May 19, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Helen Regan, Jack Guy, Matias Grez, Adrienne Vogt, Veronica Rocha, Aditi Sangal and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, May 20, 2022
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11:32 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

"Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance," prime minister says

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks at the White House on May 19.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks at the White House on May 19. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Russia's "full-scale aggression" against Ukraine led to the "watershed moment" for Sweden to decide to apply for a NATO membership, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Thursday at the Rose Garden.

"My government has come to the conclusion that the security of the Swedish people will be best protected within the NATO alliance, and this is backed by very broad support in the Swedish parliament," she said as she stood with US President Joe Biden and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

She emphasized that NATO will also be stronger with Sweden and Finland as members.

"We are security providers with sophisticated defense capabilities. And we are champions of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We have a long tradition of extensive military cooperation with NATO, including all missions. And we are right now ramping up our defense spending and we will reach 2% of GDP as soon as practically possible," she added.

Andersson called US support for Sweden's NATO membership of "fundamental importance," but said she's looking forward to a dialogue with Turkey to address its concerns.

Sweden looks forward to "a swift ratification process," she added, saying it is "prepared to shoulder its responsibility as an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."

11:35 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Finnish president vows to be "strong NATO ally" and condemns terrorism after Turkey outlines concerns

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö speaks in the Rose Garden on May 19, in Washington, DC.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö speaks in the Rose Garden on May 19, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

In remarks at the White House, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said that "Finland will become a strong NATO ally" after meeting with US President Joe Biden along with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

He said he hoped there would be "swift ratification" of Finland's NATO application.

Niinistö also addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he will refuse both Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO.

"Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey. As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms, and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner. These discussions have already taken place, and they will continue in the next days," he said.

Earlier this week, Erdogan accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations." He was mainly referencing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which seeks an independent state in Turkey. The group has been in an armed struggle with Ankara for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The legislatures of all 30 current NATO members must approve new applicants.

Niinistö also spoke about how Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted his country to seek NATO membership.

"[On] 24th February, I said that that the masks have fallen and we see only the cold faces of war. Russia's war in Ukraine has changed Europe and our security environment. Finland takes the step of NATO membership in order to strengthen not only its own security, but also in order to strengthen wider transatlantic security. This is not away from anybody. Like you, Mr. President [Biden] said, NATO is protective, defensive, not a threat to anybody," he said.

Finland shares an 800-mile-long border with Russia.

11:27 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Biden says his administration is submitting reports to Congress on NATO accession for Sweden and Finland

US President Joe Biden speaks alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on May 19, in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden speaks alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on May 19, in Washington, DC. (Evelyn Hockstein /Reuters)

After US President Joe Biden announced the United States' full support for Sweden and Finland's applications for NATO membership, he said his administration will submit reports to the US Congress on this NATO accession for both countries.

"Today, my administration is submitting to the United States Congress reports on NATO accession for both countries so the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty," he said Thursday at the Rose Garden.

He urged Senate leadership to move this approval "as quickly as possible, once perspective of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocol."

Remember: Within the US, at least two-third of the Senate must vote to approve new member states in the defensive alliance. Similarly, the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new NATO applicants.

11:24 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Biden offers "strong support" for Finland and Sweden's NATO bids after meeting with leaders at White House

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 19.
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 19. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

US President Joe Biden expressed support for the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland, calling it "a momentous day" after meeting with the countries' leaders at the White House.

"Today I am proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies and two close, highly capable partners, to join the strongest, most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world. Two proud independent countries exercising their sovereign rights all states possess to decide their own security," Biden said in the Rose Garden, flanked by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

"Today, there is no question: NATO is relevant, it is effective, and it is more needed now than ever," Biden said.

"Sweden and Finland are already among our closest partners on a range of issues," he said.

"Finnish and Swedish troops, they have already served shoulder to shoulder with US and NATO forces in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And both Finland and Sweden are already working in coordination with the United States and our other allies and partners to support the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom against Russia's invasion," Biden added.

Biden said the countries already meet all of NATO requirements, "and then some."

11:53 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

NOW: Biden delivers remarks with Swedish and Finnish leaders

US President Joe Biden, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö are delivering remarks in the Rose Garden after they met in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Thursday.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday that the meeting will allow the three nations "to coordinate on the path forward" and "compare notes" on their NATO membership applications.

Sweden and Finland's bids to join NATO come in response to Russia's war on Ukraine, which sparked security concerns across the region. Their bids to join the alliance mark a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics.

11:27 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

NATO addressing Turkey's concerns over Sweden and Finland's NATO bid, Stoltenberg says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

NATO is addressing Turkey's "concerns" over Sweden and Finland's NATO bid, the alliance's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

It comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey “will say no to Sweden’s and Finland’s entry into NATO,” reiterating the same stance he took last week. Earlier this week Erdogan accused both countries of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations."

"We are in close contact with Finland and Sweden and Turkey and also with other allies," Stoltenberg said speaking alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Copenhagen.

"Of course, we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed" to find "an agreement on how to move forward," Stoltenberg said.

10:22 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Cybersecurity firm says pro-Russia online operatives falsely claimed Zelensky committed suicide

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Pro-Russia online operatives falsely claimed weeks into Moscow’s war against Ukraine that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had committed suicide, as part of an aggressive effort to dent public morale and undermine the Ukrainian government, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant said Thursday.

The false Zelensky suicide claim is just one of several information operations tracked by Mandiant from suspected Russian and Belarusian actors that were aimed at deceiving audiences in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere in Europe – or at least muddling the truth about the brutal war.

The influence campaigns, analysts say, underscore how the Kremlin is committed as ever to information warfare and efforts to shape perceptions of the conflict even as its soldiers suffer heavy losses on the battlefield.

In another case, Belarus-linked operatives falsely asserted that a Polish crime ring was harvesting the organs of Ukrainian refugees, with the complicity of Polish officials.

“The proliferation of Russia-aligned information operations, in both scale and tempo, suggests the importance that Russia places on shaping the information environment,” Alden Wahlstrom, a senior analyst at Mandiant, told CNN. “We’ve observed known actors leverage longstanding campaign assets and infrastructure to target Ukraine during the invasion, using capabilities they’ve invested in developing over time.”

Mandiant did not directly point the finger at the Russian government for the fake Zelenksy suicide narrative but described the activity as a “suspected Russian influence campaign.” For decades and dating back to Soviet times, disinformation and other so-called “active measures” have been a key part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, according to scholars.

CNN has requested comment from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on the Mandiant research.

Read the full story here:

10:07 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

Ukrainian court grants permission for arrest of former President Yanukovych for fleeing to Russia in 2014

From CNN's Katharina Krebs and Radina Gigova in London

The Pechersk District Court of Kyiv has granted permission for the arrest of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a statement published by the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office on Telegram on Thursday.

The court chose a measure of restraint in the form of detention of the former president, who is suspected of organizing illegal smuggling of people across the state border of Ukraine, according to the statement.

"On February 23rd in 2014, Yanukovych together with the State Security personnel and representatives from the Russian Federation, with the help of three helicopters of the Russian Armed Forces illegally crossed and transported at least 20 people across the state border on the outskirts of Urzuf in Donetsk region to Anapa in Russia," the statement read. 

It is not clear where Yanukovych currently resides. The prosecutor's office said Thursday he had fled to the Russian city of Anapa. In March, Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform quoted media reports that claimed Yanukovych was in Minsk, Belarus. 

Yanukovych served as president of Ukraine from 2010 until 2014, when he was removed from office during the Maidan protests. The protests erupted after Yanukovych rejected the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement, which would bring Ukraine closer to the European Union and further away from Russia. 

9:56 a.m. ET, May 19, 2022

UK prime minister and Ukrainian president discuss military support and food security 

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Benjamin Brown in London 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he takes questions at the House of Commons, in London, England, on May 18.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he takes questions at the House of Commons, in London, England, on May 18. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke Thursday, discussing military support and global food security, a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement. 

“The leaders discussed progress in negotiations and agreed to step up work with allies, including the US, France and Germany, to define the longer-term security architecture for Ukraine,” the spokesperson said. 

In the call with Zelensky, Johnson raised concerns “about the growing global fallout from Russia’s illegal invasion and President Putin’s craven and reckless blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, including rising food prices in developing countries,” according to the statement. 

Earlier Thursday, the World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said that a "failure to open the ports will be a declaration of war on global food security," bringing millions of people to the brink of starvation.

Johnson “set out the support flowing to Ukraine’s defence, including long-range artillery, shore-to-ship missiles and unmanned drones,” following the UK’s decision to provide an additional 1.3 billion euros in military support to Ukraine earlier this month.