May 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Brad Lendon, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Hafsa Khalil and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 12:12 a.m. ET, May 27, 2022
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8:20 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Germany working "flat out" to end reliance on Russian gas, says German Chancellor

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Swon May 26.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Swon May 26. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany is working "flat out" to end its reliance on Russian gas imports, the country's Chancellor said Thursday, adding there was "no doubt" that both Berlin and the European Union would end their dependence on energy imports from Moscow.

Russian oil could be completely phased out by the end of the year, Olaf Scholz added during his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said Germany was looking towards liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and alternative sources of supply.

The EU is following the "same path," Scholz said. However, Ukraine is asking for maximum sanctions against Moscow, including an immediate ban on Russian oil and trade. 

This restructuring will have an impact on EU economies, which is already being felt by a rise in energy prices, he warned.

Some background: Germany was one of Russia's largest importers of oil last year.

Before the Ukraine crisis, an $11 billion undersea pipeline -- Nord Stream 2 -- was being built to deliver gas from Russia to Germany.

In February, when Russia invaded, Germany halted its approval of the pipeline, leaving the 1,230-kilometer (764-mile) pipeline empty since its completion in September 2021.

7:49 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Amid international criticism, Moscow blames West for causing grain export issues

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Nathan Hodge

Ukrainian farm worker Misha stands near a tractor destroyed by a Russian tank shell on May 14 in Cherkska Lozova, Ukraine.
Ukrainian farm worker Misha stands near a tractor destroyed by a Russian tank shell on May 14 in Cherkska Lozova, Ukraine. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Russia says that "illegal actions" by the West are causing problems with grain supplies in Europe, after the Kremlin was accused of obstructing grain exports from Ukraine.

"We absolutely reject these accusations," presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists Thursday. "On the contrary, we blame countries of the West for taking a number of illegal actions that have led to this 'blockade.'"

Asked whether this meant Western sanctions need to be lifted in order for grain supplies to resume, Peskov said: "They must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the charter of ships, the export of grain, etc."

Earlier this week, the head of the UN World Food Programme called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen blocked ports in Ukraine to prevent a global food crisis.

And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has accused Putin of "weaponizing" food supplies in his invasion of Ukraine by confiscating grain supplies and machinery, as well as blocking exports from ports in the Black Sea.

Prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade. 

7:11 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

It's 2 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

Russian attacks on the key city of Severodonetsk continue Thursday, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that the war in Ukraine puts at risk the "system of international cooperation that was forged after two world wars."

Here's the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine:

  • Massive Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine: On Wednesday alone Russian troops fired on 41 settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, said Ukraine's Joint Forces Task Force in a statement Thursday. "As a result of enemy shelling, 6 people were killed and 12 were injured," said the statement.
  • Battle for Severodonetsk: Russian shelling of residential neighborhoods in the industrial city, which is key to controlling Luhansk, hasn't stopped for more than a week, Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk military administration, said in a radio interview Thursday. Russian forces have also been shelling a bridge between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, added Striuk.
  • Russian attacks in Donetsk: Meanwhile, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Russian forces are "conducting an intense offensive" on the key town of Lyman in the neighboring Donetsk region. Lyman is an important rail hub, and if the Russians are able to consolidate control there, the nearby city of Sloviansk becomes more vulnerable to attack by artillery — and Ukrainian troops to the southeast of the town become more at risk of encirclement.
  • Zelensky criticizes Kissinger: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky has made a blistering attack on Henry Kissinger, after the former US Secretary of State appeared to suggest that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia in peace negotiations. Zelensky compared Kissinger's views to appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938.
  • Scholz fires warning at Davos: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that Europe and the international community are at a critical point, and said the world has changed since the Ukraine war began. "The world is at a turning point," said Scholz during a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that not only is Ukraine at risk but also the "system of international cooperation that was forged after two world wars."
  • Russia cuts interest rates: A resurgent ruble — buoyed by robust oil and gas revenues — has taken some of the heat out of inflation and allowed Russia's Central Bank to cut interest rates. On Thursday, the bank announced that rates will fall from 14% to 11%, after inflation slowed to 17.5% in May compared to 17.8% in April. It is now forecasting that annual inflation will decrease to 5–7% in 2023 and return to 4% in 2024.
  • Portugal approves Chelsea sale: The Portuguese government has authorized the sale of Chelsea FC, the London football team owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman and Kremlin ally. An ownership group led by Todd Boehly looks set to take control of the club after the UK government and the English Premier League also approved the deal this week.
  • Food crisis: Russia is trying to "blackmail" the international community with an offer to unblock Ukrainian sea ports if sanctions against it are lessened, Ukraine's foreign minister said. He warned that if Moscow does not lift its blockage of Ukrainian exports of crops, the entire agricultural cycle will be interrupted and could spur a "multi-year food crisis."
6:39 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Russian forces target more than 40 towns in the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian military says

From CNN's Olga Voitovych

A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on May 25.
A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, on May 25. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian troops attacked more than 40 towns in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions Wednesday, according to Ukraine's Joint Forces Task Force, indicating the scale of a major Russian offensive in the Donbas region.

"During the day, on May 25, Russian troops fired on 41 settlements in Donetsk and Luhansk regions," the statement on Facebook Thursday read. "As a result of enemy shelling, 6 people were killed and 12 were injured."

According to the statement, Russian fire destroyed or damaged 52 high-rise and private residential buildings and other civilian facilities, as well as railway lines and agricultural buildings. 

Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian rescuers had evacuated about 760 people from areas of active combat, the statement added.

5:57 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk under Russian assault, say Ukrainian officials

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Maria Kostenko

Pro-Russian troops fire a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 in the direction of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, on May 24.
Pro-Russian troops fire a self-propelled howitzer 2S1 in the direction of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine, on May 24. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The Ukrainian cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk are under Russian assault amid an offensive in the eastern Luhansk region, the Office of the President of Ukraine said in an update Thursday. 

Severodonetsk -- an industrial city situated across the Siverskyi Donets river from Lysychansk -- has been under heavy shelling, and the statement said the Impulse Research and Production Association and 11 high-rise buildings in the city had been destroyed.

Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk military administration, said in a radio interview Thursday that the connection between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk had been "complicated" because of Russian shelling of a bridge between the two cities.

The enemy hasn't stopped shelling residential neighborhoods for the past one-and-a-half weeks, Striuk said.

"12,000 -- 13,000 people remain in the city. People are hiding in shelters and basements. The city is under constant fire."

Striuk added that communication was limited and that 90% of Severodonetsk's housing stock had been damaged or destroyed.

The fall of Severodonetsk -- the last major city in the Luhansk region under Ukrainian government control -- would be a major setback for Kyiv.

"The situation is difficult, especially in the Donetsk operational district," said Fedir Venislavskyi, a Ukrainian lawmaker and member of the parliamentary Committee for National Security, Defense and Intelligence. 

"The hottest spots are Severodonetsk and Lysychansk," he said, adding that Russian soldiers were trying to encircle Ukrainian troops before next targeting the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar.

"The enemy partially controls Lyman and is going to the outskirts of Severodonetsk. The situation in this operational area will be very difficult in the coming days," Venislavskyi said.

7:15 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

"The world is at a turning point": German Chancellor addresses impact of war in Ukraine

 From CNN's Lindsay Isaac in Davos

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that Europe and the international community are at a critical point, and said the world has changed since the Ukraine war began.

"The world is at a turning point," said Scholz during a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that, not only is Ukraine at risk, but also the "system of international cooperation that was forged after two world wars."

The war was a "thunderbolt," but the prospect of Russia "capturing Ukraine seems less likely than it did at the beginning" of the invasion, said Scholz, citing the fierce resistance by Ukrainian troops and help from the international community.

Moscow has failed in its military objectives so far, but succeeded in uniting the international community and fast forwarding Ukraine’s plan to join the European Union, he added.

"We cannot let Putin win this war, and I firmly believe he will not win it," said Scholz.

He added that Germany will equip its army so it's ready at "all times" to defend itself "under the new conditions" dictated by Russia.

Germany is in the process of changing its constitution to make this happen, hoping to make more than $105 million available to modernize its armed forces, he added.

"It is the security of our country that is at stake," he said. "We are sending an unequivocal message to our allies that you can rely on Germany."

5:34 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Russian Central Bank cuts interest rates from 14% to 11%, citing lower inflation

From CNN's Robert North, Uliana Pavlova and Nathan Hodge

A Russian national flag above the headquarters of Bank Rossii, Russia's central bank, in Moscow, Russia, on February 28.
A Russian national flag above the headquarters of Bank Rossii, Russia's central bank, in Moscow, Russia, on February 28. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Russia slashed interest rates on Thursday as a resurgent ruble — buoyed by robust oil and gas revenues — takes some of the heat out of inflation.

The Russian Central Bank cut interest rates from 14% to 11%, after inflation slowed to 17.5% in May compared to 17.8% in April, said the bank, which is now forecasting that annual inflation will decrease to 5–7% in 2023 and return to 4% in 2024.

The bank raised interest rates to 20% as the Russian economy was hit by Western sanctions, but the latest move means they are now almost the same as before the invasion of Ukraine, when they stood at 9.5%.

"External conditions for the Russian economy are still challenging, considerably constraining economic activity," said the bank. "Financial stability risks decreased somewhat, enabling a relaxation of some capital control measures."

Reacting to the decision, William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said that additional rate cuts and easing of capital controls seem likely.

"The key point is that high oil and gas revenues are providing policymakers with a lifeline, allowing them to row back emergency economic measures," said Jackson.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the economy was "withstanding the impact of sanctions" despite a gloomy outlook.

"Despite all the difficulties, the Russian economy is withstanding the impact of the sanctions, and withstanding it quite well," Putin said in a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

"Yes, it's not easy. Everything that happens requires special attention from the economic bloc of the government. On the whole, these efforts are having a positive effect," said Putin.

Some background: In late April, Russia's Central Bank said the Russian economy was expected to shrink by 8-10% in 2022, noting a decline in economic activity in March after the imposition of international sanctions on Russia.

Earlier the same month, the World Bank predicted that Russian GDP would shrink by 11.2% in 2022. 

Western sanctions imposed following Russia's invasion of Ukraine are making life difficult for the Kremlin, but they are also affecting the global economy.

"Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has compounded the Covid-19 pandemic – a crisis upon a crisis – devastating lives, dragging down growth and pushing up inflation," according to a blog from the International Monetary Fund published Monday.

5:13 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

UN officials to visit Moscow to discuss Ukraine and fertilizer exports

From CNN's Alex Stambaugh

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, center, pictured during a visit to Bucha, Ukraine, on April 7, after he had previously visited Moscow.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, center, pictured during a visit to Bucha, Ukraine, on April 7, after he had previously visited Moscow. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations' under secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs plans to visit Moscow in early June to discuss the situation in Ukraine, a spokesman for the Russian mission to the UN said Wednesday, according to Russian state-run news agency TASS. 

Martin Griffiths plans to visit Moscow to "continue dialogue he began during his previous visit to Moscow," and "to discuss the entire spectrum of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine," spokesman Fyodor Strzhizhovsky said.

Griffiths' previous visit to Moscow last month was an attempt to facilitate a "humanitarian ceasefire," having been charged with meeting both parties in the conflict by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Strzhizhovsky added that the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Rebeca Grynspan will visit Moscow to discuss the export of Russian fertilizers.

In recent months, the price of fertilizer -- an essential for farmers to hit their production targets for crops -- has risen due to issues with exports from Russia. Output from Europe has also declined due to the surging price of natural gas, a key ingredient in nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Norway's Yara -- one of the world's largest fertilizer makers -- has reduced export due to the surge in natural gas prices, cutting down the amount of ammonia and urea output from their plants in Italy and France.

According to TASS, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Wednesday that the resolution of the food problem "requires a comprehensive approach," calling for the lifting of sanctions on Russian exports and financial transactions.

4:45 a.m. ET, May 26, 2022

Portuguese government authorizes Abramovich sale of Chelsea FC

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London

Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao Porto, Portugal, on May 29.
Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao Porto, Portugal, on May 29. (Alexander Hassenstein/UEFA/Getty Images)

The Portuguese government has authorized the sale of Chelsea FC, the London football team owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman and Kremlin ally.

Abramovich is subject to sanctions by the UK government and has seen his assets frozen.

He put the club up for sale in early March following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying at the time that it was "in the best interest of the club."

Abramovich has Portuguese citizenship and, due to sanctions, the government in Lisbon was required to approve the sale.

"Portuguese authorization is a result of the guarantee given by British authorities that proceeds from the sale will be used for humanitarian ends, without benefiting directly or indirectly the club owner, which is on the European Union sanctions list," the government said in a statement Wednesday evening.

"The national position has the assent of the European Union," the Portuguese executive added.

The UK government has already permitted the sale, which will end Abramovich's almost two decades as owner of the club. 

And on Tuesday the English Premier League announced that its board had approved the sale of the club.

The deal, worth more than $5 billion, will see an ownership group led by Todd Boehly take control.

Boehly has invested in a portfolio of sporting franchises, including stakes in the MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers, the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.