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May 31, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

'It's a catastrophe': Russians strike Lysychansk with maximum intensity
03:20

What we covered

  • As the battle for the east of Ukraine intensifies, Russian forces are “focused on establishing control over the city of Severodonetsk,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
  • A regional military administration official said Russian troops have now taken control of most of Severodonetsk but dismissed suggestions that Ukrainian troops in the area will be surrounded. 
  • US President Joe Biden said the United States is providing Ukraine “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” as its war with Russia grinds on. Biden has previously said he won’t send rockets to Ukraine that could reach Russia.
  • European Union leaders agreed on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports as part of a new sanctions package against Moscow. Pipeline imports will be exempt from the sanctions
  • Having connection issues? Bookmark CNN’s lite site for fast connectivity.
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Ukraine is losing up to 100 soldiers every day, Zelensky says

Ukrainian soldiers carry the coffins of the fallen during the funeral in Lviv, Ukraine on May 26.

Ukraine is losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Newsmax in an interview that aired on Tuesday.

The President also told Newsmax that shipments of grain are being blocked by Russia in the Black Sea.

“Currently, 22.5 millions tons of grain are blocked by Russia,” Zelensky said. “In order to de-block this territory with an exit to the sea, with an exit to water, with an exit to our people, we need to fight and we need to have weapons with effective range as far as 120-140 kilometers.”

Some context: Earlier on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced a new package of rocket systems to be sent to Ukraine. Senior administration officials said the rocket systems would have the capability to launch rockets as far as 80 kilometers, far less than the long range weaponry Zelensky has asked for, but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date.

In the interview with Newsmax, Zelensky was adamant the rockets would be used in Ukraine – not on Russian soil.

“I know some of the people in the United States are saying, or people in the White House are saying, we might be using them to attack Russia: Look, we’re not planning to attack Russia. We’re not interested in the Russian Federation. We’re not fighting on their territory,” Zelensky said.
“We have the war on our territory. They came to our country. We want to de-block our cities. For that purpose, we need ammo that can reach as far as 100 kilometers.”

New US rocket systems will enable Ukraine to hit targets 50 miles away -- its greatest range yet, US administration officials say

Ato fire a High Mobility Artillery Rockeduring m during a live-fire training mission in Florida on May 10.

Senior US administration officials confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the United States will be sending Ukraine US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, as part of the country’s 11th package of security assistance to Ukraine. 

The officials said the HIMARS will be equipped with munitions that will allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles).

Some context: That is far less than the maximum range of the systems, which is around 300 kilometers (186 miles), but far greater than anything Ukraine has been sent to date. The M777 Howitzers the US sent to Ukraine last month, for example, marked a significant increase in range and power over previous systems, but even those top out at around 25 kilometers (18 miles) in range.

Further weapons: The new security assistance package, to be announced officially on Wednesday, will also include air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank weapons, anti-armor weapons, artillery rounds, helicopters, tactical vehicles, and spare parts to help the Ukrainians continue maintenance of the equipment, the officials said.

CNN previously reported that US officials were debating for weeks whether to send Ukraine the advanced rocket systems, because they can strike so much further than any weapons they already have. The weapons’ long range, technically capable of striking into Russian territory, raised concerns that Russia might view the shipments as provocative. 

The officials said on Tuesday that the US is “not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” and is “not seeking to prolong the war.”

They also said they had received assurances from Ukraine that they would not use the systems to launch attacks inside Russia. But they emphasized that as the conflict evolves, the US will “continue to tailor” its assistance to Ukraine’s most urgent needs. 

The officials also said the new rocket systems will help put Ukraine “in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table” with Russia, and reiterated that the US will “not pressure the Ukrainian government in public or in private to make any territorial concessions.” 

Biden announces new rockets and munitions to Ukraine in op-ed

US President Joe Biden said the United States is providing Ukraine “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” as its war with Russia grinds on.

Writing in a New York Times op-ed, Biden said the US goal in Ukraine is “to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.”

He said the new shipment of arms would “enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

Biden sought to spell out clearly what the US aims in Ukraine were, and was careful to note the US is not looking to directly engage Russia.

“We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia. As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow,” Biden said, roughly two months after declaring in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power.”
“So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces,” he wrote.

He went on to say that the US is “not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”

Biden said that US officials “currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia’s occasional rhetoric to rattle the nuclear saber is itself dangerous and extremely irresponsible.”

“Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences,” Biden wrote.

Here's what the Donbas means to Putin — and why fighting has intensified in the region

Fighting in Ukraine has rounded on Donbas, a sprawling and beleaguered heartland region that has suffered years of conflict and now serves as the bloody stage on which Russia’s war could be decided.

Donbas blankets much of eastern Ukraine, and has been the front line of the country’s conflict with Moscow since 2014.

But now its people, already scarred by eight years of fighting, are enduring an assault even more intense. Russian forces are closing in on the city of Severodonetsk, and are making gradual progress in some parts of the region. Some assaults have been repelled by stubborn Ukrainian counteroffensives.

Failures to take Kyiv and central Ukrainian regions in the invasion’s early months meant Donbas became the centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military ambition.

A Russian victory in the region would appall the West but could salvage Putin’s war aims, while a defeat could cement his invasion as a historic failure. Either way, it is almost certain to devastate yet more of the Donbas region, a historically and culturally significant place whose proximity to Russia has dictated much of its turbulent existence.

Those who have lived in and studied the region describe it as an independent and gritty center of industry that has remained suspicious of outside forces for decades.

But the waves of conflict there since 2014 have reshaped and wounded its cities, and it is along its line of contact that both the Ukrainian and Russian military are most dug in — making for a familiar but unpredictable new phase of war.

What Donbas means to Putin: Despite its move into independence along with the rest of Ukraine in 1991, Donbas has maintained a place in the psyche of Russian leadership.

A famous Soviet propaganda poster from 1921 dubbed Donbas “the heart of Russia,” depicting the region as a beating organ with vessels stretching across the Russian empire. Before then, the region was part of the concept of “Novorossiya,” or New Russia, a term given to territories towards the west of which the Russian empire had expansionist ideas.

Cities like Luhansk and Donetsk are historically “places that (Russians) could see a certain version of themselves,” Finnin said.

And that historical image could still persist inside Putin’s own worldview, experts suggest.

Observers have often suggested that Putin’s desired endgame is to rebuild the Soviet Union in which he first rose up the ranks. Anna Makanju, former director for Russia at the US National Security Council, suggested that Putin “believes he is like the czars,” the imperial dynasties that ruled Russia for centuries, “potentially called by God in order to control and restore the glory of the Russian empire.”

A new Russian assault: Whether the raging battle for Donbas will be the final chapter of Russia’s war, or merely its current phase, remains to be seen. But by zeroing in on the region, Putin has brought his assault on Ukraine full circle.

The so-called “liberation” of Ukraine’s Donbas region was described as an “absolute priority” for Russia by its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with French broadcaster TFI in late May.

The secessionist conflict in Donbas had been costly but stagnant since the initial surges of pro-Russian forces in 2014; the lines of the conflict barely moved in several years, with trenches running along the point of contact from the southern coast to the Ukrainian-Russian border north of Luhansk.

But Russia has made a number of advancements into parts of the Donbas in the weeks since the battle there began.

Read more here:

Smoke rises in the city of Severodonetsk during heavy fighting. Russia has made capturing the city its current priority, according to Ukrainian military officials.

Donbas has been Ukraine's ravaged heartland for eight years. Here's why Putin wants it

World oil prices close at highest level in nearly 3 months after EU deal on partial ban of Russian oil imports

Brent crude oil closed on Tuesday to the highest level in nearly three months after the European Union reached a deal to ban 90% of its Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

However, oil finished well off its highs of the day after a new report signaled OPEC could be preparing to finally ramp up badly-needed production.

Brent crude, the world benchmark, gained 1% on the day, settling at $122.84 a barrel – the highest close since March 8. Earlier in the session, Brent traded as high as $125.28.

After initially rallying, US crude closed at $114.67 a barrel, down 0.4% on the day.

This comes after the EU forged an agreement on a partial ban on Russian oil imports in a bid to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. Although new sanctions were widely expected, this move will further scramble global energy supplies.

Europe is the biggest buyer of Russian energy, with about 2.4 million barrels of Russian crude getting sent to Europe every day in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. 

“Somehow, between now and the end of the year, the world has to figure out a way to make up this deficit,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.

That’s why Lipow expects gasoline prices to continue to march higher, reaching his forecast of $4.75 a gallon nationally within the next 10 days.

The national price for regular gasoline hit a fresh record of $4.62 a gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA, up 52% from a year ago.

The good news for consumers is that the oil market cooled off after The Wall Street Journal reported that some OPEC members are considering suspending Russia’s participation from an oil-production deal. A spokesperson for OPEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Such a move could pave the way for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to accelerate the return of production sidelined when Covid-19 erupted in the spring of 2020.

Hit by the war and sanctions, Russia’s oil production is projected to fall significantly this year. That’s on top of supply shortfalls within OPEC that have prevented supply from meeting demand.

“This would allow OPEC+ some maneuvering room to make up for production shortfalls. It would give them cover,” Lipow said.

Ukrainian forces are making progress in Kherson and Kharkiv, Zelensky says

A rescuer inspects a flat where the bodies of civilians were collected from a shelled residential building in Kharkiv on May 31.

Ukrainian forces have made progress in the regions of Kherson and Kharkiv and are holding back Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address on Tuesday night.

“Our defenders show extreme bravery, despite the fact that Russia has a substantial advantage in force and weapons,” Zelensky said, “We want all of our people liberated but it needs to be done with caution.”

Zelensky also applauded the new sanctions package approved by the European Council, which would cut down on imports of Russian oil, as well as suspend Russia propaganda channels and remove Sberbank from SWIFT, the international bank messaging system.

“I am thankful for everyone to reach this agreement,” Zelensky said, “It will leave Russia at the outskirts of the world economy. Russia will not be able to adapt and this means it will be defeated.”

NATO's chief is traveling to Washington, DC, Tuesday to meet with top US officials

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is traveling to Washington, DC, on Tuesday for a working visit, the alliance said in a statement.

Stoltenberg will be in the US capital until Friday and is expected to meet with top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, according to the statement.  

He will also give a speech at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), NATO said.  

State Department: US welcomes proposed EU Russian oil ban

European Council chief Charles Michel speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels.

The US welcomes the European Union’s announcement of a proposed ban of Russian oil, according to a State Department spokesperson.

“We applaud the steps by our European allies and partners to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and natural gas by diversifying their sources of energy and reducing consumption in line with our shared climate goals,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

More than 23,000 Ukrainians have been authorized to come to the US under new program 

More than 23,000 Ukrainians have been authorized to come to the United States as part of the Biden administration’s streamlined process for Ukrainian refugees seeking to come to the US, according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

In April, US President Joe Biden announced “Uniting for Ukraine,” a program that provides a pathway for Ukrainians interested in coming to the US for a temporary period. 

The program requires Ukrainians seeking entry to the US to be sponsored by a US citizen or individual, which could include resettlement organizations and non-profit organizations. Applicants must also undergo rigorous security vetting and checks, including biographic and biometric screening, and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements, including receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, to be eligible.  

As of May 31, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has received more than 42,000 requests from applicants agreeing to support Ukrainians, according to DHS. More than 5,800 Ukrainians have arrived in the US under the program. After clearance, Ukrainians have some time to purchase a plane ticket and travel to the US. 

The Biden administration committed to accepting up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

State Department: US remains concerned about Russian steps to control Ukrainian territory, especially Kherson

Russian servicemen are seen on a roadside in the Kherson region on May 19.

The United States remains “concerned about steps Russia is taking to attempt to institutionalize control over sovereign Ukrainian territory, particularly in Ukraine’s Kherson region,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. 

Speaking at a briefing, Price said that “the Kremlin is probably weighing a few approaches, from recognizing a so-called People’s Republic, as Russia forcibly did in Donetsk and Luhansk, to an attempted annexation, just as Russia did in Crimea.”

“It’s a predictable part of the Russian playbook, which is why we are continuing to sound the alarm now, particularly following Russian President Putin’s unilateral decree that would fast track the issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens. Russia used similar tactics in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2019,” he said.

“Russia is almost certainly failing to gain legitimacy for proxy governments in newly seized territories in Ukraine, as protests persist, and residents refuse to cooperate,” Price added.

He continued: “Russia’s initial objectives of controlling large swaths of Ukraine has been nothing short of a complete failure. The Kremlin probably views that forcibly holding Kherson would provide Russia a land bridge to Crimea, as well as gaining some kind of so called victory and attempt to justify Russia — to Russia’s domestic audiences — [of] the thousands of lives Putin’s war of choice has destroyed. We will continue to spotlight Russia’s territorial designs in Ukraine as well as its ongoing aggression, just as we hold to account those who facilitate it, including with additional punitive economic measures.”

Ukraine working on "UN-led naval operation” to export agricultural products, foreign minister says  

Ukraine is working on an “UN-led naval operation” with navies of partnering countries to ensure a safe trade route for exporting its agricultural products, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday.   

“Ukraine is working on an international UN-led operation with navies of partners ensuring a safe trade route with no security risks,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter, without providing any further details on the operation.  

In the tweet, the foreign minister blamed Russia of playing “hunger games with the world by blocking Ukrainian food exports with one hand and trying to shift the blame on Ukraine with the other.”   

During a phone call on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that Ankara places a “particular importance” on efforts to establish a safe corridor to export Ukrainian agricultural products by sea, according to a Turkish readout of the call.   

As far as Moscow’s cooperation is concerned, earlier on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that if Ukraine clears its coastal waters from mines, Russian naval forces will guarantee the passage of grain ships to the Mediterranean Sea.  

More background: On Friday, Zelensky said that 22 million tons of grain, accounting for nearly half of Ukraine’s grain export supply, is being held up by Russia’s blockade of the main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea.    

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected the accusations that it has blocked grain supplies from Ukraine and has accused the West of actions that have led to this crisis.  

With previous reporting from CNN’s Isil Sariyuce, Anna Chernova and Anastasia Graham-Yooll  

US ambassador to UN: White House "clear from day one" it will only provide defensive weapons to Ukraine

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks to reporters at the United Nations headquarters on May 31.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said US President Joe Biden’s administration has been “clear from day one” that they would only provide Ukraine with defensive weapons to fight Russia.

“We’re not providing any weapons that will allow the Ukrainians to attack Russia from inside of Ukraine. And President Biden has been very clear on that, that we’re not, we’re not going to become a party to the war, but we will support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said at a news briefing at the UN.

More context: Biden said Monday that the US “won’t send anything that can fire into Russia.” Ukrainians have repeatedly called for international partners to send them Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to fight the war.

CNN reported last week that the Biden administration is preparing to step up the kind of weaponry it is offering Ukraine by sending advanced, long-range rocket systems, multiple officials say. 

Ukrainian official says Russians control "most of Severodonetsk"

Serhiy Hayday, the Head of Luhansk region military administration, says that Russian troops now control most of the city of Severodonetsk — but he has dismissed suggestions that Ukrainian troops in the area will be surrounded. 

“We are constantly communicating,” he said. “There is an opportunity to maneuver, so the military is now calmly holding the defense in the positions they occupy now. The city at this stage has 90% of all houses damaged. Of these, 60% are almost impossible to restore. And all the critical infrastructure is completely destroyed.”

Hayday said: “Now there is no possibility to leave Severodonetsk. It’s very risky and the chances are very small to actually escape [unharmed]. Therefore, there is simply no point in risking people’s lives.”

Hayday added that the Russian goal was to surround all our troops. Of course, they would like to capture the entire Luhansk region much faster. Or just cut the route “Lysychansk - Bakhmut” or capture Severodonetsk as soon as possible. But they do not manage to capture the whole area.”

If Russian forces gain control of Severodonetsk, the neighboring city of Lysychansk will be the only urban area of any size in Luhansk to remain under Ukrainian control. 

Zelensky welcomes new EU sanctions against Russia but calls the delay "unacceptable"  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Slovakian Prime Minister Zuzana Caputova attend a a joint news conference in Kyiv, on May 31.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday welcomed the new European Union sanctions package against Moscow, but criticized the bloc for the gap of more than 50 days between the fifth and sixth round of sanctions.   

“It’s more than 50 days since the fifth package of sanctions, this is unacceptable for us,” Zelensky said while addressing a joint new conference alongside Slovakian Prime Minister Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv on Tuesday.  

More on the sanctions: The EU agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year, the leaders of the European Council said Monday.

Russian oil delivered by tankers would be banned, while an exemption will be made for the southern segment of the Druzhba pipeline, said Ursula von der Leyen — president of the European Commission — in a news conference.

The northern segment of the pipeline serves Poland and Germany — who have agreed to the embargo. The southern part goes to Hungary, Slovakia and Czech republic.

Von der Leyen said an exemption will be made for the southern segment, which accounts for 10% of imports on Russian oil.

Ukrainian official says most rural settlements around Severodonetsk have fallen to Russian forces

A Ukrainian official in Luhansk region has acknowledged that most rural settlements around the city of Severodonetsk have now fallen to the Russians.

“At the moment, the situation is such that almost all rural settlements around Severodonetsk are now not under our control. The home front remains just the city of Lysychansk,” Roman Vlasenko, head of the Severodonetsk district administration, told Ukrainian television.

Lysychansk is just across the Donets river from Severodonetsk, but it’s unclear how many bridges are still intact. 

Vlasenko’s remarks suggest that the routes available for any withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Severodonetsk are narrowing. Resupply lines from the town of Bakhmut, which is also under frequent artillery attack, are tenuous, with persistent shelling. 

Evacuation of civilians from Severodonetsk has been suspended. 

Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk’s regional administration, said that a Russian air strike in Severodonetsk had hit a tank of nitric acid at a chemical plant and warned people in the city to stay in shelters. 

An officer in the Luhansk People’s Militia, which supports Russian forces, says that Ukrainian forces are using bomb shelters and the city’s industrial zone — a complex of heavy manufacturing plants — to resist.

Andrey Marochko, a lieutenant colonel in the militia, told Russian media that the Ukrainians are also using higher ground across the river to shell the militia.

“Nearby is the city of Lysychansk [which] is located on a hill and it is from there that the armed formations of Ukraine are firing at the city of Severodonetsk,” he said.

Marochko claimed that the Ukrainians’ main supply route from Bakhmut had been cut. “We control almost all logistics, but the enemy is trying in a roundabout way to supply this settlement by moving between forests on dirt roads.”

The Ukrainian side has acknowledged that it has become more difficult to use the main highway from Bakhmut because of constant shelling, and that it is using other ways of reaching the cities at the frontlines.

Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny says he may face up to 15 years in prison on new charges

Alexey Navalny is seen on the screen during his legal appeal, in Moscow's City Court, on May 24.

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny said Tuesday that he might face up to another 15 years in prison if found guilty of new charges for “creating an extremist organization.”  

“It turns out that I created an extremist group to incite hatred towards officials and oligarchs,” the Russian opposition leader said in an Instagram post.  

In March, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security jail, after being convicted on fraud charges by the Lefortovo court in Moscow over allegations that he stole from his Anti-Corruption Foundation. The sentencing came while he was already serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a detention center east of the Russian capital after being arrested in February 2021 for violating probation terms.  

Pro-Russian official says operation in Severodonetsk "not as quick as we'd like"

The leader of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), Leonid Pasechnik, says that the Russian operation to seize the city of Severodonetsk “is not going as fast as we would like.”

Quoted by the Russian news agency TASS, Pasechnik said the “liberation of the city is complicated by the defense in depth of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

He said one-third of the city was now under the control of Russian and LPR forces.

“First of all, we want to preserve the city’s infrastructure as much as possible,” Pasechnik said — although Russian bombardment of Severodonetsk has been responsible for much of the destruction.

Pasechnik alleged that the goals of the Ukrainian side are “opposite, so their tactics of hiding behind the civilian population has been actively used in Severodonetsk since the beginning of the military operation.” 

Both sides report heavy fighting in the city itself, with several Ukrainian officials confirming that part of it is under Russian control.

3 killed in Sloviansk as Russian forces continue missile strikes, Ukraine's presidency says 

Russian forces have continued missile and aerial attacks against targets in the Donetsk region, where the Ukrainian military says there are “battles along the entire front line.”

The Ukrainian president’s office said Tuesday that “there was an air strike on Sloviansk [overnight]. As a result, at least three people are dead and six were wounded. The school and seven high-rise buildings were damaged. Rescue work is underway, the number of victims and injured is being clarified.”

Sloviansk, a major target of the Russian offensive, has seen an uptick in indirect fire from Russian forces using missiles and aerial attacks.

In the neighboring Luhansk region, 90% of which is now under Russian control, the president’s office said that “the main efforts of the Russians are now focused on establishing control over Severodonetsk.” It said that they were continuing attacks on several neighboring towns and two civilians were killed. 

Ukrainian troops are still in Severodonetsk, but Russian forces control part of the city. Up to 15,000 civilians remain in the city, which is without power and water.

Elsewhere, there were additional Russian attacks across the border into the northern Sumy region by both aircraft and artillery, the presidency said.

German economy minister: Europe’s "strength and determination" suffered during "wrangling" over new sanctions 

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Tuesday that Europe’s “strength and determination has certainly suffered” during the “wrangling” between the European Union member states over the new sanctions against Russia agreed by the bloc on Monday.  

“It’s a compromise, and perhaps we live in a time when too many compromises not only cloud but destroy clarity in the end. I’m certainly not happy about that,“ Habeck said during a news conference in Berlin. 

Habeck accused Hungarian leader Viktor Orban of “ruthlessly” persevering his “own interests” during the negotiations of the sixth package of EU sanctions against Moscow.  

The minister said there was a confusion between a short-term perspective of one’s own country and a long-term observing of principles which could only be embraced globally.  

“I am irritated, and this is the polite way of putting it — how Viktor Orban can intervene so deeply that you ruthlessly just play poker for your own interests,“ Habeck said.   

The big goal of this time for Europe is to achieve unity as an economic region, the minister stressed. 

 “Europe has to reinvent itself,” he said. 

Why foreigners are now paying a lot more at Hungarian gas stations

A notice stating the Hungarian government's ruling that cars with Hungarian tags may buy fuel at government-capped prices, while cars with foreign number plates will have to pay market prices,  at a gas station in Budapest, Hungary on May 27,

The Hungarian government won a major concession from the European Union on Monday, securing a near-total exemption from the bloc’s ban of Russian oil imports.

The exception will help the populist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban keep prices at Hungarian gas pumps in check – but only for Hungarians.

Starting last Friday, the government introduced a system of dual pricing at gas stations across the country. While the price of petrol is now capped at HUF 480/liter ($1.30 per liter or $4.92 per gallon) for Hungarians, foreign drivers filling up in Hungary are now paying a lot more.

The Hungarian government first imposed price restrictions on fuel and some basic food items in November, in an attempt to soften the impact of rapidly rising prices on voters ahead of a key general election in April.

Blaming “petrol tourism” for the move, the government announced Friday that the lower price will only be available to vehicles with Hungarian license plates.

Prices at pumps in neighboring EU countries have been significantly higher for months, and drivers in some border regions have been taking advantage of the Hungarian policy. Last week, prices were hovering around 1.80 euros ($1.93) per liter in Slovakia, Croatia and Austria, and around 1.60 euros ($1.70) in Romania and Slovenia, according to the European Commission.

Cars wait in line at a gas station in Budapest, Hungary on May 27,  where cars with Hungarian plates may buy fuel at government-capped prices, while cars with foreign number plates pay market prices.

Gergely Gulyás, who heads the Hungarian prime minister’s office, said in a news conference last week that the fuel freeze “ensures the best prices in Europe.”

“But due to a high level of abuse, starting [Friday], only cars with Hungarian registration plates will be allowed to fill up at gas stations with the reduced price,” he said.

The leaders of the European Council announced on Monday that the European Union had agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year as part of a package of sanctions against Moscow over its unprovoked assault on Ukraine.

Orban has refused to support a Russian oil and gas ban, calling the EU “irresponsible” for putting the economies of its members at risk.

Rather than risk Orban vetoing the whole package of sanctions, the EU agreed an exemption would be made for the southern segment of the Druzhba pipeline. The northern segment of the pipeline serves Poland and Germany, which have agreed to the embargo. The southern part goes to Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

CNN’s Boglarka Kosztolanyi contributed reporting to this post.

Danish energy firm Ørsted confirms Gazprom will halt Russian gas supplies beginning tomorrow

Danish energy firm Ørsted has confirmed that Russian state energy giant Gazprom will halt gas supplies starting on June 1 after Ørsted refused to pay for gas in rubles. 

“At Ørsted, we stand firm in our refusal to pay in rubles, and we’ve been preparing for this scenario, so we still expect to be able to supply gas to our customers,” said Mads Nipper, group president and CEO of the Danish firm.

Ørsted warned on Monday that it could be cut off, adding that preparations to minimize the risk to wider supplies include filling up its gas storage facilities in Germany and Denmark.

“Since there is no gas pipeline going directly from Russia to Denmark, Russia will not be able to directly cut off the gas supplies to Denmark, and it will thus still be possible for Denmark to get gas. However, this means that the gas for Denmark must, to a larger extent, be purchased on the European gas market. We expect this to be possible,” according to the firm.

Around 4% of Denmark’s total energy consumption comes from Russian gas, according to European think tank Bruegel.

Finland, Poland and Bulgaria have already been cut off from Russian gas supplies after refusing to pay in rubles. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March that “unfriendly” nations would have to pay rubles, rather than the euros or dollars stated in contracts. 

Video shows Ukrainian helicopters resupplying Azovstal while plant was under siege

Image from a video that has been released showing Ukrainian helicopters flying supplies into the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Video has been released of Ukrainian helicopters flying supplies into the Azovstal plant in Mariupol even as it was under siege by Russian forces.

The video was shot aboard a Mi-8 helicopter and shows the aircraft flying low across countryside and then along the Mariupol shore before a brief shot of supplies being offloaded.

A social media channel affiliated with Ukrainian defense intelligence that distributed the video said the missions had been carried out by Ukrainian special forces.

Another channel that published the video said: “This unique special operation was carried out by specialists of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense and the Azov Regiment. 16 Mi-8 military helicopters loaded with the necessary equipment flew to the defenders of Mariupol blocked by Russia on Azovstal.”

“There were 7 such missions in total. Each time, helicopters successfully delivered food, drinking water, medicines and ammunition to the defenders of the city to a depth of more than 100 kilometers [from Ukrainian-held areas],” the channel added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky referred to the previously undisclosed missions on May 20.

“Unfortunately, a large number of people died, our pilots. Absolutely heroic people who knew that it was difficult, that it was almost impossible to fly to Azovstal and bring there medicine, food, water, pick up the bodies of the wounded,” he said.

“A lot of things were happening that no one could officially comment. There were no air corridors to Azovstal due to Russia’s powerful deployed air defenses,” Zelensky said.

The president added that “we lost a lot of pilots” who flew to the plant.

Russia's economic development at stake through 6th round of EU sanctions, Germany says

EU’s decision on the sixth package of sanctions will affect Russian economic development and prosperity, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a press conference Tuesday following an extraordinary European Council meeting.

“The sanctions have a clear objective, to get Russia to end this war and withdraw its troops and come to an agreement with Ukraine on a reasonable and fair peace,“ Scholz said in Brussels.

About 90 percent of oil imports to Europe is covered by the embargo. An exception for pipeline oil being delivered to some countries in Europe enabled a joint agreement, Scholz explained. “This was important because the transitional measures that these countries have to take have not been able to be finalized so quickly,“ he said. 

Germany and Poland are continuing their efforts to become independent of Russian oil by the end of the year, the German chancellor said.

A Europe-wide gas embargo is not yet within reach as many countries will remain dependent on Russian gas much longer than Germany, Scholz said. “Germany is rapidly becoming independent of gas imports by constructing infrastructure to enable gas imports from other countries with ships,“ he said. “Some investments will be made very quickly, so we hope that there will already be significant changes at the turn of the year, but some things will take longer. But one thing is pretty clear from my point of view: Many countries will need longer than Germany.” 

The German chancellor blamed Russia for the looming food crisis. “The responsibility clearly lies with Russia and its president,“ Scholz said. 

Germany is working on a weapons exchange with Greece so that the country can send its tanks from former Warsaw treaty to Ukraine which will be replaced German infantry fighting vehicles, Scholz announced.