French and German leaders urge Putin to release 2,500 Azovstal fighters

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·20 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Smoke rises after an explosion of a building in this still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military, which according to them shows Russian army position set up near a private house being attacked, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Vojevodivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine, released May 26, 2022. Special Operations Forces Command/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.  - Reuters/Special Operations Forces Command/Handout 
Smoke rises after an explosion of a building in this still image taken from a video released by Ukrainian military, which according to them shows Russian army position set up near a private house being attacked, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Vojevodivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine, released May 26, 2022. Special Operations Forces Command/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. - Reuters/Special Operations Forces Command/Handout

Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz have urged Vladimir Putin to release the 2,500 Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol who were taken prisoner by Russian forces.

Russia said this month that thousands of fighters had surrendered after making a last stand in the ruins of Mariupol, where they had held out for weeks in bunkers and tunnels beneath the vast steelworks.

The French President and German Chancellor, in a joint call, urged Putin to hold "serious direct negotiations" with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Elysee palace said.

The leaders also expressed to Putin the urgency of lifting the Russian blockade of the port of Odesa to allow Ukrainian grain exports.

03:00 PM

That’s all for today

Thank you for following, here are five key updates from today:

  • Russia said its forces were in full control of the town of Lyman, a railway hub in the Donetsk region, in a gain that would help set the stage for the next phase of the Kremlin's offensive in the eastern Donbas.

  • Ukraine has pledged to do "everything" to defend the Donbas, where an intensifying Russian offensive is prompting Kyiv's forces to consider a strategic retreat from some key areas to avoid being surrounded.

  • Meanwhile, Russia's defence ministry said it had successfully test-fired a hypersonic Zircon cruise missile over a distance of about 1,000 km.

  • Boris Johnson told Volodymyr Zelensky that the UK and Kyiv’s other Western allies are working intensively to resume the export of grain from Ukraine to avert a global food crisis.

  • And finally, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the “unfolding global food crisis” was due to the Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports, rather than sanctions on Moscow.

02:44 PM

Macron and Scholz ask Putin for 'serious direct negotiations' with Zelensky

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have asked Vladimir Putin to hold "serious direct negotiations" with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

During an 80-minute conversation with the Russian president, the two EU leaders "insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops," the German chancellor's office said.

Macron and Scholz urged Putin to have "serious direct negotiations with the Ukrainian president and (find) a diplomatic solution to the conflict."

The German Chancellor and the French President also "called on the Russian President to ensure an improvement in the humanitarian situation of the civilian population" in Ukraine.

02:27 PM

Russia claims seizure of key transport hub in boost for Putin

Russia said its forces were in full control of the Ukrainian town of Lyman, a railway hub in the Donetsk region, on Saturday in a gain that would help set the stage for the next phase of the Kremlin's offensive in the eastern Donbas.

Ukrainian and Russian forces had been fighting for Lyman for several days. The town lies 40 km (30 miles) west of Severodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine but now under heavy assault from Russian forces.

The governor of Luhansk region, which along with Donetsk makes up the Donbas, said on Friday that Russian troops had entered Severodonetsk.

The Russian gains indicate a shift in momentum in the war.

Read the full story here.

02:10 PM

Macron and Scholz urge Putin to free 2,500 Azovstal fighters

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have asked Vladimir Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters who were holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and taken prisoner by Russia.

"The president of the Republic and the German chancellor asked for the release of some 2,500 defenders of Azovstal made prisoners of war by the Russian forces," the French presidency said after a telephone call between the three leaders.

01:47 PM

Kuleba: Food crisis due to Russian blockade, not sanctions

01:22 PM

Putin: Western arms to Ukraine risk 'further destabilisation'

Vladimir Putin warned the leaders of Germany and France against ramping up arms supplies to Ukraine, saying they could further destabilise the situation in the pro-Western country.

Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that the continuing arms supplies to Ukraine were "dangerous", warning "of the risks of further destabilisation of the situation and aggravation of the humanitarian crisis," the Kremlin said.

12:58 PM

Putin says he's willing to discuss resuming Ukrainian grain shipments

Vladimir Putin told the leaders of France and Germany in a phone call today that Russia was willing to discuss ways to make it possible for Ukraine to resume shipments of grain from Black Sea ports.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertiliser exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

"For its part, Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports," the Kremlin said.

In a statement, the Kremlin said that Putin had also informed French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Russia was ready to increase its export of fertilisers and agricultural products if sanctions against Moscow were lifted - a demand he has raised in conversations with the Italian and Austrian leaders in recent days.

12:39 PM

Snake Island: Why Ukraine just won’t let it go

The invasion of Ukraine was just hours old when Russia’s flagship Moskva was famously told to ‘go f–k yourself’ by a lone but resolute Ukrainian voice on Snake Island, writes Joe Barnes.

Three months later, the seemingly insignificant, rocky outcrop in the Black Sea has earned near-mythical status as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

But Snake Island has gained a new significance in recent weeks: as a possible key to unlocking the looming global food shortage sparked by a Russian blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Read the full piece here.

12:10 PM

Russian ex-president Medvedev calls for tougher 'foreign agent' law

Dmitry Medvedev has called for Russia to toughen its laws on "foreign agents" and prosecute individuals working for the interests of foreign states.

Russia has legislation that labels groups and individuals as foreign agents - a term that carries Soviet-era connotations of spying - if they receive foreign funding to engage in what the authorities say is political activity.

The former president, who now serves as deputy head of Russia's security council, said the enforcement of the "foreign agents" legislation needed to be stepped up as Moscow carries out its military intervention in Ukraine and finds itself under unprecedented sanctions from the West.

"If they (foreign agents) are carrying out activities aimed against our country -- especially during this tough period -- and receive money for it from our enemies, our response must be quick and harsh," Mr Medvedev wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

11:43 AM

Daniel Johnson: Putin is doomed if Ukraine continues to beat Russia

11:22 AM

Ukrainians forced into enemy hands are fleeing ... and Russians are helping them

Vlad, from the destroyed Ukrainian city of Mariupol, looked sullen as he walked into the refugee shelter in this drab Soviet-built town in northeast Estonia, writes James Kilner.

It had taken him two months to get to the safety of the European Union through Russia but even so, the enormity of this moment was difficult to process.

Then Oxana, the Russian volunteer who had helped him make it into Estonia, pulled him into a hug. And he softened.

“Thank you,” he told her as they embraced in the middle of the reception room, strewn with toys and luggage. “Thank you.”

Read the full story here.

10:58 AM

Analysis: Putin’s forces are running out of tanks

Despite Russia’s recent military successes in the Donbas, Moscow’s war cupboard is evidently running bare, writes Dominic Nicholls.

In a further blow to Vladimir Putin, it also seems likely the US is about to supply Kyiv with some of its most sophisticated weapons in a bid to increase the range and lethality of Ukraine’s forces.

Russia is having to pull out of deep storage 60-year-old tanks to replace the hundreds already lost on the battlefield.

It is turning to ageing fleets of tanks to fill gaps in the ranks in no small part due to the successful employment by brave and innovative Ukrainian anti-tank teams of Western-supplied weaponry.

Read the full piece here.

10:27 AM

Ukraine receives Harpoon missiles and howitzers

Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said today, adding that the arms would bolster forces fighting Russia's invasion.

"The coastal defence of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles – they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams," Mr Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page.

He said Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles in the defence of the country's coast, including the southern port of Odesa.

10:11 AM

Ukraine ex-president says he was blocked from leaving country

The former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said he was barred from leaving the country, accusing the government of breaking a so-called political ceasefire in place since Russia invaded.

Mr Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started, appearing on international television to offer commentary.

His European Solidarity party is the second biggest party in Ukraine's parliament after President Volodymyr Zelensky's ruling party.

After Russia invaded, Ukraine's parliament banned several pro-Russian parties, and allowed others to still operate under a so-called political ceasefire - a tacit understanding that all parties would put aside domestic political disagreements to unite against the war.

But on Saturday, Mr Poroshenko's office said he "was refused to cross the border of Ukraine," accusing the government of violating the agreement.

"There is a risk that by this decision, the authorities have broken the 'political ceasefire' in place during the war... which one of the pillars of national unity in the face of to Russian aggression," his office said.

09:48 AM

Russian politician demands end to war in rare protest

09:31 AM

Boris Johnson calls for ‘vital’ long-range weapons to be sent to Ukraine

Boris Johnson on Friday called for advanced long-range weapons to be sent to Ukraine as Russia makes “palpable progress” in the eastern Donbas region, reports Joe Barnes.

With Ukrainian resistance fighters in the area under mounting pressure from Russian forces, the Prime Minister said it was “absolutely vital” to give Kyiv the equipment to defend itself against the artillery bombardment.

His intervention came as the United States was preparing to send multi-launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine as part of a significant upgrade to its offerings of military aid.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has repeatedly called on Western nations to deliver heavy weapons that would allow his troops to hit back at Russian targets hundreds of miles away.

Read the full story here.

09:12 AM

War draining Russia of cash, says Russian finance minister

Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine is draining Russia of cash, Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov has said in a lecture at a university, reports James Kilner.

In some of the most candid comments on the cost of the war since Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine, Mr Siluanov said that the cost to the Russian economy was "huge".

"The money for the Special Operation, it requires huge resources," he was quoted as saying by the FT. "Huge money. We need these resources to support the economy, our citizens."

High energy prices are propping up the Russian economy but the government has also said that it has ordered a general increase in spending. This increase not only includes a rise in defence spending but also a rise in pensions to dampen frustration at soaring inflation.

09:01 AM

Russia says eastern town of Lyman under its full control

Russia's defence ministry said that the Ukrainian town of Lyman has fallen under the full control of Russian and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

The claim comes a day after pro-Russian separatists from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said they had fully captured the town, a railway hub west of Severodonetsk.

Ukraine said on Friday that Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, a city a half-hour drive further southwest.

Ukrainian and Russian forces had been fighting for Lyman for several days.

08:43 AM

Germany ‘deliberately watering down’ EU embargo on Russian oil

Germany was on Friday accused of deliberately watering down the EU’s planned embargo on Russian oil imports to benefit its own economy, reports Joe Barnes.

European sources told The Telegraph that Berlin wanted an exemption for deliveries via pipeline to be extended from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the entire bloc.

In a bid to unblock talks over the EU’s sixth package of sanctions against Moscow, German officials – who had previously backed a full ban – proposed only imposing the embargo on sea shipments of Russian oil.

It comes as EU countries scramble to agree a deal in time for leaders to endorse it at a summit early next week.

Read the full story here.

08:22 AM

Russia shows off Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in test-launch at sea

Russia's defence ministry has said it successfully test-fired a hypersonic Zircon cruise missile over a distance of about 1,000 km.

The missile was fired from the Barents Sea and hit a target in the White Sea. Video released by the ministry showed the missile being fired from a ship and blazing into the sky on a steep trajectory.

President Vladimir Putin has described the Zircon as part of a new generation of unrivalled arms systems. Hypersonic weapons can travel at nine times the speed of sound, and Russia has conducted previous test-launches of the Zircon from warships and submarines in the past year.

08:07 AM

Analysis: Desperate Putin is deluded to think he can win

Insulated in his circle of yes-men, desperate to salvage his legacy, the Russian president is not ready to back down in Ukraine, writes Mark Galeotti.

Vladimir Putin must feel a little smug. After months of bad news, his armies are inching forward in the Donbas and even Boris Johnson is admitting that they are making “gradual, slow, but – I’m afraid – palpable progress”. Global food and energy prices are also rising thanks not just to Western sanctions, but Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea and closure of international pipelines. And Henry Kissinger, a diplomat famed for his sense of realpolitik, has suggested Moscow be allowed to hold onto some of its gains as the price of peace.

These facts may have come as a shock to some, but it is not surprising that the Russians are making some progress on the ground. And any Kremlin celebration would be misplaced: Russia is still losing and, perversely, some short-term successes actually leave Putin worse-off in the long run.

Read Mark's full piece here.

07:32 AM

Ukrainian negotiator says any agreement with Russia 'isn't worth a broken penny'

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said that any agreement with Russia cannot be trusted and Moscow can only be stopped in its invasion by force.

"Any agreement with Russia isn't worth a broken penny, Mr Podolyak wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?"

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other after peace talks stalled, with the last known face-to-face negotiations on March 29. The Kremlin said earlier this month Ukraine was showing no willingness to continue peace talks, while officials in Kyiv blamed Russia for the lack of progress.

07:18 AM

10,000 Russian troops in Luhansk, says governor

The governor of Ukraine's Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said this morning that there are some 10,000 Russian troops in the eastern region.

"These are the (units) that are permanently in Luhansk region, that are trying to assault and are attempting to make gains in any direction they can," Mr Gaidai said on Ukrainian television.

The report has not yet been independently verified.

06:50 AM

MoD: Russian forces have likely captured all of Lyman

05:41 AM

Ukraine repels eight assaults in Donetsk and Luhansk

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said on Saturday Ukrainian forces had repelled eight assaults in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the previous 24 hours. Russia's attacks included artillery assaults in the Sievierodonetsk area "with no success", it said.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct assaults on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.

"Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war," they said.

04:34 AM

Ukraine says 'everything' being done to defend Donbas from Russian onslaught

Ukraine has pledged to do "everything" to defend Donbas, where an intensifying Russian offensive is prompting Kyiv's forces to consider a strategic retreat from some key areas to avoid being surrounded.

In his daily address to Ukrainians, President Zelensky said the Russians had "concentrated maximum artillery, maximum reserves in Donbas."

"There are missile strikes and aircraft attacks - everything," he said.

"We are protecting our land in the way that our current defense resources allow," he added. "We are doing everything to increase them."

03:05 AM

Ukraine's Moscow-backed Orthodox Church cuts Russia ties

The Moscow branch of Kyiv's Orthodox Church said on Friday it was cutting ties with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, declaring "full independence" in a historic move against Russia's spiritual authorities.

"We disagree with the position of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow... on the war," the church said in a statement after holding a council focused on Russia's "aggression" and declaring the "full independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church".

The Moscow branch of Ukraine's Orthodox Church has until now formally pledged allegiance to Russia's Patriarch Kirill, who has expressed clear support for President Vladimir Putin's offensive in Ukraine.

"The Council condemns war as a violation of God's commandment 'You shall not kill!' and expresses condolences to all those who are suffering in the war," it said.

It said its relations with the Moscow leadership had been "complicated or absent" since martial law was declared in Ukraine.

Pope Francis, left, reaches to embrace Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril - AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool
Pope Francis, left, reaches to embrace Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril - AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool

02:41 AM

Lithuania raises 3.3 million euros to buy Ukraine drones

Lithuania has raised  3.3 million euros within 2 days to buy Bayraktar drones for Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent reports.

01:54 AM

'Conditions in Sievierodonetsk are reminiscent of the battle for Mariupol'

The Mayor of Sievierodonetsk, Oleksandr Striuk, said conditions in the city are reminiscent of the battle for Mariupol, located in the Donbas' other province, Donetsk.

Speaking to The Associated Press Mr Striuk said the port city lay in ruins following constant bombardment by Russian forces in a nearly three-month siege that ended last week when Russia claimed its capture. More than 20,000 of its civilians are feared dead.

"The city is being systematically destroyed - 90 per cent of the buildings in the city are damaged," he said.

Before the war, Sievierodonetsk was home to around 100,000 people. About 12,000 to 13,000 remain in the city, Striuk said, huddled in shelters and largely cut off from the rest of Ukraine.

Mcc0104874 Ukrainian Soldiers on armoured transport move foreward near the town of Bakhmut, heading towards the russian front and the now contentested road to Sievierodonetsk in the Donetsk Oblast. Photograph by David Rose, For the Telegraph. 27th May 2022 Donetsk Oblast  - Telegraph/ David Rose 
Mcc0104874 Ukrainian Soldiers on armoured transport move foreward near the town of Bakhmut, heading towards the russian front and the now contentested road to Sievierodonetsk in the Donetsk Oblast. Photograph by David Rose, For the Telegraph. 27th May 2022 Donetsk Oblast - Telegraph/ David Rose

01:27 AM

Russian billionaire shielded assets from European sanctions

Russian businessman Andrey Melnichenko ceded ownership of two of the world's largest coal and fertilisers companies to his wife the day before he was sanctioned by the European Union, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Mr Melnichenko, who built his fortune in the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, gave up his stakes in the coal producer SUEK AO and fertiliser group EuroChem Group AG on March 8, the day of his 50th birthday, leaving his wife, Aleksandra Melnichenko, the beneficial ownership of the companies, the people said.

Until March 8, Mr Melnichenko owned the two companies through a chain of trusts and corporations stretching from Moscow and the Swiss town of Zug to Cyprus and Bermuda, according to legal filings reviewed by Reuters.

12:50 AM

Putin 'continuing to chew through' Donbas, says Johnson

Boris Johnson told Bloomberg UK that Putin "at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas".

Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain's Defence Ministry said.

Reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, Popasna was in ruins.

12:23 AM

'Stop playing' with Russia and end war, Zelensky tells West

President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the West to stop playing around with Russia and impose tougher sanctions on Moscow to end its "senseless war" in Ukraine, adding his country would remain independent, the only question was at what price.

Mr Zelensky's criticism of the West has mounted in recent days as the European Union moves slowly towards a possible Russian oil embargo and as thousands of Russian forces try to encircle two key eastern cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

12:03 AM

Today's Top Stories

  • Russia is having to pull out of deep storage 60-year-old tanks to replace the hundreds already lost on the battlefield. It is turning to ageing fleets of tanks to fill gaps in the ranks in no small part due to the successful employment by brave and innovative Ukrainian anti-tank teams of Western-supplied weaponry.

  • Germany was on Friday accused of deliberately watering down the EU’s planned embargo on Russian oil imports to benefit its own economy.

  • Millions of Ukrainians have fled west directly into Europe, but hundreds of thousands of people from northern and eastern Ukraine have had to flee fighting through Russia, which they were forced to enter. But now, in another successful act of defiance against Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine, Russian volunteers are helping them escape.

  • Boris Johnson on Friday called for advanced long-range weapons to be sent to Ukraine as Russia makes “palpable progress” in the eastern Donbas region.