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The UK says it will ban the import of Russian diamonds in new sanctions
From CNN’s Sophie Jeong and Jake Kwon
The United Kingdom will ban the import of Russian diamonds as part of its latest sanctions against Moscow, Downing Street announced Friday.
Imports of Russian-origin copper, aluminum and nickel will also be banned under the legislation, which will be introduced later this year, the prime minister's office said in a statement.
The Russian diamond industry was worth $4 billion in exports in 2021, according to Downing Street.
Alongside the measures, the UK government is also preparing new individual designations targeting an additional 86 people and companies from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military industrial complex as well as those involved in key revenue streams such as energy, metals and shipping. They include people who are “supporting the Kremlin to actively undermine the impact of existing sanctions,” the statement said.
“As today’s sanctions announcements demonstrate, the G7 remains unified in the face of the threat from Russia and steadfast in our support for Ukraine,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
To date, the UK has sanctioned over 1,500 individuals and entities, freezing more than £18 billion ($22.3 billion) of assets in the UK, according to Downing Street.
The announcement comes as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with leaders for the first day of the G7 summit in Hiroshima on Friday.
EU sanctions: Additionally, the European Union will also restrict trade of Russian diamonds, European Council President Charles Michel said Friday.
“Russian diamonds are not forever,” Michel said on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
The EU will also continue its effort to cut off critical supplies from Russia, he added.
A senior EU official said Thursday the EU is “confident” that a plan for sanctioning Russian diamonds will beput in place at the G7 meeting,which kicks off Friday in Japan.
Zelensky to join G7 virtually on Sunday
From CNN's Junko Ogura
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will participate in the G7 summit virtually on Sunday, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Thursday.
Zelensky will join asession held Sunday morning on Ukraine, the ministry said.
Earlier this year, Zelensky had accepted an invite from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to participate in the summit, which kicks off Friday in Hiroshima, but it was unknown whether he would attend in person or virtually.
Accounting error freesup $3 billion for Ukraine weapons assistance
From CNN's Kylie Atwood, Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand
The Biden administration made an accounting error in assessing the value of military support the US has given to Ukraine to date,freeing up approximately $3 billion more in aid,multiple congressional and administration officials told CNN.
The accounting error occurred becausewhen the US transferred weaponry to Ukraine, they used the value of the replacement instead of the value of actual weapon,defense officials explained.That drove up the cost of each package — because new weaponry costs more than old weaponry — and resulted in the false assumption that more of the funding had been used.
The error – briefed to lawmakers and congressional staffers Thursday – triggered frustration fromRepublicans on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. They believe the mistake reduced the amount of US support that went to Ukraine leading up to the counteroffensive.
“The revelation of a three-billion-dollar accounting error discovered two months ago and only today shared with Congress is extremely problematic, to say the least. These funds could have been used for extra supplies and weapons for the upcoming counteroffensive, instead of rationing funds to last for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee and Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in a statement Thursday.
McCaul and Rogers said that the administration should “make up for this precious lost time by using these funds to provide Ukraine the DPICMS and ATACMS they need to fuel the counteroffensive and win the war.”
The Pentagon previously said there was just over$2.3 billion remaining available for Presidential Drawdown Authorityfor Ukraine. Now, due to this revelation, there is about $5.3 billion still available,far more than even the largest single package provided to Ukraine.
The new amount will likely mitigatethe need for Congressto pass an additional assistance package before the end of the fiscal year in September.
Ukraine says offensive brigades are gearing up for battle. Here's what you should know
From CNN staff
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hinted Thursday that his military's offensive brigades are gearing up for a fight, but offered no concrete information.
The country's much-anticipated counteroffensive appears imminent as the Ukrainian military says it has made gains along the conflict's frontlines in recent days. There's speculation that the counteroffensivemay already be underway.
If you're just now reading in, here are other headlines you should know:
Black Sea grain deal: Global wheat prices fell Thursday after Ukraine and Russia agreed toextend a deal allowing grain to be exported fromUkrainian portsin the Black Sea. After the agreement, Russia renewed threats to let the deal expire if Western powers do not meet its demands to lift certain sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the next two months will be “decisive” when it comes to the future of the deal.
Overnight missile strikes: Moscow claimed Thursday that it struck “foreign-made weapons and equipment” depots in overnight strikes on Ukraine using “high-precision” missiles.Ukraine earlier claimed it hadintercepted 29 out of 30 Russian missilesthat were fired overnight, including over the capital Kyiv. At least one person was killed in the southern port city of Odesa after debris from an intercepted missile fell on industrial buildings.
A Bakhmut breakthrough?: Ukraine's Third Separate Assault Brigade said its recent offensive in the eastern city of Bakhmut has helped it stake out a strong position ahead of Ukraine'santicipated counteroffensive. Brigade leaders said the breakthrough came in an area about 2,000 meters (about 1.25 miles) wide and 700 meters (a little less than half-a-mile) deep. Ukrainian forceshave claimed advancesin several areas surrounding the embattled eastern city in recent days, despite coming under heavy fire from Russian troops, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said Thursday.
Military aid: Long-range Storm Shadow missiles, which were provided to Ukraine by Britain, have been used successfully since the deployment was announced, UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace said. Also, the Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that theUS would allow them to export F-16 fighter jetsto Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said. It comes as the White House has been facing increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help Ukraine procure the planes amid intensifying Russian aerial attacks.And the Pentagon said that a Patriot missile battery that was damaged by a Russian missile barrage against Kyiv has since been fixed.
2 Russian civilians killed: The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region says that two civilians were killed by Ukrainian fire in a district close to the border. Ukraine said its northern border regions are under fire almost daily by Russian forces, resulting in dozens of casualties in recent months.
Ex-Wagner commander who sought asylum in Norway decides to return home
From CNN's Josh Pennington
Andrey Medvedev, a former commander in the Wagner mercenary group who applied for political asylum in Norway, says he has decided to return to Russia.
In an interview with Russian human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin, Medvedev said he called the Russian embassy in Oslo and asked to be able to return home.
Medvedev gave several interviews explaining that the murder by Wagner of its own deserters led him to leave and seek asylum in Norway. He told CNN he witnessed brutality and incompetence on the front lines in Ukraine, where the mercenary group's fighters have played a pivotal role in Russia's invasion.
Legal troubles in Norway: Medvedev crossed the Russia-Norway border on foot in January and sought political asylum.
But his stay in Norway has not been entirely peaceful. In April, the 26-year-old pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a fight outside an Oslo bar, and for carrying an air gun in public.
In a series of short videos, Medvedev said he would cancel his asylum application on June 10.
Horrors in Ukraine: Medvedev was the commander of ex-convict Yevgeny Nuzhin, who Wagner executed for surrendering to Ukrainian troops.
Nuzhin returned to Russia of his own choice, according to Ukrainian authorities.Footage of Nuzhin's execution by sledgehammer later circulated on social media, a grim reminder of Wagner's draconic methods.
“They would round up those who did not want to fight and shoot them in front of newcomers," Medvedev told CNN in January. "They brought two prisoners who refused to go fight and they shot them in front of everyone and buried them right in the trenches that were dug by the trainees.”
US signals to allies that it won’t block them from exporting F-16 jets to Ukraine
From CNN's Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood and Oren Liebermann
The Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said. It comes as the White House has been facing increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help Ukraine procure the planes amid intensifying Russian aerial attacks.
Administration officials are not aware, however, of any formal requests by any allies to export F-16s, and State Department officials who would normally be tasked with the paperwork to approve such third-party transfers have not been told to get to work, officials said.
A handful of European countries have a supply of the US-made jets, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the United States would have to approve that third-party transfer because of the jets' sensitive US technology.
While the US remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kyiv, US officials told CNN that the administration is prepared to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine if that is what allies decide to do with their supply.
Top Ukrainian officials have escalated their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16sin recent months, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
Looking ahead: The issue is expected to be a subject of debate at the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, officials said.
Another open question is where Ukrainian pilots would train on these F-16s. A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week that the UK and the Netherlands were looking to form an "international coalition" not only to procure the jets for Ukraine but also to train Ukrainian pilots.
In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and to assess how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s. But the US has no plans as of now to expand that training, a defense official told CNN, despite Congress setting aside money in the 2023 budget.
CNN's Zachary Cohen contributed reporting to this post.
Zelensky says offensive brigades are preparing, but offers no details
From CNN's Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting with senior commanders Thursday, hinting afterward that his military's offensive brigades are gearing up for a fight but offering no concrete information.
“The offensive brigades are doing well, we are preparing, but no details," Zelensky said.
Ukraine has made significant gains along the conflict's front lines in recent days, raising speculation that its highly anticipatedcounteroffensivemay already be underway.
A senior US official told CNN “shaping operations” began last week, but Ukraine has yet to state outright that its counterattack has formally begun.
After several days of heavy Russian missile attacks on Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, Zelensky said his military will prioritize bolstering its air defense systems and missile stocks, training troops and acquiring more long-range weapons.
Solemn anniversary: Zelensky also marked the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Tatar people from Crimea in 1944.
“We honor the memory of all the victims of the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people," the Ukrainian leader said in his nightly address. "It was one of the most serious crimes of the 20th century — the entire nation was forcibly deported from its native land and forced to live in a foreign land for decades. And when people returned home, Russia once again brought its evil to their home.”
Ukraine has successfully used UK-provided Storm Shadow missiles, British official says
From CNN's Haley Britzky
Ukraine has used the Storm Shadow missiles provided by the United Kingdom against Russian forces, a British defense official said Thursday.
"All I can confirm is it has been used successfully, that is the information I received from the Ukrainians, and I'm pleased it is helping them to defend their country," British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN’s Jim Sciutto in an exclusive interview on “News Central.”
The Storm Shadow missiles, the longest-range weapon in Ukraine's arsenal, were just recently given to Kyiv ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive against the Russian military. The long-range cruise missile has stealth capabilities and a firing range of more than 250km, or 155 miles.
Asked about a potential counteroffensive and Ukrainian attempt to retake Crimea from Russia, Wallace said that under international law, Ukraine has "every right to do that in accordance of self-defense."
"It's their sovereign soil," he said. "It's a bit like you asking me if the US were choosing to take back parts of Texas from an enemy that had invaded it. You wouldn't take anyone else from abroad telling you what you can and can't take back, it is Ukrainian soil, it is their sovereign territory, it has been invaded, they've lost thousands of lives as a result of that invasion, and I think ultimately it will be Ukraine's decision."
"Britain isn't going to stand in the way of that," he added.
Recent fighting: In the last several days, Russia has continued pounding Ukraine with missiles, killing one civilian and injuring two others in Odesa overnight. Ukraine, however, has maintained that it has been able to knock down many of Russia's missiles before impact, particularly in the capital of Kyiv.
On Tuesday morning, Russia launched what Ukraine described as an "exceptional" assault on Kyiv that was largely intercepted by air defenses.
While the battle rages, there has been confusion on whether Ukraine's counteroffensive has started yet — though that may be the point. US and NATO-supplied equipment has continued pouring into the country, and Wallace said Thursday that the international community's support of Ukraine is only growing stronger.