May 18, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Mikhail Khodarenok Russian TV
'We need a way out': Former Russian colonel criticizes war efforts in Ukraine
01:33 - Source: CNN

What we covered

  • Russia’s Defense Ministry says nearly 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers, including 80 wounded, have surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol since May 16.
  • The Ukrainian armed forces say they have recaptured another settlement in the Kharkiv region as they counterattack in the area. 
  • NATO doesn’t expect significant gains for either side on the battlefield in Ukraine in the coming weeks. “I think we’ll be in a standstill for a while,” a NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence said.
  • A Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian in Ukraine pleaded guilty to war crimes at a trial in Kyiv — the first such trial since the invasion began.
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Senate confirms Bridget Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine

Bridget Brink arrives to testify during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 10.

The US Senate has confirmed Bridget Brink as US ambassador to Ukraine.

The appointment was confirmed by voice vote on Wednesday night.

Brink is a career foreign service officer who was serving as US Ambassador to Slovakia.

The US Embassy to Ukraine has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019 by then-President Donald Trump, under pressure from Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani and others.

Russia expels 85 European diplomats in retaliatory moves

Russia’s Foreign Ministry declared 85 European diplomats “persona non grata” on Wednesday in response to the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in several European countries.

Among the diplomats expelled from Moscow are 24 from Italy, 27 from Spain, and 34 from France.

Italian Ambassador to Russia Giorgio Starace was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry “due to Italy’s openly hostile and unjustified actions with regard to 30 expelled employees of the Russian diplomatic mission,” the Russian statement said. 

Spain’s Ambassador to Moscow, Marcos Gomez Martinez, was also summoned and “strong protest was expressed in connection with the provocative decision” of Spanish authorities to declare 27 Russian diplomats in France “persona non grata,” the ministry said. 

The French diplomats were expelled from Moscow in response to a decision by France to expel 41 Russian diplomats from the country in April, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Turkey's security concerns should be met "not in words, but in practice," Ankara foreign minister says

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, May 18.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it is “unacceptable” for countries that want to become NATO members to impose defense export restrictions and support organizations that threaten Turkey.

“There are security threats today, coming from different sources,” he said on Wednesday.

Some context: Turkey has said it would not support Finland and Sweden’s bids to become NATO members if they sanction the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan’s Workers Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies.

“It is unacceptable for an ally that wants to be an ally to impose restrictions on another ally with defense products. What’s the reason? Our struggle with the PKK. They see the PKK as closer to themselves than us. Is this something acceptable?” Cavusoglu said.

After meeting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Cavusoglu said Turkey’s concerns should be met, “not in words, but in practice.”

The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

On Monday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance must consider Turkey’s security concerns.

“Turkey is a valued ally, and any security concerns need to be addressed. We must stand together at this historic moment,” Stoltenberg said on Twitter after speaking with Cavusoglu.

Russian forces killed 10 civilians in Donetsk, governor says

Russian forces killed 10 civilians in the Donetsk region, according to regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“Russia is killing civilians! On May 18, the Russians killed 10 civilians in the Donetsk region: seven in Lyman and three in Bakhmut. Two children were killed: one in Lyman and one in Bakhmut,” said Kirilenko, who is head of the Donetsk region military administration.

Kirilenko said seven more civilians were injured on Wednesday.

“It is still impossible to determine the exact number of victims in Mariupol and Volnovakha. All Russians will be held accountable for these crimes!” he added. 

Some context: Ukrainian officials in Donetsk said the whole front line is being “shelled day and night” by Russian forces. Kirilenko said that settlements — namely Bakhmut, Kostiantynivka and Soledar — more than 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the front line were also being attacked with airstrikes.

Former Russian colonel contradicts earlier statements criticizing Russia's military operations in Ukraine

Retired Russian colonel Mikhail Khodarenok said any talk about Ukraine being able to counterattack is a “big exaggeration,” just a day after he criticized Russia’s military operations in Ukraine saying the situation for Russia could “get worse.”

Speaking to a Russian state TV channel on Wednesday, Khodarenok said, “When people talk about Ukraine acquiring the ability to counterattack, well it’s a big exaggeration. And as concerns the actions of our supreme command, there is every reason to believe that the implementation of these plans will in the very near future give Ukraine an unpleasant surprise.”

He also said it would be impossible for the Ukrainian armed forces to gain aerial supremacy in the next few months, and in terms of gaining naval supremacy, he said, “while our Black Sea Fleet is in the Black Sea, Ukraine’s Black Sea Fleet having supremacy is out of the question.”

On Tuesday however, Khodarenok said information being spread about a “moral or psychological breakdown” of Ukrainian armed forces is not even “close to reality.” He also said Ukraine could arm one million people, and that Russia needs to consider that in its operational and strategic calculations.

“The situation for us, will frankly get worse,” he said on Tuesday. He also criticized Russia’s geopolitical isolation from the world, and prior to the invasion he warned that it would be more difficult than many anticipated to wage war in Ukraine.

Earlier reporting from CNN’s Tim Lister, Anastasia Graham Yooll and Taras Zadorozhnyy.

Ukraine launches new fundraising initiative, Zelensky says

In his nightly address on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Zelensky announced an initiative called UNITED24. 

UNITED24 was launched as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine, according to its website and Zelensky. Funds will be transferred to the official accounts of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) and allocated by assigned ministries to cover the most pressing needs, the website says. 

The first ambassador of the brand is Andriy Shevchenko, a prominent Ukrainian soccer player and coach. 

The first event in support of UNITED24 will take place on June 8, he said. It will be a charity evening auction in London. 

Blinken calls it "false" that the US sanctions deepened food crisis from Russia-Ukraine war

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said it is “false” that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and its allies have deepened the food crisis resulting from the Ukraine War.

“Some have tried to blame the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation by the United States and many other countries for worsening this crisis. This is false. When we imposed sanctions on Russia in order to end the war as quickly as possible, we deliberately and carefully created exceptions for agricultural goods and fertilizer. We’re working every day to get countries any information or assistance they need to ensure that sanctions are not preventing food or fertilizer from leaving Russia or anywhere else,” Blinken said.

Instead, he said that only Russia is at fault for the food security challenges.  

“As with its decision to start this unjustified war, responsibility for the disruption of these supplies and the suffering that its causing around the world lies squarely and solely with the Russian government,” Blinken said.

Blinken announces $215 million in new emergency food assistance to Ukraine

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that the US would be giving an additional $215 million in new emergency food assistance to the crisis in Ukraine and called on other countries to swiftly aid the growing global food crisis due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Today, given the urgency of the crisis, we’re announcing another $215 million in new emergency food assistance, and we’ll do much more,” Blinken said at the United Nations on Wednesday during a ministerial meeting on global food security. “We expect our Congress very soon to approve approximately $5.5 billion in additional funding for humanitarian assistance and food security.”

Blinken also said that the US would be committing $500 million to boost US production of fertilizer. This comes as there is an increased need for fertilizer in countries that traditionally got it from Russia which is the world’s largest exporter of fertilizer. And the cost of fertilizer, essential for farmers to hit their production targets for crops, has also risen in cost as output in Europe has also plunged thanks to the surging price of natural gas – a key ingredient in nitrogen-based fertilizers like urea.

Blinken called on other countries that have fertilizer and grain, which is also facing global shortages because of the Ukraine War, to rapidly help with this growing crisis. 

“The cost of doing business for vital organizations like the World Food Programme, the Food and Agricultural Organization, UNICEF and others, the cost of doing business is going up. We have to help them continue to do their business,” Blinken said. “In particular as well, countries with significant grain and fertilizer reserves as well as those with financial resources need to step up and do it fast. The United States has announced more than $2.3 billion in new funding for emergency food assistance to meet global humanitarian needs since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Russia closes CBC's Moscow bureau after Canada bans Russian state TV

Canadian broadcaster CBC has announced Russia closed the company’s Moscow bureau and stripped journalists of their visas and accreditation, the channel said on a statement on Wednesday. 

CBC said the decision is a “retaliatory move after Canada banned Russian state TV station Russia Today.”

“We have maintained a bureau in Moscow for more than 44 years and are currently the only Canadian news organization with a permanent presence in the country. Our journalism is completely independent of the Canadian government and we are saddened to see the Russian government conflate the two,” Chuck Thompson, CBC’s head of public affairs, said in a statement.

“This appears to be another step by Russia to stifle a free and independent press within its borders. We are tremendously proud of the journalism our correspondents have produced in Russia over the past many years and we will continue to tell the story of Russia as best we can from outside the country,” he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Russia’s decision to expel Canadian media from the country was an “unacceptable….attempt to silence them from reporting the facts”.

“Journalists must be able to work safely — free from censorship, intimidation, and interference. That is something Canada will always stand up for,” the prime minister said on Twitter.

Pablo Rodriguez, Canada’s Heritage Minister, said Russia’s decision is an attempt to “cover the horrible reality going on in Ukraine.” 

White House: Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications a "watershed moment in European security"

Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO marks a “watershed moment in European security,” according to Jake Sullivan, US President Biden’s top national security adviser, who said the countries’ leaders would “compare notes” on the move when they visit the White House on Thursday.

“This is a historic event, a watershed moment in European security,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House. “Two nations with a long tradition of neutrality will be joining the world’s most powerful defensive alliance, and they will bring with them strong capabilities and a proven track record as security partners.”

Biden said on Wednesday, “I think we’re going to be OK,” when asked by reporters how he will convince Turkey to support Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO. 

“The leaders of Finland and Sweden are coming to see me on Thursday. I think we’re gonna be okay,” Biden said.

When reporters followed up again asking if he could convince Turkey, Biden said: “I’m not going to Turkey, but I think we’re gonna be okay.”

Meanwhile, the White House said it is “confident” that Finland and Sweden’s applications for membership to NATO will be approved, despite concerns from member country Turkey. All 30 NATO members must give unanimous approval for a country to be accepted into the alliance. 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that he would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if they sanction Turkey and that delegations from the nations should not bother coming to Turkey to try to convince that nation to approve their country’s NATO membership.

But Sweden and Finland are both engaged with Turkey regarding its concerns, as well as top US officials, Sullivan said, and there is confidence that the expansion can progress. 

“We’re confident that at the end of the day, Finland and Sweden will have an effective and efficient accession process, that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House.  

Sullivan said he spoke with his Turkish counterpart Wednesday and that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would also be meeting with his counterpart in New York, and that the administration feels “very good” about the process.

Pressed again, he later suggested that Turkey would eventually come around in a display of unity. 

“The great thing about the free world, about the Western alliance about NATO is that you’ve got a raucous collection of states that all have opinions, that all have perspectives that all have interests, but they also know how to and when to pull together and how to settle any differences. And I expect these differences will be settled. I expect that NATO will speak with one voice in support of Finland and Sweden at the end of the day,” the Biden adviser said.

US secretary of state heralds reopening of US embassy in Kyiv as a "momentous step"

The US flag is raised at the United States embassy in Kyiv for the first time since American diplomats returned embassy on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States raised its flag over the US embassy in Kyiv on Wednesday in what he called a “momentous step,” marking the reopening of the embassy after it closed three months ago ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Today we are officially resuming operations at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again. We stand proudly with, and continue to support, the government and people of Ukraine as they defend their country from the Kremlin’s brutal war of aggression,” Blinken said in a statement. 

Blinken reflected on the US commitment to the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people, even when the embassy was closed in recent months. 

“Three months ago, we lowered our flag over the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, just days before Russian forces streamed across Ukraine’s border to carry out President Putin’s unprovoked, unjustified war of choice. When we suspended operations at the embassy, we made the point clear: while we would relocate U.S. embassy personnel for their safety and security, this would in no way prevent our engagement with, and support for, the Ukrainian people, government, and civil society as well as our allies and partners,” Blinken said.

Blinken noted how this has been a goal the Biden administration began working toward the minute that the diplomats left. 

People watch as the American flag is raised at the US embassy in Kyiv on Wednesday.

“We underscored our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, pledged to continue our assistance, and started working toward the day we could return to Kyiv. Now, that day has come,” he added. 

Blinken did not specify how many US diplomats would be operating out of the embassy. He noted that there are additional safety measures in place — with “enhanced our security measures and protocols” — to keep the returning US diplomats safe. 

“We are committed to confronting the challenges ahead. The war rages on. Russia’s forces inflict death and destruction on Ukrainian soil every day. Millions of Ukrainians are displaced from their homes and mourn the loss of their loved ones. With strength of purpose, we reaffirm our commitment to the people and government of Ukraine, and we look forward to carrying out our mission from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv,” Blinken said.

It's nighttime in Kyiv. Here is the latest on Russia's war in Ukraine

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin is seen behind a glass barrier during his court hearing in Kyiv on Wednesday.

If you are catching up on the latest developments on Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday, here’s what you need to know:

  • A 21-year-old captured Russian soldier has pleaded “fully” guilty to war crimes at a trial in Kyiv: Vadim Shishimarin appeared before the first war crimes trial since Russia invaded Ukraine back in February. He is accused of killing a 62-year-old man in Ukraine’s Sumy region, according to the country’s prosecutor general’s office. It is the first war crimes trial held since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The prosecutor expects there to be many more.
  • Discussions on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership applications continue: Turkey held phone calls with Sweden and Finland as well as Germany, the US and the UK to discuss NATO membership applications of Sweden and Finland, among other topics. Turkey communicated its expectations that its national security concerns will be addressed in the context of these applications. Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies. US President Joe Biden is set to welcome the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland to the White House on Thursday in a key show of support.
  • Counteroffensive in Kharkiv: The Ukrainian armed forces say they have recaptured another settlement in the Kharkiv region, as troops continue their counter-attacks in the area. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces in the Kharikiv oblast targeted a Russian tank, with the tank firing back as well, according to new videos circulating on social media. CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos. It’s unclear when the firefight with the tank happened, but it took place near the village of Nove, just 8 miles (about 12 kilometers) south of the Ukraine-Russia border. Ukrainians also reported heavy fighting in the Luhansk region, where Russian forces continue attempts to destroy Ukrainian defenses.
  • Mariupol evacuations: Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that a total of 959 Ukrainian soldiers, including 80 wounded, had laid down their arms and surrendered since May 16. He reaffirmed that 51 wounded were sent to the hospital at Novoazovsk, which is in the self-declared region of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). CNN is unable to confirm the Russian tally. The Ukrainian President said Tuesday the negotiation process on evacuating the last soldiers from the Azovstal steel plant continues with Russia. Amnesty International, meanwhile, has said that Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant must not be ill-treated and should get immediate access to the International Red Cross.
  • NATO doesn’t expect any major battlefield gains for either side in the coming weeks: “I think we’ll be in a standstill for a while,” a NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence told CNN on Wednesday. According to the official, the current NATO discussion is that the momentum has shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine. The debate within NATO circles, the official added, is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories seized by Russia and Russian-backed separatists, respectively, in 2014.
  • EU unveils $220-billion renewable energy plan to sidestep Russian gas: The European Union Commission announced a 210 billion euro plan ($221 billion) on Wednesday to boost the bloc’s target for renewable energy from 40% to 45% by 2030, as part of efforts to move away from Russian hydrocarbons. The news comes as Finland’s main gas company, Gasum, is warning that Russian gas supplies could be cut off this weekend. On Tuesday, Gasum said it would not pay for Russian gas in rubles or use Gazprom’s proposed payment scheme for gas. In a statement, the company said negotiations over a long-term gas contract with Gazprom were in dispute, and it was taking Gazprom to arbitration to try and resolve the matter. 

No major battlefield gains expected for either side in the coming weeks, NATO military official says

The NATO alliance doesn’t expect significant gains for either side of the battlefield in Ukraine in coming weeks, a NATO military official with knowledge of the intelligence told CNN on Wednesday. 

According to the official, the current NATO discussion is that the momentum has shifted significantly in favor of Ukraine and the debate within NATO circles is now over whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas territories seized by Russia and Russian-backed separatists, respectively, in 2014. 

“I think they could [retake Crimea and the Donbas], yes,” the official said. “Not now, not soon, but if they can keep up the fight I think so.”

“I do question if they actually should fight to get their territory back,” referencing a potential backlash by the local population in some of those areas. 

Ukraine says it has recaptured more territory in Kharkiv

The Ukrainian armed forces say they have recaptured another settlement in the Kharkiv region, as troops continue their counter-attacks in the area.

They also reported heavy fighting in the Luhansk region, where Russian forces continue attempts to destroy Ukrainian defenses.

In Kharkiv, the general staff said Wednesday that “as a result of the offensive of our troops, the settlement of Dementiivka was liberated.”

Dementiivka is about 20 miles (35 kilometers) north of Kharkiv.

The general staff said fighting continued in other parts of the area and Russian forces were advancing around the village of Ternova, close to the border north-east of Kharkiv. 

The Russians appear to be trying to block Ukrainian forces from advancing towards their nearby supply lines inside Ukraine.

Elsewhere the Ukrainian National Guard reported that in Luhansk region, its Rapid Reaction Brigade had destroyed bridges to stop the advance of Russian forces towards the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Video posted by the National Guard indicates the bridges were destroyed in the past few days.  

It said that blowing up the bridges would help the defense of areas still under Ukrainian control.

In the same area, the general staff reported air strikes against several towns along the front lines, as well as areas around the town of Bakhmut, a key hub for Ukrainian defensive efforts. It said that attempts to break through Ukrainian lines in the Adviivka area had been repelled.

Ukrainian units also continue to hold off Russian forces trying to advance south into Donetsk region, according to the general staff, which said they inflicted losses on the Russians around Dovhenke, north-west of the strategically important city of Sloviansk. The Russians have been trying to break through in that area for more than a month.

Treasury secretary: US will likely block Russian debt payments starting next week

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations (G7) on May 18 in Koenigswinter near Bonn, western Germany.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday signaled US officials will likely end a carve-out in Western sanctions that has allowed Russia to continue making payments on its debt and avoid a default.

Speaking at a press conference in Germany, Yellen said it is “reasonably likely” to expect the license will be allowed to expire on May 25. 

“There has not been a final decision on that. But I think it’s unlikely it would continue,” Yellen said. 

Such a move would effectively block Russia from paying US bondholders, raising the risk of a default. Russia has not defaulted on its foreign debt since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago. 

US sanctions introduced after Russia invaded Ukraine ban transactions with Russia’s central bank, finance ministry and national wealth fund. However, the Treasury Department issued a license that allows for transactions related to debt payments.

“When we first imposed sanctions on Russia, we created an exemption that would allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place and for investors to be able to sell securities,” Yellen said. “And the expectation was that it was time-limited.”

Yellen signaled she is not concerned about the potential spillover caused by ending the license.

“Russia is not able right now to borrow in global financial markets. It has no access to capital markets,” Yellen said. “If Russia is unable to find a legal way to make these payments and they technically default on their debt, I don’t think that really represents a significant change in Russia’s situation. They’re already cut off from global capital markets and that would continue.”

Turkish official holds calls with Swedish and Finnish counterparts on NATO membership applications

Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held phone calls with his counterparts from Sweden and Finland as well as Germany, the US and the UK to discuss NATO membership applications of Sweden and Finland, among other topics.

“In the context of Sweden and Finland’s membership applications to NATO, the expectation that concrete steps will be taken to address Turkey’s national security concerns was communicated. It was underlined that if Turkey’s expectations were not met, the progress of the process would not be possible,” according to a readout of the meeting.

“During the meetings, it was also emphasized that it is unacceptable to allow the terrorist organization PKK/PYD/YPG and FETO members to exist in NATO members and other countries. It was stated that there should be no discrimination between terrorist organizations and that all forms of terrorism should be fought in a spirit of unity and solidarity,” the readout added.

Erdogan has accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies. The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Erdogan also said Sweden did not extradite 30 people whom Turkey sees linked to terrorism. 

According to the readout, the reversal of defense export bans and of sanctions against Turkey were also addressed.

Earlier on Wednesday, Erdogan told his party’s members of parliament in Ankara that he expects NATO member countries to “understand” Turkey’s security issues. 

Ukrainians target Russian tank 8 miles from Ukraine-Russia border, videos show

Ukrainian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region targeted a Russian tank, with the tank firing back as well, according to new videos circulating on social media. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of the videos. It’s unclear when the firefight with the tank happened, but it took place near the village of Nove, just 8 miles (about 12 kilometers) south of the Ukraine-Russia border. 

The three videos show a Russian tank near a network of trenches dug on the western shoulder of Highway 105. Troops are seen in the trenches, but it’s unclear whether they are Russian or Ukrainian. 

The Russian tank was seen on fire, spinning around and then firing. 

Although it’s unclear how the tank caught on fire, the second video gives some indication of what may have started it. In the video, the tank was seen heading north back toward the border and Russian-occupied territory, as well as toward a Ukrainian soldier equipped with a shoulder-fired missile. 

The tank fired repeatedly in the direction where the soldier was last seen.

In a third video, a shoulder fired-missile was seen almost hitting the tank. Suddenly, the tank was seen firing and then crashing into a line of trees on the side of the road.

US defense secretary says if Sweden joins NATO, it will make alliance "better at defending ourselves"

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, left, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand during an enhanced honor cordon ceremony upon his arrival at the Pentagon today in Washington.

If Sweden joins NATO, the country will make the alliance “better at defending ourselves,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during opening remarks ahead of a bilateral meeting with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Your capabilities are modern, relevant and significant, and your addition to the alliance will make us all better at defending ourselves. And of course, that’s especially important at this crucial time,” Austin said, as the war in Ukraine continues.

“The United States strongly supports Sweden’s application for NATO membership,” Austin added.

Austin thanked Sweden for its help in supporting Ukraine through the past two-and-a-half months of the war. 

“Sweden has joined the United States and our allies and partners in rushing urgently needed security assistance and humanitarian aid to the brave people of Ukraine,” Austin said. “Your leadership has helped bring renewed resolve and resolve to the Swedish defense and security establishment.” 

Sweden has decided to formally apply to NATO for membership this week, along with Finland.

Hultqvist said Russia’s war in Ukraine poses a “long-term threat to European security,” and called it a “time where the democracies of Europe and North America must stand together against Russia’s naked aggression.”

While the US and Sweden already work together militarily, Hultqvist said that “things have changed” because of Russia’s invasion.

“We’ve done a lot together to make interoperability to exercise together and to develop the relationship between our armed forces,” Hultqvist said. “From our point of view, we’ve seen it as something that has given stability to our part of Europe, but the war in Ukraine is a reality and things have changed.”

Hultqvist called Sweden’s decision to apply for NATO membership a “manifestation of our commitment to transatlantic security and transatlantic cooperation.”

“In tying our security even more closely to the security of the United States and others, we are exercising our right to make our own choices in providing for our security,” Hultqvist added.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday is set to welcome the Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland to the White House in a key show of support.

The leaders are expected to discuss Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications, European security and support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Russian soldier pleads "fully" guilty in Kyiv court during first Ukraine war crime trial

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin sits in the defendant's box at the opening of his trial in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv on May 18.

A Kyiv district court heard charges against a captured Russian soldier on Wednesday, as the country’s first war crime trial of symbolic importance gathers pace.

The Russian soldier stands accused of murder and “violating the laws and customs of war” under Article 438 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code. 

21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin pleaded “fully” guilty on Wednesday and is facing a life sentence. 

In a detailed outline of events, the prosecutor told the court that Shishimarin, along with four other Russian servicemen, stole a vehicle to hide from the shelling by Ukrainian forces. The group drove into the village of Chupakhivka, where they encountered an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on a mobile phone. 

“Under the impression that the civilian intended to inform on them to Ukrainian Armed Forces, one of the soldiers ordered Shishimarin to kill the civilian,” the prosecutor said. 

Citing articles 50 and 51 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, the prosecutor accused Shishimarin of firing several targeted shots using a Kalashnikov rifle from the back window of his car, hitting the victim in the head. 

“The victim died from fractured skull injuries after the five soldiers left the scene,” the prosecutor said. After several days of hiding, the group eventually surrendered to local residents, the prosecutor added.

The trial has been adjourned until Thursday because too many members of the media were crowding the courtroom.

The judges will hear testimony from Shishimarin on Thursday, as well as from the victims’ widow. Two other witnesses will testify on behalf of the prosecution, including a Russian soldier present at the scene of the crime.

It is the first war crimes trial held since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The prosecutor expects there to be many more. So far, more than 12,000 war crimes have been recorded by Ukrainian authorities.

NATO should "understand, respect and support" Turkey's security sensitivity, Erdogan says

Turkey's President and leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during his party'ss group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) in Ankara, on May 18.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party’s members of parliament in Ankara that he expects NATO member countries to “understand” Turkey’s security issues over Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the alliance.

“We expect our allies to understand, respect and support our sensitivity. We have a sensitivity to protect our borders against terrorism. None of our allies showed respect to this sensitivity as we expected,” he said. 

Erdogan said last week that he does not view the NATO applications of Sweden and Finland “positively” and would not support it if they sanction Turkey. 

“NATO’s enlargement is meaningful to us only to the extent that our sensitivities are respected. Asking us for support to NATO membership while providing every kind of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization amounts to incoherence, to say the least,” Erdogan added. 

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a 2016 coup attempt, which Gulen denies. 

The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. 

Erdogan also said Sweden did not extradite 30 people whom Turkey sees linked to terrorism. 

“You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to support you to join NATO. We cannot say ‘yes’ to making this security organization deprived of security,” he said. 

“They wanted to come on Monday. Do not bother, there is no need,” he added, regarding the high-level diplomatic delegation that was expected to come for the talks over the issue.

US secretary of state: Food insecurity has been "exacerbated dramatically" by Russia’s war in Ukraine