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May 17, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

'We need a way out': Former Russian colonel criticizes war efforts in Ukraine
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What we covered

  • The battle for Mariupol’s massive Azovstal steel plant appears to be nearing an end, after hundreds of the remaining Ukrainian soldiers holding out in the facility were evacuated.
  • But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday negotiations with Russia and the evacuation mission “continues.”
  • Severely injured soldiers evacuated from Azovstal could be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said.
  • Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application on Wednesday, Sweden’s Prime Minister said during a joint news conference with the Finnish President.
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World's largest aircraft owner lost 113 planes to Russia due to sanctions

AerCap Holdings, the aircraft leasing giant that is the world’s largest owner of jets, lost 113 planes when Russia seized them in response to sanctions triggered by the war in Ukraine.

The seizures of the planes and 11 jet engines by Russian authorities caused AerCap to take a $2.7 billion pre-tax charge during the quarter, causing the company to report a net loss of $2 billion, rather than the $500 million profit it would have made without the hit.

The company was able to recover 22 jets and three engines before they were seized by Russian authorities.

It has filed insurance claims to seek to recover the lost aircraft, although some of those claims are with Russian insurance companies. Those policies are backed by Western re-insurance companies, but AerCap stated that “the timing and amount of any recoveries under these policies are uncertain.”

Read the full story:

Zelensky draws parallels between war, dictators and Ukraine's plight at Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a virtual address on Tuesday at the opening ceremony of the 75th Cannes Film Festival, speaking about the connection of film to reality and the role of cinema during Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.

Referencing Charlie Chaplin’s 1940s movie “The Great Dictator,” Zelensky said, “it didn’t destroy at the time the real dictator but thanks to cinema and thanks to this film, the cinema ceased to be silent, in every way. Cinema was speaking and it was the voice of the future victory of freedom.”

He said, “once again, just like in the past, there is a dictator today” and “once again, there is war for freedom,” and “once again, just like in the past, cinema should not be silent.”

The President’s address was his latest on a virtual diplomatic world tour to keep global attention on Ukraine’s plight during the invasion. 

In April, Zelensky made an appearance at the 64th annual Grammy Awards offering a speech that began, “The war. What’s more opposite than music.”

Zelensky says Azovstol "evacuation mission continues"

Members of Ukrainian forces are seen inside a bus, which arrived under escort of the pro-Russian military at a detention facility in the settlement of Olenivka in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine on Tuesday, May 17.

The evacuation mission at the Azovstol steel plant in Mariupol continues, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Tuesday.

“Negotiation process with Russia continues on evacuation of our heroes from Azovstal. Evacuation mission continues. It’s overseeing by our military and intelligence officers. The most powerful international mediators are involved,” Zelensky said. 

Ukraine’s military said late Monday that its forces had completed their “combat mission” at the sprawling steel plant, which was for weeks the last major holdout in a city otherwise occupied by Russian troops.

European leaders: The Ukrainian President also said he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday about “Ukraine’s defense support and our cooperation at the EU level.”

“I informed him about the current situation on the battlefield and the possible development of this situation. I had a substantive and lengthy conversation with French President Macron. We discussed the sixth package of sanctions being prepared in the EU, the negotiation process with Russia, and our heroes’ evacuation from Azovstal,” he said.

Here are the latest developments on the war in Ukraine

Buses carrying Ukrainian service members are escorted away from the Azovstal steel  plant by the pro-Russian military in Mariupol, Ukraine on Tuesday, May 17.

The battle for Mariupol’s massive Azovstal steel plant appears to be nearing an end, after hundreds of the remaining Ukrainian soldiers holding out in the facility were evacuated.

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.

Here are more of the latest headlines from the Russia-Ukraine war:

  • ICC prosecutor announces largest field deployment of forensics and investigative team to Ukraine: The “largest ever single field deployment” of an International Criminal Court forensics and investigative team has been sent to Ukraine, ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said in a statement Tuesday. “I can confirm that today my Office has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine to advance our investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court … and provide support to Ukrainian national authorities. This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my Office since its establishment,” Khan said. He said the team will be able to “collect more testimonial accounts, support the identification of relevant forensic and digital materials and ensure that information and evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings before the ICC.”
  • US State Department announces new program to provide “evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes”: The US State Department on Tuesday announced the launch of a new program “to capture, analyze, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.” The program, called the Conflict Observatory, “encompasses the documentation, verification, and dissemination of open-source evidence regarding the actions of Russia’s forces during President Putin’s brutal war of choice,” according to a media note from the State Department.
  • Finland and Sweden will submit their NATO application on Wednesday: Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm. “Democracy has won,” Niinistö said. “This whole spring has been a triumph for democracy in Finland” he said, referring to the overwhelming support Finland’s NATO application received in parliament today, and the support among the Finnish people. “Sweden also looks forward to cooperating together with Turkey within NATO,”  Andersson said.
  • NATO chief to meet Finnish and Swedish ambassadors: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will meet the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden on Wednesday, according to a statement from NATO. The leaders are then scheduled to meet with US President Joe Biden on Thursday.
  • France’s Macron pledges more weapons to Ukraine during call with Zelensky: French President Emmanuel Macron promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky additional weapons in the days to come in a phone call between the two leaders, according to an Elysée Palace statement. Macron confirmed that arms deliveries by France will “continue and increase in intensity in the days and weeks to come, as will the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the statement said.
  • A town in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile, Ukrainian officials say: In an indication that Russian forces may be extending the range of their attacks, Ukrainian officials say the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile Tuesday. The missile strike destroyed a five-story building in the town, according to Donetsk regional police. One person had been killed and a 9-year-old child was seriously injured. “The exact number of victims is being clarified,” police said. Bakhmut is an important hub for the Ukrainian military and its hospital treats wounded soldiers. It is roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the front lines around Popasna.
  • Former Russian colonel criticizes the country’s invasion of Ukraine on state television: 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.  
  • Russia denies US Embassy permission to visit Brittney Griner for third time in month: 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. 

The US is working closely with allies to try to develop routes to get vital grain supplies out of Ukraine

A farmer works on a field near Lviv, Ukraine, on May 9th.

The Biden administration is working closely with European allies to try to develop routes to get Ukrainian wheat and corn out of the country after Russia blocked Ukrainian ships from departing with grain that is vital for food supplies around the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

There is no silver bullet to solve the complicated challenge and officials are considering a wide array of options to get the food exports safely out by rail, sea and air, two US diplomats and four European diplomats told CNN. Possible scenarios are being studied and devised whether Russia consents or not. 

The challenge will be a major focus for US Secretary of State Tony Blinken when he convenes a ministerial meeting on food security and chairs a discussion on the matter at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday and Thursday, the diplomats said.  

“This is far from a done deal, there are so many moving pieces, so many things could go wrong with these discussions,” another official familiar with the discussions said. 

Amid concerns about a global food shortage, urgency around the effort is growing as prices for wheat, grain, corn, soybeans and vegetable oil have soared in recent weeks due to Russia’s invasion. However, there is no simple solution available with major obstacles to all modes of transport as the war shows no sign of letting up.

Time is of the essence: Ukraine is set to run out of storage facilities for agricultural products in the next two months, explained an official from the World Food Program. If there is no movement in the coming months Ukrainian farmers will have no place to store next seasons’ crop and they will be not paid enough to sustain their businesses.

Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade, and Ukraine is the world’s fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. The United Nations World Food Program — which helps combat global food insecurity — buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if the Ukrainian ports are not opened up. 

Read more about this here.

US State Department announces new program to provide "evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes"

The US State Department on Tuesday announced the launch of a new program “to capture, analyze, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.”

The program, called the Conflict Observatory, “encompasses the documentation, verification, and dissemination of open-source evidence regarding the actions of Russia’s forces during President Putin’s brutal war of choice,” according to a media note from the State Department.

“The Conflict Observatory will analyze and preserve publicly and commercially available information, including satellite imagery and information shared via social media, consistent with international legal standards, for use in ongoing and future accountability mechanisms,” the note said. “This includes maintaining rigorous chain-of-custody procedures for future civil and criminal legal processes under appropriate jurisdictions.”

The information will be shared publicly via an online platform, the statement added.

The State Department said the program is a collaboration with “Esri, a leading geographic information systems company, Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and PlanetScape Ai,” and the “the U.S. government has also contributed commercial satellite imagery to these efforts.”

The State Department said it expects international partner organizations to join the program. Reports will be available at ConflictObservatory.org website.

NATO chief to meet Finnish and Swedish ambassadors

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on April 28, 2022.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will meet the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden on Wednesday, according to a statement from NATO. 

The meeting comes after both countries declared their intentions to apply for membership to NATO earlier this week.

Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint news conference earlier today with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

The leaders are then scheduled to meet with US President Joe Biden on Thursday.

Exclusive: CNN travels to site of one of Russia's biggest single defeats

Russian armored vehicles littered in Bilohorivka, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 17.

A CNN team on Tuesday traveled to the eastern Ukrainian town of Bilohorivka, where Russia is believed to have suffered one of the biggest single defeats of the war. There, the charred remains of Russian armored vehicles littered a field just a few hundred meters from the front line.

The Ukrainian military says that last week it destroyed “at least 73 units of equipment,” including T-72 tanks and a variety of infantry fighting vehicles, when a Russian brigade attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River.

The high ground above the river was littered with destroyed Russian tanks separated from their turrets, armored personnel carriers, heavy machine guns with barrels twisted into spirals – and the charred body parts of Russian soldiers.

“They had three places to cross,” explained a senior officer, and asked for his name not to be used for security reasons. “They tried the first one, they failed, they were smashed there. On the second one they tried, they got smashed.”

“Well, and on that last one you saw, where they lost the most equipment. There, they tried four times. First time they did not succeed, they were crushed, artillery. Second time the same thing. Each time they increased their efforts, not understanding that we are observing everything. And for every action they take, we have a counter-action,” the officer explained.

He said that the Ukrainians used artillery fire to destroy the Russian pontoon bridge, and used ground forces to push back the armored column.

“They had no time to cross, no time to drop the boats,” he explained. “They all broke through with artillery and gunfire and we watched from the drones as they fell into the water and sank.”

The officer said he believes that Russia has fallen for its own propaganda and is a victim of “outdated” military tactics.

“I remember when I was a cadet they used to say that an American soldier couldn’t even brush his teeth before we killed them all. You see it’s all just propaganda. They are not like that. They have some new things, but for the most part everything is outdated. The tactics are also outdated. And technologically, they are very far behind NATO and American weapons,” he told CNN.

Ukrainian man says Russian troops buried him alive after beating and shooting him and his brothers

Mykola Kulichenko struggles to recount a tale he shouldn’t be alive to tell. But this Ukrainian man believes he was allowed to cheat death so he might speak for all those who cannot.

By the side of a remote road in the northern Chernihiv region of Ukraine, Mykola shows the unmarked grave in which he and his two brothers were buried three-and-a-half weeks after the war began, in land seized by Russian forces. All three had been shot; he was the only one to survive.

“It’s like being resurrected,” Mykola, 33, told CNN.

Until March 18, life for the Kulichenko family had changed little despite the Russians occupying their village of Dovzhyk since the start of the war. Then, when a Russian column was bombed, Russian soldiers fanned out looking for those responsible. They arrived at the wood-plank house where Mykola lived with his two brothers, Yevhen and Dmytro along with their sister, Iryna – who still hasn’t forgiven herself for not being home that day.

Three soldiers told the brothers to kneel in the front yard while they searched the home looking for anything that would link them to the bombed convoy, Mykola said. According to Mykola, once they found the military medals their grandfather owned and a military bag belonging to 30-year-old Yevhen, who had been a paratrooper, the soldiers were convinced they had something to hide.

Mykola, Yevhen and Dmytro were driven to a basement where they were interrogated for three days, he said. Mykola kept hoping the Russians would release them, but on the fourth day, he said, their mood changed.

Along with his brothers, Mykola was tortured until he lost consciousness. He says they were blindfolded, had their hands and legs bound with tape and were driven in a military vehicle by five Russian soldiers to a desolate plot of land. They were made to kneel, blindfolded, while a pit was dug, Mykola said.

First, he said, he heard a shot behind him, and 36-year-old Dmytro, the eldest of the three, fell to the ground. Next, he felt Yevhen, the youngest, drop by his side.

“I was thinking that I was next,” he said. But the bullet entered Mykola’s cheek and exited next to his right ear. He knew his only hope of survival was to play dead.

The soldiers kicked the brothers’ bodies into the pit, covered them with earth and left, according to Mykola. He can’t say how long he lay buried alive, only that with his hands and legs still bound he somehow managed to maneuver his way out from under his older brother’s corpse and back to the land of the living.

“It was hard for me to breathe, since Dima (Dmytro) was lying on top of me, but using my arms and knees, I was able to push my older brother off to the side of the pit, and then I climbed out,” he said.

In the dark, he staggered through fields to the nearest house, where a woman took him in and cared for him overnight before he was able to get back to his sister, who’d been anxiously waiting for days at their father’s home.

Read the full story here:

Ukraine brother survives shooting

He says he was tortured by Russian soldiers, shot in the face and buried alive. This is one Ukrainian man's tale of survival

France's Macron pledges more weapons to Ukraine during call with Zelensky

French president Emmanuel Macron speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, May 9.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky additional weapons in the days to come in a phone call between the two leaders, according to an Elysée Palace statement. 

Macron confirmed that arms deliveries by France will “continue and increase in intensity in the days and weeks to come, as will the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said the statement.

Macron also said that Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union would be “examined” during a European Council session in June. The bloc’s consideration will be based on the “opinion that the European Commission would have given, and in the spirit expressed at the Versailles summit by all the member states who declared that Ukraine was part of the European family.”

The leaders also discussed the evacuations of the Azovstal plant as well as “the challenge of food security and possible ways to allow exports of Ukrainian grains, which a large part of the world depends on for its food.”

The telephone conversation between the two presidents lasted for an hour and 10 minutes, according to the Palace, and was “long and substantial.”

A town in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile, Ukrainian officials say 

Destruction after a Russian airplane launched a rocket in Bakhmut, Donbas, Ukraine on Tuesday May 17th.

In an indication that Russian forces may be extending the range of their attacks, Ukrainian officials say the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region was hit by a missile Tuesday.

The missile strike destroyed a five-story building in the town, according to Donetsk regional police. One person had been killed and a 9-year-old child was seriously injured.

“The exact number of victims is being clarified,” police said.

Bakhmut is an important hub for the Ukrainian military and its hospital treats wounded soldiers. It is roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the front lines around Popasna.

“The Russians do not stop the mass shelling along the entire front line from Vuhledar to Bakhmut,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration.

Strikes on Tuesday morning had damaged a school in Bakhmut and several infrastructure facilities, he added.

Kyrylenko said there had been intense fire in several places along the front lines, including Toretsk and Ocheretyn.

Finland and Sweden will submit their NATO application on Wednesday

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, left, poses with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the Adelcrantz Palace on May 17, in Stockholm, Sweden

Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

“Democracy has won,” Niinistö said.

“This whole spring has been a triumph for democracy in Finland” he said, referring to the overwhelming support Finland’s NATO application received in parliament today, and the support among the Finnish people.

“Sweden also looks forward to cooperating together with Turkey within NATO,”  Andersson said.

Her comment addressed Turkish president’s prior statement on Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership over sanctions on Turkey and further accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations.”

“We are looking forward to having a bilateral dialogue with Turkey, and we will of course also have bilateral dialogues with other NATO members during this process. And once we are in NATO, I see an opportunity to evolve our bilateral relationship even further,” Andersson said during the joint news conference.

Finland’s Niinistö said that he also remains “optimistic” on forthcoming discussions with Turkey and that with dialogue the “problem will be solved.”

The Finnish president reacted to Erdogan’s hostility, saying that it was “very surprising,” and that at the beginning of April his support was “very clear.”

“He looked favorable on the Finnish membership application process. Now there are different views,” Niinistö said. 

“We have to discuss further. Our people stand ready to do almost anything to discuss with Turkish officials. We have both requested phone calls with Erdogan, and I remain optimistic,” he continued.

Niinistö also mentioned his upcoming trip alongside the Swedish prime minister to visit US President Joe Biden on Thursday.

“We are on our way to Washington, and there we will have a joint discussion with Biden, and surely many other discussions in the Senate and Congress,” Niinistö said.

Swedish and Finnish leaders will visit White House as they seek to join NATO

US President Joe Biden on Thursday will welcome the prime minister of Sweden and the president of Finland to the White House in a key show of support days after both countries announced they would seek to join NATO.

The leaders are expected to discuss Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications, European security and support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Both countries are looking to join the military alliance after Russia’s assault on Ukraine sparked renewed security concerns across the region. Their historic bids to join NATO represent a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics.

Finland and Sweden will hand in their NATO application Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Stockholm.

The US and other NATO leaders have expressed support for Finland and Sweden joining the military alliance. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the US would “strongly support” their NATO applications.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements to be a NATO member, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treating minority populations fairly; committing to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and committing to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

But the move has been met with resistance by Russia and Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO would not create a threat to Russia, but the “expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will certainly cause our response.”

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that Russia “will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security arising in this regard.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this week that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey and that delegations from the nations should not bother coming to Turkey to try to convince that nation to approve their country’s NATO membership.

ICC prosecutor announces largest field deployment of forensics and investigative team to Ukraine

International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Karim A.A, Khan QC, speaks during an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, on April 27.

The “largest ever single field deployment” of an International Criminal Court forensics and investigative team has been sent to Ukraine, ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said in a statement Tuesday.

“I can confirm that today my Office has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine to advance our investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court … and provide support to Ukrainian national authorities. This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my Office since its establishment,” Khan said.

A “significant number” of Dutch national experts will support this mission, Khan said, adding that “this collaboration will significantly enhance the impact of our forensic and investigative actions on the ground.”

Khan said the team will be able to “collect more testimonial accounts, support the identification of relevant forensic and digital materials and ensure that information and evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings before the ICC.”

“The team deployed by my Office today will also engage with a team of French forensic experts on the ground in Ukraine in order to ensure continuity and continuation of their work with respect to the identification of remains, ballistics analysis and the storage and preservation of forensic evidence,” he said. “We will also be engaging with teams deployed by other States in Ukraine in order to comprehensively map existing activities and strengthen coordination across all actors. It is my intention to ensure that this collaborative work is then continued through the consistent presence of my Office on the ground.”

The ICC formally opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 2.

Khan said that “now more than ever we need to show the law in action,” adding “it is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant to their experience, that the ideals of the Rome Statute can be applied meaningfully in order to bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice.”

In April, Khan visited the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Borodianka, where mass graves and murdered civilians were discovered after Russian troops withdrew from the area around Kyiv. He called the whole country a “crime scene.”

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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. 

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

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.

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. 

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

Netherlands' Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra, left, poses during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in The Hague, Netherlands, on May 17.

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

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.

Finnish parliament votes in favor of NATO application

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.

Ukraine expects prisoner exchange for wounded soldiers from Azovstal

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.

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.

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

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. 

Finnish President "sure" dispute with Turkey over NATO membership will be resolved

Finlands President Sauli Niinisto delivers a statement in the parliament building in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 17.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has said he is “sure” a dispute with Turkey over Finland’s and Sweden’s potential NATO membership will be resolved.

“In recent days, Turkey’s statements have changed and hardened very quickly. I am sure, however, that we will solve the situation through constructive discussions,” Niinisto said in an address to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm Tuesday.

NATO member Turkey has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership over sanctions on Turkey and further accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations.” 

Asked by a Swedish parliamentarian about his views on the matter, Niinisto called the recent dispute “surprising.” He recounted that, in a call with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish President said he had “favorable” views on Finnish NATO membership.

“Now (the problems) have crept up, and that means that we must continue our discussions. I’m optimistic,” Niinisto said.

Lavrov says Finland and Sweden joining NATO "makes no difference"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivers a speech at a Russian society Znanie (Knowledge) event in Moscow, Russia, on May 17.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that NATO has “taken into account the territories of Finland and Sweden in its military plans for eastward expansion” for years, and therefore the two countries’ accession to the alliance “makes no difference.”

“Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have for years participated in NATO’s military exercises. NATO has taken their territories into account in planning its eastward movement,” Lavrov said on Tuesday, state news agency TASS reported. 

“In this context it apparently makes no difference any more (in connection with their admission to NATO),” Lavrov added.

Speaking at an educational conference organized by the Russian Znanie (Knowledge) society in Moscow, Lavrov said Russia doesn’t see why Finland and Sweden should be worried about their security.

“For this reason we see their decision, which Washington and NATO surely lobbied for, as a geopolitical move in the context of Russia’s containment and the implementation of NATO’s plans to spread its activities to the Arctic region,” he said.

“Incidentally, the Finnish President and the Finnish ambassadors everywhere have been saying that they see no threats from Russia. Admission to NATO stems from the changes in the security situation in Europe. But there is no logic here,” he added.

Russia will observe how NATO uses the territories of Finland and Sweden and “make its conclusions,” Lavrov said.

Finland’s government said on Sunday that it intends to join NATO, and on Tuesday Sweden’s foreign minister signed an application declaring the country wants to join the military alliance.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell reiterated on Tuesday that the European Council “strongly supports” the application of both countries to join NATO. 

Any negotiations with Russia are "suspended" because of Moscow's mindset, Ukrainian official says