HELSINKI – The President and Prime Minister of Finland say they support NATO membership, paving the way for an enlarged alliance in response to the Russian war in Ukraine.
The statement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday means that Finland is virtually certain that it will aspire to NATO membership, although there are still a few steps to go before the application process begins.
Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide to join NATO in the coming days.
Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement: “As a member of NATO, Finland will strengthen the entire defense alliance.
They said Finland should apply for NATO membership immediately, adding: “We hope that the national steps that are still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly in the next few days.”
KEY DEVELOPMENT OF THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
– Ukraine offers an exchange of prisoners with wounded Mariupol fighters
– The Senate Senate is in addition to the House of Representatives approved $ 40 billion in aid to Ukraine
– Wives of the defenders of Mariupol to the Pope: “You are our last hope”
– Birth during the war among the air raid sirens in a hospital in Ukraine
– Follow all AP stories about Russia’s war against Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed Russia’s determination to snatch separatist-controlled territory from Ukraine in a congratulatory message to the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has supported the separatists for years and recognized them as independent on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine.
In a statement issued by the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said: “I am confident that through our joint efforts we will defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Luhansk Republic.
Meanwhile, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said on Thursday that it would never return to Ukraine’s control and that most of its residents want it to become part of Russia.
Russian migration authorities also said 15,000 people had crossed from Ukraine’s Donbass region to Russia’s Rostov region in 24 hours, according to Russia’s state news agency TASS. The number cannot be verified and the circumstances of the transfer are not clear.
Kyiv, Ukraine – The Ukrainian military says Russian forces are continuing air strikes on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and are pushing to advance on cities in eastern Ukraine.
In an operative statement on Day 78 of the war, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said that Russian forces also fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporozhye, which was a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol.
It does not specify the latest actions around Azovstal.
The military says Russian forces also fired artillery at Ukrainian units north of the northeastern city of Kharkiv and reported Russian strikes in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north.
In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, the site of prolonged fighting since the start of the war, the Ukrainian military has noted “partial success” in Russia’s advance. It says Ukrainian forces have repulsed nine Russian attacks and destroyed several drones and military vehicles. The information cannot be verified independently.
Kyiv, Ukraine – An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said on Wednesday that Russian forces had blocked all evacuation routes outside the city.
Councilor Petro Andryushchenko said there were few residential buildings suitable for living after weeks of bombing and very little food or drinking water.
Andryushchenko said some residents who remained in the city were cooperating with Russian occupation forces in exchange for food.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said Ukraine has offered to release Russian prisoners of war if Russia allows the severely wounded fighters to be evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant.
Russian forces surrounded the plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the southern port city.
Vereshchuk said no agreement had been reached, but negotiations were ongoing. The fighters, trapped in the factory, refused to surrender to the Russians, saying they feared being tortured or killed.
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the ban on the sale of semiconductors and other technologies to Russia by the United States and its allies has severely affected Russia’s ability to produce military equipment.
“We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian equipment, military equipment on the ground, it is full of semiconductors that have been taken out of dishwashers and refrigerators,” Raimondo said during a Senate hearing on Wednesday, adding that she had met a few weeks ago with the Prime Minister of Ukraine.
Raimondo said two of Russia’s tank factories have closed and many carmakers have laid off workers and closed.
“So the point is that we have a very serious effect,” she said. “What we need to do to continue this is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.”
Raimondo said US technology exports to Russia had fallen by nearly 70% since the end of February, when the Biden administration, in coordination with European and Asian allies, imposed sanctions and controls on Russia’s exports in response to its invasion of Ukraine. .
WASHINGTON – Congress’ final approval of the $ 40 billion aid bill for Ukraine looks certain within days, according to some lawmakers.
Senate Republicans in the Senate said Wednesday they expect strong support from the Republican Party for the measure passed by the House of Representatives. This will signal a bipartisan, heightened commitment to help thwart the bloody Russian invasion.
In a video address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said funds from the aid bill would allow Ukraine to obtain more weapons and equipment, as well as help investigate war crimes from Russia.
The bill will also help regional allies replenish weapons the Pentagon has sent abroad and provide $ 5 billion to tackle global food shortages caused by the war’s mutilation of Ukraine’s normally stable crop production.
The new measure includes $ 6 billion for the armament and training of Ukrainian forces, $ 8.7 billion for the rebuilding of US arms depots delivered to Ukraine, and $ 3.9 billion for US forces stationed in the region.
There are also $ 8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $ 4 billion to help Ukraine and its allies finance arms and equipment purchases, and $ 900 million for housing, education and other assistance to Ukrainian refugees in the United States.
BERLIN – The UN nuclear agency says it is once again receiving remote data from Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant after a disruption caused by Russian occupation of the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said late Wednesday that the transfer of data had resumed following a visit by its inspectors and technicians in April after Russian forces withdrew.
The agency said it was receiving remote data from all nuclear power plants and spent fuel storage facilities in Ukraine for the first time in two months.
Its leader, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said it was “a very important step for the IAEA to continue to apply guarantees in Ukraine”.
However, Grossi warned that the on-site inspection at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant “remains a challenge due to the presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the site”, calling the situation “unstable”.
Grossi said he had offered to conduct an expert visit to Zaporizhia “after the necessary consultations and as soon as possible”.
MOSCOW – The governor of a Russian region near Ukraine said at least one civilian was killed and six others were injured in a Ukrainian shelling of a village near the border.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the village of Solohi came under fire from Ukraine late Wednesday. He said villagers would be evacuated.
Gladkov’s account could not be verified independently. Russian authorities in regions near Ukraine have repeatedly reported incidents when Ukrainian border areas came under Ukrainian fire.
Kyiv, Ukraine – Ukraine’s foreign ministry has accused Russia of stealing grain from the country and trying to sell some of it on world markets.
The ministry said in a comment Wednesday that stealing Ukrainian grain was tantamount to robbery.
He warned countries that buy Russian grain that some of its shipments may contain grain stolen from Ukraine, making its buyers possible accomplices.
The ministry cites official estimates that Russia may have already stolen 400,000-500,000 metric tons of grain worth more than $ 100 million. He accused that “virtually all ships leaving Sevastopol with a cargo of grain carry grain stolen from Ukraine.”
He called on the world community to step up sanctions against Russia.
TURINO, Italy – A Ukrainian band competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest came to a park in Turin for a rally with several dozen of their compatriots to express solidarity with the war-torn country.
Before the competition on Wednesday night, the Kalush Orchestra posed for photos with about 50 Ukrainians living in Italy.
Each of the participants in the rally put his hand on his heart as a sign of devotion to Ukraine.
This week, the Kalush Orchestra was one of the participants in the finals of the hugely popular annual song festival in Europe, the winner of which will be announced on Saturday.
Ukrainians gathered behind the scenes, where free concerts of some of the 35 countries sending records were held on the sidelines of the actual competition.
The optimal participation of the Kalush Orchestra for the competition is a song composed by the band’s frontman in honor of his mother.
But the song “Stephanie” has become something of an anthem for Ukraine, which was attacked by its powerful neighbor Russia on February 24.
The song quickly became a sentimental favorite for many Eurovision fans.
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Live updates Finland to join NATO
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