By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has hailed the “momentous” applications of once-neutral Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden greeted Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House Thursday as they met for trilateral conversations on the NATO mutual defense pact and other European security concerns.
The Biden administration has professed optimism for the applications, which would mark a significant embarrassment to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Biden said both countries “meet every NATO requirement and then some.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Red Cross registers hundreds of Ukrainian POWs from Mariupol
— Captive medic’s bodycam shows firsthand horror of Mariupol
— Explainer: What will happen to the 100s of Ukraininan soldiers from Mariupol?
— UN chief ‘hopeful’ of Ukraine grain deal to help food crisis
— Russia-Ukraine war impact draws focus of G7 finance leaders
— US intel shows Russians fear Mariupol abuse will backfire
— Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says the NATO member nation would extend support to Finland and Sweden should they come under any threat or attack during their process of accession to the defense pact.
Premier Mateusz Morawiecki made the statement during a conference Thursday at the Polish Institute of International Affairs think tank.
Morawiecki said. he “would like to say it clearly that in the case of an attack on Sweden or Finland during their process of accession to NATO Poland will come to their aid.”
Poland lies on NATO’s eastern flank, bordering Ukraine and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad.
Morawiecki also said he believes NATO should have permanent bases on its eastern flank.
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s leader opposes having Sweden and Finland join NATO, but the military alliance’s top official says he expects the issue to be resolved and the two Nordic nations to become members soon.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he was ”confident that we will come to a quick decision to welcome both Sweden and Finland to join the NATO family.”
Stoltenberg told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark that “we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed.”
Turkey’s approval of Finland and Sweden’s application to join the Western military alliance is crucial because NATO makes decisions by consensus.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a video released Thursday, “We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this.”
BERLIN — German lawmakers agreed Thursday to strip former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he defended his long-standing ties with Russia and its energy sector despite the invasion of Ukraine.
Sven Kindler, a financial policy spokesman for the Greens, one of the governing parties, tweeted that parliament’s budget committee approved a change to the rules that would leave Schroeder’s office “dormant.”
The move was expected after lawmakers with the governing coalition — led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, Schroeder’s party — on Wednesday proposed linking some of the privileges former chancellors enjoy to duties, rather than their status as ex-leaders.
WASHINGTON — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team is on Capitol Hill urging U.S. senators to consider a fresh round of sanctions on Russians with a more “nuanced” approach that targets mid-level government officials and public figures over the war in Ukraine.
The group is discussing with senators a list of 6,000 Russians, including defense and security officials, administrative employees, governors, members of parliament, even editors and managers at Russian media operations for sanctions.
It is also planning to meet Thursday with officials at the U.S. State Department, the Justice Department and other offices in Washington.
Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said the “avalanche of sanctions” imposed so far is having an effect in Russia.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated concerns about the risk of the war in Ukraine spreading to surrounding countries, as he hosted the president of Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor.
Macron said Thursday that “a spread of the conflict to neighboring countries cannot be excluded” pointing to “recent incidents” in the Transnistria region of Moldova, where Russian troops are already stationed and where there have been explosions.
“France remains particularly alert to the security situation in the region,” the French leader said.
He praised Moldova’s help for refugees from Ukraine. The small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic is coping with an influx of refugees. Macron appealed to European leaders to give a rapid initial response to Moldova’s application to join the European Union.
BERLIN — The U.N. nuclear watchdog says Ukraine has informed it new wildfires near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant don’t pose a radioactive threat to people.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Kyiv told it gamma dose rate levels near the plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, were “not exceeding the reference levels.”
It said previous experience suggests such fires could lead to a “very small increase” of radioactive concentration in the air but the IAEA supports Ukraine’s assessment that it wouldn’t endanger human health. It noted “spontaneous fires” often occur in the area this time of year.
Russian forces took control of Chernobyl at the beginning of the invasion in February and withdrew at the end of March.
BERLIN — The Group of Seven countries are launching a new Global Alliance for Food Security that is aimed in part at addressing the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said Thursday after meeting her counterparts from the G-7′s major economies that the aim is to better coordinate the efforts of aid donors and to ensure that looming crises don’t get overlooked.
She said the G-7 will seek to bring as many partners on board as possible, including emerging countries that may have supplies. The alliance “is really open. It’s not a closed club,” Schulze said. The World Bank is helping to implement the project.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a sharp increase in food and energy prices. Both countries are big exporters of wheat, barley and sunflower oil.
The head of the U.N. Development Program, Achim Steiner, said, “Right now, we need all hands on deck. The question is, can we get the all hands on deck to also work in a well-coordinated fashion?”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says it will be up to residents of areas in Ukraine controlled by Russian troops to determine their future status.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that people living in such places must “determine how and with whom they want to live.”
Peskov made the statement during a conference call with reporters after being asked about some Russian officials saying that Russia could move to incorporate the captured Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
The Kremlin spokesman responded by saying that authorities need to focus on providing basic services to the residents of areas under Russian control.
Asked about a plan reportedly proposed by Italy for a political settlement of the fighting in Ukraine, Peskov said the Kremlin was unaware of it but only learned about it from media reports.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister pledged Thursday to help Ukraine maintain its health system, which has come under severe pressure due to the war with Russia.
Karl Lauterbach said Ukraine’s health minister, Viktor Liashko, briefed his counterparts from the Group of Seven leading democracies during a meeting on Thursday.
Lauterbach said Germany would help establish specialist centers in Ukraine for people suffering from burns and severe trauma due to the war.
Liashko also asked for more prostheses to help people who have lost limbs in the war.
“It’s sad but true that many civilians have lost limbs,” Lauterbach said. “Among them are many children.”
BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers are calling for extra funding to help citizens deal with the impact of sanctions against Russia and the financial support being dedicated to help Ukraine.
In a resolution passed Thursday with a show of hands, the lawmakers defended EU sanctions against Russia and Belarus but said the measures were hurting post-pandemic economic growth and “pose a serious threat to the EU’s recovery.”
The resolution seeks help for households and companies, possibly through a profit tax on energy companies or a revamp of the EU budget, to “maintain citizens’ support for the actions taken against Russia and other actions to support Ukrainians.”
The lawmakers also called for European allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to resign. In addition, they think European board members of big Russian companies should be hit with sanctions.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the war in Ukraine has testified that he shot a Ukrainian civilian on an officer’s orders.
Vadim Shishimarin could get a life prison sentence prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.
The 21-year-old soldier told a court in Kyiv on Thursday that the officer insisted the man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to Ukrainian forces.
Looking subdued, Shishimarin said he had to obey the orders of the officer. He asked the victim’s widow, who also was in court, to forgive him for what he did.
The woman, Kateryna Shelipova, said she saw her husband, Oleksandr Shelipov, shot dead just outside their home.
Shelipova told the court that Shishimarin deserves a life sentence for killing her husband but added that she wouldn’t mind if he’s exchanged as part of a possible swap for the Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
LISBON, Portugal — The Portuguese government says Russia is expelling five diplomats from its Moscow embassy, a day after the Kremlin also expelled diplomats from Spain, France and Italy.
The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Russia’s decision was “unjustified” and merely a tit-for-tat step after Portugal last month expelled Russian diplomats at the Lisbon embassy.
“Unlike the Russian staff expelled from Portugal, these Portuguese staff members were involved in strictly diplomatic tasks,” a Portuguese Foreign Ministry statement said.
Multiple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces in Ukraine of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv. The Kremlin denied the accusations.
BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers have voted to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports for a year to support the war-torn country’s economy.
The European Parliament on Thursday said the temporary move passed on a 515-32 vote, with 11 abstentions.
The measure covers industrial products, fruits, vegetables and steel. The EU is Ukraine’s most important trading partner, accounting for more than 40% of its total trade in goods last year.
Before the war, Ukraine was the EU’s 15th-largest trading partner, representing around 1.2% of overall EU trade.
“We must support Ukraine at all levels with every tool at our disposal: not only with weapons and sanctions but with our trading power, too,” said lawmaker Sandra Kalniete. “Giving Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself does not end on the battlefield; it includes ensuring that Ukraine’s economy remains resilient and competitive.”
In 2016, the EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement that was aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and deepening the country’s connection to Europe.
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president emphasized his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, stating Ankara would say “no” to their bid.
Speaking to a group of Turkish youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two countries — and especially Sweden — of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” The video of their conversation was released Thursday.
Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stems from Turkey’s grievances with Stockholm’s — and to a lesser degree with Helsinki’s — perceived support to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses them of harboring the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey’s approval is crucial because the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus. Each of its 30 member countries can veto who can join.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his country’s decision to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia, saying this “does not constitute an escalation.”
In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Scholz dismissed concerns raised by some in Germany that arming Ukraine could result in a wider conflict. Arming Ukraine was “a contribution to fending off the attack and thereby ending the violence as quickly as possible,” he said.
Scholz added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “mistaken” in thinking peace can be imposed on Ukraine by force.
“There will be no peace diktat, because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and neither will we,” he said. “Only when Putin understand this, only when he understand that he can’t break Ukraine’s defense, will he be prepared to negotiate the peace in earnest.”
GENEVA — The international Red Cross says it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who left the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said Thursday the registrations of Ukrainian prisoners of war, which included wounded fighters, began Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine.
It said a team from the Geneva-based humanitarian agency, which has experience in dealing with prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges, did not transport them to “the places where they are held” — which was not specified.
The registration process, which was ongoing Thursday, involves noting down personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative — partly as a way to help the Red Cross keep in touch with relatives of the prisoners of war.
The Red Cross cited rules under the Geneva Conventions that should allow the organization to interview prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted.”
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the country won’t accept any cease-fire until all the Russian troops pull back.
Thursday’s statement from Mykhailo Podolyak, who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, reflects an increasingly confident stand taken by Ukraine as it has fought the Russian offensive to an effective standstill.
“Do not offer us a ceasefire — this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. In a reference to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Podolyak wrote: “Ukraine is not interested in new ‘Minsk’ and the war renewal in a few years.”
Several Ukrainian officials have recently issued similar statements. Podolyak didn’t specify what would constitute “total” withdrawal.
He added that “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”
LONDON — British military authorities say Russia’s centralized command and control structure is likely to come under increasing strain as senior officers seek to avoid responsibility for failures during the invasion of Ukraine.
The U.K Ministry of Defense, in a briefing posted Thursday morning, says a number of senior Russian commanders have already been fired for poor performance during the war.
The ministry says Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, who led the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, was suspended for failing to capture Kharkiv, and Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet, has probably been suspended following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva. The ministry also said it is unclear whether Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov retains the support of President Vladimir Putin.
The ministry says senior officials are likely to be increasingly distracted as they seek to avoid personal culpability amid this culture of “cover-ups and scapegoating.”
“This will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralized model of command and control as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors,” the ministry said. “It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions.”
MOSCOW — The head of the Russia-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine says that over half of Ukrainian troops holed up at a steel plant in the key port of Mariupol have come out.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Thursday that more than a half of Ukrainian servicemen who were holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant have surrendered.
Pushilin didn’t give specific numbers, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian troops had abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday. The Russian military has previously estimated the number of Ukrainian troops at Azovstal at over 2,000.
Pushilin said that those Ukrainian soldiers who needed medical assistance were hospitalized while others were put in a detention facility. He charged that the International Red Cross Committee representatives were allowed to inspect the facility, the claim that couldn’t be immediately verified.
He added that over 60% of residential buildings in Mariupol have been damaged beyond repair and will need to be razed after more than two months of fighting over the strategic port on the Sea of Azov.
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday his country will double its financial aid for Ukraine to $600 million in support of the country badly damaged by Russia’s aggression.
Japan will provide the additional $300 million through the World Bank to help Ukraine’s financial difficulties because of the Russian invasion, Kishida said.
The announcement comes just before Japan hosts U.S. President Joe Biden and two other leaders for a regional strategic framework known as the Quad summit and bilateral meetings next week when Kishida is expected to emphasize Japanese support for Ukraine.
Japan has quickly joined the United States and other Group of Seven countries and Europe in their sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine, due to fear that Russia’s move may embolden China in the region.
The new pledge, combined with the $300 million Japan promised last month, brings Tokyo’s total contribution to $600 million.
MOSCOW — A provincial governor in western Russia says a civilian has been killed by cross-border shelling from Ukraine.
Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said the Ukrainian shelling early Thursday hit a driver who drove his truck to a distillery in the village of Tetkino.
Starovoit said several others were wounded in Thursday’s shelling.
Russian authorities have repeatedly reported damage and casualties from the Ukrainian shelling of areas on the border.
KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in Ukraine says four civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said they died Wednesday when Russian troops bombarded the town of Sievierodonetsk. He said another three residents were wounded.
Haidai said the Russian shelling continued early Thursday. Sievierodonetsk is in the epicenter of the fighting in the east where the Russian forces have been trying to press their offensive amid staunch Ukrainian resistance.
Separatist authorities in the Donetsk region bordering Luhansk in eastern Ukraine said two civilians were killed and another five were wounded in the Ukrainian shelling over the last 24 hours.
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