Russia may be running out of crucial targeting drones; brutal siege of Mariupol steel plant ends

This has been CNBC's live blog covering updates on the war in Ukraine. [Follow the latest updates here.]

After months of heavy fighting, Russia has declared victory over the massive Azovstal steel plant in strategic port city of Mariupol that has been almost entirely destroyed. There has not been confirmation from Ukrainian authorities.

The U.S. and others walked out of an international meeting in Bangkok in protest as Russia's economic minister was speaking, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken to his Turkish counterpart to address his opposition to Sweden and Finland's NATO bids.

Meanwhile, Russia may be running low on crucial supplies of unmanned aerial vehicles, and has halted gas supplies to Finland in response to its application to join the NATO alliance.

As Russia intensifies push for Donbas, Ukraine rules out ceasefire

Two injured Ukrainian soldiers are seen in an ambulance as they arrive at the military hospital for medical treatment in Donetsk. Donetsk (Donbas) region is under heavy attack from the Russian troops.
Alex Chan Tsz Yuk | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukraine ruled out a ceasefire or concessions to Moscow as Russia intensified an offensive in the eastern Donbas region and stopped providing gas to Finland.

After ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is waging what appears to be a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of territory in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk province before the Feb. 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donbas.

"The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. The Russian army was trying to attack the cities of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk, but Ukrainian forces were holding off their advance, he said.

Earlier, Zelenskiy told local television that while the fighting would be bloody, the end would come only through diplomacy and that the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory would be temporary.

Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire and said Kyiv would not accept any deal with Moscow that involved ceding territory. He said making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting.

"The war will not stop (after concessions). It will just be put on pause for some time," Podolyak, Ukraine's lead negotiator, told Reuters in an interview in the heavily guarded presidential office.

"They'll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large-scale."


Biden tweets video of signing $40 billion Ukraine aid package amid South Korea visit

President Joe Biden tweeted a video of himself signing legislation authorizing an additional $40 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Biden inked the aid boost, which was overwhelmingly approved by Congress this week, during his state visit to Seoul, South Korea.

"This law will allow us to continue sending security, economic, and humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend their democracy and freedom," the tweet from Biden's official White House Twitter account said.

Biden also during his visit signed the Access to Baby Formula Act, which is designed to alleviate a nationwide shortage of formula in the United States.

Both bills were flown to South Korea by a U.S. government official on a commercial jet who was already planning to travel to Asia for work-related duties, a White House official told NBC News.

— Dan Mangan

Russia's claim of Mariupol's capture fuels concern for POWs

A bus carrying service members of the Ukrainian armed forces, who surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel mill, drives away under escort of the pro-Russian military in the course of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, in Mariupol, Ukraine May 20, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Concern mounted over the fate of the Ukrainian fighters who became Moscow's prisoners as Russia claimed seizure of the steel plant-turned-fortress in Mariupol.

The Russian Defense Ministry released video of Ukrainian soldiers being taken into custody after announcing that its forces had removed the last holdouts from the plant's miles of underground tunnels. The Azovstal steel plant became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity, and its seizure delivers Russian President Vladimir Putin a badly wanted victory in the war he began in February.

Family members of the steel mill fighters, who authorities say came from a variety of military and law enforcement units, have pleaded for them to be given rights as prisoners of war and eventually returned to Ukraine. They are considered heroes by their fellow citizens.

Convoys of buses, guarded by Russian armored vehicles, left the plant Friday. At least some Ukrainians were taken to a former penal colony, while Russian authorities said others were hospitalized.

Denis Pushilin, the pro-Kremlin head of an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, said the Ukrainians were sure to face a tribunal. Russian officials and state media have sought to characterize the fighters as neo-Nazis and criminals.

"I believe that justice must be restored. There is a request for this from ordinary people, society, and, probably, the sane part of the world community," Russian state news agency Tass quoted Pushilin as saying.

Associated Press

Trump not on Russia's list of banned Americans that includes Biden, Harris

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. 
Grigory Dukor | Reuters

Russia on Saturday released a list of nearly 1,000 Americans who are now permanently barred from entering the country, an action likely in response to sanctions imposed on the nation following its February invasion of Ukraine.

The list includes President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton and George Soros. It also names 211 Republicans and 224 Democrats from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

There are also a few notable omissions. Former President Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who served as his vice president, are not included. Former President Barack Obama is also not on the list.

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read more here.

— Carmen Reinicke

McKinsey & Co. consulted a Russian weapons maker and the Pentagon at the same time

Superyacht Valerie, linked to chief of Russian state aerospace and defence conglomerate Rostec Sergei Chemezov, is seen at Barcelona Port in Barcelona city, Spain, March 9, 2022.
Albert Gea | Reuters

McKinsey & Co., a major global consulting firm, worked with both a Russian weapons maker and the Pentagon simultaneously, NBC News reported today.

An NBC investigation uncovered that McKinsey advised Rostec, a Russian state-owned manufacturing company in recent years. The company manufactures engines for missiles, including many of the weapons that Russia has fired on Ukraine since its February invasion.

The scope of McKinsey's work with Rostec did not directly involve weapons, according to the report. Still, the consulting firm was working on national security contracts for the U.S. government, including the Defense Department and U.S. intelligence community.

It's the latest accusation of conflicts of interest faced by McKinsey. The consulting firm previously worked with opioid manufacturers while advising officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on opioids. Congress has also scrutinized the company for its work in China.

A McKinsey spokesman told NBC News that it has strict rules and firewalls to safeguard against conflicts of interest, and that its work abroad is walled off from its work in Washington.

— Carmen Reinicke

Portugal's Prime Minister visits Kyiv, meets with Zelenskyy

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, center, talks to media in Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022.
Efrem Lukatsky | AP Photo

António Costa, Portugal's prime minister, visited Kyiv today and made a joint appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss aid, the president's office said in a statement.

"I once again felt such a closeness of values ​​and a common understanding by our nations of the future of Europe. Portugal has been helping Ukraine since the first days of Russia's full-scale invasion of our land," Zelenskyy said, according to a statement.

"I am grateful to your country and to you personally, Mr. Prime Minister, for your defensive, political and humanitarian assistance, as well as for the great support for our citizens, forcibly displaced Ukrainians who fled the war and are now on the European continent in various countries, in particular in Portugal," he added.

Zelenskyy also called for Portugal's support in Ukraine's bid for accession to the European Union.

Costa is the latest of many world leaders to visit Kyiv or reach out to Zelenskyy to provide aid in recent weeks. In a tweet, he confirmed Portugal's support of Ukraine.

"We are all moved by the European choice made by Ukraine and its people and we welcome it with open arms," he said. "It is fundamental to accelerate Ukraine's political and economic convergence with the EU."

— Carmen Reinicke

Albania buys anti-tank Javelin missiles to strengthen army

A soldier holds a Javelin missile system during a military exercise in the training centre of Ukrainian Ground Forces near Rivne, Ukraine May 26, 2021. Picture taken May 26, 2021. 
Gleb Garanich | Reuters

Albania's defense minister said Saturday the Western Balkan country has bought anti-tank Javelin missiles to strengthen its defenses.

Niko Peleshi said Albania signed a contract with U.S. Lockheed Martin, without specifying the number of missiles, how much they cost or when they would be delivered.

Peleshi said buying the missiles was part of the army's modernization efforts.

Earlier this week, Lockheed Martin said the U.S. Army had awarded two production contracts for Javelin missiles and associated equipment and services with total value of $309 million. These contracts include more than 1300 Javelin missiles funded from the recent Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act and orders for several international customers including Norway, Albania, Latvia and Thailand.

"Not to create any panic, there is no concrete threat. We are a NATO member country and the national security issue resolved. We are protected," the minister told journalists.

Peleshi also said NATO is not a threat to any country, including Russia. Tirana supports the alliance's "open door" policy welcoming Finland and Sweden as new members, which Peleshi said were "two independent sovereign countries with high political, legal and also military standards."

Associated Press

Ukrainian forces modify ATVs for use in combat

Soldiers put camouflage atop a weaponized Geon Strike 1000 ATV on May 20, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. The commercially sold vehicle was modified by the Ukrainian Army for use against invading Russian soldiers. Troops from the 93rd brigade have been fighting to repel a Russian advance to the south from Izium.

KHARKIV OBLAST - MAY 20: Soldiers put camouflage atop a weaponized Geon Strike 1000 ATV on May 20, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. The commercially sold vehicle was modified by the Ukrainian Army for use again invading Russian soldiers. Troops from the 93rd brigade have been fighting to repel a Russian advance to the south from Izium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images
KHARKIV OBLAST - MAY 20: Ukrainian Army Major Oleh "Serafim" Shevchenko checks the steering on an amphibious Argo 8X8 ATV on May 20, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. Shevchenko modified the Canadian made vehicle, as well as the Ukrainian made Geon Strike 1000 (L) for military use against invading Russian forces. Soldiers from the Ukrainian Army's 93rd brigade have been fighting to repel a Russian advance to the south from Izium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Soldiers put camouflage atop a weaponized Geon Strike 1000 ATV on May 20, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. T
John Moore | Getty Images
KHARKIV OBLAST - MAY 20: Camouflage covers Ukrainian military ATVs on May 20, 2022 in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. Ukrainian Army troops from the 93rd brigade have been fighting to repel a Russian advance to the south from Izium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore | Getty Images News | Getty Images

John Moore | Getty Images

Biden signs $40 billion for Ukraine assistance during Asia trip

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a joint news conference with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at the Presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, May 21, 2022. 
Jeon Heon-Kyun | Reuters

President Joe Biden signed legislation to support Ukraine with another $40 billion in U.S. assistance as the Russian invasion approaches its fourth month.

The legislation, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, deepens the U.S. commitment to Ukraine at a time of uncertainty about the war's future. Ukraine has successfully defended Kyiv, and Russia has refocused its offensive on the country's east, but American officials warn of the potential for a prolonged conflict.

The funding is intended to support Ukraine through September, and it dwarfs an earlier emergency measure that provided $13.6 billion.

The new legislation will provide $20 billion in military assistance, ensuring a steady stream of advanced weapons that have been used to blunt Russia's advances. There's also $8 billion in general economic support, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukrainian agriculture and more than $1 billion to help refugees.

Biden signed the measure under unusual circumstances. Because he's in the middle of a trip to Asia, a U.S. official brought a copy of the bill on a commercial flight to Seoul for the president to sign, according to a White House official.

Associated Press

Zelenskyy outlines formal proposal on Russian compensation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has proposed a formal deal with allies outlining how to get compensation from Russia for the immense damage it has caused to Ukraine with its invasion.

"We invite partner countries to sign a multilateral agreement and create a mechanism ensuring that everybody who suffered from Russian actions can receive compensation for all losses incurred," Zelenskyy said in a video address Friday.

Under such a deal, Russian funds and property in nations which are part of the agreement would be confiscated and allocated to a compensation fund.

Ukraine's president says he will be addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 23.
Ole Jensen | Getty Images News | Getty Images

"That would be fair. And Russia will feel the weight of every missile, every bomb, every shell which it has fired at us," he said, stressing that such a mechanism would prove that countries that act as invaders would have to pay for their aggression.

Several countries are discussing changing their laws to allow the redistribution of seized foreign assets for compensating war victims or rebuilding countries after war. Canada has already said it would change its laws to enable this.

— Natasha Turak

Boris Johnson spoke with Turkey's Erdogan about NATO concerns

U.K. Boris Johnson spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, focusing on their two countries' cooperation and the war in Ukraine.

Johnson raised the issue of Turkey's opposition to Sweden and Finland's NATO membership applications, and "encouraged" Erdogan to work with both countries and NATO leaders to address his concerns, a U.K. government statement said. The 30-member alliance will be meeting in Madrid in June.

Sweden and Finland have made the decision to apply for NATO membership, which would mean a significant enlargement for the alliance along Russia's western border, as the two countries reassessed their security requirements amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

NATO requires unanimous consent to admit new members, and so far Turkey is the only state standing in the way, citing the Nordic states' support for Kurdish groups that Ankara classifies as terrorists.

— Natasha Turak

U.S. and other countries walk out of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting amid Russian minister's speech

Representatives from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan walked out of a meeting of ministers during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok, Thailand. The walk-out was done while  Russian economy minister Maxim Reshetnikov was speaking, in protest to Russia's military offensive in Ukraine.

The act was" an expression of disapproval at Russia's illegal war of aggression in Ukraine and its economic impact in the APEC region," Reuters quoted one diplomat as saying.

— Natasha Turak

Russia is using Syria-style 'reconnaissance strike' tactics, but may not have enough drones for it: UK MoD

Russia is using 'reconnaissance strike' tactics which it previously used in Syria, finding targets via reconnaissance drones and then striking them with aircraft or artillery.

But Russia is "likely experiencing a shortage of appropriate reconnaissance UAVs for this task, which is exacerbated by limitations in its domestic manufacturing capacity resulting from sanctions," the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence wrote in its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have played a key role for both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war but suffer a high rate of attrition, the ministry wrote, as they are frequently shot down or electronically jammed.

"If Russia continues to lose UAVs at its current rate, Russian forces intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability will be further degraded, negatively impacting operational effectiveness," the ministry wrote.

— Natasha Turak

Siege ends at Ukraine's Mariupol steelworks, Russia seeks control of Donbas

A view shows Azovstal steel mill during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 20, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

The last Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol's smashed Azovstal steelworks surrendered, Russia's defense ministry said, ending the most destructive siege of the war as Moscow fought to cement control over the Donbas region.

Hours before Russia's announcement on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the last defenders at the steelworks had been told by Ukraine's military that they could get out and save their lives.

Russia said there were 531 members of the last group that had given up. "The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant... has been completely liberated," the ministry said in a statement, adding that a total of 2,439 defenders had surrendered in the past few days.

The Ukrainians did not immediately confirm those figures.

Russia also launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the province of Luhansk, one of two southeastern Ukrainian provinces Moscow proclaims as independent states.

— Reuters

U.S. State officials urge Russia to grant access to detained U.S. citizens

A close up shot of Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury at practice and media availability during the 2021 WNBA Finals on October 11, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Michael Gonzales | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

The State Department called on the Kremlin to grant "consistent and timely consular access" to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia.

"One off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a daily press briefing.

Price said that a U.S. consular officer was granted permission to visit detained WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday.

"The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances. But again, our message is a clear and simple one we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees," Price added.

In February, the Olympian was arrested on drug charges after a search of her luggage at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow allegedly turned up vape cartridges with cannabis oil, Russian authorities said.

The offense could carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

 — Amanda Macias

Finnish gas supplies from Russia to be cut from Saturday

A photo taken on May 12, 2022 shows pipes at the Gasum plant in Raikkola, Imatra, Finland.
Vesa Moilanen | AFP | Getty Images

Gasum, Finland's state-owned gas wholesaler, said in a statement that natural gas imports from Russia will be halted on Saturday.

"Starting from tomorrow, during the upcoming summer season, Gasum will supply natural gas to its customers from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline. Gasum's gas filling stations in the gas network area will continue in normal operation," Gasum's CEO Mika Wiljanen said in a statement.

"It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted. However, we have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months."

Gasum gave no reason for the move, but Finland has also reportedly refused to pay for Russian gas in rubles. It also comes just two days after Finland formally applied to join NATO.

Read the full story here.

—Matt Clinch

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