Reuters/ Kyiv/Slatyne, Ukraine
US President Joe Biden yesterday threw his full support behind Sweden and Finland’s bids to join Nato as he and European leaders said they were confident Turkey’s surprise opposition to the Nordic states’ membership could be addressed.
Meanwhile in Germany, Group of Seven financial leaders looked set to agree on around $15bn to help Ukraine pay its bills in coming months.
Finland and Sweden say they were spurred into joining Nato by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reversing generations of military non-alignment in the biggest shake-up in European security for decades.
Turkey however has objected to the move, accusing the two Nordic states of harbouring militants.
Biden hosted Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House, a chance for Washington to demonstrate that Russia’s invasion has backfired, bringing about the very expansion of Nato that Moscow has said it was fighting to halt.
“Finland and Sweden make Nato stronger,” Biden said.
Asked if Turkey’s concerns can be addressed, Biden told reporters: “I think we’re going to be OK”. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said late on Wednesday, “We have told allies that we will say no to Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership,” adding, “Nato is a security alliance and we cannot accept terrorists to be in it.”
Niinisto said Finland would commit to Turkey’s security, adding, “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it.”
The past week has seen Russia secure its biggest victory since the invasion began, with Kyiv announcing it had ordered its garrison in a steelworks in Mariupol to stand down, after a nearly three-month siege of the city.
The ultimate outcome of the bloodiest battle in Europe for decades has remained unclear, with no confirmation of the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders.
Moscow said yesterday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered so far, including 771 in the past 24 hours.
Ukraine, which says it aims to secure a prisoner swap, has not said how many were inside the plant or commented on the fate of the rest since confirming that just over 250 had surrendered in the initial hours after it ordered them to yield.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it has registered hundreds of prisoners from the plant now held by Russia, but it has not given a precise number.
The leader of Russian-backed separatists in control of the area said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks, where underground bunkers and tunnels had protected them from weeks of Russian bombardment.
“More than half have laid down their arms,” Denis Pushilin told the Solovyov Live internet television channel. “Let them surrender, let them live, let them honestly face the charges for all their crimes.”
The wounded were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were being treated well, he said.
Ukrainian officials say they cannot comment publicly on the fate of the fighters while negotiations are under way to rescue them.
Russia denies it agreed to a prisoner swap.
Many of the Azovstal defenders belong to a Ukrainian unit with far-right origins, the Azov Regiment, which Moscow calls Nazis and says must be prosecuted for crimes.
US president leaves for Asia
President Joe Biden yesterday left for South Korea and Japan to cement US leadership in Asia at a time when the White House’s attention has been pulled back to Russia and Europe — and amid fears of a North Korean nuclear test during his trip. Biden wants the trip to build on recent moves accelerating a years-long US pivot to Asia, where rising Chinese commercial and military power is undercutting Washington’s dominance. Also overshadowing Biden’s first Asia trip as president is fear that the unpredictable leadership in North Korea will choose the moment to grab attention with a test of its nuclear capable missiles or even a test explosion. Despite a spiralling Covid outbreak, Pyongyang’s “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time,” South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said. US intelligence also says there is a “genuine possibility” that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un could stage this “provocation” after Biden arrives in Seoul today, a senior US official said.
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