matériel, but fear it could soon be surrounded, trapping a large number of Ukrainian troops.

Mr. Michta wrote for Politico.

“For the first time in the modern era,” he wrote, “it would force Moscow to come to terms with what it takes, economically and politically, to become a ‘normal’ nation-state.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer and Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Lysychansk, Ukraine.

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What Happened on Day 96 of the War in Ukraine

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Monday agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, the harshest economic penalty yet imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and potentially the biggest sacrifice by Europe, itself.

The deal is the latest and most far-reaching demonstration that over more than three months of war, in reaction to mounting Russian aggression and atrocities, European leaders have grown willing to take steps they considered too extreme when the invasion began. They have already barred imports of Russian natural gas, cut off Russian banks from global financial networks, frozen Russian assets and sent advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

After weeks of intense wrangling, E.U. leaders meeting in Brussels endorsed an embargo on Russian oil delivered by tankers, the primary method, with commitments to reduce imports by pipeline, according to a draft agreement seen by The New York Times. The deal was announced in a late-night tweet by Charles Michel, president of the European Council, though many details remain to be hashed out.

The endorsement came as a multipronged Kremlin assault closed in on the easternmost Ukrainian-controlled city, Sievierodonetsk. Russian forces continued their pattern of bombarding cities and towns, including civilian areas, reducing them to depopulated wastelands before attempting to seize control.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

At the same time, Ukraine’s military mounted a counteroffensive to retake the strategic southern city of Kherson. And a car bombing in another Russian-held city, Melitopol, hinted at the kind of fierce resistance the occupiers may face.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s war machinery is financed by Russia’s sales of crude and refined petroleum and natural gas, which account for most of the country’s export revenue, collected primarily by state-controlled energy companies. With the war driving up prices, the European Union countries alone have been paying $23 billion a month for Russian oil.

Analysts say that Russia, offering discounts compared to the prices on world markets, will continue to find some buyers for its oil, but that sales volume and profits are likely to drop significantly once the embargo takes effect.

Europe relies heavily on Russian fuels — 27 percent of the crude oil imported to the European Union comes from Russia — and while E.U. countries are scrambling for alternatives, officials have warned that the financial cost to them will be high. Other sources are expected to be more expensive, if they can be arranged; gas and oil shortages are a real possibility.

The debate over an oil embargo has also exposed the potential vulnerability of the European bloc, just as Sweden’s and Finland’s requests to join NATO have shown fractures within that alliance. Diplomats express confidence that such differences can be resolved, but they offer reminders that the unity the United States and its allies have shown so far in opposing Russia is not guaranteed.

Hungary’s strongman leader, Viktor Orban, whose country depends more than Western Europe on Russian energy, had held up any agreement on an oil embargo, calling it an “atomic bomb” to the Hungarian economy.

The dispute illustrates how the E.U. practice of requiring unanimity among the 27 member nations for major decisions can become a weakness — particularly if Mr. Orban, who has a friendly relationship with Mr. Putin, is called on to take further steps to isolate Russia.

Credit…Johanna Geron/Reuters

The limited embargo that European leaders endorsed was tailored to win Mr. Orban’s support. Prohibiting Russian oil deliveries aboard tankers would eliminate two-thirds of E.U. imports, while having no effect on Hungary, a landlocked nation. Arriving at the E.U. summit meeting on Monday, Mr. Orban said of the pipeline exemption, “It’s a good approach.”

Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany, which also receive Russian oil by pipeline, were expected to commit to weaning themselves from that source; Hungary is not expected to give any such assurance.

In NATO, which also operates by consensus, Turkey has blocked the admission of Finland and Sweden, which have been sufficiently alarmed by Russia’s war on Ukraine to abandon their long-held neutrality. Western diplomats predict that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has been as contentious a partner to NATO as Mr. Orban has been to the European Union, will wring concessions from the allies but ultimately accede.

On the battlefields of the eastern Donbas region, where Russia is focused on seizing more territory, the most intense combat is around the battered, adjacent cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, among the most important remaining pockets of Ukrainian control. After weeks of shelling, Russian forces have fought their way into “the northeastern and southeastern outskirts” of Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainian defense ministry said in a statement, adding that Russia had funneled still more war matériel from Russia into the Donbas.

Fighting across Donbas reached “maximum intensity,” said Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, the defense ministry spokesman. He added, “Russian invaders shelled the entire front line, trying to hit our deep defensive positions with artillery fire.”

Amid reports of Russian war crimes against civilians, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, issued a call to residents of Russian-occupied territory to flee however they can to Ukrainian-controlled areas, as millions already have. It is hard and dangerous, she conceded, but “ultimately, it is a question of your safety and that of your children.”

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

A French journalist was killed on Monday near Lysychansk when a shell exploded near the evacuation bus he was riding in, according to Ukrainian and French officials, and his employer, the television news channel BFM TV. The journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, suffered a lethal shrapnel wound to the neck, said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, who said the shell was fired by Russian forces.

At least seven other journalists have been killed while covering the conflict, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The sheer weight of Russia’s military and the brutality of its tactics have yielded territorial gains in the east, but it has suffered heavy losses, and Western analysts say it is running short of ready resources.

“Russia has likely suffered devastating losses amongst its mid and junior ranking officers,” the British defense ministry said on Monday in the latest intelligence update it has made public. Battalions that the Russians are cobbling together “from survivors of multiple units are likely to be less effective.”

Perhaps most ominous for Moscow, the British cited “multiple credible reports of localized mutinies amongst Russia’s forces.”

Hoping to spread Russian forces thinner than they already are, Ukraine over the weekend launched a counteroffensive more than 300 miles away from Sievierodonetsk, aimed at retaking Kherson, a strategic port on the lower Dnipro River in south-central Ukraine. It was the first major city to fall to the Russians, less than a week after the invasion.

Credit…Associated Press

“The Ukrainian counterattack does not appear likely to retake substantial territory in the near term,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington said in an assessment released on Sunday, but it will disrupt Russian operations across the south, “and potentially force Russia to deploy reinforcements to the Kherson region, which is predominantly held by substandard units.”

In Melitopol, the Kremlin-appointed regional administration said a car bombing had injured two aid workers and called it “a terrorist attack aimed at destabilizing the peaceful life of the city.” People have protested the occupation in Melitopol, where Russian forces have kidnapped local officials and replaced them.

Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of Melitopol — who was abducted by Russian forces and then returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap — said he did not know who was responsible for the bombing, but predicted that “the ground will burn” in Melitopol until Russians leave the city.

Russian forces have held onto most of the areas they conquered in the south early in the war. But one band of fighters held out for weeks in a steel mill complex in the southern city of Mariupol, tying down significant Russian forces before the survivors surrendered this month.

And in the first weeks of the war, Russian offensives in the north aimed at Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, became hopelessly bogged down. Moscow gave up on those campaigns, at least temporarily, to concentrate on Donbas, and Ukrainians have retaken some of the lost territory.

The failure of those offensives and the resistance in Mariupol contributed to a shift in Russian tactics to a slower, more grinding approach, with little apparent concern for civilian casualties or physical destruction.

Describing the constant shelling of Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a video posted online on Sunday night, “They don’t care how many lives they will have to pay.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, Cassandra Vinograd and Stanley Reed from London, Carlotta Gall from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Ukraine says troops may retreat from eastern region as Russia advances

  • Ukrainian governor says Russian troops enter Luhansk city
  • Moscow-backed separatists take control of Lyman
  • EU edging towards partial ban on Russian oil
  • Putin again ties grain exports to lifting sanctions

KYIV/POPASNA, Ukraine, May 27 (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Friday its forces may need to retreat from their last pocket of resistance in Luhansk to avoid being captured by Russian troops pressing an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war.

A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.

Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90% of buildings in the town were damaged.

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“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted,” Gaidai said on Telegram, referring to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River. read more

“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat.”

Moscow’s separatist proxies said they now controlled Lyman, a railway hub west of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, a city a half-hour drive further southwest.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defence resources allow”. Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskiy said in an evening address.

‘AT GREAT COST’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Bloomberg UK that Putin “at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas”.

Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s Defence Ministry said.

Reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, Popasna was in ruins. The bloated body of a dead man in combat uniform could be seen lying in a courtyard.

Natalia Kovalenko had left the cellar where she sheltered to live in the wreckage of her flat, its windows and balcony blasted away. She said a shell hit the courtyard outside, killing two people and wounding eight.

“I just have to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad,” she said. “We are tired of being so scared.”

Russia’s eastern gains follow a Ukrainian counter-offensive that pushed Moscow’s forces back from Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in May. But Ukrainian forces have been unable to attack Russian supply lines to the Donbas.

Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days. Local authorities said nine people were killed. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.

In the south, where Moscow has seized a swathe of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the strategic port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials believe Russia aims to impose permanent rule.

Ukraine’s military said Russia was shipping in military equipment from Russian-annexed Crimea to build defences against any counter-attack and was mining the banks of a reservoir behind a dam on the Dnipro River that separates the forces.

STRUGGLING TO LEAVE

In the Kherson region, north of Crimea, Russian forces were fortifying defences and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas on a daily basis, the region’s Ukrainian governor Hennadiy Laguta told a media briefing.

He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it almost impossible to leave occupied territory, with the exception of a 200-car convoy that left on Wednesday.

On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal might be reached by Sunday to ban deliveries of Russian oil by sea, accounting for about 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by pipeline, a compromise to win over Hungary and unblock new sanctions. read more

Zelenskiy has criticised the EU for dithering over a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc was funding Moscow’s war effort and that delay “merely means more Ukrainians being killed.”

In a telephone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict can be resolved only if the West lifts sanctions.

Nehammer, who visited Russia in April, said Putin expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but he said: “If he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question.”

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has halted shipments of grain, driving up global prices, with both countries major grain exporters. Russia accuses Ukraine of mining the ports and Ukraine has described the Russian position as “blackmail”.

Russia, which calls its invasion a “special military operation”, launched its assault in part to ensure Ukraine does not join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

But the war has pushed Sweden and Finland, who were both neutral throughout the Cold War, to apply to join NATO in one of the most significant changes in European security in decades.

The Nordic states’ bids have been tripped up over opposition by NATO member Turkey, which contends they harbour people linked to a militant group it deems a terrorist organisation. Swedish and Finnish diplomats met in Turkey on Wednesday to try to bridge their differences.

“It is not an easy process,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday, adding that Sweden and Finland must take “difficult” steps to win Ankara’s support.

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Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters journalists in Popasna; Writing by Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Edmund Blair and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Live Updates: War Raises Famine Fears as Russia Chokes Off Ukraine’s Grains

DAVOS, Switzerland — Fears of a global food crisis are swelling as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, fueling charges that President Vladimir V. Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.

World leaders called on Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where worries about the war’s consequences have eclipsed almost every other issue, speakers reached for apocalyptic language to describe the threat.

“It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Calling the situation “absolutely critical,” he warned, “We will have famines around the world.”

The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats.

Russian forces have taken control of some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland, destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure that is vital to raising and shipping grain, and littered farm fields with explosives. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive branch, told the political and business leaders gathered in Davos that Russia — an even bigger exporter — had confiscated Ukrainian grain stocks and agricultural machinery.

“On top of this,” she said, “Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail, holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support.”

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

The fighting in Ukraine is increasingly concentrated in a small pocket of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s battered forces are making slow, bloody progress as they try to encircle the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian stronghold.

Within the city, once an industrial hub, the devastation from Russian artillery is evident on every street in the form of shattered buildings, burned-out vehicles and cratered pavement. Russian pincers approaching the city from the north and south are separated by just 16 miles, but face “strong Ukrainian resistance,” the British Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

Three months into the war, the United States and its allies have shown remarkable solidarity so far in supporting Ukraine with weapons and other aid, and in punishing Russia with economic sanctions, but the limits of that unity are being tested. Finland and Sweden have signaled that they want to abandon their long-held neutrality to join NATO, but that plan is being held up by one member country, Turkey. At the same time, Hungary is blocking an E.U. plan to embargo imports of Russian oil.

Within both blocs, officials have offered assurances, without specifics, that the roadblocks will soon be overcome. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said Tuesday that he was confident Sweden and Finland would join the alliance, though “I cannot tell you exactly how and when.” Diplomats from the two Nordic countries traveled to Turkey for talks on the issue.

The European Union, heavily dependent on Russian fuels, has already agreed to a phased embargo on natural gas from Russia, and the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, warned that Europe could face gas rationing next winter.

“I’m advising several European governments to prepare a contingency plan,” Mr. Birol said at Davos. He added that “Europe is paying for its over-dependence on Russian energy.”

Ukraine has applied to join the European Union, and on Tuesday its government rejected a French proposal for something short of full membership. Russia has vehemently opposed any expansion of NATO and E.U. membership for Ukraine, but its aggression has backfired, making those associations more attractive to its neighbors.

Increasingly isolated, the Kremlin has looked to Beijing for support, and Russia held joint military maneuvers on Tuesday with China, their first since the war in Ukraine began. The show of force included bomber flights over the Sea of Japan, while President Biden was not far away, in Tokyo, for meetings with world leaders.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

But the food crisis took center stage at Davos, where President Andrzej Duda of Poland warned that famine in Africa and elsewhere would prompt a flood of migration to Europe, where searing memories are fresh of the 2015-2016 migration wave that strained E.U. unity and empowered xenophobic nationalist movements.

Ukraine and Russia ordinarily account for about one-quarter of the grain traded internationally; in recent years, Ukraine had exported an average of about 3.5 million tons of per month. In March, only 300,000 tons were shipped out, though exports rebounded somewhat to more than a million tons in April and could reach 1.5 million tons in May, said Roman Slaston, the chief of Ukraine’s agricultural industry group.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says that the Black Sea blockade has prevented 14 million tons of corn, 7 million tons of wheat and 3 million tons of sunflower seeds from reaching world markets. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of stealing Ukraine’s produce and then selling it abroad as Russian.

Western officials are circulating proposals for getting grain out of Ukraine, such as having multiple countries send warships to escort cargo ships from Ukrainian ports and run the blockade, but that runs the danger of a shooting confrontation with Russian vessels. Sending ships from NATO countries is considered particularly risky — like the rejected idea of having NATO members enforce a no-fly zone to keep Russian warplanes away from Ukraine — so much of the talk has been about countries outside the alliance taking part.

But Mr. Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, warned that breaking the Black Sea blockade would be very hard.

“Is it possible to get it out on ships? That is a difficult task. It’s not an easy way forward,” he said.

Ukraine has continued to ship grain overland through Europe, and work is underway to expand such routes, Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Slaston said — but doing so on a scale great enough to replace seagoing shipment would be very difficult. The railways in Eastern Europe use different gauges, which means switching equipment when going long distances, and many of Ukraine’s railroads, highways and bridges have been damaged by Russian attacks.

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

One farmer said he lost 50 rail cars full of grain when his cargo got stranded between Russian airstrikes in front of and behind the train.

But the problem is not limited to shipping — farming, itself, has been greatly diminished by the war. In some places, fighting has simply made the work too dangerous. In others, Russian strikes on fuel depots have left farmers unable to power their tractors.

Farmers accuse Russian forces of regularly targeting their grain silos and seizing their grain stores, particularly in the south.

And perhaps most frightening are the countless mines left by retreating Russian forces, especially in the north. The Ukrainian Deminers Association, a group that locates and removes explosives, says nearly 45 percent of the fields it has inspected in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions were mined.

Gordie Siebring, a farmer based near the Belarusian border, said Ukrainian military authorities warned him he could not sow the fields closest to the frontier because of the mine threat, meaning he has been unable to plant 8 to 10 percent of his field. Neighboring farmers have it much worse, he said, because Russian mines have made over two-thirds of their fields too dangerous to use.

“If they are as close as 10 to 15 kilometers away, they can launch mines with artillery,” he said. “These mines have small parachutes and land in the fields and have sensors that cause detonation later. Those are really causing havoc.”

Another threat to global supplies, experts say, is that countries will hoard their own food stocks. Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and minister of economic affairs of Germany, said countries should curb their use of grain to make biofuel and to feed livestock.

“Markets have to stay open,” Mr. Habeck said in an interview. “The worst thing that can happen now is that every country cares for its own supply, saves all the wheat, saves all the food, and does not give it to the market, because then we have no chance of securing the food supply.”

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Before the war, droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, and the pandemic were already squeezing food supplies, leaving the world uncommonly vulnerable. By December, global wheat prices had risen about 80 percent in a little over a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Even before Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border, experts were warning of “a massive surge in food insecurity and the threat of famine,” said Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University.

The war, he said, is “impacting an incredibly fragile food system.”

At the same time, the spike in oil and gas prices caused by the war has triggered an even sharper increase in the cost of fertilizers made in part from those fuels.

Ms. von der Leyen said E.U. countries were increasing their own grain production and working with the World Food Program to ship available stocks to vulnerable countries at affordable prices.

“Global cooperation is the antidote to Russia’s blackmail,” she said.

Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Patricia Cohen reported from Davos, Switzerland, and Erika Solomon from Lviv, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine; Edward Wong from Washington; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Live Updates: Russia Uses Surrender in Mariupol to Portray Ukrainians as Terrorists

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia seized on the mass surrender of Ukrainian troops at a Mariupol steel plant as a propaganda gift on Wednesday, moving to falsely label them as terrorists and create a parallel narrative to Ukraine’s portrayal of Russian soldiers as heinous war criminals.

The mass surrender, which ended the longest battle of the three-month-old war, was depicted by the Russians as a glorious turning point in a conflict that Western military analysts and rights groups have described as disastrous for the Kremlin and its forces, which have bombed Ukraine indiscriminately and been accused of other atrocities.

Images of the surrendering Ukrainians were publicized by the Russians just as a Russian soldier pleaded guilty in a Ukrainian courtroom to fatally shooting an unarmed civilian, in a widely followed case.

In Brussels, Turkey complicated efforts by NATO to quickly consider membership bids by Sweden and Finland, blocking an initial vote and presenting a list of grievances related to Kurdish groups that it considers terrorists.

While Turkey indicated that it would not ultimately oppose membership for Sweden and Finland, its objections are slowing a process that the West had hoped would quickly strengthen European defenses against further aggression by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Turkey’s move came against the backdrop of a separate frustration for the West’s challenges to Mr. Putin: Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, another authoritarian leader, has stalled a proposed European Union embargo of Russian oil.

Credit…Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images

Ukraine had initially described the mass surrender of the soldiers at Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, which its military ordered Monday night, as the only alternative to their near-certain death against hopeless odds, and as a prelude to a prisoner exchange.

But there was no talk from Moscow of swapping any captives, and by Wednesday it was clear that the Kremlin intended to use the prisoners for other purposes.

Russian commentators celebrated the fall of the steel plant and, in particular, the capture of members of the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian regiment with roots as a far-right group, which Mr. Putin has exploited to fictitiously portray the invasion as a battle to rid Ukraine of Nazis.

The Russian Supreme Court said it would hold a hearing next week on whether to declare the Azov group a “terrorist organization,” which could give Moscow cover to deprive the prisoners of rights. Russia has said that 959 soldiers in the plant surrendered, about 800 of them from the Azov battalion. It is believed that up to 1,000 more soldiers remain inside the plant.

Maria V. Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that Azov soldiers had committed war crimes by using kindergartens and medical centers to store ammunition and by using civilians as human shields — accusations that echoed those leveled against Russian troops by the West.

Some of the prisoners were transferred to pretrial detention in the town of Yelenovka, in the Russia-controlled eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, Ms. Zakharova said. She accused Ukraine’s forces of having fired rockets at the facility that held them.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Ms. Zakharova said she had no information about a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, and that those requiring medical attention were receiving it. Russia released a video of hospitalized captive soldiers in a separatist-held city east of Mariupol.

Amnesty International urged Russia to respect the rights of the captives, saying they had been “dehumanized by Russian media” and portrayed by Mr. Putin’s propagandists as neo-Nazis, which “raises serious concerns over their fate as prisoners of war.”

Ms. Zakharova said that Russia had encouraged the soldiers to leave the plant for days, and she faulted Ukraine for having waited so long to order them to surrender. “At the moment, the most important thing is that everybody exits,” she said.

Complicating efforts by Ukraine to negotiate a prisoner exchange, the speaker of the Russian Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said lawmakers would consider a ban on “exchanges of Nazi criminals.”

Russia’s move to treat the captives as war criminals came as a Russian soldier pleaded guilty in a Kyiv court to having fatally shot a 62-year-old man on a bicycle — a killing that could be considered a war crime.

Asked by the presiding judge whether he accepted his guilt, the soldier, Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, said: “Yes.”

“Fully?” the judge asked. “Yes,” the sergeant replied.

The sergeant had admitted to Ukrainian investigators that he fired the Kalashnikov rifle that had killed the man, Oleksandar Shelipov, prosecutors said.

He told investigators in a videotaped statement that he and four other servicemen had stolen a car at gunpoint and were fleeing Ukrainian forces when they spotted Mr. Shelipov on a bicycle, talking on a phone. Sergeant Shyshimarin said he had been ordered to kill the man so he would not report them.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

The sergeant, who is facing 10 to 15 years in prison, was charged under Ukrainian statutes with violating “the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder,” prosecutors said. He was not charged with a war crime under international law.

The trial, part of Ukraine’s effort to document atrocities and identify perpetrators, drew intense interest. On Wednesday, the courtroom and an overflow room were crowded with members of the local and international news media, and the proceedings were broadcast on YouTube.

Legal experts said war crimes prosecutions against senior commanding officers are more difficult and can take far longer because their connections to the crime must be proved in court. In this case, Sergeant Shyshimarin had been accused of actually firing the fatal shot.

The prosecution was extraordinary partly because it proceeded despite its potential to disrupt or even halt future prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and Russia.

“The Russians may now decide to bring cases against Ukrainian P.O.W.s,” said Alex Whiting, a war crimes prosecutor who is a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. “This shows how the atrocity crimes being committed by Russian forces, and Ukraine’s commitment to prosecute them, are so much the center of attention right now.”

The Ukrainian prosecutor in the trial, Andriy Sinyuk, described it as an “unprecedented procedure” in which “a serviceman of a different country is accused of murdering a civilian of Ukraine.”

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, dismissed the proceedings, telling reporters that the accusations leveled against Russian soldiers by Ukraine were “simply fake or staged.”

“We still have no information,” Mr. Peskov said. “And the ability to provide assistance due to the lack of our diplomatic mission there is also very limited.”

Even as Turkey raised concerns about quickly admitting Sweden and Finland to NATO, President Biden on Wednesday formally endorsed both of their applications. He also issued a carefully worded warning to Russia that the United States would help defend both countries while their applications are pending.

In blocking an early procedural vote on the applications, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seemed to be calculating that his cooperation was at a premium at a moment of global crisis. NATO operates by consensus, giving any member political leverage over key decisions.

Credit…Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, said Mr. Erdogan was likely angling for concessions before a NATO summit in June, and was likely looking for Sweden to take a stronger stand against Kurdish groups that Turkey regards as linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or P.K.K., which launched a violent separatist movement in Turkey in the early 1980s.

Mr. Erdogan may also be seeking to unlock sales of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, Mr. Cagaptay said.

In an address to lawmakers in Turkey’s Parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan said the outpouring of support for Ukraine, which he has generally supported, was “bittersweet.”

“Because we, as a NATO ally who struggled with terror for years, whose borders were harassed, big conflicts occurred just next door, have never seen such a picture,” he said.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, signaled that his country would not stop Sweden and Finland from joining NATO and would work to “overcome the differences through dialogue and diplomacy.”

“We understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met,” Mr. Cavusoglu told Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken ahead of a meeting at the United Nations in New York.

Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by David E. Sanger and Lara Jakes from Washington, Carlotta Gall from Kharkiv, Ukraine, Steven Erlanger from Warsaw and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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