Ukraine news from May 26: Moscow presses West to lift sanctions against Russia as it tries to shift food crisis blame.
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These were the updates on Thursday, May 26:
WHO member states have strongly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine and attacks on healthcare facilities in a resolution overwhelmingly adopted, further isolating Moscow on the international stage.
The resolution was carried by 88 votes to 12 at the World Health Organization’s annual assembly, while a Russian counter-resolution on the health crisis in Ukraine – making no mention of its invasion – fell flat.
The outcome “sends a clear signal to the Russian Federation: stop your war against Ukraine. Stop attacks on hospitals,” said Ukrainian ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko.
Moscow has sought to shift the blame onto Western countries for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tonnes of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call.
Advancing Russian forces came closer to surrounding Ukrainian troops in the east, briefly seizing positions on the last highway out of a crucial pair of Ukrainian-held cities before being beaten back, a Ukrainian official has said.
Three months into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its assault on the capital Kyiv and is trying to consolidate control of the industrial eastern Donbas region, where it has backed a separatist revolt since 2014.
Thousands of troops are attacking from three sides to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. If the two cities straddling the Siverskiy Donets river fall, nearly all of the Donbas province of Luhansk would be under Russian control.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned the West that supplying weapons to Ukraine capable of hitting Russian territory would be “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation”, the TASS news agency said.
Lavrov told the RT Arabic channel that he hoped sane people in the West would understand this, adding, “There are still a few left there,” RIA quoted him as saying.
Italy aims to free grain exports blocked in Black Sea ports, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has told reporters following a phone call he held with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The first initiative one could begin to explore is to see whether a cooperation between Russia and Ukraine to unblock Black Sea ports could be built,” Draghi said.
Draghi said he would soon talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on this issue.
Finland’s prime minister have said Russia’s actions in Ukraine were a turning point for the world and relations with Moscow could not go back to how they were before its invasion.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin made her comments during a trip to Ukraine that included visiting the towns of Irpin and Bucha where Ukraine suspects Russian troops carried out atrocities, an allegation denied by Moscow.
“We, Finland, support all the actions of the International Criminal Court to consider these crimes, collect evidence for future proceedings and convict Russia,” Marin said after meetings with Ukraine’s president and prime minister.
Civil vessels may safely use the Azov Sea port of Mariupol in Ukraine as the danger from mines has been eliminated, the Russian defence ministry have said.
It said a maritime humanitarian corridor was opened on Wednesday in the Azov Sea.
Russia took full control of Mariupol last week when more than 2,400 Ukrainian fighters surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steelworks.
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have discussed the situation in Ukraine, the food crisis and its impact on poor countries, Rome said in a statement after a phone call between the two leaders.
No further details of the call were given.
A Russian resolution that expresses concerns about a “health emergency” in Ukraine but makes no reference to its own actions in the country has been rejected by a World Health Organization assembly.
The proposal brought to the annual assembly by Russia and Syria was rejected with 66 against and 15 in favour with 70 abstentions, the meeting’s president Hiroki Nakatani said.
It closely mirrors the language of the Western-led resolution with both expressing “grave concerns over the ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine”. It also condemns attacks on civilians.
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the creation of a new military command for the south of country, bordering Ukraine, according to a video release.
Belarus planned to deploy special operations troops in three areas near its southern border with Ukraine as Lukashenko talked up the role of Russian-made missiles in boosting the country’s defences.
On February 25, the second day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Yuriy Matsarsky, a local radio journalist in the capital Kyiv, made a life-changing decision.
As air raid sirens and explosions rang out across the country, he understood that Russia had launched an all-out war, and decided to abandon his role as a messenger and become a fighter.
He arrived at a community centre, joined a long queue of volunteers with no military experience, and enlisted in the Ukrainian army.
Read more here.
Moscow has pressed the West to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products because of the conflict.
The United Kingdom immediately accused Moscow of “trying to hold the world to ransom” and insisted there would be no sanctions relief.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war, including a Russian blockade of its ports, has prevented much of that production from leaving the country, endangering the world food supply. Many of those ports are also now heavily mined.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried to put the blame for the crisis squarely on Western sanctions.
Ukrainian military has said that Russia has the military advantage in the fight in the eastern Luhansk region, but they are doing everything they can.
Meanwhile, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating before Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region, but said the last road out of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk remained outside Russian control.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that the appeal of Russian money is making some countries tolerant of its aggression.
He rejected calls to accept territorial concessions to appease Moscow.
“Today we hear that allegedly Russia should be given what it wants, supposedly it is necessary to agree that some peoples may be deprived of some of their foreign policy rights,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the Latvian parliament.
Turkey is in negotiations with Russia and Ukraine to open a corridor via the Bosphorus for grain exports from Ukraine, according to a senior Turkish official quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia invaded it in February and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos there.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and the lack of exports from Ukraine is contributing to a growing global food crisis.
Russia’s war on Ukraine is forcing the European Union to look for alternatives to Russian gas imports which amount to about 40 percent of consumption every year. Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries can play a crucial role.
Russia’s foreign ministry has said that reporters from Western countries will be expelled from Russia if YouTube blocks access to its spokeswoman’s briefings.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who holds a weekly briefing on Russian foreign policy, including the country’s military intervention in Ukraine, said the foreign ministry had warned YouTube against blocking her content.
“We just came and told them: ‘You block another briefing, one journalist or American media outlet goes home,’” TASS news agency quoted her as saying.
British foreign minister Liz Truss has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding the world to ransom over food, responding to a question about whether she supported lifting sanctions in exchange for grain exports from Ukraine.
“It is completely appalling that Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom, and he is essentially weaponising hunger and lack of food amongst the poorest people around the world,” Truss said during a visit to Bosnia on Thursday.
“We simply cannot allow this to happen. Putin needs to remove the blockade on Ukrainian grain.”
Russia’s defence ministry has showed footage of an Iskander-K missile launch against an unnamed “military target” in Ukraine, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
The Iskander is a short-range ballistic missile system that Russian forces have deployed against Ukrainian cities, ammunition depots and other military targets since it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office has said 11 high-rise buildings were destroyed in Severodonetsk and eight in Lysychansk.
Zelenskyy has said Russian troops heavily outnumber Ukrainian forces in some parts of the east and Kyiv has been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a prisoner swap with Moscow.
Ukraine has to be able to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength so that Moscow is not encouraged to take further aggressive action, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on Wednesday.
“We must avoid a bad peace, a badly negotiated peace for Ukraine would mean a bad peace for us all,” she said in a speech in Stockholm.
“It is much more dangerous giving in to Putin, than provoking him. All these seemingly small concessions to the aggressor lead to big wars. We have done this mistake already three times: Georgia, Crimea and Donbas.”
The leader of Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region has called for the military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to be accelerated, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said Kyiv had blocked water supplies to key cities in the north of the region and called for military action to be stepped up.
Russia’s oil production is expected to decline to 480-500 million tonnes this year from 524 million tonnes in 2021, the deputy prime minister has said, RIA reports.
The forecast is subject to change depending on the situation, Alexander Novak told reporters in Tehran on Thursday.
The Russian economy ministry has said Russia’s oil output this year was set to fall 9.3 percent to 475.3 million tonnes in the base-case scenario.
“I think the contraction will be way smaller. There was only one month with contraction of more than one million barrels per day, which is not as deep by now. So, I think there will be a recovery in the future,” Novak said.
The governor of Donetsk says at least 431 civilians have been killed and 1,168 wounded in the region since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. But he added that the number of casualties in Mariupol and the town of Volnovakha was currently unknown.
“Russia’s armed forces are killing and destroying the civilian infrastructure of Donetsk settlements, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless,” Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.
On Wednesday, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor said that town officials estimated at least 22,000 civilians had died in the three months of Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik was quoted by the TASS news agency as having said.
“There are a lot of prisoners. Of course, there are more of them on the territory of Donetsk People’s Republic, but we also have enough, and now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day,” Miroshnik said.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify these claims.
Ukraine has confirmed that 240 children have died and 436 have been injured as a result of, and since, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Human rights ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said that the numbers came from a register of pre-trial investigations and “as well as other sources that need to be confirmed”.
A Russian representative in the occupied Zaporizhia region says that Ukraine has forever lost access to the Sea of the Azov, state news agency RIA has reported.
Earlier another Russian representative in the annexed territory of Crimea told Ria that after the “liberation” of Mariupol, the Sea of Azov became a joint sea for Russia and the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
Although Russia’s airborne forces, the VDV, enjoy elite status, high pay and are manned by professional contract soldiers, they have been involved in major tactical failures in Ukraine, the UK’s ministry of defence has said. It added that this likely reflects strategic mismanagement of this otherwise superior capability.
The tactical failures the VDV was involved in include “the attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March, the stalled progress on the Izyum axis since April, and the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.
“The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign,” the ministry said.
“Its mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia’s failure to secure air superiority,” it added.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 26 May 2022
Find out more about the UK government’s response: https://t.co/rE0lcSuRxb
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/QCCDhm8rHj
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 26, 2022
Three people have been killed in artillery attacks on Lysychansk and surrounding areas on Wednesday, the governor of the Luhansk region has said.
Serhiy Haidai said the strike “destroyed” the village of Ustynivka near Lysychansk where two people died, while another person died in Lysycychansk itself.
A shell hit a humanitarian centre in Severodonetsk, he added.
Moscow’s decision to fast track Russian citizenship for Ukrainian residents of the occupied Zaporozhia and Kherson regions means these territories will not return to Ukraine, a Moscow-installed officer of the so-called ministry of internal affairs of Zaporozhia has said.
Alexei Selivanov said residents of the occupied regions “get the opportunity to work, get an education throughout the territory of great power, register in the territory to receive all social benefits and payments,” Russia’s Tass news reports.
“This means that the Zaporozhia and Kherson regions will no longer return to Ukraine,” Selivanov added.
Moscow’s moves towards making Ukrainian residents in occupied regions Russian citizens may be laying the groundwork to carry out mobilisation in these regions, the Institute for the Study of War suggests.
“… Having a Russian passport would make conscription-eligible residents of occupied territories subject to forced military service,” the ISW said in its latest campaign assessment.
The institute noted other moves Russia had made to increase its diminishing pool of combat-ready reservists, such as Moscow raising the maximum age of voluntary enlistment from 40 to 50.
“Russian Telegram channels also reported that Russian leadership forced operational officers and commanders of the Russian Border Guards of southern Russian regions including Rostov Oblast and occupied Crimea to indefinitely cancel all summer vacations … an indication of the next source of manpower to which Putin will apparently turn,” the ISW added.
#Russian-Occupied Areas Update:
Russian occupiers in #Kherson Oblast are reportedly trying to force locals into occupied areas to cooperate with occupation organs and are attempting to mobilize Ukrainians into the Russian army.https://t.co/Vv0QWLKL6q pic.twitter.com/0DdC5hNzTs
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) May 26, 2022
The governor of the Luhansk region has said police are burying people in mass graves temporarily and relatives would be able to retrieve the bodies of loved ones after the war.
Serhiy Haidai said that police had buried 150 people in one mass grave in Lysychansk.
“After the war, relatives can be reburied. Police are issuing documents to the relatives of the victims, which will later provide the opportunity to obtain death certificates,” Haidai said on Telegram.
Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military has said, threatening to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of their invasion, now in its fourth month.
“The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded,” the Joint Task Force of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.
Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.
The Russian defence ministry is promising to open a safe corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports. A separate corridor will be open to allow ships to leave Mariupol by sailing from the port on the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.
Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads the National Defence Control Centre under the General Staff, said 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are now in six ports on the Black Sea including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv.
Mizintsev, whose comments at a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday were reported by the Interfax news agency, said the corridors would be open every day.
Earlier Wednesday, the Russian military said Mariupol’s port was functioning again after three months of fighting. The defence ministry spokesperson said the military first had to clear the port of mines.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said some progress has been made on its right to visit prisoners of war, which is part of the Geneva conventions.
“There is agreement on both sides” on this right, “which is good news,” Director-General Robert Mardini said, but the biggest obstacle in the ICRC carrying out visits is the war itself and the logistical constraints.
Mardini said the ICRC registered all the Ukrainian fighters that held out until last week at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol before they were taken to Russian-controlled territory. Russia said there were 2,439 Ukrainian fighters.
“Registering prisoners of war or detainees amounts to nothing short of a life insurance,” Mardini said.
The ICRC has said that it has been able to give answers to 300 families in Russia and Ukraine about the fate of their loved ones.
ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini told reporters on Wednesday that the organisation’s work trying to clarify the fate of missing persons “is very much on track”.
He did not disclose the fate of the 300 Russians and Ukrainians, saying only that their families had provided “very concrete questions about their loved ones”.
The United States says it will not consider lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for Moscow helping Ukrainian exports leave Black Sea ports.
“We certainly won’t lift our sanctions in response to empty promises, and we’ve heard empty promises before from the Russian Federation,” US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said.
“I think we have – all have good reason to be sceptical when we hear various pledges and offers from Russia. This was the same country, of course, that for months maintained that it had no intention of invading its neighbour and taking on this brutal war,” he added.
The US has said that Moscow’s move to fast track Russian citizenship for residents of parts of southern Ukraine largely held by Putin’s forces is one element of Russia’s attempt to subjugate the people of Ukraine and impose their will by force.
“We have seen Russian forces forcibly remove individuals from occupied territory. We have seen Russia’s forces transport Ukrainians to the so-called filtration camps. We have seen Russia’s forces attempt through other ways to subjugate, otherwise subdue the Ukrainian people in these areas,” Ned Price told journalists.
“It is not entirely unlike Russia’s attempts to manufacture these fake referenda, referenda that are designed to offer the veneer of legitimacy to Russian rule over parts of what is sovereign Ukrainian territory; referenda where Russian-backed officials tend to somehow accrue 90-plus, 99 percent of the vote,” Price said, adding that this was something the US would reject.
He said Russian forces had used this tactic before in Crimea in 2014 and earlier in Chechnya. Analysts have warned Russia intends to stage a referendum in the occupied region of Kherson.
Zelenskyy has held a meeting with the chancellor of Austria, Karl Nehammer, on the situation in the Donbas and “other areas of hostilities”, Ukraine’s president has said.
“We agreed that Austria would take our severely wounded servicemen for treatment. Cooperation in the European integration of Ukraine was discussed in detail,” Zelenskyy said in his nighttime address.
Held talks with 🇦🇹 Chancellor @karlnehammer. Informed about the situation on the frontline. The prospects of 🇺🇦 membership in the EU were discussed. Thanked for the humanitarian aid, as well as for the readiness to provide treatment and medical rehabilitation for 🇺🇦 citizens.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 25, 2022
Zelenskyy has held a meeting with the president of Liberia, George Weah, and “expressed gratitude for Liberia’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in particular within the UN,” he said in a tweet.
The two also “discussed ways out of the food crisis provoked by Russia”.
Liberia was one of about half of African countries that voted in favour of the UN resolution on March 2, 2022, to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Africa Day, I had a substantive conversation with President of Liberia @GeorgeWeahOff. Expressed gratitude for 🇱🇷’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of 🇺🇦, in particular within the UN. Discussed ways out of the food crisis provoked by Russia.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 25, 2022
Zelenskyy has strongly rebuffed those in the West who have suggested Ukraine should cede control of areas occupied by Russian forces for the sake of reaching a peace agreement.
Those “great geopoliticians” who make that suggestion are disregarding the interests of Ukrainians, “the millions of those who actually live on the territory that they propose exchanging for an illusion of peace”, Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.
“We always have to think of the people and remember that values are not just words,” he said.
“It seems that Mr Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time,” Zelenskyy said.
He added that in 1938, Kissinger was 15 years old and his family fled Nazi Germany. “And nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them.”
Former Ukrainian legislator Aliona Hlivco has said her country will not make concessions on territorial integrity, stressing that any Russian advances in the eastern Donbas region will be tactical – not strategic – victories for Moscow.
“Ukrainians have so far showcased an enormous bravery and resolve to do what we can and everything that we’re willing to sacrifice for our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hlivco told Al Jazeera.
“So, of course, we are counting on the help from the West that we are getting quite extensively these days. We’ll still stand by our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I don’t think there will be any concessions made.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a 10 percent raise to the minimum wage rate and pensions in the coming weeks, as the Russian economy faces an unprecedented wave of international sanctions.
The bump will bring the minimum wage to about $250 per month and the average pension to $320, according to the Interfax news agency.
“Our key and unchanging priority is to increase the welfare and quality of life of citizens,” Putin said.
He also tasked government officials with increasing pay for Russian soldiers serving abroad as the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth month.
The US Department of State has said evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine continues to mount.
“In addition to continued bombardments and missile strikes hitting densely populated areas, causing thousands of civilian deaths, we continue to see credible reports of violence of a different order,” spokesperson Ned Price said.
He said that includes reports of “unarmed civilians shot in the back; individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture, and horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls”.
World Bank President David Malpass has suggested that the war in Ukraine and its effects on food and energy prices could trigger a global recession.
Malpass told an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce that Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, has already seen a substantial economic slowdown due to higher energy prices. He also said limited access to fertiliser could worsen conditions elsewhere.
“As we look at the global GDP … it’s hard right now to see how we avoid a recession,” Malpass said.
The United States, European Union and the United Kingdom have announced they are launching a new mechanism to help ensure accountability for war crimes in Ukraine.
Dubbed the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA), the new initiative aims to support the office of the prosecutor general of Ukraine in its investigation of war-related crimes, the Western allies said in a joint statement.
“The ACA seeks to streamline coordination and communication efforts to ensure best practices, avoid duplication of efforts, and encourage the expeditious deployment of financial resources and skilled personnel to respond to the needs of the OPG [office of the prosecutor general],” the statement said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered an end to visa-free travel to Ukraine for Russian citizens, citing the need to improve border security.
In an order posted on the presidential website, Zelenskyy said he backed a petition submitted by a citizen asking for this practice to end.
“Against the backdrop of full-scale Russian aggression, the issue raised is important and vital. I support the need to strengthen controls on the entry of Russian citizens,” he said.
With Russia in control of most of the border region, it is unclear whether Zelenskyy’s decision will have practical implications during the war.
A senior Turkish official has insisted after talks with Swedish and Finnish delegations that Turkey will not agree to the two Nordic countries joining NATO unless specific steps are taken to address Ankara’s objections.
“We have made it very clear that if Turkey’s security concerns are not met with concrete steps in a certain timeframe, the process will not progress,” Ibrahim Kalin said after talks in Ankara that lasted about five hours.
Turkey has accused the two European countries of harbouring “terrorists”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement.
Kalin said Ankara’s proposal for the two countries to lift their arms export limits to Turkey was met with a “positive attitude”. Turkey also expects the extradition of 28 “terrorism” suspects from Sweden and 12 from Finland, he added.
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