Ukrainian president says 100 Ukrainians dying every day; former German chancellor makes first speech since leaving office
Russian forces are currently occupying about 20% of Ukraine’s territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to the Luxembourg parliament.
The front lines of battle stretch across more than 1,000km (620 miles), Zelenskiy said, adding:
We have to defend ourselves against almost the entire Russian army. All combat-ready Russian military formations are involved in this aggression.
He said 100 Ukrainians are dying on a daily basis in eastern Ukraine, and another 450-500 people are wounded.
Ukraine more than doubled interest rates to 25% on Thursday in a move to try to stem double-digit inflation and protect its currency, which has collapsed since Russia’s invasion.
In the first interest rates intervention since Vladimir Putin’s troops attacked on 24 February, the Ukrainian central bank’s governor, Kyrylo Shevchenko, increased the benchmark interest rate from 10% to 25%.
It takes borrowing costs to their highest level since September 2015 – when Ukraine’s economy was reeling from Russia’s annexation of Crimea – and the highest in Europe.
The Russian invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy, which the World Bank has forecast could shrink by at least a third this year. The war has forced businesses to close, destroyed infrastructure, blocked shipping routes and reduced whole towns to rubble.
Shevchenko called for talks with the International Monetary Fund on a new aid programme. The increase was criticised by an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office, who said the rate was too high and dangerous to the economy during wartime. It was not clear whether he was speaking in a personal capacity.
The National Bank of Ukraine had frozen its main rate 10% at the start of the invasion, but last week signalled it could resume regular monetary policy reviews as business activity partially recovered in safer parts of the country.
It is betting that a sharp rate rise will also nudge the government to lift the yield on domestic bonds, making assets held in its currency, the hryvnia, more attractive and preventing household incomes and savings from being eroded by inflation.
Inflation was already in double digits before the conflict began and climbed further to about 17% in May from 16.4% in April, according to central bank estimates.
It said inflation could double in 2022 from 10% in 2021, pushed up by rising global prices and the damage of the war on domestic production and supply chains.
The number of small businesses that had suspended operations in April fell to 26% from 73% in March, according to a survey by the European Business Association, the union of businesses operating in Ukraine.
Russian forces are occupying about 20% of Ukraine’s territory, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address to the Luxembourg parliament.
Frontlines of battle stretch across more than 1,000km (620 miles), the Ukrainian president added.
It is just past 7pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:
Good afternoon from London. I’m Léonie Chao-Fong here to bring you all the latest developments from the war in Ukraine. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.
Russia has accused the son of a Conservative MP of involvement in the killing of a Chechen brigade commander in Ukraine, after footage emerged of the British national fighting in the country.
Russia’s National Guard, a force also known as Rosgvardia, said in a statement posted on its website that one of its commanders, the Chechen fighter Adam Bisultanov, was killed on 26 May in a clash with a “group of mercenaries from the UK and the USA” that included the “son of a British parliamentarian,” Ben Grant.
Grant first arrived in Ukraine in March, when he told the Guardian he was moved to volunteer after seeing footage of a Russian bombing of a house where a child could be heard screaming. He said he went without telling his mother, MP Helen Grant, he was going.
In dramatic footage posted online this week, Grant, who is a veteran of Afghanistan and a former Royal Marine, can be heard saying “go, go” as he and his unit exit a patch of woods and fire a Matador anti-tank missile at what is believed to be a Russian BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier.
Rosgvardia in its statement said that the Chechen commander Bisultanov was killed when his BTR-80 vehicle was hit three times by the foreign fighters, posting a picture of the vehicle’s carcass online.
In separate video, published by the Telegraph, Grant is seen dragging another British volunteer to safety after a Russian ambush in a woodland north of Kharkiv.
Grant told the newspaper that his unit of 15 British and American volunteers and two Ukrainian interpreters had been preparing an assault on a Russian-held target when they came under heavy Russian fire earlier this month.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. I was terrified but driven to complete my most important goal, which at the time was getting him and my team out of the danger,” Grant said.
Since Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the creation of the International Legion of Ukraine in March, thousands of people from around the world, some with a military background and many without, have arrived in Ukraine.
In a briefing on Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defence said that it had “eliminated hundreds of foreign mercenaries in Ukraine,” adding that 3,500 foreign fighters were currently in the country. The ministry also warned that captured foreign soldiers will not be treated under the standards of international humanitarian law.
The US decision to supply Ukraine with high-precision multiple launch rocket systems was marked with some fanfare in Washington including a rare newspaper commentary by Joe Biden himself.
The Himars (High mobility artillery rocket system) and the ammunition that Washington is sending with them, will allow Ukrainian forces to hit targets nearly 80km away with high accuracy. That’s twice the range of the US howitzers they have now, and about the same as the most powerful Russian rocket systems. US officials suggested they would help turn the withering artillery duel underway in the Donbas into a fairer fight.
However, the small print of the deal was underwhelming. This first Himars delivery comprises just four systems, and although they have been pre-positioned in the region for fast delivery, it will take three weeks to train Ukrainian gunners to use them, and another two weeks to train maintenance crews.
In the meantime, Russian artillery is blanketing Ukrainian positions in the east. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview on Wednesday that up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are being killed a day and another 500 are wounded. Without stand-off weapons that can target the Russian guns from afar, Ukrainian lines are being pummelled and national morale, one of the decisive factors in the successful defence of Kyiv, is also taking a beating.
Zelenskiy’s government has been screaming for multiple launch rockets for weeks, as it became clear that the battle for the east and south had become one of attrition, so why did it take this long for Biden to make the decision to respond?
Read Julian’s full analysis: Biden’s pledge to send rocket systems to Ukraine is no silver bullet
Weapons sent to Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February will end up in the global hidden economy and in the hands of criminals, the head of Interpol has said.
Jürgen Stock says once the conflict ends, a wave of guns and heavy arms will flood the international market and he urged Interpol’s member states, especially those supplying weapons, to cooperate on arms tracing.
“Once the guns fall silent [in Ukraine], the illegal weapons will come. We know this from many other theatres of conflict. The criminals are even now, as we speak, focusing on them,” Stock said.
“Criminal groups try to exploit these chaotic situations and the availability of weapons, even those used by the military and including heavy weapons. These will be available on the criminal market and will create a challenge. No country or region can deal with it in isolation because these groups operate at a global level.”
We can expect an influx of weapons in Europe and beyond. We should be alarmed and we have to expect these weapons to be trafficked not only to neighbouring countries but to other continents.
He said Interpol urged members to use its database to help “track and trace” the weapons. “We are in contact with member countries to encourage them to use these tools. Criminals are interested in all kinds of weapons … basically any weapons that can be carried might be used for criminal purposes.”
Ukraine’s western allies have sent shipments of high-end military weapons to Ukraine since the Russian invasion more than three months ago. On Tuesday, the American president, Joe Biden, announced the US would supply Kyiv with advanced missile systems and munitions. After the US pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, following 20 years of war, huge amounts of often highly sophisticated military equipment was left behind and fell into the hands of the Taliban.
The White House has announced a fresh round of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targeting Russian government officials and elites close to Vladimir Putin as well as several yachts linked to the president.
The sanctions target Russian individuals including Sergei Roldugin, a close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin who is already under EU sanctions.
The treasury department also targeted 16 entities, seven vessels and three aircraft. Among them were two yachts, the “Russia-flagged Graceful and the Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia,” which the treasury identified as “blocked property in which President Vladimir Putin has an interest.” Putin has “taken numerous trips” on the yachts as recently as last year, the treasury said.
In his State of the Union address in March, Joe Biden said the US would work to seize the yachts, luxury apartments and private jets of wealthy Russians with ties to Putin.
The White House said in a statement that the latest sanctions are designed “to crack down on evasion and tighten our sanctions to enhance enforcement and increase pressure on Putin and his enablers”.
The EU has dropped the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, from its new sanctions list, AFP reports.
Diplomats are cited as saying that Patriarch Kirill has now been removed from the list of sanctioned individuals, at the request of Hungary.
EU leaders agreed in principle earlier this week on a sixth sanctions package against Russia, but several diplomats said Budapest was holding up the finalisation of the package.
A press spokesperson for Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, earlier today said Hungary’s opposition to potential EU sanctions against Patriarch Kirill “has been known for a long time”.
With Friday marking 100 days since the start of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine, on 24 February, photographers from Agence France-Press have selected a range of the most striking images to come out of Ukraine from the war. Here is a selection:
Russian forces are trying to assault the east Ukrainian village of Berestove that lies on a main road linking the Luhansk region’s city of Lysychansk to the rest of Ukraine, a Ukrainian general has said.
Russia is close to capturing all of Luhansk, one of two Ukrainian regions that make up the swathe of land known as the Donbas. Russian forces are also trying to attack the town of Sviatohirsk in the Donetsk region, Reuters reports Gen Oleksiy Gromov told a press briefing.
Reuters is reporting that Ukraine would consider switching off its Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that lies in Russian-occupied territory, if Kyiv loses control of operations at the site.
They cite Interfax quoting an aide to Ukraine’s prime minister as saying “As long as the control commands are executed and the site maintains the regime, we are not stopping. But the scenario in which the station could move completely out of control and we stop it is also being looked at.”
The facility in southeast Ukraine is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
About 800 people, including children, are hiding underneath the Azot chemical factory in the key eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, which has come under intense Russian shelling, according to Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk region.
Local residents have sought shelter in the Soviet-era bomb shelters underneath the plant, he told CNN.
There are locals there who were asked to leave the city, but they refused. There are also children there, but not many of them.
Yesterday, Haidai said it is possible there are still stocks of dangerous chemicals at the facility.
In a separate update today, local officials said Russian forces had fired on the Azot factory and “hit one of the administrative buildings and a warehouse where methanol was stored”.
Sweden will provide Ukraine with more economic aid and military equipment, including anti-ship missiles, rifles and anti-tank weapons, the Swedish government said.
In a statement, Sweden’s finance ministry said:
The proposals that are submitted (to parliament) mean that allocated funds for the central government budget will increase by SEK 1.0 billion (£81m) in 2022.
The Swedish government “sees a continuing need” to support Ukraine, it added.
In February, Sweden announced it would send 5,000 anti-tank weapons, helmets and body armour to Ukraine. The following month, it announced it would send another 5,000 anti-tank weapons.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will meet the head of the African Union, who is also the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, on Friday to discuss “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers” and the conflict in Ukraine, Sall’s office said.
The visit, which will take place in the south-western Russian city of Sochi, was organised after an invitation by Putin, Dakar said. Sall is expected to travel with the president of the African Union Commission.
The meeting is aimed at “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”, along with easing the Ukraine conflict, Sall’s office said.
The AU will also receive a video address from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, though no date has been set.
Earlier this week, Sall made an appeal to EU leaders to help ease the commodities crisis, which is being acutely felt in African nations. Both Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat and other cereals to Africa, while Russia is a key producer of fertiliser.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the EU’s decision to partially phase out Russian oil was a “self-destructive” step that could backfire on the bloc.
On Monday, EU leaders agreed in principle to cut 90% of oil imports from Russia by the end of this year. The move would be likely to destabilise global energy markets, Moscow warned in a statement.
Russia’s foreign ministry said:
The European Union’s decisions to partially phase out Russian oil and oil products, as well as to ban insurance on Russian merchant ships, are highly likely to provoke further price increases, destabilise energy markets, and disrupt supply chains.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said at his regular briefing that Russia will not sell its oil at a loss.
Peskov told reporters:
If somewhere demand is falling that means that in another place it is increasing – the flows are re-routed.
The Guardian’s economics editor writes for us that the perverse effects of sanctions means rising fuel and food costs for the rest of the world – and fears are growing of a humanitarian catastrophe:
It is now three months since the west launched its economic war against Russia, and it is not going according to plan. On the contrary, things are going very badly indeed.
Sanctions were imposed on Vladimir Putin not because they were considered the best option, but because they were better than the other two available courses of action: doing nothing or getting involved militarily.
The first set of economic measures were introduced immediately after the invasion, when it was assumed Ukraine would capitulate within days. That didn’t happen, with the result that sanctions – while still incomplete – have gradually been intensified.
There is, though, no immediate sign of Russia pulling out of Ukraine and that’s hardly surprising, because the sanctions have had the perverse effect of driving up the cost of Russia’s oil and gas exports, massively boosting its trade balance and financing its war effort. In the first four months of 2022, Putin could boast a current account surplus of $96bn (£76bn) – more than treble the figure for the same period of 2021.
When the EU announced its partial ban on Russian oil exports earlier this week, the cost of crude oil on the global markets rose, providing the Kremlin with another financial windfall. Russia is finding no difficulty finding alternative markets for its energy, with exports of oil and gas to China in April up more than 50% year on year.
That’s not to say the sanctions are pain-free for Russia. The International Monetary Fund estimates the economy will shrink by 8.5% this year as imports from the west collapse. Russia has stockpiles of goods essential to keep its economy going, but over time they will be used up.
But Europe is only gradually weaning itself off its dependency on Russian energy, and so an immediate financial crisis for Putin has been averted. The rouble – courtesy of capital controls and a healthy trade surplus – is strong. The Kremlin has time to find alternative sources of spare parts and components from countries willing to circumvent western sanctions.
When the global movers and shakers met in Davos last week, the public message was condemnation of Russian aggression and renewed commitment to stand solidly behind Ukraine. But privately, there was concern about the economic costs of a prolonged war.
Read Larry Elliott’s full opinion piece: Russia is winning the economic war – and Putin is no closer to withdrawing troops
Russian forces are this morning shelling the village of Mykolaivka, close to the strategic city of Sloviansk in the eastern Donbas region.
Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian government adviser and volunteer, said artillery rounds were hitting the settlement “24/7”. Video shows the whine of a Russian missile landing close by, amid deserted streets.
Leshchenko was delivering food, flak jackets and other supplies to soldiers who are holding the line north of Sloviansk against a Russian advance. He joined the humanitarian mission led by Ukrainian MP, Andriy Gerus.
Donetsk’s military governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said shelling was taking place today across “the whole line of contact” including in Sloviansk, Bakhmut and Avdiyivka, where 3,500 civilians remained.
Across the region 340,000 people had stayed in their houses from a pre-invasion total of 1.67m, he said.