The United Nations is coordinating talks among Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in the hopes of hammering out security guarantees that would allow Ukraine to export its grain and help ease a global food crisis that is being exacerbated by the war.
But the Ukrainian government’s negotiator expressed skepticism in a recent interview with The New York Times that Russia would abide by any guarantee unless Kyiv had the military power to enforce it.
The Ukrainian negotiator, Rustem Umerov, told the Times that the country was preparing for talks in Istanbul to discuss a way to end Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa to allow the shipment of the 20 million metric tons of grain Ukraine has in storage silos.
But he said that only the delivery of powerful naval weapons committed by Western allies would be an effective security guarantee, and he accused Russia of seeking to use the issue to shore up its own position in the Black Sea.
“If we will open up the ports, it means that the northwestern Black Sea will open up to them,” he said. No international backer, he added, “whoever guarantees us,” could be relied on to strike back if Russia then attacked Ukrainian shipping.
“And they understand it,” he said. “That’s why they are pressurizing the world to squeeze Ukraine to open up the ports.”
Before the war began, Ukraine exported about six million metric tons of grain a month, Kate Newton, an emergency coordinator for the U.N. World Food Program in Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kyiv on Thursday. Now, the country is only able to to export about one million metric tons per month, she said.
“We are doing everything we can,” she said, “exporting grain by truck, rail and river.” But, she said, without use of the Black Sea ports, it would not be possible to raise export levels much.
Russian forces have also bombed grain storage centers and fields across Ukraine. When Ukraine started shipping grain from a port on the Danube River, the Russians bombed the primary bridge trucks could use to get there.
In previous negotiations, Moscow has insisted on the right to “inspect” all vessels carrying Ukrainian grain — a condition that Kyiv would not accept.
Ukraine’s military on Thursday said it had driven Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategically important outcrop whose loss could undermine Moscow’s control over Black Sea shipping lanes. But Russia’s de facto blockade showed no sign of easing.
Mr. Umerov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have accused Russia of sowing disinformation about who is to blame for the blockade. The grain issue, and even the prospect of famine, have become part an information war waged by Moscow, Mr. Umerov said.
“They are weaponizing the famine,” Mr. Umerov said. “They are addressing the African states, saying, ‘We are always ready to support you, it’s Ukrainians who are not opening the ports.’” African countries are heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry cast its withdrawal from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture and repeated that it was not to blame for the food crisis. But at a recent appearance, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the Kremlin mouthpiece RT, appeared to suggest that the crisis could be to Moscow’s political benefit.
“I’ve heard it several times in Moscow from many people: ‘All our hope is in the famine,’” she told the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 20, adding that those people’s expectation was that famine would drive countries to lift sanctions on Russia.
Kyiv has been working to counter that narrative. Last week, Mr. Kuleba spent an hour speaking to journalists from Africa, emphasizing Ukraine’s urgency to resume exporting.
“The only country that is not really under time pressure here is Russia,” he said in an interview. “Everyone else is running out of time, be it us as suppliers, African and Asian countries as recipients, or the United Nations, whose reputation is at stake.”
MADRID — NATO leaders will formally invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance on Wednesday after Turkey lifted its veto on their membership, NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday evening, clearing the way for what would be one of the most significant expansions of the alliance in decades.
The historic deal, following Turkey’s agreement to a memorandum with the two Nordic countries, underscored how the war in Ukraine has backfired for President Vladimir V. Putin, subverting Russian efforts to weaken NATO and pushing Sweden and Finland, which were neutral and nonaligned for decades, into the alliance’s arms.
After weeks of talks, capped by an hourslong meeting in Madrid, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed to lift his block on Sweden and Finland’s membership in return for a set of actions and promises that they will act against terrorism and terrorist organizations.
“As NATO allies, Finland and Sweden commit to fully support Turkey against threats to its national security,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, providing some details of the agreement. “This includes further amending their domestic legislation, cracking down on P.K.K. activities and entering into an agreement with Turkey on extradition,” he added, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which seeks an independent Kurdish state on territory partly within Turkey’s borders.
Mr. Erdogan had been blocking the Nordic countries’ NATO bids amid concerns over Sweden’s longtime support for the P.K.K. which has attacked nonmilitary targets and killed civilians in Turkey, is outlawed in that country and is designated by both the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.
But the memorandum does not specify the extradition of any of the 45 people or so Mr. Erdogan wanted sent to Turkey to face trial on terrorism charges. Sweden has already passed tougher legislation against terrorism that goes into effect July 1.
Both Finland and Sweden had been militarily nonaligned for many years, but decided to apply to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. With Russia attacking a neighbor, both countries felt vulnerable, though Sweden, with a long tradition of neutrality, was more hesitant.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia warned both countries against joining NATO, but his threats proved counterproductive.
The two countries bring geostrategic benefits to the alliance. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia and has a well-equipped modern army; Sweden can control the entrance to the Baltic Sea, which will help a great deal in NATO planning to defend the more vulnerable countries in Eastern Europe.
The final push to resolve the dispute started early Tuesday morning, when President Biden called Mr. Erdogan to urge him to “seize the moment” on the eve of the summit, to allow discussions on other topics to proceed, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the discussion.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the president conveyed the substance of his conversation with Mr. Erdogan to the leaders of Finland and Sweden. And after several hours of negotiations later that night, the two Nordic leaders consulted with Mr. Biden again before announcing the agreement with Turkey.
The American official said that the deal between Turkey and the two Nordic countries involved a series of compromises on both sides, including the statement by Turkey welcoming Finland and Sweden to apply and issues involving an arms embargo imposed on Turkey and Turkey’s belief that Finland and Sweden had offered safe havens to groups they considered terrorists.
American officials had for days played down Mr. Biden’s role in the negotiations, saying he would not be a broker between the other countries and insisted that it was up to Turkey, Finland and Sweden to resolve their differences.
After the agreement was announced Tuesday night, the senior administration official conceded that it was considered more diplomatic to publicly minimize Mr. Biden’s involvement. Doing so prevented Turkey from seeking concessions from the United States for agreeing to lift its veto, which might have complicated the discussions, the official said.
The next steps for Finland and Sweden are clear: NATO will vote on Wednesday to accept their applications. There will also be a quick study of their defense capacities and needs. But the talks are expected to be routine, since both countries are NATO partners and have exercised together with NATO allies.
The more difficult last step requires the legislatures of all 30 current members to vote to amend the NATO founding treaty to accept the new members. That has in the past taken up to a year, but is expected to be much quicker for the Nordic countries.
The U.S. Senate is already pressing ahead with hearings on the application and Mr. Biden has been a firm proponent of the new members.
Johanna Lemola contributed reporting from Helsinki, Finland.
Ankara opposed Stockholm and Helsinki’s memberships
Turkey ready for months of talks if needed -sources
Stance helped Erdogan’s sagging polls ahead of vote
ANKARA, June 27 (Reuters) – A NATO summit this week is unlikely to see a breakthrough to overcome Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland’s membership bids as Ankara takes an unrushed approach to negotiations, according to Turkish officials and Western diplomats.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in what would be a historic enlargement of the Western defence pact. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan surprised allies by opposing it in May over what he called the Nordic countries’ support for terrorist groups. read more
Any membership bid requires approval of all 30 members of NATO, whose leaders convene in Madrid on June 29-30 in what some had billed as a stage to seal a deal.
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Turkish negotiators are not concerned with deadlines imposed by foreign allies and are ready to press on for months if needed for the Nordic states to drop arms embargoes and crack down on what it sees as terrorist groups, the four sources told Reuters.
Based on draft language exchanged by NATO officials and the three sides this month, a big snag is Turkey’s demand that Sweden, in particular, extradites some Kurdish militants living there, said one person close to the matter.
The officials and diplomats did not rule out a last-minute deal. But Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin repeated a week ago that Ankara – NATO’s second-biggest military and a member for 70 years – awaits binding steps and does not see the summit as a deadline.
“There were meetings, but unfortunately steps we expected are not being taken,” said a Turkish government official involved in the talks. “It seems difficult for a result to come out of the NATO summit.”
In an interview with broadcaster Haberturk on Sunday, Kalin said he and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal would hold fresh talks with Finnish and Swedish officials in Brussels on Monday, followed by another round of talks between the leaders of NATO, Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday before the Madrid summit. read more
“Attending this summit does not mean we will take a step back from our position,” Kalin said, referring to Tuesday’s four-way meeting. “We have largely reached an agreement, there are some issues we don’t agree on. If we agree on those, that is how we’re going to go to Madrid.”
ELECTIONS AT HOME
The person close to the matter, who also requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of talks, said the document outlining Swedish and Finnish commitments had boiled down to a few sections not yet fully agreed.
They included the appropriate treatment of a NATO partner on arms export controls, which the Nordic states applied to Turkey in 2019; a recognition of certain groups as terrorists; and concrete action on extraditions of individuals, the person said.
Turkey ramped up engagement in mid-June but its approach “is not driven by internationally-set thresholds…like Madrid”, the person said, adding one step forward was Stockholm’s agreement to ongoing consultations on counter-terrorism.
Erdogan, facing tight general and presidential elections over the next 12 months, says the Nordics harbour people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States, as well as Gulenist followers of a cleric accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
The tough stance has helped his polls rebound even as Turkey’s inflation rate soars and its currency tumbles largely due to the president’s unorthodox economic policies. read more
A Western diplomat said Erdogan would likely eventually back the membership bids and declare victory to voters. “But this issue could last for several more months as he looks toward an election and NATO allies get increasingly frustrated.”
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Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Alex Richardson
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
BRUSSELS — The European Union officially made Ukraine a candidate for membership on Thursday, signaling in the face of a devastating Russian military onslaught that it sees Ukraine’s future as lying in an embrace of the democratic West.
While Ukraine’s accession into the bloc could take a decade or more, the decision sends a powerful message of solidarity to Kyiv and a rebuke to Moscow, which has worked for more than a decade to keep Ukraine from building Western ties.
The step was seen as almost impossible mere weeks ago, not least because Ukraine was seen as too far behind in terms of eliminating corruption and instituting economic reforms.
But the decision to nonetheless give it candidate status was another leap for European nations that have been rapidly shedding preconceptions and reservations to back Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.
“Agreement,” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said on Twitter. “A historic moment. Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU.”
Candidacy in the European Union, which the 27 E.U. leaders also granted to Moldova, is a milestone but little else. It signals that a nation is in position, if certain conditions are met, to begin a very detailed, painstaking and yearslong process of changes and negotiations with the bloc, with a view to eventually joining.
When that might happen depends on the readiness of the country in question, which must align itself institutionally, democratically, economically and legally to E.U. laws and norms. On average, the process has taken other countries about 10 years; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years, but is unlikely to join.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called the E.U. move “one of the most important decisions for Ukraine” in its 30 years as an independent state.
“This is the greatest step toward strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, in our time, and precisely in the context of the Russian war, which is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Telegram.
The European Union began in 1952 as a free-trade bloc among a core six nations. It has grown through the years to not only include huge swaths of the European continent, but also to encompass policies far beyond trade and economics, although those remain its strongest and best-aligned types of joint work.
The war in Ukraine has forced the European Union into foreign policy, defense and military alignment, areas that it is both politically uncomfortable with and legally underqualified to address. Although no substitute for NATO, the bloc could in future years — by the time Ukraine actually joins — develop into more of a military union.
The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, the largest E.U. nations, gave a preview of the decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine in a visit last week to its capital, Kyiv. Still, a handful of member countries needed to be convinced that despite Ukraine’s unreadiness to join the union, it was vital to give it the prospect.
Important as the moment is for Ukraine, it is deeply significant for the European Union, too. Most members had been eager to keep the bloc from growing, partly because its 27 members already find it at times exceedingly hard to agree on key issues like democratic freedoms, economic overhauls and the role of the courts.
The bloc nearly doubled in size in the decade from 2004 to 2014, adding 13 members, many of them poorer former Soviet nations that swiftly gained access to wealthier labor markets and ample funding by the bloc.
That integration is still not complete, with several nations struggling with corruption, rule-of-law issues and economic backsliding. This calls into question the bloc’s capacity to absorb a country of Ukraine’s size and population.
Some European nations would have also liked to see Albania and North Macedonia, Balkan nations that have been candidates for more than a decade, admitted before Ukraine. Western Balkan leaders met with their E.U. counterparts earlier Thursday, but the meeting yielded no progress.
The move to grant Ukraine’s candidacy is bound to irritate Russia, which has described Ukraine’s aspirations to align itself with Western institutions like NATO and the European Union as a provocation and interference in its sphere of influence.
Ukraine EU candidacy signals major shift in European geopolitics
‘Europe can create a new history of freedom’ Zelenskiy says
Battle for Sievierodonetsk grinds on
Ukraine claims strike on Russian tugboat
BRUSSELS/KYIV, Ukraine, June 17 (Reuters) – The European Union gave its blessing on Friday for Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova to become candidates to join, in the most dramatic geopolitical shift to result from Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine applied to join the EU just four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. Four days later, so did Moldova and Georgia – smaller ex-Soviet states also contending with separatist regions occupied by Russian troops.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” the EU’s executive Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels. She made the announcement wearing Ukrainian colours, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt.
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President Voloymyr Zelenskiy thanked von der Leyen and EU member states on Twitter for a decision he called “the first step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer”.
Moldova’s President Maia Sandu hailed a “strong signal of support for Moldova & our citizens!” and said she counted on the support of EU member states.
“We’re committed to working hard,” she said on Twitter.
While recommending candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, the Commission held off for Georgia, which it said must meet more conditions first.
Von der Leyen said Georgia has a strong application but had to come together politically. A senior diplomat close to the process cited setbacks in reforms there.
Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest – Germany, France and Italy – had signalled their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, along with the president of Romania.
“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Germany’s Olaf Scholz said after meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukraine and Moldova will still face a lengthy process to achieve the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Nor is membership guaranteed – talks have been stalled for years with Turkey, officially a candidate since 1999.
But launching the candidacy process, a move that would have seemed unthinkable just months ago, amounts to a shift on par with the decision in the 1990s to welcome the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe.
“Precisely because of the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a news conference, with European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, after a meeting of the College of European Commissioners addressing its opinion on Ukraine’s EU candidate status, in Brussels, Belgium June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman
If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous. All three hopefuls are far poorer than any existing EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest, Bulgaria.
All have recent histories of volatile politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organised crime, and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming sovereignty over territory protected by Moscow’s troops.
President Vladimir Putin ordered his “special military operation” officially to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. One of his main objectives was to halt the expansion of Western institutions which he called a threat to Russia.
But the war, which has killed thousands of people, destroyed whole cities and set millions to flight, has had the opposite effect. Finland and Sweden have applied to join the NATO military alliance, and the EU has opened its arms to the east.
Within Ukraine, Russian forces were defeated in an attempt to storm the capital in March, but have since refocused on seizing more territory in the east.
The nearly four-month-old war has entered a punishing attritional phase, with Russian forces relying on their massive advantage in artillery firepower to blast their way into Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out in Sievierodonetsk, site of the worst fighting of recent weeks, on the east bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. It was impossible to evacuate more than 500 civilians who are trapped inside a chemical plant, the regional governor said.
In the surrounding Donbas region, which Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies, Ukrainian forces are mainly defending the river’s opposite bank.
Near the frontline in the ruins of the small city of Marinka, Ukrainian police made their way into a cellar searching for anyone who wanted help to evacuate. A group of mainly elderly residents huddled on mattresses in candlelight.
“There’s space down here, you could join us,” joked one man as the officers came in. A woman named Nina sighed in the darkness: “There is nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere to go. All the houses have been burnt out. Where can we go?”
In the south, Ukraine has mounted a counter-offensive, claiming to have made inroads into the biggest swath still held by Russia of the territory it seized in the invasion. There have been few reports from the frontline to confirm the situation in that area.
Ukraine claimed its forces had struck a Russian tugboat bringing soldiers, weapons and ammunition to Russian-occupied Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost.
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Additional reporting by Abdelaziz Boumzar in Marinka and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Angus MacSwan
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BRUSSELS — Losing ground to Russia’s brutal advance in the east, Ukraine on Monday demanded an arsenal of sophisticated Western weapons many times greater than what has been promised, or even discussed, underscoring the rising pressure on Western leaders to reconsider their approach to the war.
The tactics that served the Ukrainians well early in the war have not been nearly as effective as the fighting has shifted to the open ground of the Donbas region in the east, where Russians are relying on their immense advantage in long-range artillery. Russian forces are poised to take the blasted city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian outpost, and are closing in on the neighboring city of Lysychansk.
With the leaders of France, Germany and Italy planning their first visit to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, since the war began, they and other Western leaders have to decide whether to double down on arming Ukraine or press harder for negotiations with Moscow to end the war.
running out of ammunition for their Soviet-era artillery, and Ukrainian officials contend that Russian artillery in the east is out-firing their own, 10 to 1.
Mykhailo Podolyak, the Zelensky adviser, said Ukraine needs 300 mobile multiple rocket-launch systems, 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones to achieve parity with Russia in the Donbas region where fighting is concentrated — numbers many times beyond anything that has been publicly discussed in the West. The United States has promised four of the mobile rocket launchers and Britain a few more; Washington has sent a little more than 100 howitzers, and other nations a few dozen more.
faster than Ukrainians can be trained to use them — but Mr. Podolyak, Mr. Zelensky and others clearly mean to keep up the pressure on the West, complaining daily that the current arms flow is woefully inadequate.
mposed tough economic sanctions on Russia, supplied significant financial and military aid to Ukraine, and insisted publicly that it is up to Ukraine’s own, democratically elected leaders to decide how and when to negotiate with Russia.
But they also worry that a long war will bring in NATO countries and even cause President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to escalate what has been a brutal but conventional campaign. President Emmanuel Macron of France, in particular, has twice said it was important not to “humiliate Russia.”
European officials also worry about the damage being done to their own economies by inflation and high energy prices, and about the likely domestic political backlash. And many in Europe are eager to find a way, even if it’s a temporary cease-fire, to resume Ukrainian grain exports as global food prices soar and parts of the world face a threat of famine.
Such talk raises hackles in Kyiv and in the capitals of Central and Eastern Europe where Russia is most feared, and officials questioned how committed their friends to the west are to beating back Mr. Putin’s aggression. Leaders of several countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc believe this war is about more than Ukraine, and that the Kremlin’s ambitions to re-establish that sphere of influence and overthrow the European security order must be met with defeat, not a cease-fire.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
A garage burns following a military strike on a garage near the railway station, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in the frontline city of Lyman, Donetsk region, Ukraine April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.