By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A senior defense official says U.S. Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia as both move toward NATO membership.
The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.
There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defense.
The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private Pentagon discussions.
– AP writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Interrogation, uncertainty for surrendering Mariupol troops
— NATO talks with Finland, Sweden falter but will continue
— Ukraine hopes to swap steel mill fighters for Russian POWs
— Russian soldier pleads guilty at Ukraine war crimes trial
— Will Turkey upend NATO expansion? US officials seek clarity
— NATO chief hails ‘historic moment’ as Finland, Sweden apply
— In Ukraine, limbs lost and lives devastated in an instant
— Europe’s push to cut Russian gas faces a race against winter
— Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
WASHINGTON — White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says Biden asked his national security team and cabinet principals about the risks and benefits of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
He said the team “emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden.”
Sullivan said Finland and Sweden won’t be covered by NATO’s mutual defense agreement until all 30 members have ratified the accession, but U.S. and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process.”
WASHINGTON — The United States has re-opened its embassy in Ukraine three months after shuttering it and withdrawing American diplomats from Kyiv ahead of Russia’s invasion in February.
The State Department said U.S. embassy operations in Kyiv resumed Wednesday, with diplomats returning on permanent basis to the capital from where they had been temporarily relocated to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and neighboring Poland.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again.”
Other Western countries have been re-opening their embassies.
U.S. embassy staffers had begun returning to Kyiv on a limited basis on May 8 to mark the anniversary of WWII Victory in Europe day but the embassy itself remained closed.
OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s not surprising Russia has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC broadcaster because the truth and responsible journalism is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced the closing in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.
“It’s unfortunate but not surprising that he’s trying to shut down strong journalistic institutions,” Trudeau said.
MOSCOW — A Russian Foreign Ministry official has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC broadcaster in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that CBC has “essentially turned into a propaganda megaphone which broadcasts fake and doubtful information related to our country.”
Zakharova said that “when practical actions were taken targeted at Russian media outlets … we obviously responded in essentially the same way.”
CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said CBC/Radio-Canada is deeply disappointed.
“We have maintained a bureau in Moscow for more than 44 years and are currently the only Canadian news organization with a permanent presence in the country,” he said. “To our knowledge, this is the first time in the history of CBC/Radio-Canada that a foreign government has forced the closure of one of our bureaus.”
ANKARA, Turkey — A senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told officials from Sweden, Finland other countries that there can be no progress concerning the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership unless concrete steps are taken to address Turkey’s security concerns.
Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy advisor and spokesman for Erdogan, held phone calls on Wednesday with officials from Germany, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States to discuss the two countries’ NATO membership applications, his office said.
Kalin’s office said “the expectation that concrete steps will be taken to address Turkey’s security concerns was conveyed.”
Kalin told counterparts that it was “unacceptable” for NATO countries to harbor members belonging to groups that Turkey views as terrorists on their territories, his office said.
ZAGREB, Croatia — President Zoran Milanovic of Croatia wants his country to follow Turkey’s example by trying to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.
Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted on Wednesday.
Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change of neighboring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easer for Bosnian Croats to get their representatives elected to leadership positions.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Wednesday that NATO’s enlargement would depend on Finland and Sweden showing respect to Turkish sensitivities concerning terrorism.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Finland and Sweden’s decision to seek membership in NATO “historic” and said he would “strongly support” the applications.
Biden is set to meet Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington on Thursday to discuss their NATO memberships bids and the situation in Ukraine.
“Finland and Sweden are longtime, stalwart partners of the United States,” Biden said in a statement. “By joining NATO, they will further strengthen our defense cooperation and benefit the entire Transatlantic Alliance.”
BRUSSELS — The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment, offering financial incentives to those willing to work together to replace materiel sent to Ukraine.
Many of the EU’s 27 members have sent equipment to help Ukrainian troops. At first it was mostly ammunition, but now includes portable missiles to destroy warplanes and tanks, as well as heavier equipment.
The EU’s executive branch is offering a fund of 500 million euros ($526 million) over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks. Officials declined to say, for security reasons, what shortages nations have.
The commission is also ready to provide incentives to encourage countries to replace their Soviet-era stocks of battle tanks, heavy artillery and armored vehicles. Some have already been supplying these to Ukraine, whose troops are trained to use them.
MOSCOW — Russia says it told Sweden on Wednesday that its response to the Nordic nation joining NATO will be based on how the alliance deploys its military strength in the future.
In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said officials met with Swedish Ambassador Malena Mard at her request and that she notified Moscow about Sweden’s NATO ambitions.
The Foreign Ministry said it responded that “the choice of ways to ensure national security is the sovereign right of each state, but together with that, it should not create threats to the security of other countries.”
The ministry added that Moscow’s reaction would depend on NATO weapons deployments to Sweden.
Russia’s “specific reaction and possible responsive measures, including the military-technical side, will to a large extent depend on the real consequences of the integration of Sweden into the North Atlantic Alliance, including the deployment on Swedish territory of foreign military bases and offensive weapons systems,” the ministry said.
ANKARA, Turkey — A pro-government Turkish newspaper says Turkey has drawn up a list of 10 demands it will reportedly ask Sweden and Finland to meet before it can approve their NATO membership.
The list published by Sabah newspaper on Wednesday calls on the two countries to stop any financial support to groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as well as to Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara views as extensions of the banned group. There are also demands that these countries halt contacts with members of the Syrian Kurdish group.
Sabah said Turkey furthermore wants the two countries to “expedite” extradition proceedings for suspects wanted by Turkey on terror charges.
The list also includes a demand that Sweden clamps down on what Sabah called a “disinformation” campaign against Turkey led by followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims was behind a coup attempt in 2016. Many followers of the Gulen movement have fled to Sweden.
PRAGUE — Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova says Germany will donate 15 Leopard 2 A4 tanks to the Czech armed forces.
Cernochova says she has struck a deal with her German counterpart Christine Lambert. She says the move shows Germany’s appreciation of her country’s military help to Ukraine facing Russia’s aggression.
The Czechs have given Ukraine unspecified Soviet-era heavy weapons worth at least $130 million.
Cernochova said Wednesday that the tank deal is “great news for the Czech army.”
She said the tanks are ready for combat and the deal includes spare parts and ammunition. They should be delivered this year.
The minister also says the Czechs have opened talks with Germany about purchasing up to 50 more new Leopard A7+ tanks.
PARIS — The French Foreign Ministry has condemned Moscow’s decision to expel 34 French diplomats in retaliation for the April expulsion of Russians who Paris claims were secret agents “working against (French) security interests.”
The Foreign Ministry says that the French ordered expelled by Moscow are real diplomats. It said the Russian decision Wednesday “has no legitimate basis” and “we can only deplore it.”
Russia said it was responding to “the provocative and utterly baseless decision of French authorities” last month to expel 41 Russians, part of a wave of expulsions by EU nations.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic’s government has unanimously approved NATO membership for Finland and Sweden — just hours after the two countries submitted their requests.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Wednesday he welcomes the nations’ decisions to join the alliance. He added that their militaries fully meet all necessary accession criteria.
The accession protocol still needs to be ratified by both chambers of Czech Parliament, which is expected to happen soon. Fiala said he doesn’t anticipate any obstacles, as governing parties hold the majority in both chambers of parliament.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is launching a new form of military service this month amid security concerns because of the war in neighboring Ukraine.
The Polish military said Wednesday that volunteers will be able to provide a year’s paid service that can be turned into long-term or professional service.
Those who enter the program will go through 28-day training with a military unit, and then 11 months of service. They will be accommodated with their unit or outside, and will receive a pre-tax monthly pay of some 4,500 zlotys ($1,000).
It was not immediately clear how much interest the offer could draw. The first volunteers will be able to enlist from May 21.
A NATO member since 1999, Poland has some 111,500 professional soldiers and 32,000 volunteer territorial troops.
BERLIN — Germany says it remains confident that Sweden and Finland will be able to join NATO, despite alliance member Turkey’s current objections.
Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Germany is “actively working” to resolve the issues raised by Turkey, but declined to elaborate.
“The German government remains confident that all NATO members will support this accession and that it can be achieved quickly,” she said.
Hoffmann said the German Cabinet on Wednesday backed the accession protocol. Parliamentary approval is still required, but that is all but assured in Germany.
Hoffmann added that Germany would also support NATO membership for Austria and Ireland, should those neutral countries decide to join the military alliance.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the war has pleaded guilty to charges of killing a Ukrainian civilian.
Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin pleaded guilty to the charges during his trial in Kyiv on Wednesday. The 21-year-old soldier could get life in prison if convicted of shooting a Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.
It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects are in Ukrainian hands and how many could be tried in absentia.
MOSCOW — Russia says it is expelling 27 Spanish diplomats after announcing the expulsion of dozens of diplomats from France and Italy.
Moscow said on Wednesday the move is in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats last month from Spain.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country was expelling 34 French and 24 Italian diplomats.
Multiple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv, accusations the Kremlin has fiercely denied.
BRUSSELS — The European Commission is proposing a nine-billion euro ($9.5 billion) loan to Ukraine to help the war-torn country.
The EU’s executive arm said Wednesday that the macro-financial assistance in the form of loans will be complemented by support from other partners including countries from the Group of Seven major economies.
“We are proposing to top up the significant short-term relief provided until now, with a new exceptional macro-financial assistance for Ukraine of up to 9 billion (euros) in 2022,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.
“But we also need to think about the day after for the wider reconstruction effort. The EU has a responsibility and a strategic interest in leading this reconstruction effort.” The EU said it already has mobilized around 4.1 billion euros ($4.3 billion) to support Ukraine.
MOSCOW — Russia is expelling 34 French and 24 Italian diplomats following similar expulsions of Russian diplomats throughout Europe last month.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the French diplomatic staff would be given two weeks to leave the country.
Russia said it was responding to “the provocative and utterly baseless decision of French authorities” in April to expel 41 Russian diplomats, which it said had damaged the relationship between the two countries.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told state news agency RIA Novosti that 24 Italian diplomats also will be expelled. She gave no other details.
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said after a meeting with his Finnish counterpart that “this should not interrupt diplomatic channels, because it is through the channels that, if successful, peace will arrive.’
Mutliple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv, accusations the Kremlin has fiercely denied.
Russian state news agencies reported Wednesday that the ambassadors of Spain and Sweden had also been summoned to the Foreign Ministry. Russia expelled two Finnish diplomats on Tuesday.
MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has destroyed several artillery pieces that the U.S. delivered to Ukraine.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Wednesday that the Russian military has hit a battery of U.S.-supplied M777 howitzers near the village of Pidhirne of the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry later released a video showing a drone strike on Ukrainian artillery positions.
Konashenkov’s claims couldn’t be independently verified.
The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly reported strikes targeting Western-supplied weapons.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says NATO’s enlargement would depend on Finland and Sweden showing respect to Turkish “sensitivities” concerning “terrorism.”
Erdogan on Wednesday told his ruling party legislators that “NATO’s enlargement would be meaningful for us to the extent that our sensitivities are respected.”
Erdogan spoke hours after Finland and Sweden officially applied to join the military alliance, a move that was driven by security concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine. His comments suggested Erdogan is refusing to back down on his opposition to the two Nordic countries’ membership in the alliance because of their alleged support for Kurdish militants.
He said Sweden and Finland “will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO.”
“NATO is a security entity. It is a security agency,” Erdogan said. “Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security.”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says the Ukrainian soldiers at a giant steel mill in the port of Mariupol are surrendering.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered since Monday.
Ukrainian authorities say they ordered the fighters to save their lives and said the mission to tie up Russian forces by defending the Azovstal plant is complete.
But they have have avoided describing the action of the ones who left the plant as a surrender.
Asked about the conflicting Russian and Ukrainian narratives, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “There can be just one interpretation: the troops holed up at Azovstal are laying down their weapons and surrendering.”
BERLIN — The United States has mobilized about three times as much support for Ukraine as the European Union, according to figures compiled by a German think tank.
The Kiel Institute for the World Economy said Wednesday that a new aid package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives takes American military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine to almost 43 billion euros (over $45 billion) between Jan. 24 and May 10.
The institute found that aid from the EU amounted to just under 16 billion euros ($16.8 billion) during the same period. However, some countries in the 27-nation bloc have shied away from giving the value of their Ukraine aid, particularly for arms supplies.
Compared to their gross domestic products, Estonia, Latvia and Poland provided the most support, ahead of the United States, according to the think tank’s calculations.
BERLIN — Austria’s government says it has no intention of following Sweden and Finland into NATO.
Austria joined the European Union at the same time as the two Nordic nations in 1995. The Swedish and Finnish applications to join NATO will likely leave Austria as one of very few EU countries that aren’t also a member of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday that “we decided on neutrality in 1955 and is still the case that a very, very large majority of the population views this positively.”
He said that hasn’t prevented Austria from backing EU sanctions against Russia and giving Ukraine non-lethal support.
KYIV, Ukraine — The Russian military says that almost 1,000 Ukrainian troops left Mariupol’s last stronghold this week. Ukraine has not confirmed.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 694 Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal steel plant handed themselves over to Russian troops the past 24 hours, bringing the total of Ukrainian troops who have conceded since Monday to 959.
Konashenkov’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.
Ukrainian authorities have avoided mentioning any numbers for the troops who left the plant.
LONDON — British military authorities say Russia relied heavily on auxiliary forces, including Chechen fighters, to overcome Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, underscoring the manpower and command problems that are hampering Russian operations.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in a briefing posted Wednesday morning, says “staunch” Ukrainian resistance delayed Russia’s ability to take full control of the strategic port city and inflicted “costly personnel losses” on Russian forces.
The ministry says the Kremlin has made significant use of auxiliary personnel, including thousands of Chechen fighters concentrated around Mariupol and in the Luhansk region.
These forces include individual volunteers and National Guard units that are usually dedicated to securing the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic.
“The combat deployment of such disparate personnel demonstrates Russia’s significant resourcing problems in Ukraine and is likely contributing to a disunited command which continues to hamper Russia’s operations,” the ministry said.
BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Finland and Sweden have applied to join the world’s biggest military alliance, a move driven by security concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday after a receiving their application letters from the two Nordic countries’ ambassadors.
The application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.
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