Kremlin warns of retaliation after Finland moves towards NATO

kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin has warned of “military-technical” retaliation after Finland’s leaders came out in favor of applying for NATO membership, and Sweden could do the same within days, in a realignment triggered by Russia’s invasion of Russia. Ukraine.

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

On the ground, Russian forces attacked areas in central, northern and eastern Ukraine, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part of their offensive to seize the industrial region of Donbas, while Ukraine recaptured some cities and towns 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 Thursday that the Nordic country should immediately apply to join NATO, the pact military defense founded in part to counter the Soviet Union. Union.

“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said this week.

While the country’s Parliament has yet to weigh in, the announcement means Finland will almost certainly apply and gain admission, though the process could take months to complete. Sweden, likewise, is considering putting itself under NATO protection.

That would represent a major shift in Europe’s security landscape: Sweden has eschewed military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland embraced neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.

Public opinion in both nations shifted sharply 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 severe setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had hoped to split and roll back NATO in Europe but is instead seeing the opposite. to occure.

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 a military-technical and other nature to counter emerging threats to its national security.”

NATO’s funneling of arms and other military support to Ukraine has already been central to kyiv’s surprising success in hampering the invasion, with the Kremlin warning again in chilling terms on Thursday that the aid could lead to direct conflict between the two. 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.

In other developments, Ukrainian officials said their forces have pulled out another Russian ship in the Black Sea.

The logistics ship Vsevolod Bobrov was hit while trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system to Snake Island, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president.

He said the ship was badly damaged but was not believed to have sunk. A spokesman for the Odessa regional military administration said the ship caught fire after the attack.

There was no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.

In April, the Ukrainian army sank the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, and in March it destroyed the landing ship Saratov.

While Russia’s advance in Donbas has been slow, its forces have gained some ground and taken some villages.

Four civilians were killed on Thursday in three communities in the Donetsk region, which is part of Donbas, the regional governor said.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia’s focus on Donbas has left its remaining troops around the northeastern city of Kharkiv vulnerable to a counterattack by Ukrainian forces, who have recaptured several towns and villages around the city.

Russian strikes on Thursday killed at least two civilians on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, local authorities said.

The attacks also damaged a building housing a humanitarian aid unit, municipal offices and hospital facilities, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, mayor of the suburban city of Derhachi, wrote in a Telegram post.

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

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

Nighttime airstrikes near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine have killed at least three people, Ukraine’s military said. He said that Russian troops fired rockets at a school and a student dormitory in Novhorod-Siversky and that some other buildings, including private houses, were also damaged.

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

“Of course, the Russian state is in such a state that any education only stands in its 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 the industrial hub of Kremenchuk in central Ukraine on Thursday, the region’s acting governor Dmytro Lunin wrote in a Telegram post. In early April, he said, the refinery, which had been the last fully functional in Ukraine at the time, was put out of action by an attack.

In the southern port of Mariupol, which has largely been reduced to smoldering rubble with little food, water or medicine, or what the mayor called a “medieval ghetto,” Ukrainian fighters continued to hold out at the Azovstal steel plant, the last bastion of resistance in the city.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations were under way with Russia to secure the release of 38 critically injured Ukrainian defenders of the plant. She said Ukraine hoped to exchange them for 38 “important” Russian prisoners of war.

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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 employees around the world contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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