May 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Rhea Mogul, Lianne Kolirin, Sana Noor Haq and Matias Grez, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, May 18, 2022
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11:22 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Former Russian colonel criticizes the country's invasion of Ukraine on state television

From Tim Lister, Anastasia Graham Yooll and Taras Zadorozhnyy

Two girls sit in a a public square in front of destroyed buildings in Borodyanka outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 16.
Two girls sit in a a public square in front of destroyed buildings in Borodyanka outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Ukraine on May 16. Jorge Silva/Reuters

In rare public criticism of the conduct of Russia's military operations in Ukraine, a former senior Russian officer has warned on state television that the situation will get worse.

"Let's not drink 'information tranquilizers,' because sometimes information is spread about some moral or psychological breakdown of Ukraine's armed forces, as if they are nearing a crisis of morale or a fracture," retired Col. Mikhail Khodarenok said on Monday’s edition of Rossiya One’s 60 Minutes show. "None of this is close to reality."

Despite pushback from the show’s presenter, Khodarenok said that Ukraine could arm one million people. 

"Considering that European aid will come into full effect and one million armed Ukrainian soldiers can join the fight, we need to see this reality of the near future, and we need to consider that in our operational and strategic calculations. The situation for us will frankly get worse," he said.

Khodarenok, a regular commentator in Russian media, also commented on Russia's broader isolation.

"Let's look at this situation as a whole from our overall strategic position," he said. "Let’s not swing missiles in Finland's direction – this just looks ridiculous. The biggest problem with our military and political situation is that we are in total geopolitical isolation. And the whole world is against us — even if we don’t want to admit it."

Khodarenok warned before the invasion started that it would be more difficult than many anticipated to wage war in Ukraine.

In an article in February, he said, "the degree of hatred (which, as you know, is the most effective fuel for armed struggle) in the neighboring republic towards Moscow is frankly underestimated. No one will meet the Russian army with bread, salt and flowers in Ukraine."

Expert claims that Russian forces will defeat Ukraine in a short period of time "have no serious grounds," he had said.

11:49 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

More buses reportedly leave Mariupol's Azovstal plant, according to Russian state media

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces who spent weeks holed up at the Azovstal plant drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17.
Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces who spent weeks holed up at the Azovstal plant drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 17. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Another column of buses has left the besieged Azovstal steel plant, according to Russian state media.

The buses "allegedly with surrendered militants from the Azovstal plant, accompanied by armored vehicles, moved to the exit from Mariupol," RIA Novosti reported, adding that no shots were fired at the Azovstal plant for several hours before the column of buses left.

On Tuesday, the spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that 265 militants, including 51 seriously injured, surrendered at the Azovstal and had been evacuated on Monday night.

All those in need of medical care were sent for treatment to the Novoazovsk hospital in the Donetsk People's Republic, he said.

There's been no word from the Ukrainian side on another convoy leaving Tuesday. 

12:21 p.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Russia denies US Embassy permission to visit Brittney Griner for third time in month, ambassador says   

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 6 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 6 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Russian authorities denied the US Embassy in Moscow permission to visit detained American and WNBA star Brittney Griner for the third time in a month, US Ambassador John Sullivan said in a tweet posted by the embassy.

"This is unacceptable. We call on @mfa_russia to provide timely consular access, in line with Russia’s intl & bilateral obligations," Sullivan said.

The WNBA player's pretrial detention has been extended until June. She is considered wrongfully detained by the State Department. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Griner's wife on Saturday. According to a senior State Department official, the top US diplomat told Cherelle Griner that her wife's release is a top priority for the department and has his full attention.

Blinken said the State Department is working on the case day and night, and said that Cherelle Griner should not hesitate to reach out if there's anything she is not getting.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who has for years played for a Russian basketball team during the WNBA off-season, was arrested in February. Russian authorities said she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance — an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 

9:58 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Ukraine foreign minister discussed arms supply and EU status with Dutch counterpart

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

Netherlands' Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra, left, poses during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in The Hague, Netherlands, on May 17.
Netherlands' Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra, left, poses during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in The Hague, Netherlands, on May 17. (Sem van der Wal/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba discussed arms supplies, new sanctions against Russia and granting Ukraine European Union candidate status during a meeting with his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra in The Hague on Tuesday, he tweeted.

"Met with my colleague and friend Wopke Hoekstra at the beginning of my visit to The Hague. Commended him and the Dutch government for their efforts to defend peace in Ukraine and Europe. We focused on further arms supplies, new sanctions on Russia, and Ukraine’s EU candidate status," Kuleba said.

9:33 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Putin: Some European countries cannot "give up" on Russian oil

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Some European countries cannot give up on Russian oil, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

"European countries continue to introduce new sanctions on oil and gas markets. All of this is leading to inflation, but instead of admitting their own mistakes, they're looking for someone to blame," Putin said during a meeting on oil industry.

"The Europeans recognize that they cannot completely give up on Russian energy resources and it is also obvious that certain EU countries where the share of Russian hydrocarbons is particularly high, for a long time will not be able to give up our energy," he said, adding that the decisions adopted by the European Union "and the declarations about a full renunciation of Russian energy sources have already caused a rise in prices for oil."

9:36 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Evacuation of Mariupol defenders was only possible way to rescue them, Ukrainian official says

From CNN's Katharina Krebs in London

A still image taken from a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows what it claims are wounded service members of Ukrainian forces lying on stretchers inside a bus in Mariupol, Ukraine, video released on May 17.
A still image taken from a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows what it claims are wounded service members of Ukrainian forces lying on stretchers inside a bus in Mariupol, Ukraine, video released on May 17. (Russian Defence Ministry/Reuters)

The operation to evacuate Ukrainian defenders from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol was the only possible way for their rescue, said Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar during a briefing at the Media Center Ukraine on Tuesday. 

"Unfortunately, military unblocking is impossible in this situation. There could be no other way to rescue them than the way it is happening now. It was the only way out," Malyar said, adding that "the defenders of Mariupol" have fully fulfilled their combat mission.

Due to the defense of Mariupol, Russian forces were not able to transfer about 20,000 personnel to other regions of Ukraine, and thus failed to capture Zaporizhzhia, according to Malyar.

9:00 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Finnish parliament votes in favor of NATO application

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

The Finnish parliament has voted in favor of applying for NATO membership. 

“Parliament supports Finland's application for NATO membership. Parliament adopted the position in accordance with the Foreign Affairs Committee report after a vote 188-8 in favour,” the official Twitter account of the parliament tweeted.

A board shows the results of the vote of the plenary session at the Finnish parliament about the NATO membership bid in Helsinki, Finland, on May 17.
A board shows the results of the vote of the plenary session at the Finnish parliament about the NATO membership bid in Helsinki, Finland, on May 17. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images)

2:22 p.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Ukraine expects prisoner exchange for wounded soldiers from Azovstal

From CNN's Julia Presniakova in Lviv

A wounded service member of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol is transported out of a bus on a stretcher under escort of the pro-Russian military upon arrival in Novoazovsk, Ukraine, on May 16.
A wounded service member of Ukrainian forces from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol is transported out of a bus on a stretcher under escort of the pro-Russian military upon arrival in Novoazovsk, Ukraine, on May 16. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Ukraine expects to carry out an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the severely injured soldiers evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol late on Monday, Ukraine's deputy prime minister has said.

"In the interests of saving lives, 52 of our severely wounded servicemen were evacuated yesterday. After their condition stabilizes, we will exchange them for Russian prisoners of war," Iryna Vereshchuk said Tuesday.

"We are working on the next stages of the humanitarian operation," Vereshchuk added.

Hundreds of people were evacuated on Monday from the steel plant, the last holdout in a city that had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance under relentless Russian bombardment.

What Russia is saying: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that fighters who left the besieged Azovstal plant will be treated in accordance with international laws.

"President [Vladimir Putin] ... ordered Minister of Defense to refrain from storming Azovstal for humanitarian reasons and announced that both civilians and the military could leave, the military after laying down their arms,” Peskov said on a regular conference call.

Peskov added that Putin also “guaranteed that they would be treated in accordance with the international laws.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the Russian Investigative Committee said investigators will interrogate what they describe as "the surrendered militants" who were evacuated from the Azovstal plant.

"Investigators of the Russian Investigative Committee, as part of the investigation of criminal cases on the crimes of the Ukrainian regime against the civilian population of Donbass, will interrogate the surrendered militants who were hiding at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol," the committee's brief statement said.

Nearly 600 Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal plant laid down their weapons on Monday and Tuesday, and most have been taken on buses to the town of Orlivka in the Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic.

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Uliana Pavlova contributed reporting to this post.

8:08 a.m. ET, May 17, 2022

Russia expels two Finnish diplomats following ​​expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Finland 

From CNN's Radina Gigova in London 

Finland's Ambassador to Russia Antti Helanterya was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow on Tuesday and notified of Russia's decision to expel two Finnish embassy employees as part of a diplomatic response, the ministry said in a statement. 

"The ambassador was presented with a statement of resolute protest in connection with the groundless expulsion from Finland of two employees of the Russian Embassy in Helsinki as part of the EU anti-Russian sanctions campaign, as well as Finland's confrontational course towards Russia, including the supply of weapons to the Kyiv regime and covering up the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists against the civilian population of Donbass and Ukraine," according to a statement from the ministry. 

"The Ambassador was informed that, as a reaction to these actions of the Finnish authorities, the Russian side made a decision on the unacceptability of the further stay in the Russian Federation of two employees of the staff of the Embassy of Finland in Moscow," the ministry said.