Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 126

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:

UN report documents 10,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with toll likely “considerably higher”

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published an alarming report Wednesday about the human rights situation in Ukraine in the context of the ongoing Russian invasion.

The UN documented 10,000 civilian casualties since the conflict began on Feb. 24, “among them, 4,731 people were killed,” Matilda Bogner, head of Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told journalists in Kyiv as she presented the report’s findings.

She warned the casualty numbers are “considerably higher” as the report only highlights the figures the mission was able to independently verify.

“The armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the human rights across the country. We documented violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including war crimes. These violations highlight the heavy toll the conflict is having day in and day out,” Bogner said.

The report is based on information gathered during 11 field visits, three visits to places of detention and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses between Feb. 24 and May 15, 2022. The evidence also draws from court documents, official records and open sources.

The report documents violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “to varying degrees, by both parties,” according to Bogner.

“The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of destruction and damaged caused to civilian infrastructure raised significant concerns that attacks conducted by Russian Armed Forces did not comply with international humanitarian law. While on a much lower scale, it also appears that Ukrainian armed forces did not comply with international humanitarian law in Eastern parts of the country,” Bogner added.

The report also raised “serious concerns” about the allegations of torture of prisoners of war by both sides on the conflict, including testimonies of 44 prisoners of war interviewed by the UN mission.

Bogner stressed the mission encountered evidence of widespread use of extrajudicial punishment against those alleged to be looters, thieves and curfew violators in Ukraine.

“OHCHR has documented and verified allegations of unlawful killings, including summary executions of civilians in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, committed while these territories were under the control of Russian armed forces. In Bucha alone (Kyiv region), OHCHR documented the unlawful killings, including summary executions, of at least 50 civilians,” the report outlined, adding the full scale of the problem “is yet to be fully assessed.”

The UN document also outlined “concern about the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance” of representatives of local authorities, journalists, civil society activists and other civilians by Russian troops and affiliated armed groups.

OHCHR documented 248 cases of arbitrary detention, with six of those resulting in deaths.

The OHCHR report includes “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces have been using weapons equipped with cluster munitions, including Tochka-U missiles that resulted in civilian casualties. The use of such weapons in populated areas contradicts international law.

Concluding the report, OHCHR recommended all parties of the conflict “respect and ensure respect at all times and in all circumstances” for international human right and humanitarian laws. The report also urged Russia “to immediately cease the armed attack” and comply with its obligations under international law.

The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine maintains its presence in Donetsk, Dnipro, Odesa and Uzhhorod.

Kyiv says 144 Ukrainian soldiers freed in prisoner swap

Ukrainian intelligence announced that 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including scores of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, had been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.

“This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 freed, 95 are Azovstal defenders,” the main intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Telegram.

It did not specify when and where the swap took place or how many Russian prisoners were released as part of the exchange.

NATO chief says alliance inviting Finland and Sweden to become members is “historic”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc “a historic decision.”

“Today, NATO leaders took a historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO. The agreement concluded last night by Turkey, Finland and Sweden paved the way for this decision,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference held as part of the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday.

He pinned the success of this agreement on “hard work” carried out “at many different levels” over “many weeks.”

He recounted how two rounds of talks were held by senior officials in Brussels under his auspices in the advance of Monday’s consequential meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its objections to the Nordic nations’ membership bids, removing a major hurdle to them joining NATO.

“This is a good agreement for Turkey, it is a good agreement for Finland and Sweden, and it is a good agreement for NATO,” Stoltenberg stated.

“I would like to thank Turkey, Finland and Sweden, for accepting my invitation to engage in negotiations to find a united way forward,” he continued.

Chip exports to Russia plunged by 90 percent after curbs

Global exports of semiconductors to Russia have plummeted by 90 percent since the United States and allies slapped export controls on Moscow over its war on Ukraine, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

Raimondo, speaking at an annual Commerce Department conference, also statedd that controls placed on Russia’s aerospace sector were hammering its ability to generate revenue and support military aviation.

“Russia may be forced to ground between half and two-thirds of its commercial aircraft in the next four years in order to cannibalize them for spare parts,” she added.

NATO formally invites Finland and Sweden to become members of alliance

NATO has formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the US-led military alliance, according to a statement from NATO Heads of State and Government on Wednesday.

“Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols,” the statement said.

“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process,” the statement added.

Earlier today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that following the invitation, “we need a ratification process in 30 parliaments; that always takes some time, but I expect also that to go rather quickly because allies are ready to try to make that ratification process happen as quickly as possible.”

Ukraine praises NATO stance on Russia

Ukraine praised NATO for having a “clear-eyed stance” on Russia and for inviting Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance, and called for an “equally strong and active position on Ukraine” to protect Euro-Atlantic security.

“Today in Madrid, NATO proved it can take difficult, but essential decisions,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

“We welcome a clear-eyed stance on Russia, as well as accession for Finland and Sweden. An equally strong and active position on Ukraine will help to protect the Euro-Atlantic security and stability,” he added.

NATO identifies Russia as its biggest threat

NATO has declared Russia the “most significant and direct threat” to its members’ peace and security in its new strategic blueprint, a document that reaffirms NATO’s values and purpose.

The 30-member military described Russia that way in a statement at a summit in Madrid, in a declaration that underscores Moscow’s shift from strategic partner to threat.

NATO leaders also promised to “step up political and practical support” to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

NATO leaders have also decried Russia’s “appalling cruelty” in Ukraine and pledged more support for Kyiv as it faces the onslaught from Moscow.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg stated at a summit in Madrid.

EU reassigns $3.7bn of regional funds to hosting Ukraine refugees

The European Union’s executive branch made a fresh 3.5 billion euros ($3.7bn) from regional development funds available to host Ukrainian refugees after some 6.2 million people fled to the bloc.

“EU member states have welcomed millions of Ukrainians fleeing from this war, but they also have to deal with its economic consequences – extra costs and supply chain difficulties,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, a deputy head of the executive European Commission.

The money will be paid out to EU countries, local authorities and civil society groups as pre-financing this year and the next, including to raise the weekly allowance for hosting people from the current 40 euros ($42) to 100 euros ($106).

Ukrainians search for 20 missing after Russia strikes mall

Crews are continuing to search through the rubble of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk, where Ukrainian authorities say 20 people are still missing.

A number of survivors were being treated for injuries such as skull fractures and severed limbs.

The city declared three days of mourning. The State Emergency Service of Ukraine says it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of victims given that the air strike was so powerful that there may be no remains for relatives to be able to recover.

Russia not ‘intimidated’ by US military build-up in Europe: Deputy minister

Russia has announced it will not be intimidated by US military reinforcements in Europe as tensions spiral over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.

“I think that those who propose such solutions are under the illusion that they will be able to intimidate Russia, somehow restrain it – they will not succeed,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.

“We have the capabilities and resources,” Ryabkov added, threatening retaliation.

“Now what is happening will certainly lead to compensatory measures on our part,” he stated.

Russia using all legitimate means to recover frozen assets

Russia is using all legitimate means to regain full access to its frozen assets abroad, but does not count on the political impartiality of the West, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on Wednesday.

“For our part, we will use all legitimate opportunities to regain full access to national assets abroad, including Russia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves,” she said.

“As soon as [the West] moves from words to deeds, justice and impartiality walk away. Therefore, it is hardly possible to count on political non-engagement and a purely judicial approach of the relevant bodies of unfriendly countries,” she added.

Zakharova stressed that Russia regards the West’s actions to freeze its assets as “an infringement on sovereign property.”

“This is another reason for the whole world to think about the reliability of the US dollar and the euro as reserve currencies and the main means of external settlements, about the impartiality and stability of the current global financial order, which is being imposed by liberal regimes,” she continued.

The diplomat noted that “any use of Russian funds without consent will be interpreted as an unlawful and demonstrative unfriendly attack by a particular party and its power structures, which gives Russia the right to take concrete steps to protect its interests”.

Zelensky urges NATO to admit his country, asks “has Ukraine not paid enough” to join

“Has Ukraine not paid enough (to join NATO)?” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked leaders of the military alliance as they met Wednesday.

Addressing the NATO summit in Madrid via video link from Kyiv, Zelensky added: “Is our contribution to the defense of both Europe and the whole civilization still insufficient? What else is needed then?”

In a dig at the lack of a clear pathway to join the alliance, Zelensky used the analogy of the Kyiv metro system turnstiles, which are always open until you approach them and then they ask you to pay.

“We need security guarantees, and you need to find a place for Ukraine in the common security space,” he noted.

The president, dressed in his now famous military fatigues, also called for NATO to “revise” how it views its eastern flank.

“It is possible to get rid of the ‘gray’ zone, to guarantee security only together with Ukraine,” he said.

“Just think about one fact now: today, a country that is not a member of NATO, albeit with your support, has been holding back a state for more than four months, which you all officially identify as the main threat to yourself. And we are holding back Russia from destroying us and from destroying you,” Zelensky added.

“Is it a coincidence that all Allies in the east, all our neighbors, are in favor of Ukraine’s membership in NATO? No, this is not a coincidence. This is logic. This is the knowledge of life in our region,” he continued.

Zelensky told NATO leaders that Ukraine needs modern weapons and more financial aid in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

“We need much more modern systems, modern artillery,” Zelensky told the summit in Madrid via video-link, adding that financial support was “no less important than aid with weapons”.

Russia ready to export tens of millions of tonnes of grain if West lifts bans

Russia is not preventing the export of grain from the territory of Ukraine and is ready to export tens of millions of tonnes of its own grain if the West stops blocking food supplies, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on Wednesday.

“Russia is ready to export tens of millions of tonnes of its own grain if Western bans are lifted from its export,” she said.

The diplomat stressed that Russia is not preventing the export of grain from Ukraine and provides safe corridors for this every day.

According to her, if the West is worried about the onset of world famine it should “stop blocking food supplies.”

Zakharova stressed that “it is Washington, Brussels and London that are doing everything to really artificially escalate the situation” with the export of grain. The diplomat also noted that the blame for blocking the export of grain from Ukraine also lies with the Kiev regime, which is responsible for demining ports.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman also criticized German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s words that Russia uses hunger as a weapon.

“Just look at the statement of the German Foreign Minister [Annalena Baerbock], which is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable for a politician, a statesman and just a person with little or no knowledge of the history of its own country, Europe and the world as a whole. She stated that Russia is quite deliberately weaponizing hunger and taking the whole world hostage. Baerbock is not only lying, she is lying brazenly and cynically,” Zakharova added.

According to the diplomat, the German Foreign Minister is doing everything “to forget that it was her country that historically used hunger as a weapon and took people as hostages, destroying the civilian population.”

Exports of Ukrainian grain, which turned out to be blocked in the country due to the ongoing conflict, has been on the international agenda for more than two months. Although several options of its transportation were proposed, the final decision has not yet been made. According to various estimates, from 20 to 25 million tonnes of wheat were blocked in Ukraine.

FAO, OECD warn millions risk undernourishment as wheat prices surge

The war in Ukraine is putting millions more people at risk of undernourishment, the United Nations’ food agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have said.

“With food security already under pressure the consequences would be dire, especially for the most vulnerable,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann stated during a presentation of the FAO/OECD Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031.

Some 20 million tonnes of grain have to leave Ukraine by the end of next month to make room for this year’s crops and avoid food shortages in Africa, the European Commission announced last month. Diplomatic talks are ongoing to open up an alternative sea route.

NATO summit proof alliance seeks to contain Russia: Moscow

Moscow has announced the NATO summit in Madrid is proof that the alliance is seeking to contain Russia and that it is using Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids as a “destabilising” factor.

“The summit in Madrid confirms and consolidates this bloc’s policy of aggressive containment of Russia,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, Russian news agencies reported.

“We consider the expansion of the North Atlantic alliance to be a purely destabilising factor in international affairs,” he added.

Pope calls the airstrike at a Kremenchuk shopping mall latest “barbarous” attack

Pope Francis called the Russian airstrike that struck a bustling shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk the latest “barbarous” attack in the country.

“Every day, I carry dear and tormented Ukraine in my heart, which continues to be drawn out by continuous barbaric attacks like the one that hit the Kremenchuk shopping center,” the Pontiff said Wednesday in his Angelus prayer, celebrating the Catholic feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

“I pray that this mad war will soon see an end. And I renew the invitation to persevere without tiring in the prayer for peace,” he added.

At least 18 people were killed in the mall attack on Monday, Ukrainian officials said, with another 58 people injured.

Death toll rises to 4 in Mykolaiv apartment strike, with 5 people injured

The number of dead in an attack on a Mykolaiv apartment block has risen to four, according to Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych.

Five people had been injured, he said, adding that emergency services are on site.

Early on Wednesday eight missiles hit an apartment block, apparently using KH-55 missiles.

In total, 114 people have died in Mykolaiv since the war began, the mayor added. The city is situated near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine.

UK sets out further Russia sanctions and targets Putin’s “inner circle”

The United Kingdom announced further sanctions against Russian citizens and companies on Wednesday, including some described as being in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle.”

Among those sanctioned is Vladimir Potanin, described by the UK government as Russia’s second-richest man, with an estimated net worth of nearly $16 billion, and a “key supporter of the Kremlin” accused of continuing “to amass wealth as he supports Putin’s regime.”

Putin’s cousin Anna Tsivileva has also been sanctioned. As president of the Russian coal mining company JSC Kolmar Group — also sanctioned Tuesday — the UK believes Tsivileva and her husband Sergey Tsivilev, the governor of the coal-rich Kemerovo region, have “significantly benefitted” from their relationship with Putin.

The UK’s latest sanctions also target Russian citizens and companies for their alleged involvement in supporting the Bashar Assad government in Syria, a key Russian ally in the Middle East.

“As long as Putin continues his abhorrent assault on Ukraine, we will use sanctions to weaken the Russian war machine. Today’s sanctions show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin’s inner circle,” a UK government spokesperson said.

Working together with international allies, the government said it would introduce measures to prevent Russia from using UK trusts services used to manage assets of others.

The British government says it has sanctioned more than 1,000 people and more than 120 businesses since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

Biden unveils enhanced US force posture in Europe during NATO summit

US President Joe Biden announced a significant strengthening of US force posture in Europe as he began a two-day NATO summit in Madrid.

Speaking alongside the NATO secretary general, Biden listed new troop movements, equipment shipments and military installations meant to demonstrate the importance of security as Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on.

“The United States and our allies are stepping up and proving that NATO is needed now more than ever, and is as important as it ever has been,” Biden said.

He added the US would establish a permanent headquarters for the Fifth Army Corps in Poland, maintain an additional rotational brigade of 3,000 troops in Romania, enhance rotational deployments to the Baltic states, send two additional F-35 fighter jet squadrons to the United Kingdom and station additional air defense and other capabilities in Germany and Italy.

“Together with our allies, we are going to make sure that NATO is ready to meet threats from all directions across every domain, land, air, and sea,” Biden stated.

He praised the breakthrough diplomacy with Turkey that has set the stage for Finland and Sweden – two longtime neutral countries – to join NATO, saying it sent a clear signal to Russia that the alliance was united and growing.

“Their decision to move away from neutrality and the tradition of neutrality to join the NATO alliance is going to make us stronger and more secure and NATO stronger,” he continued, adding, “We are sending an unmistakable message in my view… that NATO is strong, united, and the steps we are taking during this summit are going to further augment our collective strength.”

Biden said the two Scandinavian countries’ expected accession was a sign [Vladimir] Putin’s aims had backfired.

“I said Putin was looking for the Finlandization of Europe. He’s going to get the NATOization of Europe, and that is exactly what he did not want, that’s exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe. And I think it’s necessary,” he added.

NATO encouraging Zelensky to continue war with Russia: Belgian PM

Fighting against Russia with Western help is the only way forward for Ukraine, NATO members told President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Belgian prime minister said on Wednesday.

“We make it very clear that this war can only be won on the battlefield and we should continue to support President Zelensky and the Ukrainian population as much as possible to be able to win the war on the battlefield,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told journalists on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid.

He stated he had the chance to personally interact with and encourage Zelensky and pointed out that his country was among the first to offer military support to Kiev and will continue sending arms to Kiev, he assured.

“NATO support in the broad sense has been there from the start, and will continue to be there,” he added.

The Belgian prime minister also said that Ukraine was given a strong gesture of support by the EU, when it was offered candidate status last week. He added Brussels also sent “a very important message” about EU enlargement to Moldova, which became a candidate too.

“Some people will say: ‘Well, it’s symbolic’. But symbolic messages are extremely important today,” De Croo noted, referring to the fact that EU nations expect neither Ukraine nor Moldova to join them as fully-fledged members anytime soon.

Spain PM: Russia has gone from NATO strategic partner to “main threat”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stated Wednesday that in just a decade, NATO’s relationship with Russia has changed from a partnership to considering it a key threat.

“If we look back to 2010, the NATO strategic concept of the past decade was approved in Lisbon. It called Russia a strategic partner. Now, by contrast, the (NATO) strategic concept of Madrid will call Russia the main threat to the allies,” Sanchez said in an interview with Spanish radio SER, shortly before the opening session of the NATO Summit in Madrid.

Arriving at the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recalled that in 2010, at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Russia participated in meetings there.

“This will not be the case now,” he told reporters.

Stoltenberg said he thinks the NATO leaders in Madrid will agree “that Russia poses a direct threat to our security and that will be reflected” in NATO’s new strategic concept.

“The strategic concept will also reflect a new reality,” he added.

Moscow-backed administration in Kherson says it plans to join Russia in a referendum

A senior Russian-backed official installed to run the southern region of Kherson in Ukraine said the authorities there are preparing for a referendum to join the Russian Federation.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the military-civilian administration of the Kherson region, stated in an interview on his Telegram channel: “Yes, we are preparing for the referendum, and we will hold it.”

“”The Kherson region will make a decision and will join the Russian Federation. It will become a full-fledged entity that can be like one single state in which the peoples of Russia live like one family,” Stremousov added.

Stremousov has been collaborating with Russian officials for several months.

Addressing those anticipating Kherson’s liberation by Ukrainian forces, Stremousov said on June 14: “We do not pay attention to it. All your attempts are useless and meaningless. […] We say once again that this is a waste of time.”

He also warned those refusing to cooperate.

“All those who do not provide a specific, clear position in the villages on our future development as part of the Russian Federation, you will soon be removed. Many of you will simply be punished,” Stremousov added.

NATO allies to send weapons to Kyiv for as long as necessary: Scholz

NATO allies will continue to supply Ukraine with weapons in its war against Russia for as long as necessary, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said as he arrived for the second day of a NATO summit in Madrid.

“It is good that the countries that are gathered here but many others, too, make their contributions so Ukraine can defend itself – by providing financial means, humanitarian aid but also by providing the weapons that Ukraine urgently needs,” he told reporters.

“The message is: We will continue to do so – and to do this intensively – for as long as it is necessary to enable Ukraine to defend itself,” he added.

Johnson: There would be no Ukraine war “if Putin was a woman”

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated.

“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn’t, but if he were, I really don’t think he would’ve embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has,” Johnson told German broadcaster ZDF.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”, he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

Zelensky: war will end with victory of Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has posted to his Telegram channel a clip form an interview with US television network NBC.

“The war will end with the victory of Ukraine. No matter how difficult it is, we must oust the occupiers from our land,” he stated.

Zelensky’s social media channel states that during the interview, part of the Festival of Ideas of the Aspen Institute, he spoke about the struggle for independence, the importance of supporting the civilised world, the current situation on the battlefield and his decision-making process.

Opening the interview, Zelensky said: “For me, it was always very important for Ukraine not to become a ‘buffer zone.’ The Ukrainian people chose the European way, the relevant values. These values correspond in Europe, the United States, and Ukraine. And we want to be a part of these values.”

“Yet, once upon a time there was the Soviet Union, we were part of this state. We were a part of this Soviet Union. Our parents were born there and I was born there, in those times,” he continued, adding “However, today, we want to be independent.”

“Even before the Soviet Union, Ukrainians wanted to have their own land, their own traditions, and I believe this is normal if one respects Ukraine’s choice of sovereignty. At last, we have independence, and you see how hard we are fighting for it and how we are fighting for these values,” the president noted.

“At that moment, the first day of the war, a lot of leaders called me on my phone, they told me that you have to go, you have to ride, you have to run and a lot of them, it was also from the heart, very directly and very openly, because they wanted just to help and they said we can give you all you want, all you need, airplanes, helicopters, cars or something more,” he said,

“And I said no, I don’t really need any cars. We need weapons and we’ll stay here,” he added.

“And also, a lot of phone calls were about my family. If you decided to be in the country that is your decision, but what about your children, wife? Maybe we can help you with this situation. That was what came. Thank you, thanks leaders for the propositions,” the president continued.

Describing the first moments when he found out that Russia had launched their attack, Zelensky stated, “I only thought about us, about our nation. I only thought of Ukraine. I immediately went to my office, I was ready, I was prepared, for want of a better word. I didn’t waste time on reflecting.”

“We gathered immediately, gathered our military committee and we were ready to fight back. There’s no point wasting any more time on this moment,” he said, adding, “The main thing is to make a decision, not delve into what will happen tomorrow or the day after. You need to think of what’s happening now.”

NATO chief says alliance facing biggest challenge since WWII

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated NATO was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War.”

The war in Ukraine has already triggered an escalation in NATO’s forces in eastern Europe and allies are expected to agree to increase the rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops by next year.

Stoltenberg said the alliance’s new strategic blueprint will label Russia a menace to their security as they overhaul the bloc’s defences in response to the war on Ukraine.

“We’ll state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security,” Stoltenberg added.

NATO is due to launch the largest revamp of its defence and deterrence capabilities at the summit in Madrid, turning its attention on the challenge posed by a rising China alongside the threat posed by Moscow.

In a sign of this shift, South Korea and Japan will be attending a NATO summit for the first time.

Stoltenberg has said he expected a swift ratification of Sweden and Finland’s membership of the military alliance.

“We will make a decision at the summit to invite Sweden and Finland to become members, that’s unprecedented quick,” he told reporters on the second day of the NATO summit in Madrid.

Both countries applied for membership of the alliance in mid-May.

“After invitation, we need a ratification process in 30 parliaments. That always takes some time but I expect also that to go rather quickly because allies are ready to try to make that ratification process happen as quickly as possible,” he continued.

Russia security forces detain mayor of Ukrainian city of Kherson: Officials

Russia-installed officials in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region say their security forces had detained Kherson city mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on Tuesday after he refused to follow Moscow’s orders, while a Kherson local official said the mayor was abducted.

“I can confirm that Kolykhayev was detained by the commandant’s (military police) office,” Ekaterina Gubareva, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, noted Telegram.

Halyna Lyashevska, an adviser to Kolykhayev, added the mayor was abducted after refusing to cooperate with Russian occupiers of the Ukrainian.

“This morning, the mayor of Kherson Ihor Kolykhayev came to one of the utility facilities where the remaining employees of the city council were working,” Lyashevska said on her Facebook page.

“As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by the armed national guards and, most likely, the FSB,” she added, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Services.

Russia may have intended to hit different Kremenchuk target: UK

There is a realistic possibility the missile that hit the shopping centre in Kremenchuk was intended for a nearby target, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has announced.

“Russia’s inaccuracy in conducting long range strikes has previously resulted in mass civilian casualty incidents, including at Kramatorsk railway station on 9 April 2022,” the ministry said in a recent intelligence briefing.

“Russian planners highly likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive military necessity in striking a target,” it added.

The ministry also noted Russian forces had advanced a further 2 km from the Lysychansk oil refinery, south of the town, towards Lysychansk since June 25.

Referendum to absorb Donetsk into Russia scheduled for September: Adviser

A pseudo-referendum for the mostly occupied Donetsk region to be absorbed into Russia will be held on September 11, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol has stated.

Petro Andriushchenko said on Telegram that the Russian-installed authorities in the region had received instructions to set up venues for the pseudo-vote.

Russians using cluster bombs in Lysychansk: Governor

The situation in Lysychansk is reminiscent of Severodonetsk when Russian forces had started storming the city, the governor of Luhansk has said, adding that Russia is firing on locals using cluster bombs.

“The occupiers do not stop at anything. Once in Severodonetsk, when they could not move forward for a long time, they fired about 200 shells from various types of weapons at one of the city’s intersections, turning several houses to ashes,” Serhiy Haidai stated.

Haidai said many residents of Lysychansk had serious injuries and were being treated in hospitals across the country. Three people were being treated in Kramatorsk, two children were taken to the city Dnipro and some were in hospitals in Lviv, he said.

The Russian army continues trying to surround Lysychansk from the southwest settlements of Vovchoyarivka and Verkhnokamyanka, he added.

US blacklists five China companies for allegedly supporting Russia

US President Joe Biden’s administration has added five companies in China to a trade blacklist for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defence industrial base.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties”.

The agency also added another 31 entities to the blacklist from countries that include Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. Of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

Russian envoy criticises UN for letting Zelensky speak remotely

Russia’s deputy envoy to the UN has criticised Albania’s presidency of the Security Council for allowing President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak via video link and “at the last minute,” which the envoy said violated standard practice, Moscow’s state TASS news agency reports.

“We are seriously concerned over the stance of the Albanian presidency with regard to participation of President Zelensky of Ukraine in this meeting. There have been no consultations with all council members on this issue. The delegations were confronted with this fact at the last minute. This violates the existing practice and working methods of the Security Council,” Dmitry Polyansky told the council on Tuesday.

Representatives need to be physically present in the Security Council chamber, according to standard practice, Polyansky noted.

“The Security Council should not turn into a platform where President Zelenskyy … can angle for more NATO weapons,” Polyansky added, according to TASS.

Ukraine is being turned into “anti-Russia” at the behest of some Western countries, he continued.

Polyansky said that by supplying weapons to Ukraine, Western nations were prolonging the time when Ukraine’s leaders “will sit down at the negotiating table with a realistic position rather than with slogans”.

“We began a special military operation in order to stop the shelling of Donbas by Ukraine and so that the territory of this country, which has been turned into anti-Russia at the behest of a number of Western countries, as well as its nationalist leadership, ceases to pose a threat to Russia or the inhabitants of the south and southeast of Ukraine,” he continued, adding, “And until those goals are achieved, our operation will continue.”

Kremenchuk attack a ‘crime against humanity’: Prosecutor general

The missile attack on the Kremenchuk shopping centre is one of Russia’s “crimes against humanity,” Ukraine’s prosecutor general has said.

Iryna Venediktova emphasised the need for all Ukrainians to remain alert and expect a similar attack “every minute”.

As Russian missiles struck the Kremenchuk shopping centre, many people quickly fled the building and took shelter across the street, Ukraine’s interior minister has said.

Denis Monastyrsky also stated several of the bodies of people who did not make it out in time were burned beyond recognition. In addition to the 18 killed and 59 wounded, 21 people are still missing.

Zelensky urges UN to visit site of mall strike

During his address to the United Nations Security Council, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the United Nations to visit the site of a missile strike on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk.

“I suggest the United Nations send either a special representative, or the secretary-general of the United Nations, or a plenipotentiary commission to the site of this terrorist act … so the UN could independently find out information and see that this indeed was a Russian missile strike,” Zelensky stated.

Zelensky addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday, the day after a deadly attack on a shopping mall in central Ukraine, to call for Russia to be expunged as a permanent member of the group.

Zelensky opened the speech by saying that whereas the UN did not yet have a legal definition of the term “terrorist state” agreed on by all UN members, that Russia’s war on Ukraine “demonstrates not only the meaning of the concept, but also the urgent necessity to enshrine it legally at the level of the United Nations, and punish any terrorist state.”

He then went through a list of attacks on Ukraine since last Saturday, including the strike on a residential building in Kyiv, a rocket in the yard of a kindergarten on Sunday, and a missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, the president stated.

“Those who carried out the strike could not have been unaware it was on a shopping mall,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky continued with a list of additional strikes in Ukraine this week, and named the victims, including children, elderly and women.

“I want you to hear the names,” he noted.

He then asked the body, “who of you does not agree that this is terrorism? If in any other part of the world, any organization acted just like Russia who is killing Ukrainians, if a country killed any peaceful people, that would definitely be recognized as terrorism. Such an organization would become an enemy for all of humankind.”

“Therefore what is punished at the level of concrete criminals and criminal organizations must not go unchecked at the level of the state,” he added.

Zelensky then called on the UNSC to expel Russia from that body.

“The UN charter confers on the UN Security Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Article 6 of chapter 2 of the UN charter clearly states that a member of the UN which has persistently violated the principles contained in the present charter may be expelled from the organization by the General Assembly by the UN Security Council. Although Russia is violating fundamental principles of the UN and the international legal order, it is still not held to account at the global level. It still remains in UN agencies and even enjoys the privileges of the seat it occupies. The seat of the permanent member of the UNSC, which Russia occupies solely due to the short-sightedness of politicians at the end of the Cold War. Russia does not have the right to take part in discussing a voting in regards to the war in Ukraine, which is unprovoked and simply colonialist on the part of Russia. I urge you to deprive the delegation of the terrorist state of its powers at the UN General Assembly. That is possible. That is necessary. That is fair. Russia does not have the right to remain in the UNSC,” Zelensky stated.

Turkey ‘got what it wanted’ from Sweden, Finland talks: Erdogan’s office

Turkey “got what it wanted” from Sweden and Finland before agreeing to back their drives to join the NATO defence alliance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office announced.

“Turkey has made significant gains in the fight against terrorist organisations,” said the Turkish statement, adding: “Turkey got what it wanted.”

NATO leaders to invite Sweden, Finland to become members Wednesday: Stoltenberg

NATO leaders will formally invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance Wednesday after Turkey inked a deal to drop its objections, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said.

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports, and the fight against terrorism,” Stoltenberg stated after crunch talks in Madrid.

US gave Turkey no concessions: Official

A senior United States administration official says Washington did not offer any concessions to Turkey to coax it to accept the deal to drop its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, according to the AP news agency.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that US President Joe Biden made a deliberate choice to keep the US from being a party to the negotiations.

Turkey lifts veto on Finland, Sweden joining NATO, clearing path for expansion

NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the US-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long-neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Niinisto said in a statement.

The steps for Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO will be agreed on in the next two days, Niinisto added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.

“Key memorandum just reached between Sweden, Finland and Türkyie. Paves way for Swedish accession to NATO,” Andersson said in a Twitter post.

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