kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP), May 18 – The United States said on Wednesday it was confident Finland and Sweden would join NATO, despite strong Turkish protests – an expansion that would radically realign European security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Europe. Ukraine.
Reflecting the brutality of the conflict that has reinvigorated the transatlantic alliance, Ukraine held its first war crimes trial since Moscow sent troops across the border from February 24, a Russian soldier from 21-year-old pleading guilty to the cold-blooded murder of a Ukrainian civilian.
The launch of kyiv’s judicial judgment over alleged atrocities committed on its soil after 12 weeks of war and thousands of deaths came as President Vladimir Putin was forced to face the vexing prospect of NATO greatly expanding its reach at its borders.
Abandoning decades of non-alignment, Finland and Sweden formally submitted a joint application to join the military alliance at its headquarters in Brussels.
Throwing the full weight of America behind the Nordic nations, President Joe Biden said he “strongly” supports their NATO bid and offered US support in the event of “aggression” during the application process.
In a sign of Washington’s determination to stand firm with Ukraine, the United States reopened its embassy in Kyiv after a three-month closure, with employees donning the stars and stripes in a modest ceremony.
Biden’s comments came a day before he would host Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House for meetings meant to underscore the strategic significance of their decision.
Reacting to the NATO candidacies, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they would not have been expected not long ago, “but Putin’s appalling ambitions have transformed the geopolitical contours of our continent”.
The membership bid is meeting stiff resistance from NATO member Turkey, which accuses its northern neighbors of harboring anti-Turkish extremists.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded “respect” from NATO in the face of his government’s concerns.
But Western allies remain optimistic about their ability to overcome Turkey’s objections. For now, several including Britain have offered security guarantees to the Nordic nations to guard against any Russian aggression.
“We are confident that ultimately Finland and Sweden” will enter NATO and “that Turkey’s concerns can be taken into account,” said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
In an effort to ease diplomatic pressure, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Wednesday at the United Nations with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who described the face-to-face discussion as “extremely positive”. .
– ‘Catastrophic errors’ –
On the ground in Ukraine’s ruined port city of Mariupol, more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops, including senior commanders, remained inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant, a pro-separatist leader said. Russian.
Moscow said 959 of the soldiers surrendered this week.
Kyiv’s defense ministry pledged to do “everything necessary” to rescue personnel still in the tunnels of the sprawling factory, but admitted there was no military option available.
Those who left the heavily bombed Azovstal factory were taken into Russian captivity, including 80 who were seriously injured, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The ministry, which released images showing soldiers on stretchers, said the injured were taken to a hospital in the eastern Donetsk region controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.
The Ministry of Defense in kyiv said it hoped for an “exchange procedure…to repatriate these Ukrainian heroes as soon as possible”.
But their fate was unclear, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declining to say whether they would be treated as criminals or prisoners of war.
Putin had “guaranteed that they would be treated in accordance with relevant international laws”, Peskov said.
Russia’s alleged disregard for international law has manifested itself in Ukraine with accusations – including rape and mass killings – being investigated by international bodies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed Moscow in his nightly address to the nation, calling the Russian invasion an “absolute failure” and saying the once mighty military had nearly exhausted its stockpile of missiles.
“They are afraid to acknowledge that catastrophic mistakes were made at the highest military and state level,” Zelensky said.
– ‘Clear signal’ –
In Ukraine’s first war crimes trial – set to be the first in a long series on the Russian invasion – Vadim Shishimarin, a shaven-headed sergeant from Irkutsk in Siberia, faces a life sentence after pleaded guilty in a cramped kyiv courtroom.
Shishimarin has admitted to committing a war crime when he shot and killed an unarmed 62-year-old man in Ukraine’s Sumy region four days after the invasion began.
“With this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or aided in the commission of crimes in Ukraine must not escape responsibility,” said Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.
The Russian government has no information about the soldier, Peskov said, adding that many of the cases reported by Ukraine are “simply fake or staged.”
The International Criminal Court is deploying its largest ever field team to Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff sent to the field to collect evidence of alleged war crimes.
– Ultimate Resistance –
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has stepped up a series of diplomatic expulsions against European countries, ordering the departure of dozens of people from France, Italy and Spain.
Despite their ultimate resistance in places like Mariupol and their successful defense of kyiv, Ukrainian forces are retreating across large swaths of the eastern front.
White smoke from burning fields sets the pace for Russia’s advance around the village of Sydorove, on the outskirts of the militarily important city of Sloviansk and Ukraine’s eastern administrative center of Kramatorsk.
Meanwhile, senior EU officials have urged member states to show ambition to help Ukraine rebuild after the war, including through possible joint borrowing to cover the huge costs.