French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold “serious direct negotiations” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to find “a diplomatic solution to the conflict” during a phone call Saturday, the chancellor’s office said. Putin told the two leaders that increasing arms supplies to Ukraine risks “further destabilising” the situation, the Kremlin said. Follow our liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
7:12pm: Pro-Moscow official in Ukraine’s Kherson region says referendum could come on joining Russia
A senior pro-Russia official in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson told Reuters on Saturday that nearby fighting could affect the timing of its formal bid to join Russia and a decision was likely “towards next year”.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russia-backed Kherson military-civilian administration, also said in a video call that the process might involve a referendum, backtracking on previous comments that none would be needed.
Asked about the timetable for joining Russia, he replied: “It won’t happen by autumn. We’re preparing an administrative system and then towards next year we will see what the situation is like.”
Stremousov told Russian state media on May 11 that Kherson, just north of Crimea and the only regional capital that Russia has captured in more than three months of fighting in Ukraine, would ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022. He said at the time: “There will be no referendums.”
In his interview with Reuters, however, he said there could be a vote.
“We’ll announce later when some kind of vote or plebiscite is planned, but it won’t be today and it won’t be tomorrow because our first task is to restore order in the Kherson region,” he said.
4:13pm: Macron, Scholz ask Putin to release Ukrainian soldiers who were defending Azovstal
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz asked Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin to release some 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers who were holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and then 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.
3:37pm: Macron and Scholz ask Putin to hold ‘direct negotiations’ with Zelensky
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold “direct serious negotiations” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During an 80-minute conversation with Putin, the two European 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”.
3:29pm: Putin says Moscow ‘ready’ to find ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday told the leaders of France and Germany that Moscow was “ready” to look for ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports but demanded that the West lift sanctions.
“Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports,” Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Kremlin said.
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from the two countries, fuelling concerns about the risk of hunger around the world.
Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
3:11pm: Putin tells Macron, Scholz that supplying more arms to Ukraine risks ‘destabilisation’
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday 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.
11:56am: Ukraine ex-president says blocked from leaving country
The former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Saturday he was barred from leaving the country, accusing the government of breaking a so-called political ceasefire in place since Russia invaded. 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, 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.
Poroshenko was due to travel to a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting in Lithuania as part of the Ukrainian delegation, and had received official permission to travel. He was due to meet in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and a group of European parliamentarians. He was then to travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a summit bringing together European political parties.
10:58am: Russia says eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman under its full control
Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday that the Ukrainian town of Lyman had 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 Sievierodonetsk.
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.
10:44am: Ship to take metal from Mariupol to Russia; Kyiv decries looting
A ship has entered the Ukrainian port of Mariupol for the first time since Russia completed its capture of the city to load metal and ship it east to Russia, TASS news agency reported on Saturday, in a move that Kyiv decried as looting.
A spokesperson for the port told TASS that the vessel would be loading 2,700 tonnes of metal before travelling 160 km (100 miles) east to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Monday. The spokesperson did not say where the metal being shipped had been produced.
Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said the shipment amounted to looting by Russia.
10:13am: Russia test-fires Zircon hypersonic cruise missile at sea
Russia successfully test-fired a hypersonic Zircon cruise missile over a distance of about 1,000 km (625 miles), the defence ministry said on Saturday. The missile was fired from the Barents Sea and hit a target in the White Sea, it said. 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.
9:23am: Ukrainian negotiator says any agreement with Russia ‘isn’t worth a broken penny’
Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said Saturday 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, 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.
8:57am: Russia’s Gazprom continues shipping gas to Europe via Ukraine
Russian gas producer Gazprom said on Saturday its supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point stood at 43.96 million cubic metres (mcm), slightly up from 43.6 mcm on Friday. An application to supply gas via another major entry point, Sokhranovka, was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom said.
7:45am: 10,000 Russian troops in Ukraine’s Luhansk region
The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said early on Saturday 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,” Gaidai said on Ukrainian television.
5:35am: Russian troops approach the strategic city of Severodonetsk on Friday
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. Russia is waging all-out war for the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions that make up Donbas, the country’s industrial heartland, where Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Moscow of carrying out a “genocide”.
In his daily address to Ukrainians, Zelensky said the Russians had “concentrated maximum artillery, maximum reserves in Donbas.” “We are protecting our land in the way that our current defense resources allow,” he added. “We are doing everything to increase them.”
Pro-Russian separatists said Friday they had captured the town of Lyman between Severodonetsk and Kramatorsk, on the road leading to the key cities still under Kyiv’s control. Russian forces are also closing in on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Lugansk province, with conflicting reports about the extent of their advance.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)