systems, which is around 300 kilometers (186 miles), but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date. The M777 Howitzers the US sent to Ukraine last month, for example, marked a significant increase in range and power over previous systems, but even those top out at around 25 kilometers (18 miles) in range.

Further weapons: The new security assistance package, to be announced officially on Wednesday, will also include air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank weapons, anti-armor weapons, artillery rounds, helicopters, tactical vehicles, and spare parts to help the Ukrainians continue maintenance of the equipment, the officials said.

CNN previously reported that US officials were debating for weeks whether to send Ukraine the advanced rocket systems, because they can strike so much further than any weapons they already have. The weapons’ long range, technically capable of striking into Russian territory, raised concerns that Russia might view the shipments as provocative. 

The officials said on Tuesday that the US is “not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” and is “not seeking to prolong the war.”

They also said they had received assurances from Ukraine that they would not use the systems to launch attacks inside Russia. But they emphasized that as the conflict evolves, the US will “continue to tailor” its assistance to Ukraine’s most urgent needs. 

The officials also said the new rocket systems will help put Ukraine “in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table” with Russia, and reiterated that the US will “not pressure the Ukrainian government in public or in private to make any territorial concessions.” 

8:11 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Biden announces new rockets and munitions to Ukraine in op-ed

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden said the United States is providing Ukraine "more advanced rocket systems and munitions" as its war with Russia grinds on.

Writing in a New York Times op-ed, Biden said the US goal in Ukraine is "to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression."

He said the new shipment of arms would "enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine."

Biden sought to spell out clearly what the US aims in Ukraine were, and was careful to note the US is not looking to directly engage Russia.

"We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia. As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow," Biden said, roughly two months after declaring in Warsaw that Putin "cannot remain in power."
"So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces," he wrote.

He went on to say that the US is "not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia."

Biden said that US officials "currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia’s occasional rhetoric to rattle the nuclear saber is itself dangerous and extremely irresponsible."

"Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences," Biden wrote.

7:10 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Here's what the Donbas means to Putin — and why fighting has intensified in the region

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Fighting in Ukraine has rounded on Donbas, a sprawling and beleaguered heartland region that has suffered years of conflict and now serves as the bloody stage on which Russia's war could be decided.

Donbas blankets much of eastern Ukraine, and has been the front line of the country's conflict with Moscow since 2014.

But now its people, already scarred by eight years of fighting, are enduring an assault even more intense. Russian forces are closing in on the city of Severodonetsk, and are making gradual progress in some parts of the region. Some assaults have been repelled by stubborn Ukrainian counteroffensives.

Failures to take Kyiv and central Ukrainian regions in the invasion's early months meant Donbas became the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin's military ambition.

A Russian victory in the region would appall the West but could salvage Putin's war aims, while a defeat could cement his invasion as a historic failure. Either way, it is almost certain to devastate yet more of the Donbas region, a historically and culturally significant place whose proximity to Russia has dictated much of its turbulent existence.

Those who have lived in and studied the region describe it as an independent and gritty center of industry that has remained suspicious of outside forces for decades.

But the waves of conflict there since 2014 have reshaped and wounded its cities, and it is along its line of contact that both the Ukrainian and Russian military are most dug in — making for a familiar but unpredictable new phase of war.

What Donbas means to Putin: Despite its move into independence along with the rest of Ukraine in 1991, Donbas has maintained a place in the psyche of Russian leadership.

A famous Soviet propaganda poster from 1921 dubbed Donbas "the heart of Russia," depicting the region as a beating organ with vessels stretching across the Russian empire. Before then, the region was part of the concept of "Novorossiya," or New Russia, a term given to territories towards the west of which the Russian empire had expansionist ideas.

Cities like Luhansk and Donetsk are historically "places that (Russians) could see a certain version of themselves," Finnin said.

And that historical image could still persist inside Putin's own worldview, experts suggest.

Observers have often suggested that Putin's desired endgame is to rebuild the Soviet Union in which he first rose up the ranks. Anna Makanju, former director for Russia at the US National Security Council, suggested that Putin "believes he is like the czars," the imperial dynasties that ruled Russia for centuries, "potentially called by God in order to control and restore the glory of the Russian empire."

A new Russian assault: Whether the raging battle for Donbas will be the final chapter of Russia's war, or merely its current phase, remains to be seen. But by zeroing in on the region, Putin has brought his assault on Ukraine full circle.

The so-called "liberation" of Ukraine's Donbas region was described as an "absolute priority" for Russia by its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with French broadcaster TFI in late May.

The secessionist conflict in Donbas had been costly but stagnant since the initial surges of pro-Russian forces in 2014; the lines of the conflict barely moved in several years, with trenches running along the point of contact from the southern coast to the Ukrainian-Russian border north of Luhansk.

But Russia has made a number of advancements into parts of the Donbas in the weeks since the battle there began.

Read more here:

6:09 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

World oil prices close at highest level in nearly 3 months after EU deal on partial ban of Russian oil imports

From CNN's Matt Egan 

Brent crude oil closed on Tuesday to the highest level in nearly three months after the European Union reached a deal to ban 90% of its Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

However, oil finished well off its highs of the day after a new report signaled OPEC could be preparing to finally ramp up badly-needed production.

Brent crude, the world benchmark, gained 1% on the day, settling at $122.84 a barrel – the highest close since March 8. Earlier in the session, Brent traded as high as $125.28.

After initially rallying, US crude closed at $114.67 a barrel, down 0.4% on the day.

This comes after the EU forged an agreement on a partial ban on Russian oil imports in a bid to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Although new sanctions were widely expected, this move will further scramble global energy supplies.

Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian energy, with about 2.4 million barrels of Russian crude getting sent to Europe every day in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. 

“Somehow, between now and the end of the year, the world has to figure out a way to make up this deficit,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.

That’s why Lipow expects gasoline prices to continue to march higher, reaching his forecast of $4.75 a gallon nationally within the next 10 days.

The national price for regular gasoline hit a fresh record of $4.62 a gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA, up 52% from a year ago.

The good news for consumers is that the oil market cooled off after The Wall Street Journal reported that some OPEC members are considering suspending Russia’s participation from an oil-production deal. A spokesperson for OPEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Such a move could pave the way for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to accelerate the return of production sidelined when Covid-19 erupted in the spring of 2020.

Hit by the war and sanctions, Russia’s oil production is projected to fall significantly this year. That’s on top of supply shortfalls within OPEC that have prevented supply from meeting demand.

“This would allow OPEC+ some maneuvering room to make up for production shortfalls. It would give them cover,” Lipow said.

6:25 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

Ukrainian forces are making progress in Kherson and Kharkiv, Zelensky says

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

A rescuer inspects a flat where the bodies of civilians were collected from a shelled residential building in Kharkiv on May 31.
A rescuer inspects a flat where the bodies of civilians were collected from a shelled residential building in Kharkiv on May 31. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Ukrainian forces have made progress in the regions of Kherson and Kharkiv and are holding back Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address on Tuesday night.

“Our defenders show extreme bravery, despite the fact that Russia has a substantial advantage in force and weapons,” Zelensky said, “We want all of our people liberated but it needs to be done with caution.”

Zelensky also applauded the new sanctions package approved by the European Council, which would cut down on imports of Russian oil, as well as suspend Russia propaganda channels and remove Sberbank from SWIFT, the international bank messaging system.

“I am thankful for everyone to reach this agreement,” Zelensky said, “It will leave Russia at the outskirts of the world economy. Russia will not be able to adapt and this means it will be defeated.”

4:04 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

NATO's chief is traveling to Washington, DC, Tuesday to meet with top US officials

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel in London  

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is traveling to Washington, DC, on Tuesday for a working visit, the alliance said in a statement.

Stoltenberg will be in the US capital until Friday and is expected to meet with top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, according to the statement.  

He will also give a speech at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), NATO said.  

6:58 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

State Department: US welcomes proposed EU Russian oil ban

From CNN's Michael Conte

European Council chief Charles Michel speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels.
European Council chief Charles Michel speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels. (Diego Ravier/Hans Lucas/Reuters)

The US welcomes the European Union’s announcement of a proposed ban of Russian oil, according to a State Department spokesperson.

“We applaud the steps by our European allies and partners to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and natural gas by diversifying their sources of energy and reducing consumption in line with our shared climate goals,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
3:52 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

More than 23,000 Ukrainians have been authorized to come to the US under new program 

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

More than 23,000 Ukrainians have been authorized to come to the United States as part of the Biden administration’s streamlined process for Ukrainian refugees seeking to come to the US, according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

In April, US President Joe Biden announced “Uniting for Ukraine,” a program that provides a pathway for Ukrainians interested in coming to the US for a temporary period. 

The program requires Ukrainians seeking entry to the US to be sponsored by a US citizen or individual, which could include resettlement organizations and non-profit organizations. Applicants must also undergo rigorous security vetting and checks, including biographic and biometric screening, and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements, including receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, to be eligible.  

As of May 31, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has received more than 42,000 requests from applicants agreeing to support Ukrainians, according to DHS. More than 5,800 Ukrainians have arrived in the US under the program. After clearance, Ukrainians have some time to purchase a plane ticket and travel to the US. 

The Biden administration committed to accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

4:24 p.m. ET, May 31, 2022

State Department: US remains concerned about Russian steps to control Ukrainian territory, especially Kherson

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Christian Sierra

Russian servicemen are seen on a roadside in the Kherson region on May 19.
Russian servicemen are seen on a roadside in the Kherson region on May 19. (Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States remains "concerned about steps Russia is taking to attempt to institutionalize control over sovereign Ukrainian territory, particularly in Ukraine's Kherson region," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. 

Speaking at a briefing, Price said that "the Kremlin is probably weighing a few approaches, from recognizing a so-called People's Republic, as Russia forcibly did in Donetsk and Luhansk, to an attempted annexation, just as Russia did in Crimea."

"It's a predictable part of the Russian playbook, which is why we are continuing to sound the alarm now, particularly following Russian President Putin's unilateral decree that would fast track the issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens. Russia used similar tactics in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2019," he said.

"Russia is almost certainly failing to gain legitimacy for proxy governments in newly seized territories in Ukraine, as protests persist, and residents refuse to cooperate," Price added.

He continued: "Russia's initial objectives of controlling large swaths of Ukraine has been nothing short of a complete failure. The Kremlin probably views that forcibly holding Kherson would provide Russia a land bridge to Crimea, as well as gaining some kind of so called victory and attempt to justify Russia — to Russia's domestic audiences — [of] the thousands of lives Putin's war of choice has destroyed. We will continue to spotlight Russia's territorial designs in Ukraine as well as its ongoing aggression, just as we hold to account those who facilitate it, including with additional punitive economic measures."