Ukraine conflict day 82: Moscow agrees Mariupol military evacuations
Updated 01:21, 17-May-2022
A handout photo shows Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. /Ukrainian President Administration Press Service/AFP

A handout photo shows Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. /Ukrainian President Administration Press Service/AFP


• Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal steel works in Mariupol to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. "An agreement was reached with representatives of the Ukrainian military blocked at Azovstal in Mariupol to evacuate the wounded," the ministry said, adding it will observe a ceasefire while they are taken to safety.

• Ukrainian troops defending the city of Kharkiv have reached the state border with Russia, the regional governor said on Monday. It was not immediately clear how many troops had reached the Russian border and where. 

• Ukrainian border guards fought off an incursion by a Russian sabotage and reconnaissance group in the northeastern region of Sumy on Monday, said Dmytro Zhyvytsky, the governor of the Sumy region.

• Russia said its forces had shot down three Ukrainian fighter jets, one near Snake Island in the Black Sea and the others in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions, while its missiles continued to pound targets in the east of the country.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday raised the specter of an "era of recession" in Europe as the continent grapples with surging energy costs and rising inflation due to the conflict in Ukraine.

• Hungary said it would between $16 billion and $19 billion to prepare its economy to drop Russian oil under a proposed new EU sanctions package against Moscow.

• EU foreign ministers sought to publicly pressure Hungary on Monday to lift its veto on a proposed oil embargo on Russia, with Lithuania saying the bloc was being "held hostage by one member state".

• The EU will impose a sixth sanctions package on Russia, but the bloc will need more time to find agreement, Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

• Expansion of NATO will lead to increase in tensions in Europe, Stanislav Zas, secretary general of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), told reporters on Monday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged other members of CSTO to stand united, and accused the West of hoping to prolong the conflict in Ukraine to try to weaken Russia as much as possible.


• The parliaments in Finland and Sweden on Monday began debating their respective NATO bids, as the two neighbors prepare to submit applications this week as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

• Russia warned that decisions by Finland and Sweden to join the NATO military alliance were serious mistakes and Moscow would take measures. "This is another grave mistake with far-reaching consequences," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters. 

• Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra returned to their homeland on Monday after an emotional Eurovision Song Contest victory, greeted at the border with Poland by servicemen and women whose cause the band had championed in Turin.

The world's largest burger chain McDonald's, whose arrival in Russia was an emblem of the Cold War's end, said it would sell all its restaurants there.

French automaker Renault has handed over its Russian assets to the Russian government, both parties announced on Monday, marking the first major nationalization since the onset of sanctions over Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.

• The European Commission sharply cut its eurozone growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7 percent as skyrocketing energy prices due to the conflict in Ukraine challenged the economy.

• The United States and the European Union plan to announce a joint effort aimed at identifying semiconductor supply disruptions as well as countering Russian disinformation, officials said.

• Ukraine's gas transit system operator said over the weekend that it had resumed operations at two distribution stations in the Kharkiv region and restarted gas supply to more than 3,000 consumers.

• Russian exports of power to Finland were down to zero early on Monday, flow data showed, after Russian utility firm Inter RAO said last week it would halt them because it had not been paid.

A handout picture taken in an unknown place in Ukraine shows Ukrainian servicemen examining a destroyed Russian tank. /Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/AFP

A handout picture taken in an unknown place in Ukraine shows Ukrainian servicemen examining a destroyed Russian tank. /Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/AFP



Expansion of NATO 'no direct threat for us'

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that while Russia does not see Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO as a threat, deployment of military infrastructure there may trigger a response from Moscow.

The expansion of NATO to Sweden and Finland poses "no direct threat for us... but the expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly provoke our response," Putin said during a televised summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). 

The Moscow-led military alliance includes six countries of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"This is a problem that is created completely artificially, because it is done in the foreign policy interests of the United States," Putin said, adding that NATO has become a "foreign policy instrument of one country". 

"All this exacerbates an already difficult international security environment," Putin said.

Finland and Sweden are poised to jettison decades of military non-alignment to join NATO as a defense against feared aggression from Russia after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24. 

Finland announced its intention to join NATO on Sunday as Sweden's ruling party said it backed membership, paving the way for a joint application.

One of Russia's justifications for the military campaign in Ukraine was the encroachment of NATO towards its western borders. However, Moscow will now see Finland, with which Russia shares a 1,300-kilometer border, join the alliance. 

Speaking at the CSTO meeting hosted in Moscow, Belarusian President and close Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko was the only other leader from the six-nation bloc to address the NATO expansion and back military action in Ukraine. 

"NATO is aggressively building up its muscles, yesterday drawing in neutral Finland and Sweden," said Lukashenko, who in February allowed Russian troops to enter Ukraine from Belarusian territory.

He also accused Washington of a "desire to prolong as much as possible" the conflict in Ukraine.

"Without the speedy rallying of our countries... there may not be a tomorrow," Lukashenko said. 

Earlier on Monday, the Kremlin said Finland and Sweden's NATO membership would not improve security in Europe, while Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called it a "grave mistake with far-reaching consequences". 

Ukrainian troops stand at the Ukraine-Russia border in what was said to be the Kharkiv region, in this screengrab obtained from a video released on May 15, 2022. /Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Reuters

Ukrainian troops stand at the Ukraine-Russia border in what was said to be the Kharkiv region, in this screengrab obtained from a video released on May 15, 2022. /Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Reuters


EU's embargo on Russian oil: 'We need to get on and do this'

EU foreign ministers pressed Hungary on Monday to drop resistance to a proposed oil embargo to punish Russia for its offensive in Ukraine, as Budapest put a $16 billion price tag on making the move.  

Hungary has been holding up a push by Brussels, backed by most EU member states, to ban Moscow's vital oil exports, the cornerstone of a planned sixth package of sanctions, arguing that it would hammer its own economy.

"The whole union is being held hostage by one member state who cannot help us find the consensus," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis declared.

Landsbergis said the European Commission was offering landlocked Hungary until the end of 2024 to ditch Russian oil. 

"That's a very, very broad, broad scope," he said. "So I think that everybody expected that this will be enough. And I cannot explain [to] you why it isn't."

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney conceded that a ban was a tough prospect for countries that are reliant on Russian oil but insisted that "we need to get on and do this".

"The political message is clear," he said. "The EU wants to do this, and we want to do it as soon as we possibly can."

Brussels is desperate to avoid the appearance of division in the face of the Kremlin's actions on Ukraine, and officials are scrambling behind the scenes to patch up a compromise after making the proposal on May 4.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the ministers meeting in Brussels would "do our best to de-block the situation".  

"I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because the positions are quite strong," Borrell said. 

Brussels has offered Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia long grace periods to phase out Russian oil imports, but that has not yet convinced Budapest to budge. 

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has demanded to be exempted from the embargo for at least four years and wants $830 million in EU funds to re-tool a refinery and boost the capacity of a pipeline to Croatia.  

And Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Monday appeared to up the price tag for ditching Russian oil by saying it it would cost $16 billion to $19 billion to prepare its economy for the move.  

A man walks past a car overturned after Russian bombing hit a garage in Kharkiv. /Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

A man walks past a car overturned after Russian bombing hit a garage in Kharkiv. /Ricardo Moraes/Reuters


Zelenskyy: 'The occupiers are in a dead end'

Ukraine was preparing on Monday for a new Russian push in the eastern Donbas region, as Kyiv said its army's counterattack around Kharkiv had gained momentum.

Since failing to take the capital at the beginning of the offensive in late February, control of Donbas has become one of Moscow's primary objectives, but Western intelligence has predicted its campaign will stall amid heavy losses and fierce resistance.

"We are preparing for new attempts by Russia to attack in Donbas, to somehow intensify its movement in the south of Ukraine," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. 

"The occupiers still do not want to admit that they are in a dead end and their so-called 'special operation' has already gone bankrupt," he added. 

Presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovich told local television that Russian troops were being transferred in the direction of Donbas after withdrawing from Kharkiv following the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Kyiv's troops have made so much progress in the northern region that they have almost reached the border with Russia, according to interior ministry advisor Vadim Denisenko. 

The Ukrainian army said on Monday that some Russian forces remained to try and block the advance, and air sirens sounded in Kharkiv city in the early hours. 

Arestovich said the Russian troops that had been pulled out were being sent towards Luhansk. 

"Their task is to take Severodonetsk," he said. "Well, something is not working for them."

Severodonetsk is the easternmost city still held by Ukraine, and its fall would grant the Kremlin de facto control of Luhansk, one of two regions – along with Donetsk – that comprise Donbas.

Russia's attempt to cross a river to encircle it has been repelled with heavy losses of equipment, according to Luhansk Governor Sergiy Gaiday.

To further deter the attack, Russian-occupied railway bridges leading to Severodonetsk were blown up, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook late on Sunday, posting a video of a huge explosion taken from above. 

Gaiday said fighting in the region "continues almost around the clock". 

Meanwhile, Russia's defense ministry claimed it had struck four artillery munitions depots in neighboring Donetsk.

Air strikes had also destroyed two missile-launching systems and radar, while 15 Ukrainian drones were downed around Donetsk and Luhansk, it added.

Source(s): AFP ,Reuters

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