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White House says Russia will likely default on debt; U.S. official says Moscow making 'incremental progress' in Donbas

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

Russia's defense ministry claimed overnight that it will let foreign ships leave ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, according to state news agency Interfax.

A safety corridor due to open Thursday will allow ships to leave Mariupol via the Sea of Azov port as well as Kherson and Odesa on the Black Sea, the report said. The Russian foreign ministry claimed yesterday that five foreign ships were able to leave Mariupol.

The claims, which CNBC was unable to verify, come amid increasing concerns over rising global food prices.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that there could be a "multi-year food crisis" if a Russian blockade of ships carrying vital export produce, particularly wheat, is not lifted.

U.S. defense official says Russia is making 'incremental progress' in Donbas

A Ukranian serviceman looks into a crater and a destroyed home in the village of Yatskivka, eastern Ukraine on April 16, 2022. Russia is making "incremental progress" in Donbas after little progress was made through its earlier two tactics, a senior U.S. defense official said in a briefing.
Ronaldo Schemidt | Afp | Getty Images

Russia is making "incremental progress" in Donbas after little progress was made through its earlier two tactics, a senior U.S. defense official said at a briefing.

"We assess that Russia has made some incremental gains in its push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk; not a lot but, but some incremental gains," he said, referring to two cities in the northern portion of Donetsk Oblast.

The Donbas refers to two eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk — two Russian-backed "People's Republics". Russian officials have said their new main objective is the "complete liberation" of the t of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Russia is trying to encircle the Donbas region by pinching off the far-eastern regions of Ukraine, the defense official said. However, no new advances by Russian troops were made in the Donetsk region, the official added.

— Chelsea Ong

White House expects Russia to default on its debt, sees limited effect on global economy

People line up near Euro and U.S. dollars rates to ruble sign board at the entrance to the exchange office on May 25, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. Russia moved closer to a default on Wednesday after the U.S. Treasury let a key sanctions exemption expire.
Konstantin Zavrazhin | Getty Images

The Biden administration expects Russia to default on its sovereign debt, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Moscow "will likely fail to meet its obligation and face default, an enduring sign of their status as a pariah in the global financial system," she said. Jean-Pierre added that the White House expects "minimal" effect on the global economy because Russia has "already been isolated financially" by a wave of sanctions.

When the U.S. sanctioned the Russian central bank earlier this year, it allowed an exception for Russia to pay its bondholders through U.S. banks. The Treasury Department lifted the carveout this week, raising the prospect of a default.

— Jacob Pramuk

Russia tries to shift the blame for growing food crisis caused by its war

Moscow pressed the West to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv's inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.

Britain immediately accused Russia of "trying to hold the world to ransom," insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top U.S. diplomat blasted the "sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness" of the invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow "is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted," according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.

Russia also is a significant grain exporter, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the West "must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain." His comments appeared to be an effort to lump the blockade of Ukrainian exports with what Russia says are its difficulties in moving its own goods.

— Associated Press

Belarus to send troops to Ukraine border

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Region, Russia April 12, 2022. 
Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Reuters

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he was forming a southern military command and sending battalion tactical groups to the area that borders Ukraine.

Lukashenko did not give details, but battalion tactical groups typically consist of mechanized infantry including tanks. The territory of Belarus was used for rocket attacks on Ukraine, but the military of Belarus did not take part in the Russian ground operation.

Ukrainian authorities have expressed concern that Belarus may agree to a wider participation in the war.

— Associated Press

Finland's prime minister visits Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin before a meeting, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 26, 2022. 
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Reuters

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin has become the latest European leader to visit Ukraine.

Marin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Finnish public broadcaster YLE says she also visited the towns of Bucha and Irpin where Russian soldiers are alleged to have killed civilians.

Zelenskyy thanked Marin for Finland's weapons deliveries and its support for sanctions against Russia.

Jolted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Finland recently broke with its policy of non-alignment and applied for membership in NATO, together with neighboring Sweden.

— Associated Press

Russian forces bolster defenses on Ukraine's Snake Island in Black Sea, U.S. Defense official says

Russian warships ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, on July 23, 2021.
Alexey Pavlishak | Reuters

Russian forces are reinforcing Snake Island, a strategic Ukrainian island in the Black Sea, by establishing air and missile defenses on the strip of land, a senior U.S. Defense official said on a call with reporters.

The official, who declined to be named in order to discuss updates on the war, said that the Russians are also flying combat aircraft over the island.

The official said that Russian vessels have still not come close to the Ukrainian coast since the sinking of the Moskva warship. However, the blockade of Ukraine's ports continues, as concerns mount about port closures contributing to a food crisis.

— Amanda Macias

WHO condemns Russia's actions in Ukraine in rare vote

Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of armored vehicles in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Dokuchaievsk in the Donetsk region, Ukraine March 28, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

A World Health Organization assembly voted to adopt a Western-led resolution condemning Russia's aggression in Ukraine, citing "grave concerns over the ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine".

The resolution was approved with 88 votes in favor, 12 against and 53 abstentions. Russia proposed its own version of the resolution but failed to mention its actions during its war in Ukraine.

"Russia's actions have caused a health and humanitarian crisis on a massive scale. They tried their best to sabotage this resolution but failed," the United Kingdom's mission in Geneva wrote in a tweet.

Russia's proposal to the annual assembly was rejected with 66 votes against, 15 in favor and 70 abstentions.

— Amanda Macias

Putin has failed to achieve goals in Ukraine, Blinken says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about US policy towards China during an event hosted by the Asia Society Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on May 26, 2022.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to accomplish his goals in Ukraine.

"Instead of erasing Ukraine's independence, he strengthened it, instead of dividing NATO, he has united it, instead of asserting Russia's strength, he's undermining it and instead of weakening the international order, he has brought countries together," Blinken said during a speech at George Washington University.

In a speech largely focused on U.S. policy toward China, Blinken called out Putin's relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Even while Russia was clearly mobilizing to invade Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin declared that the friendship between their countries was, and I quote, 'without limits,'" he said.

Blinken's comments come as the U.S. works to discourage Beijing from supporting Moscow's war in Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Images show destroyed university in Irpin

A view of the destroyed State Tax University, which civilians used as a shelter during Russian attacks in Irpin, Ukraine.

A view of destroyed State Tax University, which was used as shelter by civilians during Russian attacks, in Irpin, Ukraine on May 25, 2022.
Dogukan Keskinkilic | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A view of destroyed State Tax University, which was used as shelter by civilians during Russian attacks, in Irpin, Ukraine on May 25, 2022.
Dogukan Keskinkilic | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A view of destroyed State Tax University, which was used as shelter by civilians during Russian attacks, in Irpin, Ukraine on May 25, 2022. 
Dogukan Keskinkilic | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A view of destroyed State Tax University, which was used as shelter by civilians during Russian attacks, in Irpin, Ukraine on May 25, 2022. 
Dogukan Keskinkilic | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A view of destroyed State Tax University, which was used as shelter by civilians during Russian attacks, in Irpin, Ukraine on May 25, 2022. 
Dogukan Keskinkilic | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

— Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

UN says 3,998 people have been killed in Ukraine, and the toll is likely higher

Relatives attend the funeral of Ukranian soldiers Olefir Igor and Grygorash Mykhailo in their home village on May 24, 2022 in Synyak, north of Kyiv, Ukraine. The soldiers were killed in a Russian missile strike on their military base in Desna in the Cherniv region on May 17, 2022.
Christopher Furlong | \Getty Images

The United Nations has confirmed 3,998 civilian deaths and 4,693 injuries in Ukraine since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor on Feb. 24.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

The international organization said most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as missiles and airstrikes.

— Amanda Macias

UN expert warns destruction of Ukrainian cultural sites will have lasting effect

A view shows the building of a theatre destroyed in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 10, 2022. Picture taken with a drone.
Pavel Klimov | Reuters

A UN human rights expert warned that the destruction of cultural artifacts in Ukraine will have "devastating effects in the post-war era."

"The questioning and denial of the Ukrainian identity and history as a justification for war is a violation of the Ukrainians' right to self-determination and their cultural rights," said Alexandra Xanthaki, a UN expert on cultural rights.

Xanthaki expressed her concern over the damage to city centers, cultural sites, monuments and museums housing important collections.

Museum workers carry the sculpture of Ukrainian philosopher Hryhorri Skovoroda from the destroyed building of the Hryhoriy Skovoroda National Literary Memorial Museum in the village of Skovorodynivka, in Kharkiv Region, on May 7, 2022, on the 73rd day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

"We often do not measure how devastating violations of cultural rights can be for peace. Attempts against academic and artistic freedoms, linguistic rights, falsification and distortion of historical facts, denigration of identities and denial of the right to self-determination result to further degeneration and fueling of open conflict," she said.

— Amanda Macias

Amid signs of Russian escalation, Ukraine faces a 'long stage of the struggle'

A Ukrainian official has said there are signs of escalation from Russia as fighting intensifies in the east of the country.

"We are in for a very difficult and long stage of the struggle," Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Thursday. "We will suffer losses indubitably," she added.

Two Ukrainian soldiers look at the southern front line.
Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukraine's military was reported as saying that Russia is moving Iskander missiles to Brest in Belarus and that it was possible these could be used to target western Ukraine.

Russia has not responded to the comments and CNBC has contacted the ministry of defense for a response. Russia has intensified its assault on eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, targeting multiple towns in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region.

Holly Ellyatt

Putin should be careful when he uses gas as a weapon, Bulgaria's PM says

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has told CNBC that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be wary of weaponizing energy supplies.

"He should be careful when he's using gas as a weapon because he's losing clients for good," Petkov told CNBC's Silvia Amaro at the World Economic Forum. "We're looking to diversify away from Gazpom altogether now."

Several weeks ago Bulgaria decided that it would not pay for Russian gas in rubles, as demanded by Moscow, because it represented a breach of contract. In turn, Russia cut its gas supplies to the country.

Bulgaria's leader said he didn't regret the decision to refuse Moscow's demand, saying his country had showed Putin "that Bulgaria can stand on its feet, that gas dependency cannot be a way to influence our foreign policy, that we, as Europeans, can hold [firm] under pressure," he said.

Bulgaria was dependent upon Russia for 95% of its natural gas imports. By turning away from Russian gas, Petkov said Bulgaria had taken a leadership position in the EU.

Holly Ellyatt

Europe working 'flat out' to move away from Russian gas, but change hurts

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany is looking to create closer ties with countries that share its values, naming Japan and India, among others.