Ukrainian army vehicles drive past the remains of a Russian tank in north Kharkiv, east Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022.
In the third month of Russia’s war against Ukraine, fighting continues in the country’s east and south, with Putin’s forces struggling to make significant progress.
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Saturday’s key points:
The content of the article:
- 1 Saturday’s key points:
- 2 Finnish president tells Putin of NATO move
- 3 Russia stops electricity exports to Finland
- 4 G7 will ‘never recognise’ Russian-imposed borders in Ukraine
- 5 ‘Difficult negotiations’ to evacuate Mariupol wounded
- 6 Zelenskyy: impossible to ‘predict how long war will last’
- 7 US and Russian defence chiefs speak for first time since invasion
- 8 Russia intensifying attacks in Donbas
- 9 Russia planned ‘rigged referendums’ in Ukraine — UK intelligence
- 10 ‘Most fighting over by end of year’ — Ukraine military intelligence chief
- Russian troops are withdrawing from the area around Kharkiv, with US analysts saying Ukraine seems to have “won the battle” for the country’s second largest city.Ukrainian counteroffensives and Russian reinforcement problems likely forced the withdrawal, says the Institute for the Study of War.The Ukrainian military said Russian troop withdrawals from Kharkiv were Russia’s “main activity” in the region.Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö has formally notified Vladimir Putin of the country’s move to join NATO, in a phone call on Saturday.The question of Finland’s NATO membership, as well as that of Sweden, will be discussed at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. President Erdogan of NATO member Turkey has said his country is opposed. The G7 will never recognise borders that Russia is trying to impose in Ukraine, foreign ministers meeting in Germany said on Saturday. The G7 warned on Saturday that the war is stoking a global food and energy crisis threatening poor countries, and urgent measures are needed to unblock grain stocks that Russia is preventing from leaving Ukraine.President Zelenskyy said although Ukrainians are doing everything they can to drive out the Russians, “no one today can predict how long this war will last”. And Ukraine’s defence minister said on Friday there is “no swift end to the war in sight.”US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone to his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Friday for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon said.Russia’s electricity exports to Finland stopped overnight on Friday following an announcement from a Russian supplier. Finland says it can make up the difference with imports from Sweden.Ukraine’s entry is expected to attract a large solidarity vote in Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin.
Finnish president tells Putin of NATO move
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö has formally notified Vladimir Putin of the country’s application to join NATO, in a phone call on Saturday.
“President Niinistö told President Putin how fundamentally the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland,” said a statement from the president’s office.
It added that Finland would “seek NATO membership in the next few days”.
“The conversation was direct and straight-forward and it was conducted without aggravations. Avoiding tensions was considered important”, President Niinistö said, according to the statement.
Russia stops electricity exports to Finland
Russia’s electricity exports to Finland stopped overnight on Friday after a Russian supplier announced that it would stop, an official at Finland’s power grid operator told AFP.
The company responsible for Russian electricity sales to Finland, RAO Nordic, had announced on Friday that it would stop deliveries on Saturday, citing unpaid bills, as Finland prepares to announce its NATO membership bid.
Exports from Russia to Finland “are at zero at the moment, and this is the case since midnight (2100 GMT) as announced,” Timo Kaukonen, an operations manager at Fingrid, the Finnish grid operator, told AFP.
The network is balanced thanks to imports from Sweden, according to Fingrid’s real-time map, which said on Friday it could do without Russian electricity “without difficulty”.
Finland used to import about 10% of its total electricity consumption from its large Russian neighbour.
G7 will ‘never recognise’ Russian-imposed borders in Ukraine
The G7 will “never recognise” the borders that Russia wants to impose by force with its war in Ukraine, the foreign ministers of the group of seven major powers said on Saturday.
“We will never recognise the borders that Russia has tried to change with its military intervention,” the diplomatic chiefs said in a statement issued at the end of a three-day meeting in Wangels, northern Germany, in which they again called on Belarus to “stop facilitating Russia’s intervention and to respect its international commitments”.
The G7 foreign ministers promised on Saturday to “extend economic sanctions” against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine to “sectors on which Russia is particularly dependent” while urging China “not to undermine” these measures.
The seven major economic powers want to “accelerate efforts” to “end dependence on Russian energy”, according to the statement issued at the end of a three-day meeting in northern Germany. They “call on China not to support Russia in the attack” on Ukraine.
‘Difficult negotiations’ to evacuate Mariupol wounded
The Ukrainian General Staff said in its daily morning statement on Saturday that the Russian army had continued “the blockade of our units near the Azovstal factory. It has carried out large-scale artillery and air strikes”.
Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, one of the Ukrainian formations fighting in Azovstal, appealed to the United States for help “to evacuate our wounded and (to) mobilise all efforts to help extract our regiment” from the encirclement.
“There are nearly 600 wounded in Azovstal, the Russians continue to bomb the military hospital,” he said from the factory. “We are going to resist as long as we can (…) if we hadn’t done so, this horde would have gone further.”
President Zelenskyy said in his address late on Friday that Ukraine was engaged in “very difficult negotiations” to try to evacuate the wounded fighters trapped in the Mariupol steelworks.
“We’re talking about a large number of people. Of course, we are doing everything to evacuate all of the rest, each of our defenders. We have already brought in everyone in the world who can be the most influential mediators.”
Zelenskyy: impossible to ‘predict how long war will last’
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said although Ukrainians are doing everything they can to drive out the Russians, “no one today can predict how long this war will last.”
“This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”
He said he was thankful to all those who are working to strengthen the sanctions on Russia and increase military and financial support to Ukraine. “This is the only recipe for protecting freedom in the face of the Russian invasion. And for Western countries, this is not simply an expense. This is not about accounting, it’s about the future.”
Zelenskyy said Ukraine on Friday shot down the 200th Russian aircraft of the war and he noted Russia’s heavy losses in tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopters and drones.
US and Russian defence chiefs speak for first time since invasion
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu on Friday, marking the highest level American contact since the war began in late February.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.” Kirby provided no other details of the call.
Over the past several months, Pentagon officials have repeatedly said that Russian leaders declined to take calls from Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is the first conversation between Austin and Shoygu since February 18, a week before the war started.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with General Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, in mid-March. The White House said at the time that Sullivan reiterated America’s “firm and clear opposition to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”
Russia intensifying attacks in Donbas
Moscow is focusing on the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine without making any significant progress, say Ukrainian officials and military analysts.
“There is heavy fighting on the border with the Donetsk region, near Popasna,” the governor of the Luhansk region Sergei Gaidai commented on Facebook on Friday evening, reporting numerous casualties and losses of equipment on the Russian side.
“It’s a horror but they are still trying to get their way. But from the interceptions (of telephone communications) we understand that a whole battalion has refused to attack because they see what is happening,” he said.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian general staff said in the early hours of Saturday that the Russians had “not stopped their offensive in the eastern operational zone. The enemy is continuing its missile strikes on industrial infrastructure and firing on civilian targets throughout Ukraine”.
The General Staff itself, in its daily morning statement, reported that in the Donetsk and Tavriya region, the Russian army had used “mortars, artillery, grenade launchers and air resources to inflict maximum damage on the Ukrainian army”, targeting personnel, fortifications and buildings.
Ten Russian attacks were repelled in 24 hours around Donetsk and Luhansk, he said.
On Friday US and UK defence departments reported significant problems encountered by Russian forces in the Donbas region.
Russia planned ‘rigged referendums’ in Ukraine — UK intelligence
The latest British defence intelligence update on the war in Ukraine says “Russia’s original invasion plan was highly likely to use rigged referendums” to establish Russian control.
It adds that the fact that Russia has only imposed a pro-Russian leadership in Kherson illustrates its “failure” to make progress, concluding that a referendum will “almost certainly” involve results being “manipulated”.
‘Most fighting over by end of year’ — Ukraine military intelligence chief
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence said Friday the majority of fighting in the country will be over by the end of the year.
Speaking to British broadcaster Sky, Kyrylo Budanov suggested the turning point in the conflict with Russia would come “in the second part of August” and claimed it would lead to a change of leadership in Russia.
He went on to claim Russian President Vladimir Putin was in a “very bad psychological and physical condition” and was suffering from cancer.
There have been no statements to confirm Budanov’s views on the health of the Russian leader.
Seemingly relaxed in an office setting, the military chief called the Russian forces “a horde of people with weapons,” and smiled as he stated he was feeling “optimistic” about the future for Ukraine.
Budanov’s comments contrast with those of President Zelenskyy, who said in his latest message “no one today can predict how long this war will last”.
Also, Ukraine’s defence minister said on Friday there was “no swift end to the war in sight.” Writing on social media the minister said weapons promised by Western countries would take some time to begin turning the tide in Ukraine’s favour.
For a summary of Friday’s developments, click here.
Additional sources • Reuters