In the most precise prediction by a senior Ukrainian official to date, Major General Kyrylo Budanov has said he believes the war will be over by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy foreign minister has said the country will take action if NATO moves nuclear forces near its border, according to Russian news agencies cited by Reuters.
Ukraine’s resistance has also made significant territorial gains, pushing Russian forces away from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The northeastern city has seen significant bombarded since Russia began its full scale invasion in late February, and was thought to be a key target for the Kremlin.
And U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukraine President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
McConnell and Senate delegation visit with Zelenskyy in Kyiv
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell lead a Senate delegation that arrived in Kyiv to visit with Ukraine President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Thank you for your leadership in our struggle not only for our state, but also for democratic values and freedoms. We appreciate it very much,” Zelenskyy posted about the meeting on social media according to an NBC News translation.
A video showed McConnell greeting Zelenskyy along with Senators John Barrasso, John Cornyn, and Susan Collins.
Ukraine seeks evacuation of wounded fighters from Mariupol
Talks are underway to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks plant in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war, Ukraine’s president said.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24, has slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances elsewhere in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the plight of people trapped at the Azovstal site in a late-night address.
“At the moment very complex negotiations are underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission – the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” he said, adding that “influential” international intermediaries were involved in the talks.
Russia, which initially insisted the defenders in the sprawling Soviet-era bunkers beneath the steelworks give themselves up, has said little publicly about the talks.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told local TV that efforts were now focused on evacuating about 60 people, comprising the most seriously wounded as well as medical personnel.
Finland President Niinisto called Russian President Putin to announce plans to seek NATO membership
In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Finland President Sauli Niinisto announced his country’s intention to see membership in NATO, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has “altered the security environment of Finland.”
“The conversation was direct and straight-forward and it was conducted without aggravations,” President Niinistö said in a statement. “Avoiding tensions was considered important.”
Niinisto said he repeated his deep concern over the human suffering caused by the war in Ukraine and called for peace. He also sought to help secure the evacuation of civilians from the war zone.
Putin told Niinisto in return that abandoning neutrality and joining NATO would be a mistake that could damage relations between their two countries, Reuters reported.
“Vladimir Putin stressed that abandoning the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, since there are no threats to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s foreign policy may have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations,” according to the Kremlin.
Moscow described the call as a “frank exchange of views,” normally a diplomatic euphemism for a difficult conversation, Reuters said.
— Terri Cullen
Ukraine is investigating 11,000 war crimes, and has 40 suspects: Prosecutor general
Ukraine’s war crime investigation already has 11,000 cases and 40 suspects, according to the country’s prosecutor general.
In a tweet Friday, Iryna Venediktova said she was “confident that in the nearest future” there will be more war crimes cases in the courts.
It comes after a Russian soldier went on trial Friday in the first war crimes case to come to court since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Sargent Vadim Shyshimarin was accused of shooting a man through an open car window in Chupakhivka, a village in the northeast of Ukraine.
In a follow-up tweet on Saturday, Venediktova added: “It is in the hands of and Int. [international] community to end the impunity. This is a responsibility that we are carrying on our shoulders in relation to current and future generations. We allowed Russia way too long to go unpunished for its criminal actions.”
— Katrina Bishop
G-7 foreign ministers pledge to continue assistance for Ukraine for as long as it’s needed
G-7 foreign ministers said on Saturday they will continue to provide military and defense assistance to Ukraine for “as long as necessary.”
They also said they were committed to ensuring the accessibility of food, energy and financial resources, as the Ukraine war wreaks havoc on global supply chains.
“We will expedite our efforts to reduce and end reliance on Russian energy supplies and as quickly as possible, building on G-7 commitments to phase out or ban imports of Russian coal and oil,” the group’s statement said.
Read the full story here.
— Katrina Bishop
Ukraine general says the war will be over by the end of the year
Ukrainian Major General Kyrylo Budanov has said he believes his country’s war with Russia will be over by the end of the year.
“The breaking point will be in the second part of August,” he said in an exclusive interview with Sky News. “Most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year.”
“As a result, we will renew Ukrainian power in all our territories that we have lost including Donbas and the Crimea,” he added.
The comments mark the most precise prediction of the end of the war by a senior Ukrainian official.
Budanov, who serves as Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, also said a coup was already underway in Russia to overthrow President Vladimir Putin.
He said Russia’s defeat in Ukraine will “eventually lead to the change of leadership of the Russian Federation. This process has already been launched and they are moving into that way.”
— Katrina Bishop
Russian forces are withdrawing from Kharkiv, Ukraine says
Russian forces are withdrawing from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine said in an operational update Saturday.
“Russian enemy did not conduct active hostilities in the Kharkiv direction. Its main efforts were focused on ensuring the withdrawal of his troops from the city of Kharkiv, maintaining the occupied positions and supply routes,” Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in an address on YouTube, according to an NBC News translation.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has seen significant bombarded since Russia began its full scale invasion in late February.
But Ukraine’s resistance has moved quickly over recent days make territorial gains and drive Russians away from the city.
On Friday, the Pentagon said Ukraine continued to make progress in reclaiming towns and villages around Kharkiv.
“We have seen some progress by them pushing Russian forces closer to the border and away from Kharkiv,” the official, who declined to be named, said on a call with reporters.
— Katrina Bishop
Moscow will respond if NATO moves nuclear forces closer to Russia’s border
Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if NATO deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Saturday.
“It will be necessary to respond … by taking adequate precautionary measures that would ensure the viability of deterrence,” Interfax agency quoted Grushko as saying.
Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden and does not see “real” reasons for those two countries to be joining the NATO alliance, Grushko added.
He also reiterated the Kremlin’s earlier statement that Moscow’s response to NATO’s possible expansion will depend on how close the alliance moves military assets towards Russia and what infrastructure it deploys.
Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced on Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow, would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed to prevent.
Rigged referendums are ‘central part’ of Russian strategy in Ukraine, says UK ministry
A request from authorities in Kherson, Ukraine, to join the Russian Federation is part of Moscow’s strategy to use rigged votes to place Ukrainian regions under Russian control, the U.K. Defence Ministry said Saturday.
“A central part of Russia’s original invasion plan was highly likely to use rigged referendums to place the majority of Ukraine’s regions under long-term pro-Russian authority,” the ministry said in a regular intelligence update.
Kherson’s administration, which was imposed by Russia after its troops took over the city in March, this week formally requested that the Kherson Region be made part of Russia.
“The fact that Russia has only succeeded in imposing a pro-Russia local leadership in Kherson highlights the failure of Russia’s invasion to make progress towards its political objectives in Ukraine,” the British ministry said.
Russia will “almost certainly” manipulate the results of any referendum held in Kherson to decide whether to leave Ukraine, the Defence Ministry said.
Russia’s defense ministry was unavailable for immediate comment.
Kherson lies on the Dnipro River near the Black Sea, only about 60 miles (97 km) from Crimea, which Russia took over the last time it invaded Ukraine in 2014.
Invading Russian troops took control of Kherson in the early part of the current war, but the Ukrainians who live there have carried out public protests against the occupation regardless.
Ukraine’s military said in March that Russian troops used stun grenades and gunfire to break up at least one of those protests.
Moscow claims its troops do not target civilians, despite overwhelming proof that they have done so in Ukraine.
— Ted Kemp
Ukraine war is about ‘the future’ for Western countries, Zelenskyy says
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, armored vehicles, helicopters and drones.
“And for what? So that the Lenin statue can stand for a bit longer in temporarily occupied Genichesk? There is and can be no other result for Russia.”
Russian forces in April restored the Lenin statue in Genichesk, a town in the southern Kherson region.
Zelenskyy said 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 said Ukrainian forces have retaken towns and villages from Russian troops. He said work was underway to restore electricity, running water, telephone communications and social services.
— Associated Press
Here’s a breakdown of the high-tech weapons the U.S. is shipping to Ukraine
Russia to halt electricity exports to Finland
Russian state-owned utility company Inter RAO will halt exports of electricity to Finland starting Saturday, the company’s Finnish subsidiary said.
RAO Nordic, the subsidiary that imports electricity from its Russian parent company, said that it will stop supplying Finland because it hasn’t received payment from Finnish sources in recent days.
“We are forced to note that for the volumes which have been sold on Nord Pool exchange since the 6th of May funds have not yet been credited to our bank account,” the company said in a statement. “This situation is exceptional and happened for the first time in over twenty years of our trading history.”
Power imports to Finland will be halted from 1 a.m. local time on Saturday “for the time being,” Finnish grid operator Fingrid said in a separate statement, citing RAO Nordic.
“The lack of electricity import from Russia will be compensated by importing more electricity from Sweden and by generating more electricity in Finland,” said Reima Päivinen, senior vice president of power system operations at Fingrid.
Fingrid, a state-owned business, said imported electricity from Russia has covered about 10% of Finland’s total consumption. The stoppage comes as Finnish leaders warm up to the idea of joining NATO in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
— Thomas Franck