KIEV / SLATINE – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has slammed Sweden and Finland for refusing to join NATO, overshadowing a White House visit by Nordic leaders on Thursday who applied to join the US-led coalition this week.
Finland and Sweden have said they were motivated to join NATO by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, changing generations of military non-alignment to bring about the biggest change in European security in decades.
US President Joe Biden hosted Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson and Finnish President Sauli Ninisto, an opportunity for Washington to show that Russia’s aggression has been reversed, NATO has expanded greatly and Moscow has said it is fighting to stop it.
“This is a historic event, a watershed moment in European security. The two countries will join the world’s strongest defense alliance with a long tradition of neutrality, “said Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Adviser.
But Turkey has surprised its allies by objecting to the move, accusing the two Nordic states of harboring Kurdish militants.
“We will continue our policy firmly. “We have told our allies that we will not say no to NATO membership in Finland and Sweden,” Erdogan said in an interview with students late Wednesday. “NATO is a security alliance and we cannot accept the presence of terrorists in it.”
Washington has so far rejected Turkey’s objections, saying it hopes the issue will be resolved.
Last week saw Russia confirm its biggest victory since the offensive began in February, with Kyiv announcing it had ordered a steelwork garrison in Mariupol to stop after nearly three months of siege.
The final outcome of Europe’s bloodiest war for decades has remained unresolved, with no confirmation of the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders. Moscow said on Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered so far, including 771 in the last 24 hours.
Ukraine, which says it aims to secure a prisoner exchange, has refused to say how many were inside the plant or to comment on the fate of the rest, as more than 250 have surrendered since it was confirmed to order their surrender in the early hours. Later.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of detainees from the Russian-owned plant, but did not give a specific number.
The leader of the Russian-backed separatists in control of the region said about half the fighters remained inside the steelwork, where underground bunkers and tunnels protected them from weeks of Russian bombing.
“More than half have already left – more than half have dropped their weapons,” Denis Pushlin told Sloviv’s live Internet television channel. “Let them surrender, let them live, let them honestly face charges for all their crimes.”
The injured have been treated and those who were fit have been shifted to Penal Colony and are being treated well. Ukrainian officials say they cannot comment publicly on the fate of the fighters while talks are under way to rescue them.
Russia has denied the allegations in a statement issued Friday stating “Similar, baseless allegations concerning Russia’s intelligence have been made more than once. Many of the Azovstal guards belong to the Ukrainian unit, which is of far-right descent, the Azov Regiment, which Moscow calls Nazis and must be tried for crimes.
Mariupol’s success came when Russian forces lost ground elsewhere: driven from northern Ukraine and the capital’s suburbs at the end of March and pushed out of the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city this month.
Ukraine has recaptured 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the past two weeks, said Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the chief operational department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in an online briefing.
On Thursday, an artillery double-decker crash roared across sunny fields and woods north of Kharkiv, near the village of Slatine.
Ukrainian troops pressed on with their advance, saying fighting was taking place near the village of Demetivka, which the Ukrainian military said had been recaptured just 8 kilometers from the Russian border the previous day.
Vitali, a military ambulance driver, parked his car, which he named “Angel,” so as not to be seen.
“Drones are always a big problem, day as well as night,” he said. “Because the shell comes after the drone.”
The United States on Wednesday reopened its embassy in the capital, signaling a return to normal life.
“The Ukrainian people … have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unprovoked attack, and as a result, they and the stripes are flying over the embassy again,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
But Russia is still pushing for its main offensive using artillery and armor, trying to occupy more territory in the eastern Donbass, consisting of the Donetsk and Luhansk territories, which Moscow claims is in favor of separatists.
Ukraine’s General Staffra says Russia’s attack is centered on Donetsk. Russian forces “suffered significant losses” around Sloviansk, north of Donetsk.
Police said Thursday that two children had been killed in the town of Donetsk in Lyman. Sergei Gaidai, governor of neighboring Luhansk, said four people had been killed and three wounded in shelling in the frontline town of Sevirodonetsk.
In Russia, the regional governor of the Kursk border region has accused Ukrainian forces of shelling a border village, killing at least one civilian. The two sides have been accusing each other of firing on the border for weeks. Reuters could not verify the report.
(Reporting by Natalia Genetes and Max Hender and a Reuters reporter in Mariupol, Kiev; Additional reporting by Reuters Bureau; Writing by Peter Graf and Stephen Coates; Editing by Richard Pulin, Nick McPhee and Hugh Lawson)