May 20, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Heather Chen, Andrew Raine, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 10:53 AM ET, Sun May 21, 2023
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6:36 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Russian forces receive "backup" after explosions in Russian-occupied Mariupol, adviser says  

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv and Duarte Mendonca in London

Russian troops in occupied Mariupol, a city in Ukraine's southeast, are receiving “backup” to strengthen their defense and help relocate military equipment after explosions at a Russian base on Friday,  according to an adviser to the elected mayor of Mariupol.

“Starting 8am there’s active relocation of helicopters from Berdiansk direction towards Mariupol along the coastline,” Petro Andriushchenko said Saturday. 

According to footage posted on social media and residents' accounts, there had been at least two explosions in the Russian-occupied city Friday evening. On the day, Andriushchenko said on Telegram that the base attacked housed around 150 troops and was primarily used for air defense support.

According to Andriushchenko, Russia activated their air defense system on Saturday morning and launched multiple rockets and the Shaheds (Iranian-made attack drones] from Yeisk and Primorsko-Akhtarsk over the coastline villages towards Zaporizhzhia.

This week marks one year since the strategic port city of Mariupol fell to Russian control.

7:02 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

G7 leaders to support Ukraine "for as long as it takes"

From CNN's Sandi Sidhu and Simone McCarthy in Hong Kong

World leaders are seein Hiroshima on Saturday.
World leaders are seein Hiroshima on Saturday. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The G7 leaders have agreed to "support Ukraine for as long as it takes in the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression," according to a joint statement Saturday.

"We commit to intensifying our diplomatic, financial, humanitarian, and military support for Ukraine, to increasing the costs to Russia and those supporting its war efforts," the group said, while affirming "unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace."

The leaders also called on China to press Russia to "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine," and stop its military aggression.

"We encourage China to support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on territorial integrity and the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, including through its direct dialogue with Ukraine," the communiqué said.

Some context: China has sought to portray itself as a peacemaker in the conflict, but is yet to call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory.

While Western leaders have hoped Chinese leader Xi Jinping might use his close rapport with Putin to end the war, analysts say that outcome is unlikely at this stage, given Beijing’s interests in maintaining its relationship with Russia.

5:52 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Zelensky meets with Italian and UK prime ministers

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu in Paris and Jake Kwon in Hong Kong 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky started his appointments at the Hiroshima G7 summit Saturday with a bilateral meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

His diplomatic sprint continued with a one-on-one meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Zelensky remained in the room following his conversation with Meloni, with Sunak entering later and greeting Ukraine's premier with a hug.

4:42 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

G7 leaders unveil plan to counter security risks

 From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris

World leaders are seen at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima on Saturday.
World leaders are seen at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima on Saturday. Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders of the G7 nations have decided a plan to counter risks such as Russia’s “weaponization of energy," according to a joint statement Saturday. 

G7 members are meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a surprise attendee.

“We will work together to ensure that attempts to weaponize economic dependencies by forcing G7 members and our partners, including small economies, to comply and conform will fail and face the consequences,” the statement said. 

“Drawing lessons from recent incidents of weaponizing energy and other economic dependencies, we stand firmly against such behavior,” it added. 

What this all means: Russia has long been accused of "weaponizing" energy, manipulating prices and supply as a means to gain political leverage.

Europe in particular has sought to wean itself off Russian energy since the Ukraine war began.

2:58 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Zelensky tweets about "important meetings with partners" after arrival in Japan

From Sandi Sidhu

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tweeted about "important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine" following his arrival in Japan, where he is expected to join world leaders attending the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

"Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today," Zelensky tweeted.
3:18 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

Zelensky lands in Japan

From CNN staff

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in Hiroshima for the G7 Summit on Saturday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in Hiroshima for the G7 Summit on Saturday. Yuichi Yamazaki/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has landed in Japan, where he is to meet world leaders at the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

2:44 a.m. ET, May 20, 2023

French government plane lands in Hiroshima

From Xiaofei Xu in Paris and Jake Kwon in Hong Kong

A French government plane carrying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives at Hiroshima airport for his attendance to the G7 leaders' summit on Saturday.
A French government plane carrying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives at Hiroshima airport for his attendance to the G7 leaders' summit on Saturday. Androniki Christodoulou/Reuters

A French government plane has landed in Hiroshima, as seen on a live feed from Japan's Public Broadcaster NHK.

Earlier Saturday, a diplomatic source told CNN that Zelensky would arrive at the Hiroshima G7 summit on a French government plane.

11:57 p.m. ET, May 19, 2023

New sanctions, secret shipments and other headlines you should know

From CNN staff

Russia is banning "500 Americans" from entering the country.

The move is in response to the "regularly anti-Russian sanctions" imposed by the US administration, according to a statement from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.

The rambling, indiscriminate list of names includes former President Barack Obama, former US Ambassador John Huntsman, several US senators and the next expected chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Charles Q. Brown Jr. Also included is CNN anchor Erin Burnett.

Hours earlier, at the Group of Seven summit, the Biden administration unveiled new sanctions targeting Moscow for its war in Ukraine.

Here are other headlines to know:

Zelensky heads to Japan: President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel in person to Japan for the G7 summit, according to officials familiar with the planning, a stark display of confidence and Western solidarity as Ukraine’s wartime leader tries to keep crucial support from allied nations flowing. The surprise trip – which would be the Ukrainian president’s first to Asia since Moscow’s invasion of his country last February – comes as Kyiv is preparing a highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russia and building pressure on partner governments for more military aid amid intensifying aerial attacks.

Arab League meeting: Zelensky told Arab leaders Friday in Saudi Arabia that “here among you” are people who “turn a blind eye” to Ukraine’s suffering, urging them to “take an honest look.” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended the Arab League summit for the first time in a decade and was seen on camera in the conference room minutes ahead of Zelensky’s speech. Syria was only one of only two countries in the world (along with North Korea) to recognize Russia’s claimed annexations last year of four Ukrainian regions.

On the ground: There were at least two explosions Friday night in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, according to social media video and the accounts of residents on community channels. An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine claims the explosions took place at a base for Moscow's forces. CNN cannot independently verify the officials' claims, and the local Russian-installed administration has not yet commented on the explosions or what caused them

Meanwhile, the pace of Ukrainian counterattacks around Bakhmut slowed down Friday, but "very fierce fighting continues" in the eastern city, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. Ukrainian forces have claimed advancements in several areas in recent days, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops. But Maliar acknowledged that Russian forces had made advances within the city limits.

US diplomatic appointment: US President Joe Biden formally nominated James O'Brien to serve as the top State Department official for European affairs — a key role for guiding Washington's response to Russia's war in Ukraine.

CNN's Kylie Atwood first reported that O'Brien was expected to be tapped for the role. He currently serves as the head of the sanctions coordination office at the State Department.

Secret shipments: The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group has been working to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by trying to source the materials from Mali, where the group has a strong foothold, a US official told CNN. There are no signs yet that Wagner has successfully procured the equipment, but the group has continued working to procure mines, drones, radar and counter-battery systems from contacts in Mali for use in Ukraine, the official said.

US assistance for pilots: President Joe Biden on Friday told G7 leaders the United States will support an effort to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced aircraft, including F-16s, a senior administration official tells CNN. The joint training effort is not expected to happen in the US, the official said, and will likely happen entirely in Europe. But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners, the official said. It is expected to take several months to complete.

NATO developments: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN he is still not prepared to support Sweden's NATO membership, repeating his claim that Stockholm has allowed terrorist organizations to harbor in the country. “As long as Sweden continues to allow the offshoots of terror groups in Turkey to roam free in Sweden, in the streets of Stockholm, we cannot look favorably on Sweden’s membership in NATO,” Erdogan said.

11:57 p.m. ET, May 19, 2023

Zelensky to arrive in Hiroshima on a French government plane, diplomatic source says

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will arrive at the Hiroshima G7 summit aboard a French government plane, a diplomatic source confirmed to CNN Saturday.

The source declined to comment on when Zelensky would arrive in Hiroshima. 

Zelensky traveled to the Arab League summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday also aboard a French government plane, according to the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia.