Erdogan in Turkey discusses NATO expansion as Biden hosts Finnish and Swedish leaders

  • The fate of the defenders of Azovstal remains unresolved
  • Pro-Russia separatist leader says half have surrendered
  • The United States reopens its embassy in Kyiv

Kyiv/SLATIN, Ukraine, May 19 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday expressed full support for Sweden and Finland’s attempts to join NATO, as he and European leaders said they were confident Turkey’s sudden opposition to Nordic membership could to be so. directed.

Meanwhile, in Germany, G7 financial leaders appeared ready to agree on Thursday and Friday about $15 billion to help Ukraine pay its bills in the coming months. Read more

Finland and Sweden say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted them to join NATO, reversing generations of military nonalignment in the biggest change in European security in decades.

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But Turkey objected to the move, accusing the two countries in the north of harboring Kurdish militants.

Biden hosted Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House, an opportunity for Washington to demonstrate that the Russian invasion had backfired, leading to the NATO expansion that Moscow said it was fighting to stop.

“Finland and Sweden are strengthening NATO,” Biden said. Read more

Asked if Turkey’s concerns could be addressed, Biden told reporters, “I think we’ll be fine.”

“We have informed the allies that we will say no to Finland and Sweden membership in NATO,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late on Wednesday, adding that “NATO is a security alliance and we cannot accept the presence of terrorists in it.”

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Finland will be committed to Turkey’s security, Niinistö said, adding, “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and are actively involved in combating it.”

Last week saw Russia achieve its biggest victory since the invasion began, with Kyiv announcing that it had ordered its garrison at a steelworks in Mariupol to step down, after a nearly three-month siege of the city.

The end result of the bloodiest battle in Europe in decades remained unclear, with no confirmation of the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders. On Thursday, Moscow said that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered so far, including 771 in the past 24 hours.

Ukraine, which says it aims to secure a prisoner exchange, did not say how many were inside the plant or comment on the fate of the rest since it confirmed that just over 250 had surrendered in the early hours after it ordered them to surrender.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of prisoners from the factory now held by Russia, but did not give an exact number.

The leader of the Russian-backed separatists who control the area said nearly half of the fighters remained inside steel mills, where bunkers and underground tunnels protected them from weeks of Russian bombing.

“More than half of them laid down their arms,” ​​Denis Pushlin told Solovyov Live online television channel. “Let them surrender, let them live, let them face honestly the charges for all their crimes.”

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He said the wounded received medical treatment while those in good shape were taken to a penal colony and treated well. Ukrainian officials say they cannot comment publicly on the fate of the fighters during ongoing rescue negotiations.

Russia denies agreeing to the prisoner exchange. Many of the Azovstal defenders belong to a Ukrainian unit of far-right origin, the Azov Regiment, which Moscow calls Nazis and says they should be tried for crimes.

Ukraine progress

But Russian troops lost territory elsewhere, having been driven from northern Ukraine and the area around the capital at the end of March, and this month pushed out of the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second-largest city.

Oleksiy Gromov, deputy head of the Main Operations Department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said in an online briefing that Ukraine had retaken 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the past two weeks.

On Thursday, artillery shells resounded across fields and sunlit forests north of Kharkiv near the village of Slatin.

Ukrainian forces said fighting erupted around the nearby village of Dmitivka, which the Ukrainian military said it had recaptured the day before, about eight kilometers from the Russian border.

With life returning to normal in the capital, the United States has reopened its embassy.

“The Ukrainian people defended their homeland in the face of an unreasonable Russian invasion, as a result of which stars and stripes once again flew over the embassy,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anthony Blinkin.

But Russia is still pressing its main offensive with artillery and armor, trying to seize more territory in the east of the Donbass, consisting of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists.

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Ukraine’s General Staff said Russia’s attacks were focused on Donetsk. Russian forces suffered “significant losses” around Sloviansk, north of Donetsk.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the neighboring Luhansk region, said four people were killed in the bombing of the front-line city of Severodonetsk.

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(Natalia Zenets and Max Hunder report in Kyiv and a Reuters journalist in Mariupol.) Additional reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Peter Graf, Stephen Coates and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Richard Boleyn, Nick McPhee, and Hugh Lawson

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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