Ukraine conflict day 84: Finland, Sweden formally apply to join NATO
Updated 01:13, 19-May-2022
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with Sweden's and Finland's application for membership in Brussels. /Johanna Geron/Pool/Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with Sweden's and Finland's application for membership in Brussels. /Johanna Geron/Pool/Reuters


Finland and Sweden have formally submitted their NATO applications, sealing their decision to drop decades of military non-alignment to join the Western alliance. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the move a "historic step," promising to welcome them "with open arms."

However, Turkey continues to say it will block their accession over its claim that the Nordic neighbors are too lenient against groups Ankara describes as terrorists. Speaking ahead of his meeting with the Finnish and Swedish leaders in Washington, President Joe Biden said the U.S. would work with Finland and Sweden to stay vigilant against any threats to their shared security while their bids were being considered

• A 21-year-old Russian soldier has pleaded guilty to killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian at a trial in Kyiv for war crimes, the first court case of its kind since the start of Ukraine crisis. Vadim Shishimarin, from Irkutsk in Siberia, confirmed he had, on the orders of another Russian serviceman, gunned down a 62-year-old man to prevent him reporting a carjacking by fleeing Russian troops. He faces possible life imprisonment on charges of war crimes and premeditated murder.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says "the most influential international mediators" are involved in talks with Russia over the fate of the last Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. On Tuesday hundreds of the fighters trapped in the city's last Ukrainian stronghold surrendered to Russian forces, essentially marking the end of the battle of Mariupol. Russia's defense ministry said on Wednesday that in total, 959 soldiers had surrendered this week.

• The European Commission has unveiled a 210 billion euro plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, and to use the pivot to quicken its transition to green energy. To wean countries off Russian energy, which many European Union countries remain reliant on,  Brussels proposed switching to import more non-Russian gas, a faster rollout of renewable energy, and more effort to save energy.

• Russia will expel a total of 85 embassy staff from France, Spain and Italy in response to similar moves by those countries to Russian diplomats. The three countries are among European nations that have collectively thrown out more than 300 Russians since the February. In many cases, they accused Russian diplomats of spying, which Moscow has denied.

• Moscow also announced on Wednesday it was closing the Moscow bureau of Canada's CBC and withdrawing visas and accreditation from the public broadcaster's journalists after Ottawa banned Russian state TV station Russia Today.

• Russia's defense spending is up nearly 40 percent in the first four months of this year, according to preliminary Russian data following nearly three months of Moscow's large-scale military campaign in Ukraine. Russia spent 1.7 trillion roubles ($26.4 billion) on defence between January and April, almost half the 3.5 trillion roubles, or 2.6 percent of GDP, budgeted for all of 2022.

• Human Rights Watch says it has documented further cases of "apparent war crimes" by Russian troops in two regions in Ukraine. Its report says that Russian forces controlling much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions from late February through March had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses. Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) says it is sending a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan says it is the largest ever deployment of investigators by the court since its establishment.

Having already addressed the Grammys in April, the Ukrainian president made a surprise address to the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in France. "In the end, hatred will disappear and dictators will die," Zelenskyy told the audience, who gave him a standing ovation.

Russia says it will service its external debt obligations in rubles if the U.S. blocks other options, with Finance Minister Anton Siluanov saying Moscow will not call itself in default. Washington is considering blocking Russia's ability to pay its U.S. bondholders by allowing a key waiver to expire on May 25, which could put Moscow closer to default.

Austria's foreign minister said his country would retain its neutral status despite Sweden and Finland's NATO bids. Alexander Schallenberg told German radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that "the situation for us looks a little different," pointing to "overwhelming" public support for neutrality in Austria.

President Zelenskyy's life story - from comedian to war-time leader - has been turned into a graphic novel with TidalWave Comics' latest biography, "Political Power: Volodymyr Zelenskyy." Set for release on Friday, the 22-page glossy is by artist Pablo Martinena, who has also drawn biographies on David Beckham, Nelson Mandela and Donald Trump.

Russian artistic gymnast Ivan Kuliak has been handed a one-year ban for displaying the letter 'Z' on his outfit during an event in Qatar in March, the International Gymnastics Federation said. The 20-year-old, who won bronze in the parallel bars at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, displayed the letter on a podium next to Ukrainian gold medallist Illia Kovtun.


Finland and Sweden formally apply to NATO

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, triggering one of the most significant changes in Europe's security structure in decades.

The Nordic nations were both neutral throughout the Cold War and their decision to join the Western alliance symbolizes a dramatic shift in public opinion since Russia's launched its offensive in Ukraine in February.

It also means the expansion of NATO, which Russian President Vladimir Putin had long invoked as one of the main reasons for ordering the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

"This is a historic moment, which we must seize," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a ceremony in which the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the alliance handed over their application letters.


Mariupol's final stand

Boxing away stress in Kyiv

What can Finland's military offer NATO?

Ratification of the deal from all 30 allied parliaments could now take up to a year, according to diplomats.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has surprised NATO allies by voicing opposition to the two Nordic nation's NATO bids, accusing them of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism. 

Ankara has said it wants the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and lift bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

However, it is expected that Turkey will acquiesce with certain promises from the 'de facto leader' of the military bloc, the U.S.. Stoltenberg said he thought the issues could be overcome.

After weeks in which The Kremlin threatened retaliation against NATO plans to expand, Putin appeared to tone down the rhetoric on Monday, saying Russia had "no problems" with either Finland or Sweden, and that their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.

The members of NATO and those countries seeking to join. /Jonathan Walter/AFP

The members of NATO and those countries seeking to join. /Jonathan Walter/AFP

Mariupol falls, potential PoW swap

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have surrendered after weeks holed up in the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol's Azovstal steel works, signaling the end of one of the deadliest battles of the Ukraine conflict and a major loss for the Ukrainian side, with Ukraine essentially ceding the city to Russia.

Russia's defense ministry said 694 Ukrainian fighters - including members of the Azov regiment - had surrendered in the past 24 hours, including 29 wounded, bringing the total number of soldiers evacuated from the compound to nearly 1,000.

However, Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said that top-ranking Ukrainian commanders were still inside the plant.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded from the steelworks once their condition stabilized.

Service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at Azovstal steel works are evacuated. /Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Service members of Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at Azovstal steel works are evacuated. /Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

However, Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said there had been no deal over exchanging prisoners, tweeting: "I didn't know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered."

Moscow has characterized the Azov Regiment as one of the main perpetrators of the alleged radical anti-Russian nationalism and Nazism from which it says it needs to protect Ukraine's Russian-speakers.

The Kremlin said the combatants would be treated in line with international norms. TASS news agency reported a Russian committee planned to question the soldiers, many of them members of the Azov Battalion, as part of an investigation into what Moscow calls "Ukrainian regime crimes."

The battle for Mariupol is Russia's biggest victory since its invasion, giving it control of the Azov Sea coast and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine. But the port lies in ruins, and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment.

Russia's offensive in the east, meanwhile, appeared to be making little progress, although the Kremlin says all its objectives will be reached in its bid to "demilitarize" Ukraine.

Around a third of the Donbas was held by Russia-backed separatists before the invasion. Moscow now controls around 90 percent of Luhansk region, but it has failed to make major inroads towards the key cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in Donetsk in order to extend control over the entire Donbas.

Ukrainian forces have advanced at their fastest pace for more than a month, driving Russian forces out of the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

Source(s): Reuters ,AFP

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