Sunday, June 26, 2022

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 83: Russia and Ukraine say peace talks stalled

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

More buses reportedly leave Mariupol’s Azovstal plant

Another column of buses has left the besieged Azovstal steel plant, according to Russian state media.

The buses “allegedly with surrendered militants from the Azovstal plant, accompanied by armored vehicles, moved to the exit from Mariupol,” RIA Novosti reported, adding that no shots were fired at the Azovstal plant for several hours before the column of buses left.

On Tuesday, the spokesperson of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that 265 militants, including 51 seriously injured, surrendered at the Azovstal and had been evacuated on Monday night.

All those in need of medical care were sent for treatment to the Novoazovsk hospital in the Donetsk People’s Republic, he added.

There’s been no word from the Ukrainian side on another convoy leaving Tuesday.

The operation to evacuate Ukrainian defenders from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol was the only possible way for their rescue, said Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar during a briefing at the Media Center Ukraine on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, military unblocking is impossible in this situation. There could be no other way to rescue them than the way it is happening now. It was the only way out,” Malyar stated, adding that “the defenders of Mariupol” have fully fulfilled their combat mission.

Due to the defense of Mariupol, Russian forces were not able to transfer about 20,000 personnel to other regions of Ukraine, and thus failed to capture Zaporizhzhia, according to Malyar.

Ukraine expects to carry out an exchange of Russian prisoners of war for the severely injured soldiers evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol late on Monday, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister has said.

“In the interests of saving lives, 52 of our severely wounded servicemen were evacuated yesterday. After their condition stabilizes, we will exchange them for Russian prisoners of war,” Iryna Vereshchuk stated Tuesday.

“We are working on the next stages of the humanitarian operation,” Vereshchuk added.


Russia moves to declare Azov Regiment a ‘terrorist organisation’

The office of Russia’s prosecutor general has asked the country’s Supreme Court to recognise Ukraine’s Azov Regiment as a “terrorist organisation”, the Interfax news agency reports, citing the Ministry of Justice website.

Russia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on May 26, Interfax reported.


Russia moves to withdraw from WTO, WHO

Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is planning to discuss the potential withdrawal of the country from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), according to Pyotr Tolstoy, the vice speaker of the parliament.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a list of such agreements to the State Duma, and together with the Federation Council [upper house of parliament] we are planning to evaluate them and then propose to withdraw from them,” Tolstoy said on Tuesday.

The vice speaker noted that Russia had already canceled its membership in the Council of Europe, and that leaving the WTO and WHO is next.

“Russia withdrew from the Council of Europe, now the next step is to withdraw from the WTO and the WHO, which have neglected all obligations in relation to our country,” he stated.

Tolstoy added that the government is expected to revise Russia’s international obligations and treaties that do not currently bring any benefit but directly damage the country.


Sweden and Finland to hand in NATO applications on Wednesday

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson says Sweden and Finland will on Wednesday hand in their respective applications to NATO to join the organisation.

“In Sweden and Finland we also agree to go hand in hand through this entire process and we will tomorrow together file the application,” Andersson told a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Stockholm.

She added Sweden was ready to talk to NATO member Turkey about her country’s membership bid and to seek to resolve any problems Ankara has over the issue.

“We are seeking contact with Turkey and we are prepared to … travel to Turkey to discuss and straighten out any question marks there may be,” Andersson noted.


UN nuclear watchdog to deploy team of experts to Chernobyl

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the UN’s nuclear watchdog plans to send another team of experts to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine in “the coming weeks”.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who led a first mission to the site in northern Ukraine late last month, said in a post on Twitter that the group would “provide support on radiation protection, waste management safety, [and] nuclear security”.

Russian forces took control of Chernobyl, the site of a 1986 nuclear disaster, at the beginning of Moscow’s invasion in late February before withdrawing a month later.


EU set to approve new military aid for Ukraine

European Union defence ministers are set to approve another 500 million euros ($527m) in military aid for Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said.

“We have to continue to support the Ukrainians with arms, that’s why we will pull 500 million euros more” from the European Peace Facility, Borrell told reporters on the way to the meeting of EU defence ministers.


Biden to meet Swedish, Finnish leaders at White House

United States President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications, the White House has announced.

Biden, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland President Sauli Niinistö will also discuss “European security, as well as strengthening our close partnerships across a range of global issues and support for Ukraine,” White House Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre stated.


ICC sends ‘largest ever’ team of investigators to Ukraine

The International Criminal Court has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to Ukraine to probe possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, its top prosecutor says.

“This represents the largest ever single field deployment by my office since its establishment,” Karim Khan said in a statement.


Finland’s parliament approves NATO membership bid

Finland’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted in favour of approving a bid for NATO membership.

Matti Vanhanen, the legislative body’s speaker, said 188 lawmakers had voted in favour of the move. Eight voted against it.


Ukraine says peace talks with Russia ‘on hold’

Kyiv announced Tuesday that peace talks to end fighting with Russia in Ukraine had been suspended and blamed Moscow for failing to find areas for compromise.

“The negotiation process is on hold,” Mykhaylo Podolyak, a presidential aide was cited as saying in a statement issued by the presidency.

Podolyak, who is also Kyiv’s lead negotiator in talks with Russia’s delegation, added Moscow was blind to its “extremely negative” role in the world.

“The strategic objective of the Russians is: all or nothing,” Podolyak was cited as saying.

He stated Russian failed to understand that the war is “no longer taking place according to its rules, its timetable, or its plans”.

Russian negotiator and prominent lawmaker Leonid Slutsky said in his Telegram channel on Tuesday the Russian-Ukrainian talks, initiated by Kiev, are now in a deadlock and not being conducted in any format.

“I’m sure that [Ukrainian President Voldymyr] Zelensky’s curators from Washington seriously contributed to a stalemate in the talks, which were launched on Ukraine’s request back on February 28 and are not being conducted in any format now,” stated Slutsky, who chairs the State Duma (lower house) foreign affairs committe.

The Russian lawmaker went on to say that Washington “does not need peace in Ukraine, or a peace treaty, or successful negotiations.”

“They have declared a hybrid war on Russia, and are waging it with hands of others,” he continued, adding that all goals of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine will eventually be achieved.


EU introducing ‘suicidal’ sanctions on Russian oil and gas under pressure from US overlords: Putin

He promised that the Russian state would do “everything that depends on us” to create the proper conditions for the work of energy companies, ranging from improving logistical capabilities to providing a system of payment in national currencies and improving the availability of credit and insurance services, to stimulating processes related to the processing of raw materials and the creation of domestic technologies.

Russian air raid kills eight in Chernhiv: Emergency service

A Russian air raid on the village of Desna in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv has killed at least eight people and wounded 12 others, according to the state emergency service.

Chernihiv Governor Viacheslav Chaus said Russian forces had launched four missiles in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Two of the missiles hit buildings in the village, he added.

Chaus had earlier stated there were “no more [Russian] occupiers” in the region but warned it was “easy for them to reach us”.

“Don’t ignore air raid warnings,” he cautioned.


West’s sanctions, nearsighted policy to blame for looming food crisis: Russia

The risk of starvation noted by Western countries is caused by their own sanctions policy and selfish acts in dealing with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and not by Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

On her Telegram channel on Tuesday, the diplomat noted that the sphere of agriculture and agroindustry has been encountering difficulties at least for the past several years and this has several causes, both the coronavirus pandemic which disrupted logistics chains leading to growing prices, and the forced switch of some Western countries to green energy which affected prices for fertilizers.

That said, the diplomat noted that at the peak of the crisis caused by the pandemic, the US and European countries diverted the flows of goods and food products away from other countries.

“The US and Europe were buying more and more products which on the whole they didn’t need, leaving African and Asian countries with nothing. The situation was aggravated by a low level of food supplies, unfavorable weather conditions and generally insufficient investments into this sphere,” the spokeswoman added.

She emphasized that all of this was exacerbated by the West’s unilateral sanctions against Moscow.

“Taking into account Russia’s role in the trade of agroindustry products this could not but influence food supply to our partners. Realizing the role of the Russian Federation on the global agricultural market, completely understanding what a complex situation had shaped in the sphere of food security in general, the West still introduced sanctions in that sphere which impacted the agricultural sector thereby aggravating the already heated situation,” the diplomat stated.

That said, she noted that despite sanctions pressure Moscow continues to fulfill its contractual obligations as a supplier of agricultural products, fertilizers, energy products and other critically important goods.

“For many years, we were accused of creating threats to energy security. That is, if something happens, Russia will turn off gas. That ‘something’ did happen but Russia supplies gas without fail. It is those who were scaremongering the world with Russia’s energy kill switch, Washington, who are forcing to reject it. So who created the threat to energy security? The same thing is happening with food [security],” the spokeswoman concluded.


Ukraine alleges Russia targeting military leaders over war failures

The Kremlin has demoted, dismissed or arrested at least six leading Russian military figures over failures during Moscow’s offensive, Ukraine’s defence ministry has claimed.

“To reduce the consequences of future political and criminal responsibility, the Kremlin tries blaming all of its failures and defeats on commanders of the occupation forces and units,” the ministry’s chief intelligence department said in a Telegram post.

It cited Igor Osipov, the head of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, as being among the officials targeted by the Kremlin. The ministry added Osipov was sacked and arrested over the sinking of Russia’s flagship Moskva guided-missile cruiser in the Black Sea in mid-April.


Surrendered Azovstal fighters to be treated ‘humanely’: Kremlin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Ukrainian fighters who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant will be treated “humanely” and “in accordance with international standards”.

Peskov added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally guaranteed that would be the case.

The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has reportedly said that Azov Regiment fighters evacuated from Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks should not be swapped for Russian prisoners of war and instead ought to stand trial as “war criminals.”

“Nazi criminals should not be exchanged. These are war criminals and we must do everything to make sure they will stand trial,” Vyacheslav Volodin was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying.

Moscow has long claimed that the Azov Regiment, a controversial volunteer battalion turned national guard unit with links to the far-right, are “neo-Nazis”.


Discussions with Turkey can ‘solve’ NATO objection issue: Finnish president

Finland and Sweden will be able to reach an agreement with Turkey over its objections to the two Nordic countries’ plans to join the 30-nation NATO alliance, Finland’s president has stated.

“Statements from Turkey have very quickly changed and become harder during the last few days,” Sauli Niinisto said during an address to Sweden’s parliament.

“But I am sure that, with the help of constructive discussions, we will solve the situation,” he added.


Russia withdraws from Council of Baltic Sea States

Russia has decided to withdraw from the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

“In response to the hostile actions, Russian Foreign Minister S.V. Lavrov sent a message to the ministers of the CBSS member countries, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy [Josep Borrell], as well as to the Council Secretariat in Stockholm with a notification of [Russia’s] withdrawal from the organization,” the ministry announced in a statement.

The decision will not affect Russia’s presence in the region, the ministry said, adding that attempts to oust Russia from the Baltic are “doomed to failure,” as Moscow will continue to work with responsible partners

“Western countries … have monopolized the council for their opportunistic purposes, are making plans to organize its work to the detriment of Russian interests,” the statement read.

At the same time, the Russian Federal Assembly decided to withdraw from the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, the statement added.


Kremlin on appeals to use assets of Russian banks in Ukraine for needs of Kiev: It will be theft

The decision to use the assets of Russian banks in Ukraine for the needs of Kiev would be blatant, illegal and demanding a response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, adding that it would be “theft.”

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said earlier in the day that he is open to the idea of confiscating foreign assets of the Central Bank of Russia, noting that this issue is being discussed by the G7 countries and the European Union.

“No one told the Russian side and the Kremlin about this … such a decision would be illegal, blatant, and, of course, requiring an appropriate response,” Peskov told reporters when asked whether anyone told the Kremlin about this, adding that “this would be an outright theft.”

Russia has everything at hand to overcome its standoff with the West, Peskov said, adding, “we have all means at hand to” weather the heat of the situation.

“We have our own technologies, and there is still room for improvement. We still have much to do in the area,” the Kremlin spokesman stated.


Russia expels two employees of Finnish embassy in tit-for-tat move

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it had summoned Finnish Ambassador to Moscow Antti Helantera on Tuesday to hand him a note of protest in connection with the expulsion of the employees of the Russian Embassy in Helsinki.

“The head of the diplomatic mission was strongly protested in connection with the groundless expulsion from Finland of two employees of the Russian embassy in Helsinki as part of the EU anti-Russian sanctions campaign, as well as Finland’s confrontational course towards Russia,” the ministry announced in a statement.

As a response measure, Moscow is expelling two Finnish diplomats from Russia, the statement added.


Russian FM: Ukrainian negotiators guided by London & Washington

Washington and London are guiding the Ukrainian negotiating group regarding the Russian special operation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday, adding that Russia is receiving the relevant information through various channels.

“Obviously, this was a signal that Ukraine’s initiative, perhaps, which manifested in the transfer of acceptable principles to us [at the talks in Turkey] for reaching agreements, was not supported in the West. And we have information coming through various channels that Washington and especially London are guiding the Ukrainian negotiators and regulating their freedom of manoeuvre,” Lavrov said at the educational marathon “New Horizons.”

The West is seeking to drag down the conflict, as it believes the longer it lasts the more damage Russia will suffer, the foreign minister added.

Ukraine is nothing more than expendable material in the eyes of the West in its all-out hybrid war against Russia, without any doubt, Lavrov said.

“[Kiev] gets away with everything, that’s for sure. <…> No one cares about Ukraine, Ukraine is merely expendable material in the full-on hybrid war against the Russian Federation. Now no one has any doubts about it, this has been publicly proclaimed. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, says that “this war must be won on the battlefield”. The English, the Americans, presidents, prime ministers, and ministers insist: ‘We cannot let Russia win, Russia must suffer a defeat’. So, they have indeed already declared war, but it is not a war between Ukraine and Russia, but rather a war between the West and Russia. <…> You know, it’s already become a common expression that the West is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian, [I think] this is right on target,” Lavrov pointed out.

“Anything goes, that’s why Neo-Nazism is flourishing there. And the string-pullers in the West turn a blind eye to it. Moreover, they take part in training Neo-Nazi units and make sure that these units are honed for anti-Russian actions,” the top diplomat added.

Lavrov emphasized that during all these years of lawlessness in Ukraine, Russia couldn’t get through to NATO, the EU, the US, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe, “to attract their attention to the fact that this contradicts all the conventions, on which the international community’s human rights activities are based”.

Lavrov said Ukraine isn’t an independent country even if it thinks so.

“Whatever they (Ukraine) may feel about themselves, of course, they are not independent,” the foreign minister added.


Ukraine’s military says Russian losses approaching 28,000

At least 27,900 Russian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, including some 200 in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s military has claimed.

On Facebook on Tuesday, the General Staff of Armed Forces said Russian forces have also lost 1,235 tanks, 3,009 armored vehicles, 201 planes and 167 helicopters since February 24.

It added that the figures are “being updated” because of ongoing hostilities. The most recent death toll provided by Russia, in late March, put the death toll at just over 1,350 soldiers.


Moscow sees Finland, Sweden bid to join NATO only as geopolitical move to contain Russia

Moscow considers the decisions of Sweden and Finland to join NATO to be only a geopolitical move to contain Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Tuesday.

“We do not see any need for Finland and Sweden to take care of their security, so we see their decision, which was probably actively lobbied by Washington and NATO itself, as only a geopolitical move … in the context of containing Russia, in the context of implementing NATO’s plan to extend its actions to the Arctic region,” Lavrov said at the educational marathon “New Horizons.”

Moscow will look at how the alliance will use the territories of Sweden and Finland and then draw conclusions, the minister added.


Ukraine working on ‘further stages’ of Azovstal evacuation: Deputy PM

Ukraine is working on “further stages” of the evacuation of fighters from the Azovstal steelworks, the country’s deputy prime minister says.

“God willing, everything will be fine,” Iryna Vereshchuk stated in a Telegram post. She gave no further details.

On Monday, more than 50 wounded Ukrainian troops were taken from the steelworks to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, and more than 210 others were taken to the town of Olenivka in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.


Russian official says talks with Ukraine stopped

Moscow and Kyiv are not holding talks over ending the war “in any form”, Russia’s Interfax news agency has quoted the country’s deputy foreign minister as saying.

“No, negotiations are not going on. Ukraine has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process,” Andrey Rudenko said.

Previous rounds of discussions in person and online have failed to produce any deal on halting the conflict.

Russia finds it worrisome the European Union is forming a military component and being turned into an annex to NATO, Rudenko told the media on Tuesday.

“The direction in which the EU is moving cannot but alarm us. Firstly, it is forming a military component. Secondly, it obviously becomes an annex to the North Atlantic alliance,” he said.

Rudenko remarked that NATO, “despite all of its statements is completely losing strategic independence.”

In that connection, he stated, Ukraine’s hypothetical admission to the European Union aroused many questions.

“First and foremost, it is the European Union’s decision. We have nothing to do with it,” he added.

Earlier, Russia’s first deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, noted that Moscow’s attitude to Kiev’s wish to join the European Union was now close to its attitude to Kiev’s NATO ambitions.

Separatists say 256 Azovstal fighters ‘surrendered’

Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine say 256 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant “have surrendered”.

Ukraine’s military announced earlier on Tuesday that it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the southeastern port city, ceding control of it to Russia after months of bombardment.

About 600 Ukrainian fighters were believed to have been inside the sprawling, Soviet-era plant. It is unclear exactly how many remain there now.


Mariupol mayor urges residents not to return

The mayor of Mariupol has urged its evacuated residents not to return to the Russian-occupied city.

“You can get in, but leaving is very complicated,” Vadym Boychenko, who has left the city, said in televised remarks. He referred to a Russian system of “filtration” that allegedly includes interrogations, searches and torture for anyone suspected of being a Ukrainian serviceman, official or sympathiser.

He added that pledges made by the Russians to pay compensation for lost housing and killed relatives were nothing but a “trap” and a “propaganda” ploy to lure back as many Mariupol residents as possible.


Russia says it destroyed arms shipments in western Ukraine

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have fired missiles at arms shipments from Kyiv’s Western allies – including the United States – in Ukraine’s western Lviv region, destroying the cargo.

The claim came after Lviv’s governor stated Russian forces had again hit a major military facility in the region. There was no immediate response from Kyiv.

The Russian Aerospace Forces destroyed a railway traction electrical substation in the Kharkiv region, which ensured delivery of Western weapons to Donbas, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, announced on Tuesday.

“As a result of the strikes, more than 470 nationalists were killed, 68 units of military equipment were disabled. In addition, a traction power substation was destroyed near the Merefa railway station in the Kharkov region, which ensured the delivery of weapons and military equipment from the United States and Western countries to Donbass,” he added.


All EU countries will support applications of Sweden, Finland to join NATO: Borrell

All EU member states will support Sweden and Finland in joining NATO, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell noted on Tuesday.

“We will talk also about the demand from Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, they will receive a strong support, I am sure, from all member states because it increases our unity and makes us stronger,” Borrell stated ahead of a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

The diplomat also expressed the hope that the alliance will overcome Turkey’s objections to the Nordic countries’ bid to obtain NATO membership.


Ankara expects Putin to pay visit to Turkey in coming days

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin for a working meeting in Turkey, with the visit expected in the coming days, media reported on Tuesday.

A high-level delegation from Russia led by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak will arrive in Turkey on Wednesday to hold talks with economic departments, the Yeni Safak newspaper said, noting that Turkey is currently having difficulty entering northern markets due to the operation in Ukraine.

During the meetings, the sides will work out the ground for a high-level business meeting between Turkey and Russia, the daily added. In this regard, Putin is expected to visit Turkey in the coming days.


US has turned into a state hostile to Russia: Kremlin

Western powers opposing Russia in Ukraine could be considered enemies waging a war against the state, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Tuesday. He pointed out that economic sanctions, the arming of Ukrainian nationalists, and giving them intel to attack Russian troops all amounted to acts of war.

“Sure, we are still using the mild term ‘unfriendly states’ when referring to them,” Peskov told an educational forum.

The spokesperson said that the United States has became a hostile state to Russia.

Peskov stressed that Russia’s existence is an irritant to the West and that western countries are prepared to do anything to prevent Russia from developing.

Russia tried to reach out to the West and agree on new security principles, but it was not really listened to, Peskov noted.

“They didn’t listen to us very much, because there is very strong competition in the world. And in general, the collective West is arranged in the form of a pyramid, the United States being at the top, no matter what anyone says. And the decision-making centre is there,” Peskov added.

Russia is confident of its victory and will achieve the goals that were set, Peskov announced.


Tehran says intends to resume mediation efforts Between Russia and Ukraine

The Iranian authorities intend to resume their efforts to act as a mediator between Moscow and Kiev and resolve the conflict, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told Sputnik.

“We will be able to contribute [to the resolution of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia] as much as we are able and as far as both sides are ready. Iran … will launch a new round of its efforts [to resolve the conflict],” Khatibzadeh said, adding that both sides take Iran’s mediation seriously.


US frees Russia’s hands to act by forcing Finland, Sweden to join NATO: Moscow

By forcing previously-neutral Finland and Sweden to seek accession to NATO Washington has freed Moscow’s hands to act, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“What Finland and Sweden, their political forces are doing under pressure from Washington frees Russia’s hands,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

“The US is forcing these countries that have pursued a neutral policy for many decades by not joining military blocs to change their strategic direction and course,” added Zakharova, appearing on Soloviov Live.


Sweden signs application for NATO membership

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Tuesday morning signed an application declaring the country wants to join NATO.

The move marks a formal step by Stockholm toward joining the US-led military alliance — ending decades of military neutrality — as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparks a dramatic evolution in European security and geopolitics.

“It feels very big, very serious, and it feels like we have arrived at a conclusion which is the best for Sweden,” Linde said.

“We don’t know how long it will take, but we calculate that it could take up to a year.
“Now this week, this application will be submitted, together with Finland, in a day or so, and then it will be processed by NATO,” Linde added.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated Monday that the country should join NATO together with neighboring Finland to “ensure the safety of Swedish people.”

Russian President Vladimir President Putin said the entry of the two Nordic countries into NATO will not create a threat to Russia, but military expansion into the territory will “certainly cause our response.”


Kharkiv official says Ukrainian forces are advancing in the northeast

Ukrainian soldiers are advancing to the north and northeast of Kharkiv, according to the head of the northeastern city’s regional military administration, as a weeks-long counter-attack gathers pace.

Oleh Syniehubov told Ukrainian television Tuesday that fighting was underway northeast of Ukraine’s second-largest city, toward the town of Vovchansk, along the Russia-Ukraine border.

The town has become a resupply route for Russian forces as they try to sustain their offensive into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions further south. Disrupting that supply line could compromise the Russians’ ability to reinforce their offensive towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

“Active hostilities are taking place in settlements north of the region,” Syniehubov stated, adding, “The enemy is focused on holding positions. Our troops have to repel (them on) every inch of our territory.”

Syniebuhov added that Ukrainian advances had helped reduce — but not eliminate — Russian artillery attacks on Kharkiv. There had been “relative silence for the last two weeks,” Syniebuhov said, noting, “However, the enemy sometimes hits with artillery strikes.”

There were strikes in the Saltivka and Shevchenkivskyi districts close to Kharkiv on Monday, Syniebuhov added.

“Two people were killed and nine were injured in the past 24 hours,” he said.
Syniebuhov added Russian shelling of other parts of the Kharkiv region continued.


NATO starts drills near Russian border

Large-scale NATO military drills started in Estonia on Monday. The exercise dubbed ‘Hedgehog 2022’ is one of the largest in the Baltic nation’s history, according to the military bloc. The drills will involve some 15,000 troops from 14 nations, including both military bloc members and their partners.

Soldiers from Finland, Sweden, Georgia and Ukraine are among those that will take part in the exercise, Finnish public broadcaster Yle reported. The drills will include all branches of the armed forces and will involve air, sea and land exercises, as well as cyber warfare training, according to the broadcaster.

According to a NATO statement, the drills will also see the US Navy Wasp-class landing ship ‘Kearsarge’ take part in the exercises. Both the military bloc and Estonian Defense Forces deputy commander, Major General Veiko-Vello Palm, have denied that the drills just over 60km from the Russian border have anything to do with Moscow’s ongoing military action in Ukraine.

The drills started just a day after Finland and Sweden officially announced their plans to join NATO, and were planned long before the conflict in Ukraine broke out, Western officials have said.

The exercises in Estonia are, however, just one part of NATO’s large-scale military activities near the Russian border. Another Baltic state, Lithuania, is hosting the ‘Iron Wolf’ exercise, which involves 3,000 NATO troops and 1,000 pieces of military equipment, including Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks.

Two of NATO’s biggest exercises – ‘Defender Europe’ and ‘Swift Response’ – are taking place in Poland and eight other countries, involving 18,000 troops from 20 nations, according to NATO’s statement on Friday.

“Exercises like these show that NATO stands strong and ready to protect our nations and defend against any threat,” the military bloc’s spokesperson, Oana Lungescu, stated, adding that the drills “help to remove any room for miscalculation or misunderstanding about our resolve to protect and defend every inch of allied territory.”

The NATO Response Force is currently taking part in the 7,500-strong ‘Wettiner Heide’ drills in Germany. The Mediterranean Sea is about to witness ‘Neptune series’ naval drills involving the USS ‘Harry S. Truman’ carrier strike group that will be placed under NATO command. This will only be the second time since the end of the Cold War that a US carrier group has been transferred under the military bloc’s command, NATO has announced.

In June, the Baltic States and Poland will host what NATO describes as “Europe’s largest integrated air and missile defense exercise,” which would involve 23 nations.

In late April, Finland hosted NATO naval drills. Now, it is also hosting a joint land exercise, in which troops from the US, the UK, Estonia and Latvia are participating.

The massive military wargames are taking place amid heightened tensions between Russia, NATO and some of the military bloc’s partners. Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, and Sweden decided to reconsider their long-standing policy of non-alignment following a major change in public opinion after the launch of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

The development sparked a wave of criticism from Moscow, which warned that it would have to respond if Finland and Sweden join NATO. Moscow also maintains that it considers NATO’s expansion as a direct threat to its own security.


Russia likely to rely heavily on ‘indiscriminate’ strikes in Donbas: UK

Russia is prepared to use “artillery against inhabited areas with minimal regard to discrimination or proportionality,” the UK’s defence ministry has suggested, based on the scale of damage Russia caused to residential buildings.

Around 3,500 buildings have been destroyed or damaged in the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv during Russia’s previous advance towards the capital, the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing. It added that 80 per cent of the damage was caused to residential buildings.

The ministry added Russia’s reliance on indiscriminate artillery bombardment was likely due to its “limited target acquisition capability” as well as its “unwillingness to risk flying combat aircraft routinely beyond its own frontlines”.

In coming weeks, the ministry warned Russia “is likely to continue to rely heavily on massed artillery strikes as it attempts to regain momentum in its advance in the Donbas”.


Russian governor says border village draws Ukrainian fire

A village in Russia’s western province of Kursk bordering Ukraine came under Ukrainian fire on Tuesday, regional governor Roman Starovoit announced, but there were no injuries, although three houses and a school were hit.

Russian border guards returned fire to quell the shooting from large-calibre weapons on the border village of Alekseyevka, Starovoit wrote on Telegram.


Ukraine’s FM: NATO did little to help Kiev, unlike EU

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba has criticised NATO for doing very little for Ukraine in the context of the conflict with Russia. During his interview with Bloomberg, Kuleba also praised the EU for outpacing the Washington-based military bloc.

“In the beginning [of Russia’s special military operation] the perception was that NATO is strong and NATO can act, and NATO can deliver. And the only thing EU can do is to express different levels of concern. The [special operation] proved that everything is completely different. NATO as an alliance […] can do very little, if anything,” he said.

The Ukrainian went on to comment that certain NATO member-states have been “very helpful” to his country’s efforts, sending weapons and financial assistance, but stressed that the alliance as a whole has done nothing.

Comparing NATOs support to that of the EU, the diplomat praised Brussels for applying sanctions, making “strong political statements”, and pledging economic support. Kuleba went as far as to claim that Brussels was not Kiev’s best hope, but rather “Ukraine is the best hope of the EU”.

“The EU is back on track as a driving force, as a body which can shape the future of Europe. And its Ukraine which gave them the chance to demonstrate that they can,” Kuleba added.


Ukraine says over 260 soldiers evacuated from Mariupol plant

More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar has stated.

“53 heavily wounded [soldiers] were evacuated from Azovstal to the medical [facility] near Novoazovsk for medical aid,” Malyar said in a statement.

Another 211 were taken out through a humanitarian corridor, she added.


Ukraine war threatens lives of malnourished children around world: UNICEF

Up to 600,000 additional children worldwide could be left without access to life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition due to the rising costs of raw ingredients in part due to increasing fuel prices and the Ukraine war, the United Nations Children’s Fund has warned.

In a news release Sunday, UNICEF said the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to rise up to 16% over the next six months due to the higher cost of raw ingredients. Other factors, including pandemic supply chain disruptions and drought, have added to the rising prices, according to the release.

The ready-to-use therapeutic food, known as RUTF, is an energy dense paste made of peanuts, sugar, oil and milk powder. Russia and Ukraine are key agricultural producers and exporters, but the war in Ukraine is blocking supply lines.

“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell stated in the release.

“The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and child suffering from wasting,” Russell added.

UNICEF estimates at least 10 million children affected by severe wasting don’t have access to RUTF.


Exchange planned for rescued Azovstal fighters taken to Russian territory

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister has said that an exchange would be worked out for the fighters evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant who have been taken to Russian-held territory.

Anna Malyar said in the early hours of Tuesday that 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azovstal steelworks to a hospital in the Russian-held city of Novoazovsk, which is in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

An additional 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka, also in Russian-held Donetsk, through a humanitarian corridor.

All the evacuees are to be subject to an exchange, Malyar added in a video posted on social media, without providing further details.


Bodies of three civilians found near Kyiv: Police

Police have found the bodies of three civilians near a village in the Bucha region who they say were killed by Russians when Moscow’s troops had been stationed in the area.

“The burial was found on both sides of the road near Makariv, where the positions of the Russians were located during the hostilities,” the regional police service said in a Facebook post.

“Two people were killed in the head, one person in the stomach. Documents of one of the dead were found at the burial site – a citizen of the Czech Republic.,. The remaining two people have not been identified at the moment, but they were in civilian clothes,” stated Andriy Nebitov, head of the Kyiv regional police.

Residents in the village of Makariv, near Kyiv, spent one month under Russian occupation before the troops withdrew from the region.


Red Cross head accuses Europe of ‘double standard’ on Ukrainian refugees

The quick acceptance of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s aggression puts a spotlight on Europe’s “double standard” for refugees, standing against its non-welcome for people fleeing violence in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, the head of the world’s largest humanitarian network has said.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, stated his organisation hoped the Ukrainian refugee crisis would have been a “turning point” in Europe’s migration policies.

“But unfortunately, this was not the case,” Rocca added.

In contrast to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia readily accepting refugees from Ukraine, Rocca said migrants, refugees and asylum seekers trying to get to Europe are still dying, facing abuse and struggling to access essential services.

More than 48,000 refugees and migrants have died or disappeared since 2014 while travelling at sea, and the deadliest route is that taken by refugees and migrants across the central Mediterranean to Europe, with at least 19,000 such deaths, he added.


Ukraine’s monthly deficit at $5bn: Zelensky

Ukraine faces a monthly budget deficit of about $5bn per month, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

Zelensky mentioned this in his nighttime address in the context of his talks with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva “on how to speed up the provision of financial assistance to Ukraine, given the state budget deficit during the war, which is about $ 5 billion a month”.

Zelensky added he hoped the lives of service members in the besieged Azovstal steel plant will be saved.

“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Zelenskyy continued, noting, “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”


Moscow says G7 attempts to isolate Russia make global food crisis worse

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced that attempts by the West and the G7 group of nations in particular to isolate Moscow have worsened global food shortages.

“Attempts to divert Russia economically, financially and logistically from long-standing channels of international cooperation are only exacerbating economic and food crises,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

“It should be noted that it was the unilateral actions of Western countries, primarily from the Group of Seven, that exacerbated the problem of breaking the logistics and financial chains of food supplies to world markets,” it added.


Ukraine says 20 civilians killed in eastern regions

Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force claimed that 20 civilians, including a child, were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The military task force announced in a statement on its Facebook page that 25 communities in the regions were fired at, with 42 residential buildings and a school among locations hit.

There was no immediate response from Russia to the report.


About a dozen buses carrying Ukrainian Azovstal servicemen leave plant

A Reuters witness claims about dozen buses carrying Ukrainian servicemen who were holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s southeast left the structure.

The new agency reported it was impossible to determine how many servicemen were aboard the buses. It was also unclear whether those on board were all among the 40 wounded fighters Ukrainian officers stated to have been beneath the plant.

Some 600 servicemen were said to have been inside.


‘Further escalation remains possible’: Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he sees no sign of an imminent end to the war in Ukraine and warned that a further escalation remains possible.

There had so far been no sign that people had realized the importance of ending the conflict “as quickly as possible,” Scholz told German broadcaster RTL, adding that he was also concerned there could be “an escalation of the war.”


France will defend Finland, Sweden against whatever threat or attack

The French presidential office has announced that France stands ready to support Finland and Sweden, who recently chose to join  NATO, politically and through “enhanced military interactions”, and protect the country against any threats or aggressions.

“Whomever [sic] would seek to test European solidarity by threatening or attacking their sovereignty… must be certain that France will stand shoulder to shoulder with Finland and Sweden”, the Elysee said in the English version of a press release.

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