May 24, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Sophie Tanno, Hannah Strange, Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 12:16 a.m. ET, May 25, 2023
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2:35 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Anti-Putin Russian fighters who claim cross-border Belgorod raid say their operation is ongoing

From CNN’s Sam Kiley, Pierre Bairin and Florence Davey-Attlee

Fighters from the anti-Putin Russian groups that claim they made a cross-border attack into the southwestern Russian region of Belgorod on Monday heralded the raid, adding that their operation is "ongoing."

A member of the Freedom for Russia Legion who goes by the call sign "Caesar" told reporters Wednesday that the "effect of this raid was amazing."

The "whole internet [was] blowing up, boiling," Caesar told CNN while speaking to journalists who met with the fighters in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine. 

Denis Nikitin, the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps, said their operation continues. "Phase one, we consider it a successful phase. It's over now, but the operation is ongoing," he said.

Nikitin also commented on his group’s relationship with the Ukrainian military.

"Everything we do within the state borders of Ukraine, we obviously coordinate with Ukraine military," but "every decision we make behind beyond the border, behind the state border, is our own decision," he said.

"What we do, obviously, we can ask our, let's say, comrades, friends, for their assistance in planning," Nikitin said. "They will say 'yes,' 'no,' 'this is a good idea,' 'this is a bad idea.' So this is a kind of encouragement and help and aid."

The Ukrainian government has distanced itself from the Russian fighters, saying they are operating independently in Russia.

Legion fighter Caesar told journalists that Russian forces were "too stupid and too slow" in their response to the cross-border attack. He claimed his fighters destroyed a Russian mechanized company.

"We bring them heavy casualties," Caesar said. 

The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed in a daily briefing on Tuesday that its forces repelled attackers back into Ukrainian territory using air strikes, artillery fire and military units. 

When asked if Monday’s operation was part of the much-touted Ukrainian counteroffensive, Caesar said, "I think it is kind of, yes." He said the Ukrainian military provides the Freedom for Russia Legion with "small arms, artillery weapons, heavy vehicles, everything."

Asked about the overall goals of their mission, Caesar said: "We want to free our country ... live in, prosper in freedom, and have a capability to self-realization."

2:20 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Norway will support training of Ukrainian personnel on F-16s, defense ministry says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie

Norway will support the training of Ukrainian personnel on US-made F-16 fighter jets, officials said Wednesday.

The Norwegian Defense Ministry said that while the country has not decided whether to donate any of its F-16s to Ukraine, it will consider different ways to contribute to training.

Push for fighter jets: Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden gave his backing for Kyiv’s pilots to be trained to fly the US-made planes. Biden’s comments at a summit with G7 leaders in Japan came days after Britain and the Netherlands said they were building an “international coalition” to help Ukraine procure F-16s as it seeks to improve its defenses against Russian air attacks.

The Biden administration has also signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if there are formal requests, sources familiar with the discussions said. The US would have to approve any third-party transfers because of the jets’ sensitive US technology.

F-16s are single-engine, multi-role jet aircraft, meaning they can be used in air-to-air or ground-attack missions. The jets for Ukraine are expected to be older versions that have been in the fleets of US allies, especially those in Western Europe.

1:22 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Lawyers for accused Russian money launderer lobby for him to be included in potential US-Russia prisoner swap

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Lawyers for an accused Russian money launderer in US custody are lobbying for their client to be included in any potential US-Russia prisoner swap for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, according to new court filing.

The Russian man, Alexander Vinnik, is accused of running a multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange that allegedly did business with drug dealers and identity thieves. He was extradited from France to California last year.

The effort to free Vinnik in a swap for Gershkovich, who was arrested in Russia in March on what US officials say are bogus espionage charges, shows how lawyers for detained Russians and Americans are making a full-court press to get their clients included in any potential exchange involving Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia.

Vinnik, who has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges, should be “allowed to advocate publicly for his inclusion in a prisoner swap,” Vinnik’s lawyers argued in a May 19 court filing in a federal court in San Francisco. The motion asks a judge to reverse an order that forbids Vinnik from discussing his case publicly.

“Numerous” people with knowledge of the US-Russia prisoner swap negotiations have told Vinnik’s lawyers that they should lobby publicly for his inclusion in a prisoner swap “in order to maximize the chances of such an exchange,” Vinnik’s lawyers, Jodi Linker and David Rizk, wrote in the filing.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the filing from Vinnik’s lawyer.

A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion.

Read more here.

12:05 p.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Ukraine’s NATO membership "not on the agenda" during war, alliance's chief says

From CNN’s Alex Hardie

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for a meeting in Brussels, on May 23.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for a meeting in Brussels, on May 23. Virginia Mayo/AP

Ukraine’s bid to become a member of NATO while there is a war with Russia is “not on the agenda,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during an interview at the Brussels Forum event on Wednesday. 

Asked whether the war in Ukraine makes it “easier” for the country to join the alliance, Stoltenberg said:

“Yes and no. I think that everyone realized that to become a member in the midst of war is not on the agenda, and that is not the issue.” 
“The issue is more of what happens when the war ends, in one way or another. And then of course, the war ensures that Ukraine is becoming even closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg continued.

The NATO chief acknowledged that there are some "different views in the alliance" on the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine, but he added that all members are in agreement that Ukraine will become a member.

"We all agree that NATO’s door is open for new members and that it is for NATO allies and Ukraine to decide when they should join, not Moscow," he said.

11:25 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Russia claims Ukraine made unsuccessful drone attack on its Black Sea reconnaissance ship

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Yulia Kasaieva

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine launched an unsuccessful drone attack on one of its Black Sea reconnaissance ships Wednesday.

“This morning, the Ukrainian Armed Forces unsuccessfully tried to attack with three unmanned boats the Black Sea Fleet's 'Ivan Khurs' ship, which performs the tasks of ensuring the safety of the 'Turkish Stream' and 'Blue Stream' gas pipelines in the economic zone of Turkey,” Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a briefing on Wednesday. 

“All the enemy's boats were destroyed by fire from the Russian ship's regular weapons 140 kilometers (about 87 miles) northeast of the Bosporus,” he added.

The Russian ministry said the reconnaissance ship had returned to its normal tasks Wednesday.

11:18 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Here's why a CNN anchor called Putin's comments about a 17th-century map "absurdity"

In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court, rolled out a French map from the 17th century that reportedly didn't have Ukraine on it.

In the video released by the Kremlin, Putin says to Zorkin, "Soviet rule created Soviet Ukraine."

"No Ukraine existed in the history of humankind until then," Putin added.

Kyiv itself is more than 1,500 years old, home to such historical sites as St. Sophia Cathedral, St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery and Monastery of the Caves, which all date back to the 11th century. Ukraine is clearly noted on various maps from the 17th century as well.

CNN's Erin Burnett called Putin's comments "absurdity."

Watch more here:

10:53 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Kremlin comments on US military vehicles allegedly used in Belgorod cross-border raid

From CNN’s Anna Chernova, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Allegra Goodwin, Zahid Mahmood and Oren Liebermann

The Kremlin said it is “no secret” that increasing amounts of Western military equipment is being used by the Ukrainian armed forces, following reports that US-made military vehicles were utilized in Monday’s cross-border attack by anti-Putin Russian nationals. 

“It is not a secret for us that the direct and indirect involvement of these Western countries in this conflict is growing every day,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday. 

“It is no secret for us that more and more equipment is coming into service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, of the Kyiv regime. It is also no secret that this technique is used against our military,” Peskov said. “We draw the appropriate conclusions.”

His comments follow reports circulating on social media that a number of vehicles used by the Russian groups who oppose President Vladimir Putin for their cross-border raid into the Belgorod region were US-made.

CNN has identified at least three different US-made MaxxPro MRAP vehicles in videos purportedly from the incursion by geolocating and analyzing markings on the vehicles, as well as comparing them to official images of the vehicles. CNN cannot verify the exact date of the videos but has confirmed they were published after the incursion. 

Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary, said on Tuesday, “We've seen those reports, something that we obviously continue to monitor very closely.”

“I will say that we can confirm that the US government has not approved any third-party transfers of equipment to paramilitary organizations outside the Ukrainian Armed Forces, nor has the Ukrainian government requested any such transfers. So again, it's something we'll keep a close eye on,” Ryder said. 

Kyiv has repeatedly denied that the Russian fighters who crossed the border on Monday were under Ukraine’s direction. 

9:43 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023

Russia will respond "extremely harshly" to future incursions, defense minister says

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday called the cross-border raid in Belgorod a “terrorist act” and warned that Russia will respond "promptly and extremely harshly" to any further attempts. 

Shoigu also claimed that more than 70 saboteurs were killed, as well as automotive and armored vehicles.

CNN could not independently verify Shoigu's claim.

“During the counter-terrorist operation, the national formations were blocked and defeated,” Shoigu said during a televised meeting. 

“We will continue to respond promptly and extremely harshly to such actions by Ukrainian militants,” he said.

Some context: A group of anti-Putin Russian nationals, who are aligned with the Ukrainian army, claimed responsibility for an attack in Russia’s southwestern region of Belgorod, which borders north-eastern Ukraine.

The Ukraine-based Freedom for Russia Legion has said its goal is the "complete liberation of Russia" after claiming a surprise attack in Belgorod.

CNN's Rob Picheta and Nathan Hodge contributed to this post.

9:06 a.m. ET, May 24, 2023

2022 migration from Russia to Finland higher than after Soviet Union collapse: Finnish statistics authority

From CNN’s James Frater

A customs official is seen in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with Russia, in September 2022.
A customs official is seen in Vaalimaa, Finland, on the border with Russia, in September 2022. Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP/Getty Images

In the latest migration figures released Wednesday, 6,003 people emigrated from Russia to Finland in 2022, which is the highest number in more than 30 years, according to Finland's national statistical institute.

Statistics Finland said 1,958 people immigrated to Finland from the Soviet Union in 1990 and 5,515 people did so in 1991.

“In the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1992-1995, there were approximately 1,700-2,600 emigrations from Russia per year,” according to the institution. And until 2021, “emigration from Russia has remained below 3,100” a year.

According to Statistics Finland, “there were a record 49,998 immigrations to Finland in 2022” total, compared to previous years, where there have been between 29,000 and 36,000 per year. The figures do not include Ukrainians staying in Finland under temporary protection and people seeking asylum.