HELSINKI — Finland’s president and prime minister say they favor applying for NATO membership, paving the way for the alliance’s expansion in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Thursday’s announcement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin means Finland is virtually certain to apply for NATO membership, although there are still a few steps before the application process can begin.
Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide to join NATO in the coming days.
Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement: “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the whole defense alliance.”
They said Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay, adding: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly in the coming days.”
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIAN-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukraine offers to exchange prisoners for wounded Mariupol fighters
– Quick Senate OK forward for House-passed $40 billion in aid for Ukraine
— Wives of the defenders of Mariupol to the Pope: “You are our last hope”
– Wartime birth amid air raid sirens in a Ukrainian hospital
– Follow all AP stories about Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed Russia’s determination to wrest separatist-held territory from Ukraine in a congratulatory message to the leader of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.
Russia supported the separatists for years and recognized them as independent on the eve of invading Ukraine.
In a statement released by the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said: “I am sure that through our joint efforts we will defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Luhansk republic.
Meanwhile, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said on Thursday it would never return to Ukrainian control and that most of its residents want it to be part of Russia.
Russian immigration authorities also reported that 15,000 people had moved from Ukraine’s Donbass region to Russia’s Rostov region in 24 hours, according to Russian news agency Tass. The number could not be verified and the circumstances of the crossings were unclear.
KYIV, Ukraine – The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were continuing their airstrikes on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and pressing their advance on towns in eastern Ukraine.
In its operational statement for day 78 of the war, the Ukrainian army general staff indicates that Russian forces also fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops heading towards Zaporizhzhia, which been a haven for civilians fleeing Mariupol.
He did not give details of the latest action around Azovstal.
The military says Russian forces also fired artillery at Ukrainian units north of the city of Kharkiv in the northeast and reported Russian strikes in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions in the north.
In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, the site of heavy fighting since the start of the war, the Ukrainian military has noted “partial success” in Russia’s advance. He said Ukrainian forces repelled nine Russian attacks and destroyed several drones and military vehicles. The information could not be independently verified.
KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said Wednesday that Russian forces had blocked all escape routes out of the city.
The councillor, Petro Andriushchenko, said there were few habitable buildings after weeks of shelling and very little food or drinking water.
Andriushchenko said some residents who remained in the town are cooperating with Russian occupation forces in exchange for food.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine had offered to release Russian prisoners of war if Russia allowed seriously injured fighters to be evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant.
Russian forces surrounded the factory, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the southern port city.
Vereshchuk said no deal has been reached but negotiations are ongoing. The fighters trapped in the factory refused to surrender to the Russians, saying they feared being tortured or killed.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the ban on sales of semiconductors and other technologies to Russia by the United States and its allies is having a serious impact on Russia’s ability to manufacture military equipment.
“We have reports from Ukrainians that when they find Russian hardware, military hardware, in the field, it’s full of semiconductors that they took out of dishwashers and refrigerators,” Raimondo said. Wednesday during a Senate hearing, adding that she had met a few weeks ago. with the Ukrainian Prime Minister.
Raimondo said two of Russia’s tank manufacturing plants had closed and many of its automakers had laid off workers and closed.
“And so the thing is, we’re having a very serious effect,” she said. “What we have to do to keep going is app, app, app.”
Raimondo said US tech exports to Russia have fallen nearly 70% since late February, when the Biden administration, in coordination with European and Asian allies, imposed sanctions and export controls on Russia. Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — Final congressional approval of a $40 billion Ukraine aid bill looks certain within days, some lawmakers say.
Leading Senate Republicans said Wednesday they expected strong GOP support for the measure passed by the House. This will signal a bipartisan and increased commitment to help thwart the bloody Russian invasion.
In his nightly video address on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said funds from the aid bill will allow Ukraine to obtain more weapons and equipment and help investigate crimes of war committed by Russia.
The bill would also aid regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas, and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by war crippling normally robust production of many crops across the country. Ukraine.
The new measure includes $6 billion to arm and train Ukrainian forces, $8.7 billion to restore US stockpiles of weapons shipped to Ukraine, and $3.9 billion for US forces deployed in the region.
There is also $8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $4 billion to help Ukraine and its allies finance the purchase of arms and equipment, and $900 million for housing. , education and other assistance to Ukrainian refugees in the United States.
BERLIN — The UN nuclear agency says it is once again receiving remote data from Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant following an outage caused by the Russian occupation of the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said late Wednesday that data transmission had been restored following a visit by its inspectors and technicians in April after Russian forces withdrew.
The agency said it was the first time in two months that it had received remote data from all nuclear power plants and spent fuel storage facilities in Ukraine where monitoring systems are in place.
Its head, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said it was “a very important step for the IAEA to continue implementing safeguards in Ukraine”.
Grossi, however, warned that on-site verification at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant “continues to be difficult due to the presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the site”, calling the situation “unsustainable”.
Grossi said he offered to conduct an expert visit to Zaporizhzhya “after necessary consultations and as soon as possible”.
MOSCOW — The governor of a Russian region near Ukraine says at least one civilian was killed and six others injured in the Ukrainian shelling of a village near the border.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the village of Solokhi was shelled by the Ukrainian side on Wednesday evening. He said that the inhabitants of the village will be evacuated.
Gladkov’s account could not be independently verified. Russian authorities in regions close to Ukraine have repeatedly reported incidents when border areas were shelled by Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has accused Russia of stealing the country’s grain and trying to sell some of it on world markets.
The ministry said in Wednesday’s comment that the theft of Ukrainian grain amounted to looting.
He warned countries that buy Russian grain that some of his shipments could contain grain stolen from Ukraine, making his buyers possible accomplices.
The ministry cited official estimates indicating that Russia may have already stolen 400,000 to 500,000 metric tons of grain that cost more than $100 million. He charged that “virtually every ship leaving Sevastopol with a grain load carries the stolen grain to Ukraine.”
He urged the world community to toughen sanctions against Russia.
TURIN, Italy — A Ukrainian band competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest took to a park in Turin for a rally with a few dozen of their compatriots to show solidarity with their war-ravaged homeland.
Ahead of Wednesday night’s competition, the Kalush Orchestra posed for photos with around 50 Ukrainians living in Italy.
Each of the participants of the rally put their hand on their heart as a sign of devotion to Ukraine.
Kalush Orchestra this week was one of the participants in the final of the hugely popular annual European song festival, the winner of which will be decided on Saturday.
Ukrainians have gathered behind a stage where free concerts by some of the musical groups among the 35 nations submitting entries are held every night on the sidelines of the competition itself.
Kalush Orchestra’s upbeat entry for the competition is a song that was composed by the band’s frontman as a tribute to his mother.
But the song “Stefania” has been turned into something of a hymn to Ukraine, which was invaded by its powerful neighbor Russia on February 24.
The song quickly became a sentimental favorite for many Eurovision fans.