Russia-Ukraine war: Russians have ‘lost momentum’ in Donbas, says UK; Finland and Sweden set for Nato decision – live | Ukraine


Sweden’s ruling party due to decide on Nato membership bid

Reuters reports that Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats are poised to come out in favour of the country joining Nato, paving the way for an application – and Nato’s deputy secretary general says he is confident the alliance could reach consensus on their membership.

The Social Democrats – Sweden’s biggest party – have held internal debates over the past week, and party leadership says it will decide on Sunday. It is widely expected to drop its opposition to Nato membership.

The decision would overturn decades of security policy, where Sweden has maintained military neutrality.

It looks increasingly likely that both Finland and Sweden may seek entry into the Western alliance, despite Moscow’s warnings of “retaliatory steps” and “serious consequences”. Russia has said it could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the European exclave of Kaliningrad if Sweden and Finland become Nato members.

Meanwhile, Nato’s deputy secretary general Mircea Geoană said on Sunday he was “confident” the alliance could reach consensus on Finland and Sweden’s membership, and Turkey’s concerns over Finland and Sweden joining could be addressed.

I am confident if these countries decide to seek membership in NATO we will be able to welcome them to find all conditions for consensus to be met.

Finland is also due to make a decision on a potential Nato application today – we’ll keep you updated as those decisions progress.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock makes the opening remarks during a Nato meeting in Berlin, Germany today.
Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock makes the opening remarks during a Nato meeting in Berlin, Germany today. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Further details on Germany’s position regarding Finland and Sweden’s potential bid for Nato membership.

Reuter reports comments from Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock:

Germany has prepared everything to do a quick ratification process.

If they decide to join they can join quickly…We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear.

She was referring to the ratification period that can take as long as a year, during which the Nordic countries will not yet be protected by Nato’s article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

Some more now from Reuters on the military situation in Donbas, which has become the main theatre of the war over the past month.

  • Earlier today, British military intelligence delivered a damning assessment of Russia’s Donbas campaign, saying Russia had lost about a third of the ground combat force deployed in February, had fallen “significantly behind schedule” and was unlikely to make rapid advances during the next 30 days.
  • The Ukrainian military has reported a counteroffensive is underway near the Russian-held town of Izium, but Russian forces were advancing elsewhere in the Donbas region. Those reports have not been independently verified.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Donbas remained very difficult, and Russian forces were still trying to salvage a victory there. “They are not stopping their efforts,” he said.

Some more on Ukraine’s Eurovision song contest triumph.

Here is Ukraine’s Eurovision presenter and commentator, Timur Miroshnychenko’s ecstatic reaction to the news that his country had won.

He was broadcasting his Eurovision commentary from a bomb shelter.

This is how Ukraine’s Eurovision presenter and commentator Timur Miroshnychenko reacted to the news of Kalush Orchestra’s victory. Due to Russia’s never-ending rocket attacks, Timur had to go on air from a bomb shelter. pic.twitter.com/oIXrDPvQX2

— Myroslava Petsa (@myroslavapetsa) May 14, 2022

A missile strike hit some military infrastructure in the western Ukrainian region of Lviv early on Sunday, the region’s Governor Maxim Kozitsky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, reports Reuters.

Kozitsky said:

Four enemy missiles hit one of the military infrastructures in the Lviv region. The object is completely destroyed. According to preliminary information, there are no casualties. No one sought medical help.

Reuters said it was not able to independently verify the reports and there was no immediate response from Moscow.

The regional “West” Air Command of Ukraine’s Air Force said in a social media post that several missiles were fired from the Black Sea at the Lviv region. Two of the missiles were destroyed before hitting targets, it said.

Croatia’s foreign minister has said talks between Turkey and Finland and Sweden over its concerns regarding the latter two nations’ wish to join Nato were on the right track after all three met, Reuters reports.

Gordan Grlić-Radman said:

Discussions are on a good track and we hope we will have a good outcome today to show solidarity and speak with one voice.

His Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu said it was important that momentum should not be lost in pushing ahead with the Nordic states’ membership process to send a message to Russia.

Meanwhile, German’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock says Germany has prepared everything for a quick ratification of Finland’s and Sweden’s Nato membership.

Dan Sabbagh

Dan Sabbagh

Our colleague Dab Sabbagh has written a piece on the use of drones in the conflict.

Shot after shot pounded into the Russian missile battery hidden by the lighthouse on Snake Island, a Black Sea rock 22 miles (35km) from the Ukrainian coast. The edited video, released by the Ukrainian military, showed the strike and its aftermath – all taken from a Turkish-designed Bayraktar TB2 drone.

Until then, evidence of the TB2 – a remotely piloted killer drone with a range of up to 190 miles – had largely disappeared from the conflict. The assumption was that the two dozen or so that Ukraine had bought from Turkey had been shot down and Ankara, not wanting to upset Russia, had declined to supply more.

Yet the battle for control of Snake Island suggested the picture had changed. A day later, another TB2 video, accompanied by the pumping music typical of these propaganda releases, showed a landing craft being destroyed; a day after that, the downing of an Mi-8 helicopter as Russian troops were disembarking.

Death from a distance, shown on social media video.

An aviation analyst, Amelia Smith, spotted that one of the drone videos indicated the drone had a new registration: T253 – not seen in Ukraine before. It had been spotted being tested in late March around the manufacturer’s test facility in Turkey, suggesting it was newly supplied, perhaps part of a new batch.

You can read the full report here.

Sweden’s ruling party due to decide on Nato membership bid

Reuters reports that Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats are poised to come out in favour of the country joining Nato, paving the way for an application – and Nato’s deputy secretary general says he is confident the alliance could reach consensus on their membership.

The Social Democrats – Sweden’s biggest party – have held internal debates over the past week, and party leadership says it will decide on Sunday. It is widely expected to drop its opposition to Nato membership.

The decision would overturn decades of security policy, where Sweden has maintained military neutrality.

It looks increasingly likely that both Finland and Sweden may seek entry into the Western alliance, despite Moscow’s warnings of “retaliatory steps” and “serious consequences”. Russia has said it could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the European exclave of Kaliningrad if Sweden and Finland become Nato members.

Meanwhile, Nato’s deputy secretary general Mircea Geoană said on Sunday he was “confident” the alliance could reach consensus on Finland and Sweden’s membership, and Turkey’s concerns over Finland and Sweden joining could be addressed.

I am confident if these countries decide to seek membership in NATO we will be able to welcome them to find all conditions for consensus to be met.

Finland is also due to make a decision on a potential Nato application today – we’ll keep you updated as those decisions progress.

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas region “has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule”, and is “unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” British military intelligence has said in its regular Twitter bulletin.

(1/6)
Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule. Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition.

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 15, 2022

(6/6)
Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) May 15, 2022

In a corner of Donbas, one of the few parts of Ukraine still threatened by an advancing army, elderly and vulnerable residents are fleeing by any means available.

Defeated in Kyiv and pushed back from Kharkiv, Moscow has thrown its troops at long stretches of the eastern front. In towns like Konstiantynivka, many residents who did not leave in the first waves of evacuations – often the very old, very young, ill or immobile – are now trying to get out.

As vulnerable residents are carried to safety in makeshift volunteer convoys, photographer Ed Ram and correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison have captured some of those journeys – including 88-year old Nina, who marked her birthday by leaving behind everything she had known.

Nina is evacuated from her home in Kostyantynivka, Ukraine
Nina is evacuated from her home in Kostyantynivka, Ukraine Photograph: Ed Ram/The Observer

Teams of volunteers carried people to evacuation points, using makeshift stretchers and wheelchairs. Mothers and young children packed their belongings into backpacks to head to the trains.

An elderly woman is lifted onto a train in Pokrovsk train station, Ukraine.
An elderly woman is lifted onto a train in Pokrovsk train station. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Observer
Amina, 9, says goodbye to her friends she and her mother leave their home in Druzhkivka, Ukraine
Amina, 9, says goodbye to her friends she and her mother leave their home in Druzhkivka, Ukraine Photograph: Ed Ram/The Observer

Read the full report here:

Ukrainian officials claim that Russia is planning to hold a referendum in Mariupol over whether the city will join Russia. Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the port city’s mayor, who is operating in exile, said on Saturday:

We have some information that the Russian authorities are preparing a referendum and could even call it tomorrow, but we don’t know yet if this is the case. But we see lots of integration of Mariupol into the Russian system, the education system, the banking system.

The ruins left of Mariupol, which was once home to 400,000 people, are largely occupied by Russia, although up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers are holding out in the sprawling Azovstal steelworks.

Full report here:

G7 warns of famine due to Black Sea blockade

Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea is pushing entire populations toward famine, the G7 foreign ministers have said, and millions of people will starve to death unless Russia allows the export of Ukrainian grain from blockaded ports. The countries said in a joint statement:

Russia’s unprovoked and premeditated war of aggression has exacerbated the global economic outlook with sharply rising food, fuel and energy prices.

“Combined with Russia blocking the exit routes for Ukraine’s grain, the world is now facing a worsening state of food insecurity and malnutrition … This is at a time when 43 million people were already one step away from famine.”

Ukraine is one of the world’s leading wheat and corn producers, and many countries – particularly in north Africa – are dependent for their basic food provision on its low-cost wheat. Earlier in the month, UN food programme director Martin Frick said about 4.5 million tonnes of grain in containers at Ukrainian ports were “just sitting there”.

Read more on the G7’s latest concerns on the blockade and food security from our correspondent Daniel Boffey:

Finland expected to announce Nato decision

Decisions from both Finland and Sweden are expected shortly on their intentions to join Nato.

AFP reports that the Finnish government is expected to officially announce its intention to join Nato on Sunday, as Sweden’s ruling party holds a decisive meeting that could pave the way for a joint application. If they opt to go ahead with those applications, it would reverse policies on military non-alignment dating back more than 75 years in Finland and two centuries in Sweden.

Putin warned Finland via a statement that such plans would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations”.

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö’s office said he had told Putin in a phone discussion how starkly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. “The discussion [with Putin] was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration… By joining Nato, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities.”

Ukraine is celebrating its win of the 66th Eurovision song contest, which was held on Saturday evening. Stefania by Kalush Orchestra finished first, riding a tidal wave of support from the telephone-voting European public.

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision!” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a post on Telegram. He said “we will do our best” to one day host the contest in the currently-besieged port city of Mariupol. “Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt!”

Eurovision Song Contest winners, Uraine’s Kalush Orchestra, at the Grand Final show.
Eurovision Song Contest winners, Uraine’s Kalush Orchestra, at the Grand Final show. Photograph: Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images

Reuters spoke to Ukrainian soldiers who joyfully watched their country win the contest – and said it heralded their coming victory in the war to evict Russian forces from Ukraine.

Ukrainian service members watch 2022 Eurovision Song Contest from a basement in the Kyiv region.
Ukrainian service members watch 2022 Eurovision Song Contest from a basement in the Kyiv region. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

“We will also win,” said Vitaliy, a soldier. “We have shown that we can not only fight, but we can also sing very nice.”

Ukrainian service members celebrate the winning of the Kalush Orchestra.
Ukrainian service members in Kyiv celebrate the winning of the Kalush Orchestra. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine. I’m Tess McClure and I’ll be with you for the next few hours before handing over to my colleagues in London.

Here are some of the key developments of the past few hours, including the safe evacuation of another convoy of refugees from Mariupol and Ukraine’s win in the Eurovision song contest on a wave of emotional support from the European public.

  • Millions of people will starve to death unless Russia allows the export of Ukrainian grain from blockaded ports. G7 governments said Russia was pushing 43 million people into starvation with its blockade of Ukrainian grain. It came amid protests in Iran about the price of bread.
  • A large convoy of hundreds of cars and vans carrying refugees from the ruins of Mariupol arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday night after waiting days for Russian troops to allow them to leave, Reuters reports. Ukraine has gradually been evacuating civilians from the devastated city for more than two months.
  • Ukraine has ridden a wave of emotional support from Europeans to win the 66th Eurovision song contest, which was held on Saturday evening in Turin in Italy. Stefania by Kalush Orchestra finished first after strong showings by the United Kingdom, Spain and Sweden in the early voting. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the win and pledged to one day hold the final in a “free, rebuilt” Mariupol.
  • The US Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, joined the growing list of US politicians making visits to Kyiv. Zelenskiy welcomed McConnell’s visit as a powerful signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine.
  • Zelenskiy also thanked president Joe Biden for signing into law this week an update to the second world war era Lend-Lease act, which allows for faster production and delivery by the US of weapons and munitions to allies engaged in conflicts in which it is not a direct participant.
  • Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, says his country’s diplomats in Washington DC are being threatened with violence and harassed by US intelligence services, Reuters is reporting, citing the Tass news agency of Russia.
  • Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, told Vladimir Putin that Helsinki plans to join Nato. Niinistö delivered the news during a phone call with the Russian leader.
  • Putin said abandoning neutrality would be a mistake and that there are no current threats to Finland’s security. Russia has described Helsinki’s bid to join Nato as a hostile move that “definitely” would represent a threat – to which Moscow will respond.
  • Ukraine says Moscow is planning to hold a referendum, perhaps as early as Sunday, on whether Mariupol wants to become part of Russia. It follows news of a similar poll in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia and allegations from western allies that Russia is planning sham referendums to justify military actions.
  • Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kharkiv city area, its mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said. He said that, “due to the efforts of Kharkiv territorial defence and Ukrainian armed forces, the Russians have withdrawn out far from the city area in the direction of the Russian border”.
  • The war will be over by the end of 2022, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence said. Major general Kyrylo Budanov claimed Moscow was suffering heavy casualties and predicted a turning point by mid-August – adding his belief that “most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year”.
  • Moscow is failing to reach its political aims in Ukraine, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said. The fact Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russia local leadership in the city of Kherson “highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives”, the latest intelligence update said.
  • “Very difficult negotiations” on the next stage of evacuations from Mariupol were ongoing, Zelenskiy said. The city’s last remaining Ukrainian defenders are holed up in the Azovstal steel plant





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