U.S. Congress OKs $40 billion in aid for Ukraine; Russia says its sent 900 Ukrainian soldiers to prison camp – CNBC

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Failure to reopen Ukrainian ports would be a declaration of war on global food security: World Food Programme

An agricultural field on the coastline of the Azov Sea on Feb. 15, 2022, in Ukraine. The country is a major exporter of agriculture, feeding about 400 million people globally, according to the World Food Programme.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A failure to open Ukrainian ports would be a declaration of war on global food security in this “unprecedented crisis,” warned the World Food Programme’s executive director, David Beasley.

“Food pricing is our number one problem right now, as a result of all this perfect storm for 2022,” Beasley said. “But by 2023 it very well will be a food availability problem.”

Ukraine is a major exporter of agriculture, feeding about 400 million people globally, according to WFP.

WFP’s analysis found that 276 million people globally were suffering from acute hunger at the start of 2022. If the war continues, that number could rise by 47 million.

Because ports in Ukraine have been blocked as a result of the war, millions of metric tons of grain cannot be shipped out, the WFP said.

Ukrainian farmers won’t have anywhere to store the next harvest in July or August if ports are not reopened, which means the grains will go to waste while the world struggles with a global food crisis, WFP said.

Food prices have soared since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Food prices are at the highest levels ever recorded by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, up 34% from this time last year.

— Chelsea Ong

Blinken slams Russian claims that sanctions have caused mounting food crisis

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends Security Council ministerial debate over international peace and security, conflict and food securitya UN Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security at UN headquarters in New York on May 19, 2022.

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed Russian claims that U.S. sanctions, rather than Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, triggered the worsening global food crisis.

“Sanctions aren’t blocking Black Sea ports, trapping ships filled with food, and destroying Ukrainian roads and railways; Russia is. Sanctions are not emptying Ukrainian grain silos and stealing Ukrainian farm equipment; Russia is,” Blinken said before the United Nations Security Council.

“Sanctions aren’t preventing Russia from exporting food and fertilizer,” he said. He added that Moscow has chosen to weaponize these commodities.

Blinken added that the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies have deliberately included “exceptions for food, fertilizer and seeds from Russia.” America’s top diplomat reiterated calls for Russia to stop “blockading the ports in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and to allow for the free flow of ships and trains and trucks carrying food out of Ukraine.”

“Stop preventing food and other lifesaving supplies from reaching civilians in besieged Ukrainian towns and cities,” he added.

 — Amanda Macias

U.S. approves 10th security assistance package for Ukraine worth $100 million

Ukrainian servicemen taking part in the armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk region of the country attend the handover ceremony of military heavy weapons and equipment in Kiev on November 15, 2018.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The Pentagon announced the authorization of a tenth U.S. security assistance package of up to $100 million for Ukraine.

“Capabilities in this package are tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs for today’s fight as Russian forces continue their offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a daily press briefing.

The package includes: 

  • 18 155mm Howitzers
  • 18 tactical vehicles to tow the 155mm Howitzers
  • Three AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars
  • Field equipment and spare parts

 — Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy praises passage of $40 billion U.S. aid package

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses South Korean parliament via video link, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 11, 2022. 

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the passage of the $40 billion security assistance package, the largest U.S. aid package for Ukraine thus far.

Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that “$40 billion is a significant contribution to the restoration of peace and security in Ukraine, Europe and the world.”

President Joe Biden is slated to sign the bill after the Senate passed the measure with an 86 to 11 vote. The bill will finance defense equipment, refugee assistance as well as emergency food aid for Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff speaks with Russian counterpart

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on “Department of Defense’s Budget Requests for FY2023”, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2022. 

Sarah Silbiger | Reuters

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart via phone, the Pentagon confirmed.

“The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” Milley’s spokesman U.S. Army Col. Dave Butler wrote in a summary of the call with Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

“In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private,” Butler added.

The call comes a week after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a phone call with his Russian counterpart, the first known discussion since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

 — Amanda Macias

Senate passes $40 billion assistance package for Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers are seen with new military weapons in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 14, 2022.

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Senate passed a $40 billion military and humanitarian assistance package for Ukraine, the largest aid package for the war-weary country to date.

The Senate voted 86 to 11 on Thursday, effectively passing the bill to President Joe Biden for his final signature.

The bill, which passed in the House on May 10, provides funding for defense equipment, migration and refugee assistance and emergency food assistance.

 — Amanda Macias

Davos returns from pandemic, but without Russian guests

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is returning to Davos in May, after cancelling previous meetings because of the pandemic. However, there are a lot of Covid measures in place.

Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images

After a nearly 2-1/2-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Swiss town of Davos is set to again host global elites from business, government and activist groups for the World Economic Forum.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and climate change worries are expected to be on many minds at the event starting Monday as concern over the pandemic ebbs.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plans to pipe in virtually. The biggest delegation of top Ukrainian government officials to leave the country since the war started are set to attend Davos in person, organizers said. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, forum hosts invited no Russian officials or business leaders this year.

“I’m positive that that was the right decision,” forum president Borge Brende said during a news conference Wednesday. “We do hope, though, that Russia will follow a different path … in the years to come, to start to stick to the U.N. Charter and to their international obligations.”

— Associated Press

Biden says Sweden and Finland have complete support from U.S. to join NATO

US President Joe Biden (C) welcomes Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (L) and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson to the White House in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2022.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden, flanked by the leaders of Sweden and Finland, said both nations have the “full backing” of the United States in their bid to join NATO.

Biden’s remarks come on the heels of filed applications by both Sweden and Finland to join the world’s most powerful alliance.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements to be a NATO member, like having a functioning democratic political system, willingness to provide economic transparency and the ability to make military contributions to NATO missions.

However, all 30 NATO members must give unanimous approval for a country to be accepted into the alliance.

 — Amanda Macias

NATO increases air policing flights over eastern flank

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen address a joint press conference on the sidelines of a meeting at Kastellet in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 19, 2022.

Martin Sylvest | AFP | Getty Images

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised Denmark’s security contributions to the military alliance during a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Stoltenberg namely applauded Danish support in air policing missions over NATO member countries in the east.

From fighter jets to surveillance aircraft, the NATO alliance has placed up to 30 aircraft on patrol over the skies of its eastern flank. The additional flights come as Russian officials warn of “grave consequences” for any NATO expansion, including the recent applications from Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance.

So far, the U.S. has committed the most types of aircraft to complement the alliance’s security mission.

Here’s an overview of the NATO member aircraft flying the skies:

NATO’s Eastern Flank Air Domain

NATO

UN says at least 3,811 killed in Ukraine since start of war

Servicemen carrying the coffin with the body of 95th Separate Air Assault Brigade officer, Lt Denys Antipov who perished while defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence from Russian invaders near Dovhenke village, Kharkiv Region, follow a priest outside St Nicholas’ Church in Askold’s Grave Park, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.

Evgen Kotenko | Future Publishing | Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed 3,811 civilian deaths and 4,278 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay reports.

The international body said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

 — Amanda Macias

Hundreds of Azovstal prisoners of war registered, Red Cross says

A screen grab taken from a video released by Russian Defense Ministry shows Ukrainian soldiers are being evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on May 17, 2022.

Russian Defense Ministry | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it continues to register prisoners of war from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, and has registered hundreds already this week.

The ICRC started to register combatants leaving the Azovstal plant on Tuesday, including the wounded, with the operation continuing through to today. It did not give an exact number of how many soldiers had been registered.

The Red Cross noted that it is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held, with Russia reporting yesterday that it had transferred 900 Ukrainian fighters from the plant to a former prison colony. It’s unknown what will happen to the fighters.

The Red Cross says it has been collecting vital personal information from the fighters who have been captured in a bid to help them keep in touch with their families.

In accordance with the mandate given to the Red Cross by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, it said it must have immediate access to all POWs in all places where they are held. The ICRC must be allowed to interview prisoners of war without witnesses, and the duration and frequency of these visits should not be unduly restricted.

Whenever circumstances permit, each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to search for and collect the dead.

—Holly Ellyatt

Russia forces focus fighting on Donetsk, Ukraine says

Russian servicemen patrol the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol on May 18, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s armed forces have said the main focus of Russian fighters is on Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

In the latest operational update posted on Facebook, Ukraine said 16 Russian attacks were repulsed in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions last night with eight Russian tanks, 17 units of armored combat vehicles, four special armored vehicles and six conventional enemy vehicles destroyed.

They also said Russian forces were trying to regain lost positions around the major city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine. Earlier in the week, Russian forces were driven back as far as the border.

Ukraine claimed that Russia was looking to involve university students in occupied Donetsk “in hostilities” in the absence of other resources that could be mobilized. The information was not able to be verified.

— Holly Ellyatt

Correction: This post was updated to correct the location of Kharkiv. It’s in northeastern Ukraine.

Vyshyvanka Day in Ukraine

Women in traditional Ukrainian costumes.

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has wished his compatriots all the best for Vyshyvanka Day, a national day celebrating Ukraine’s folk traditions and culture with the national costume, the embroidered traditional dress called the “vyshyvanka.”

“I wish you health. Strong, unbreakable, brave and free. Happy Vyshyvanka Day, Ukraine!,” Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel today, while sporting his own embroidered shirt.

The day, traditionally celebrated on the third Thursday of May every year, has more resonance this year as it takes place as Ukraine remains under attack from Russia.

Holly Ellyatt

Cease-fire in Ukraine impossible unless Russia withdraws all troops, official says

One of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s advisors has said that a cease-fire in Ukraine is impossible unless all Russian troops withdraw.

On Twitter Thursday, Mykhailo Podolyak said: “do not offer us a ceasefire – this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal.”

Ukraine is not interested in new “Minsk” accords and a renewal of the war in a few years, he said, referring to several failed agreements which aimed to end the conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine —between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces — that had been going on since 2014 before Russia’s wider invasion.

Until Russia “is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” he said.

Holly Ellyatt

Moscow is firing senior commanders for battlefield failures, says British government

Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, shown here with Vladimir Putin, has likely held onto his job but may have lost Putin’s confidence, the British government says.

Sergei Guneyev | AFP | Getty Images

Moscow over recent weeks has fired senior military commanders for failures in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence pointed to Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, whose forces failed to capture Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv. Also suspended was Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet until its flagship, the Moskva, was sunk in April.

Valeriy Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff, “likely remains in his post,” but it’s unclear whether President Vladimir Putin retains confidence in him.

The press office of the Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an intelligence update, the British ministry predicted that Russia will face difficulty regaining the initiative in its war against Ukraine, because generals and other officials will want to seek cover by deferring to their superiors on key decisions.

“Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely be increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal culpability for Russia’s operational setbacks,” the Ministry of Defence said.

— Ted Kemp

Russia says it has sent 900 Ukrainian soldiers to former prison colony

In this photo taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, wounded Ukrainian servicemen are seen in a bus as they are evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Russian Defense Ministry | AP

Russia said 900 Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to a former prison colony, in a Russian-controlled part of Donetsk.

Speaking on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, citing Russia’s defense ministry, that 959 Ukrainian fighters, including 51 with severe wounds, “have laid down their arms over two days.”

While the injured were receiving medical care at a hospital in the pro-Russian “Donetsk People’s Republic” in the Donbas region of east Ukraine, “the rest were sent to a pre-trial detention center,” she said, in Olenivka, where a former prison colony is located.

On Monday, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman said on Telegram that the Russian military was holding more than 3,000 civilians from Mariupol at the former penal colony with some subjected to interrogation and torture, she said. The information is unverified, however.

The soldiers had been holed up in the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol and had been evacuated earlier this week and taken to Russian-controlled territory. There were expectations that they could be exchanged for Russian soldiers in Ukrainian control but that’s uncertain.

Ukraine has said there are more of its fighters left in the Azovstal steelworks but has not said how many.

The complex was seen as the last stronghold of Ukraine’s forces in the southern port city — one that Russia has aimed to control from the start of its invasion on Feb. 24 and which is seen as a strategic objective for Moscow as it aims to create a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

Ukraine said its soldiers had been “evacuated” while Russia claimed they had “surrendered.”

Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s presidential advisor says the war is unlikely to end by fall

Local boys sit on a swing in the yard of an apartment building destroyed by the Russian army airstrike in Ukraine May 13, 2022. The war in Ukraine is expected to continue through the summer and possibly beyond, presidential advisor Oleksii Arestovych said, cited by NBC News.

Maxym Marusenko | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The war in Ukraine is likely to continue through the summer and possibly beyond, despite signs that some parts of the country are returning to some normalcy, Ukraine’s presidential advisor Oleksii Arestovych said, NBC News cited.

“It is quite clear to me that this war is unlikely to end by the fall,” Arestovich said on Ukrainian TV, according to NBC News.

This comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seeks to extend martial law for another 90 days, NBC News reported.

Since the war started on Feb. 24, martial law has been extended twice, with the current order set to end on May 25.

— Chelsea Ong

Biden optimistic about Finland and Sweden joining NATO, despite Turkey’s concerns

U.S. President Joe Biden sounded optimistic that Turkey can be persuaded to support Finland and Sweden in their bids to join NATO.

“I think we’re gonna be okay,” Biden told reporters when asked if he could convince Turkey to change its mind.

Biden’s remark came two days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his country’s opposition to the two new candidates for the international security alliance.

The White House nevertheless echoed Biden’s optimism at a press briefing.

“We’re confident that at the end of the day, Finland and Sweden will have an effective and efficient accession process, [and] that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed,” said Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan.

He noted that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in talks with his Turkish counterpart. “We feel very good about where this will track to,” Sullivan said.

Kevin Breuninger

U.S. reopens embassy in Kyiv after closing it for three months

Employees rise up the flag outside the US embassy in Kyiv on May 18, 2022, as the embassy reopens after closing it for three months due to the Russian invasion.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. reopened its embassy in Kyiv after closing it for three months before and during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“When we suspended operations at the embassy, we made the point clear: while we would relocate U.S. embassy personnel for their safety and security, this would in no way prevent our engagement with and support for, the Ukrainian people, government and civil society as well as our allies and partners,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a statement.

As it raised the American flag over the compound, the U.S. became the latest Western country to resume diplomatic operations in Kyiv.

Blinken said the U.S. enhanced security measures and protocols at the embassy ahead of the reopening and return of American diplomats.

 — Amanda Macias

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