May 7, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Christian Edwards, Maureen Chowdhury and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, May 8, 2023
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2:03 p.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Russia is trying to wear down Ukraine's air defenses, military spokesperson says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Russian forces are trying to chip away at Ukraine's air defense system, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military said in an interview Sunday.  

“They (Russian forces) are testing and trying to exhaust our air defense system. They are trying to find a way around it. And they are also expanding their tactics, because they do not have a stable stock of the means that they can operate with,” said Natalia Humeniuk, Ukraine’s Operational Command South spokesperson.   

Russians are trying “to test and find out where the air defense systems are located,” according to Humeniuk. 

Evacuations in southern Ukraine: The spokesperson also commented on Russian authorities recently evacuating civilians from the Zaporizhzhia region, calling it “an imitation of care for the local residents.”

This is a standard practice that was used by Russians before, she said.

“They are trying to evacuate the people to the places where they set up their own defense lines and where they are setting their units in order to use local civilians as a cover,” Humeniuk claimed.

Analysts suspect the southern region could be a key target of Ukraine's anticipated counteroffensive.

1:21 p.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Analysis: Wagner head Prigozhin is acting on his boss' wishes

By Nic Robertson for CNN in eastern Ukraine

Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin serves one master, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Whatever he says about Bakhmut should be understood in that context. 

On Friday, he threatened to pull his troops out, blaming Putin’s defense chiefs for leaving his fighters short of ammunition. Should Putin’s war blow up in his face, Prigozhin has told Russians who they should blame. 

Kyiv’s assessment is that he is insulating his long-time benefactor, the man who transformed him from a catering boss to a billionaire mercenary, from the repercussions of military failure in Ukraine. 

The night after Prigozhin claimed to be short of ammunition, Russia massively upped its artillery barrage on Bakhmut, raining down 25,000 shells, up from the average of 20,000, according to the Ukrainian military.

In towns nearby, then and since, the still night air carries the near constant sound of heavy shells "crumping" in to trench and tree. Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency released video they said shows Bakhmut illuminated by fires ignited by incendiary rockets. 

Prigozhin may still pull out of Bakhmut. Months ago, Ukraine’s military said if he kept losing fighters at an estimated rate of 100 or so a day, he’d burn through Wagner’s deep reserve of convicts and other mercenary fighters. They say he’s reaching that limit now.

But for now, rather than pull out and cede hard-gained ground, much coveted by Putin, Prigozhin is cooking up a plan to have Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s troops step where his dead soldiers stood.

This is confirmation for Ukraine’s military that Prigozhin wouldn’t dare give up on what his boss Putin wants: to be able to call Bakhmut his by the time he stands on Red Square for Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade on Tuesday.

Little surprise Putin’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is playing along, too, vowing ammunition for the fight. It’s the way Putin has remained in power so long, playing one minister, commander or oligarch off against the next.

The Russian president will also see what the Ukrainian commanders see: Prigozhin is gathering acolytes in the military high command, this weekend hiring the ex-deputy defense minister, who was fired by the Kremlin last week, to be one of his own deputies.

For Ukrainians, though, it’s what happens in Bakhmut that counts the most, not Kremlin backstabbing, although they say any chaos in Moscow is always welcome news.

2:07 p.m. ET, May 7, 2023

US officials are confident in Ukraine's claim it used Patriot system to stop a hypersonic missile, source says

From CNN's Zachary Cohen 

A Patriot air defense system, pictured in Germany in January.
A Patriot air defense system, pictured in Germany in January. Bernd Wüstneck/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images/FILE

The US has high confidence in the accuracy of Ukraine’s claim that it used an American-made Patriot air defense system to intercept a Russian hypersonic missile, according to a source familiar with the matter.  

While the Patriot system has been successful in countering ballistic missiles, its ability to stop air-launched hypersonic missiles was purely theoretical before last week. Ukraine’s intercept has now provided a real-world demonstration of that capability — something that has been viewed within the Pentagon as a major development, the source said. 

Ukraine’s intercept claim created buzz within the Pentagon late last week, the source added, noting it is significant for several reasons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly touted the capabilities of Russia’s hypersonic weapons and cast them as capable of overcoming all existing air defense systems. 

Production of hypersonic ballistic missiles has always been challenging for Russia and sanctions have only made it more difficult. 

But prior to last week, Russia’s calculus was that if it did use a hypersonic ballistic missile, whatever it was shooting at would assuredly get hit, the source said. This intercept has called that calculation into question, they continued.

The fact that this intercept was conducted by a Ukrainian crew that was trained in Oklahoma, but had no US advisers on the battlefield, is even more of a feather in the cap for the Pentagon, the source added, calling it a major return on investment. 

The intercept also has likely caused a severe amount of uncertainty for Russia, raising the question of whether Ukraine is in possession of a sustainable countermeasure against hypersonic ballistic missiles, the source added. 

11:35 a.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Russian jet almost collided with EU border patrol plane during "aggressive" intercept, Polish officials say

From CNN's Tim Lister in Bucharest, Romania and Xiaofei Xu in London

A Russian fighter jet intercepted a Polish border guard aircraft flying a mission above the Black Sea near the Romanian border Friday, which almost resulted in a collision, according to Romanian authorities.

The Polish Border Guard said on Twitter that the Russian Su-35 flew into the area without radio contact and performed "aggressive and dangerous" maneuvers.

The incident took place on Friday at 6:20 a.m. ET, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Romania’s airspace, the Romanian defense ministry said in a statement Sunday.

“The aggressive and dangerous maneuvers repeatedly performed by Russian fighters near the Polish aircraft caused high turbulence and difficulties in controlling the aircraft,” the ministry said. 

The Polish aircraft was there as part of a joint mission coordinated by the European Union border patrol system Frontex.

The mission, which is set to last until mid-December, focuses on preventing irregular migration, illegal fishing, marine pollution, and combatting other cross-border crimes in the western Black Sea, according to the defense ministry.

The ministry said that, as a result of the incident, two combat aircraft of the Romanian air force as well as two aircraft of the Spanish Air Force were prepared to intervene by the NATO Combined Air Operations Center in Torrejon, Spain, but that their intervention was not necessary.

12:57 p.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Why Bakhmut matters

From CNN's Christian Edwards

Smoke rises from buildings in an aerial view of Bakhmut, on April 26.
Smoke rises from buildings in an aerial view of Bakhmut, on April 26. Libkos/AP

The eastern city of Bakhmut has been the site of a months-long assault by Russian forces that has forced thousands from their homes and left the area devastated.

Bakhmut has not yet fallen under total Russian control. On his official Telegram channel on Saturday, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin — whose mercenaries have played a huge part in Russia's advance — claimed to have taken 95% of the city.

Ukrainian soldiers have dug in, while Wagner troops have sought to encircle the city in a wide arc from the north, making sluggish progress since the capture of the nearby town of Soledar in January.

The fall of Bakhmut would mark a rare breakthrough by Russia in what has become a slow-moving ground war in the east that has at times resembled the trench warfare of World War I.

But, despite the time, manpower and resources poured into capturing the city, its strategic value has always been dubious.

Bakhmut — a relatively small city in eastern Donestk — is not the sort of city Moscow would have hoped to be fighting for in the second year of its invasion.

Instead, the city has come to be prized more for the symbolic value its capture would lend to Russia. It would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a much-needed victory — and relief from criticism at home of his faltering invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier in May the US said that 20,000 of Russia's troops have been killed in action in recent months in Ukraine with most of its efforts having “stalled and failed."

8:38 a.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Russian authorities evacuate hundreds more from the frontline Zaporizhzhia region

From CNN's Maria Kostenko and Stephanie Halasz

Russian-installed authorities have said they are continuing to evacuate Zaporizhzhia region residents away from front lines in the annexed region.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia, claimed on Telegram that 1,552 residents “are in safety now."

The evacuations come amid rumours of a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive, with the Zaporizhzhia region likely to be a target.

Meanwhile, Yurii Malashko, a Ukrainian official and head of the Zaporizhzhia region military administration, said on Telegram that Russians were continuing to shell the region, but with no casualties in the last 24 hours.

1:01 p.m. ET, May 7, 2023

May Day Victory Parade rehearsals underway in Moscow's Red Square

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu

Russian servicemen arrive to the Victory Day Parade rehearsal in Moscow, on May 7.
Russian servicemen arrive to the Victory Day Parade rehearsal in Moscow, on May 7. Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Rehearsals for Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade, to mark the end of the Second World War, began in Moscow on Sunday.

Soldiers could be seen marching down the Red Square which has been decorated with signs and installations bearing the date of the planned parade.

The Victory Day Parade is held every year on on May 9 to mark the anniversary of when Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered in 1945.

The parade has been used by Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years as a stage to flout Russia’s military prowess.

This year’s parade will be the second since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine. It will be held just days after Russia alleged that Ukraine launched a drone attack on the Kremlin. Kyiv has denied involvement in the attack.

7:39 a.m. ET, May 7, 2023

Wagner boss suggests his forces may stay in Bakhmut area after being promised more munitions

From CNN's Tim Lister and Stephanie Halasz

Head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, arrives during a funeral ceremony in Moscow, Russia on April 8.
Head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, arrives during a funeral ceremony in Moscow, Russia on April 8. AP

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, has apparently backtracked on a threat to pull his forces from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after being promised more ammunition.

In an explosive, expletive-laden rant this week, Prigozhin had previously declared that his men would leave the area by May 10 because of heavy casualties and inadequate supplies.

But a new audio message posted Sunday on Telegram suggests he has changed his mind after concessions from the Russian government.

"The bottom line is the following: they promise to give us ammunition and weapons, as much as we need to continue further actions. They swear to us that everything that is necessary will be on the flank so the enemy сan't cut us off. We are told that we can act in Bakhmut as we see fit," Prigozhin said.

The Russian Ministry of Defence did not immediately comment on Prigozhin’s latest claim.

The Wagner boss had said Wagner positions in and around Bakhmut would be transferred to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces from May 10.

Prigozhin had also floated the possibility that Wagner might be disbanded, but appeared to also ow back from these suggestions in the audio message.

“I specifically asked a question to all junior commanders, who immediately brought it to the attention of the fighters: if someone wants, they can go to other military formations. Everyone unequivocally answered 'No.'”