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 are seen ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea 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 soldiers look at the southern frontline from their position, which is 5 km from it. Soledar is a town in the Donetsk region, where it is being hammered by Russian artillery as it sits along the crucial road that leads out of besieged Severodonetsk.
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.
Lisi Niesner | Reuters

Europe is working "flat out" to end its reliance on Russian natural gas, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the World Economic Forum on Thursday, but said a transition away from the energy source would have an impact on Europe's economy.

"We will end Germany and Europe's dependence on energy imports from Russia," he told the audience in a special address, adding that "we're moving forward with the development of the requisite infrastructure, terminals, ports and pipelines with unprecedented alacrity."

"Nonetheless, this restructuring will have an impact on Europe's economies, we are feeling it not least through rising energy prices, and of course this presents a special challenge for a country like Germany which is an industrialized nation and plans to remain so," he said.

Scholz said Germany aimed to maintain its industrialized economy while becoming climate neutral, with plans to invest billions of euros in renewable energy and the hydrogen economy. "The 2020s will be years of change, renewal, and rebuilding," he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin 'will not win' this war, Germany's chancellor tells Davos

"We cannot allow Putin to win this war and I firmly believe he will not win it. Even now he has failed to meet any of his strategic goals," Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the audience at the World Economic Forum.

"Putin wants a return to a world order in which strength dictates what is right, in which freedom, sovereignty and self-determination are simply not for everyone. That is imperialism," Scholz noted.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 26, 2022.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has united Europe more than ever before, has furthered the integration of potential new members of the EU, and has reinvigorated NATO, he said, with Finland and Sweden set to join the alliance.

Scholz believed Putin would only enter meaningful peace negotiations when he realizes that Russia "cannot break Ukraine's defenses," but he insisted that Ukraine would not accept a "dictated peace, and neither will we."

Holly Ellyatt

'We don't want to go back to the USSR!'

Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko has vociferously defended Ukraine's aspirations to align itself with the rest of Europe in the face of Russia's aggression and desire to pull it back within Moscow's orbit.

"We were in the USSR, we don't want to go back to the USSR! We see the future of Ukraine as part of the European family where the main priority is human rights, press freedom and democratic standards of life. This is what every Ukrainian wants," he said.

Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko visits a checkpoint of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 6, 2022.
Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

Klitschko said the cause of the war was simple and boiled down to Ukrainians' desire to "build a modern, democratic society" and to join the European Union. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to recreate the Soviet empire, of which Ukraine was an important part.

Telling the audience of elite business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, what life is like right now in Kyiv, the capital of war-torn Ukraine, Klitschko said public transport doesn't work as well as before, and neither are there as many services as before.

"But we have electricity, water, food and medical care. But the atmosphere is still strange because twice, three or four times a day we have the warnings [air raid sirens] and everyone has to go to the bunkers," he said.

Holly Ellyatt

What do Ukrainians need most right now? 'Safety,' Kyiv's mayor says

The mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko has told the World Economic Forum that the main priority for him, and for Ukrainians, is "safety."

Holding his phone to the microphone, Klitschko played the audience the sounds of air raid sirens that have become a daily occurrence for Ukrainians fleeing for safety in underground bunkers amid Russian shelling.

"Today, nobody has any safety. Any second, any minute, rockets can land in any buildings," he said, adding there were "no rules" in this war.

Sergyi Badylevych, 41, hugs his wife Natalia Badylevych, 42, and baby in an underground metro station used as bomb shelter in Kyiv on March 2, 2022.
Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

The population of Kyiv was around 3.5 million before the war, Klitschko said. Now, it is around a million, he added, although people were slowly returning to the city since Russia had withdrawn its troops from the areas surrounding Kyiv, and had focused their forces on eastern Ukraine.

He said the war in Ukraine is a tragedy for both Ukrainians, and Russians.

"What's happening now is a huge tragedy, not just for Ukraine and for millions of people in Europe, but it's also a big tragedy for Russians. They don't understand, right now, the meaning of the tragedy but slowly they will understand it," he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia's elite airborne force 'mismanaged,' UK says, leading to tactical failures

Russian Sukhoi Su-25 close air support jets fly over a church in a rehearsal of the Victory Day parade in Moscow, Russia, May 7, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

The Russian Airborne Forces (the VDV) have been heavily involved in several notable tactical failures since the start of Russia's invasion, according to the latest military intelligence from the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence.

Giving three examples of such failures, the ministry said these included:

  • The attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March.
  • The stalled progress on the Izium axis since April.
  • And the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River.

The VDV is assigned to some of the most demanding operations, the ministry said, with the 45,000-strong unit comprised mostly of professional contract soldiers. Its members enjoy elite status and get additional pay.

However, the U.K. said the VDV "has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign," adding that its mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia's failure to secure air superiority.

Holly Ellyatt

Russia's intense offensive in the eastern Donbas region continues

Ukrainian servicemen get ready to move toward the frontline at a checkpoint near the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbas, on May 23, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Aris Messinis | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces have fired on 41 settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, the country's Joint Forces Task Group has said in its latest military update.

As a result of Russian shelling, 6 people were killed and 12 were injured, the task group said in the update on Facebook Thursday morning.

Russia "destroyed and damaged 52 high-rise and private residential buildings" and other civilian facilities including a secondary school, health center, recreation center building, railway line and a Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways) building, as well as farm buildings, garages and cars.

Ukraine said its rescuers had evacuated about 760 people from combat areas.

Russia has been accused of employing "scorched-earth" tactics in the Donbas and has concentrated its manpower, and firepower, on the region in a bid to seize it entirely. It's believed that Russian troops are trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in Luhansk, with fighting focused around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia's defense ministry says it will let foreign ships leave Black Sea ports

Workers assist the loading of corn on to a ship in the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania on May 3, 2022. Russia's defense ministry is promising a safe corridor to let foreign ships leave Black Sea ports, the Associated Press reported.
Daniel Mihailescu | AFP | Getty Images

Russia's defense ministry said it would open a safe corridor to let foreign ships leave Black Sea ports, Russian state news agency Interfax reported Wednesday.

The Russian defense ministry has reportedly announced that it is opening two safety corridors for the exit of foreign ships from ports on the Black and Azov Seas between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Moscow time.

The head of the National Defense Control Center Mikhail Mizintsev said at a briefing that these lanes would provide for the safe movement of ships from ports including Kherson, Nikolaev, Chernomorsk, Ochakov, Odessa and Yuzhny on the Black Sea, as well as Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.

"In six ports - Kherson, Nikolaev, Chernomorsk, Ochakov, Odessa and Yuzhny, 70 foreign ships from 16 states remain blocked," Mizintsev said. He claimed that Ukraine posed a threat in terms of shelling, and that mines had not allowed "ships to go to the open sea without hindrance."

Russian forces have for weeks blocked Ukrainian ports, contributing to a global food security crisis. Ukraine is a leading global producer of both wheat and sunflower seeds, which are used for oil.

Russia has said the ports and the water area near them are mined and merchant ships could be vulnerable.

— Holly Ellyatt and Chelsea Ong

Russia fast tracks citizenship for Ukraine residents

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia May 20, 2022. 
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

President Vladimir Putin issued an order to fast track Russian citizenship for residents in parts of southern Ukraine largely held by his forces, while lawmakers in Moscow passed a bill to strengthen the stretched Russian army.

Putin's decree applying to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions could allow Russia to strengthen its hold on territory that lies between eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists occupy some areas, and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.

The Russian army is engaged in an intense battle for Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. In a sign that the Kremlin is trying to bolster its stretched military machine, Russian lawmakers agreed to scrap the age limit of 40 for individuals signing their first voluntary military contracts.

A description of the bill on the parliament website indicated older recruits would be allowed to operate precision weapons or serve in engineering or medical roles. The chair of the Russian parliament's defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said the measure would make it easier to hire people with "in-demand" skills.

— Associated Press

Turkey makes demands on Sweden, Finland NATO membership

A senior Turkish official has insisted after talks with Swedish and Finnish officials that Turkey will not agree to the two Nordic countries joining NATO unless specific steps are taken to address Ankara's objections.

"We have made it very clear that if Turkey's security concerns are not met with concrete steps in a certain timeframe the process will not progress," Ibrahim Kalin said after talks in Ankara that lasted about five hours.

Kalin is the spokesman of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a senior presidential aide.

Turkey has said it opposes the countries' membership of NATO, citing grievances with their perceived support of the Kurdistan Workers' Party and other entities that Turkey views as security threats.

Kalin said Turkey's proposal for the two countries to lift arms export limits was met with a "positive attitude" by the Swedish and Finnish delegations.

— Associated Press

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