Finland state

Kremlin warns of retaliation after Finland moves closer to NATO

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin has warned it could take “military-technical” retaliatory measures after Finnish leaders declared themselves in favor of joining NATO, and Sweden could do the same in a few days, in a historic realignment triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the start of the conflict was due to open in kyiv on Friday. A captured member of a tank unit, 21, is accused of shooting dead a civilian in the first week of the war.

On the ground, Russian forces were pounding areas of central, northern and eastern Ukraine, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part of their offensive to take the industrial region of Donbass. Ukraine took over some towns and villages in the northeast.

Two and a half months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow’s neighbors, Finland’s president and prime minister announced on Thursday that Nordic country should apply right away for NATO membership, the military defense pact founded in part to counter the Soviet Union.

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“It was you (Russia) who caused this. Look at yourself in the mirror,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said.

Finland’s parliament has yet to weigh in, but the announcement means it is almost certain to apply – and be admitted. The process could take months. Similarly, Sweden plans to place itself under the protection of NATO.

This would represent a major shift in the European security landscape: Sweden avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.

Public opinion in both countries shifted dramatically in favor of NATO membership after the invasion, sparking fears in countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next. .

Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and would represent a bitter setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had hoped to divide and roll back NATO in Europe, but rather the opposite is happening.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden with open arms.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory measures of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter emerging threats to its national security.”

NATO’s delivery of weapons and other military support to Ukraine has been key to kyiv’s surprising ability to thwart the invasion, and the Kremlin has again warned that the aid could lead to a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

“There is always a risk that such a conflict will turn into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for everyone,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.

Russian missile strikes destroy shopping mall in Ukraine (CNN, National Emergency Service of Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Odessa City Council).

As Russian fighting and strikes persisted, teachers tried to restore some sense of normality after the war closed Ukrainian schools and devastated the lives of millions of children. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, classes are held in a metro station used as a bomb shelter that has become home to many families.

“It helps support them mentally. Because now there is a war, and many have lost their homes…some people’s parents are fighting now,” said teacher Valeriy Leiko. Partly because of the lessons, he says, “they feel someone loves them.”

School-age children joined Leiko around a table for history and art lessons in the subway station, where children’s drawings now line the walls.

An older student, Anna Fedoryaka, was watching online from her basement the lectures on Ukrainian literature given by Kharkiv professor Mykhailo Spodarets.

Internet connections were a problem, Fedoryaka said. And, “It’s hard to concentrate when you have to do your homework with explosions near your window.”

At least two civilians were killed Thursday on the outskirts of Kharkiv, authorities said. The attacks also damaged a building housing a humanitarian aid unit, municipal offices and hospital facilities, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, the mayor of the suburban town of Derhachi, wrote in a Telegram article.

None of the sites “had anything to do with military infrastructure,” Zadorenko said.

Ukraine’s military chief of the eastern Luhansk region said on Friday that Russian forces opened fire 31 times on residential areas the day before, destroying dozens of houses, including in the villages of Hirske and Popasnyanska, and a bridge in Rubizhne. .

Russia’s advance into the Donbass was slow, but its forces gained ground and took villages.

Young Ukrainian professionals join the fight against Russia. (CNN, TELEGRAM)

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia’s focus on Donbass had at the same time left its remaining troops around Kharkiv vulnerable to counterattack by Ukrainian forces, which retook several nearby towns and villages.

In other developments, Ukrainian officials said their forces shot down another Russian vessel in the Black Sea.

The logistics ship Vsevolod Bobrov was badly damaged but is not believed to have sunk when it was hit while trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president .

A spokesman for the Odessa regional military administration said the ship caught fire after the strike. There has been no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.

In April, the Ukrainian army sank the cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In March, he destroyed the landing ship Saratov.

President Joe Biden has signed a Ukrainian “Lend-Lease” bill in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (BOWL)

Ukraine said Russian forces fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops around Zaporizhzhia, which has been a haven for civilians fleeing Mariupol, and attacked in the Chernihiv and Sumy to the north.

The Ukrainian military also said Russian forces were transferring additional artillery units to border areas near Chernihiv, where night strikes killed at least three people. He said Russian troops fired rockets at a school and a student dormitory in Novhorod-Siversky and other buildings, including private homes, were also damaged.

In his evening address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attacks.

“Of course, the Russian state is in such a state that any education only gets in the way,” he said. “But what can be achieved by destroying Ukrainian schools? All Russian commanders who give such orders are simply sick and incurable.

Twelve Russian missiles hit an oil refinery and other infrastructure in Ukraine’s industrial hub of Kremenchuk on Thursday, the region’s acting governor, Dmytro Lunin, wrote in a Telegram post. In early April, he said, the refinery, which was the last fully functional one in Ukraine at the time, was taken out of service by an attack.

The southern port of Mariupol was largely reduced to smoldering rubble with little food, water or medicine, or what the mayor called a “medieval ghetto”. The Ukrainian fighters there continued to hold on to the Azovstal steelworks, the last bastion of resistance in the city.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations were underway with Russia to secure the release of 38 seriously injured Ukrainian defenders from the factory. She said Ukraine hoped to exchange them for 38 “important” Russian POWs.

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Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and other AP staff from around the world contributed to this report.

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