Our live coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine has moved here.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Russia is not bothered if Sweden and Finland join NATO but warns they will respond in kind to any “threats.”
“There is nothing that could bother us about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. If they want to join, please. Only we must clearly and precisely understand — while there was no threat before, in the case of military contingents and military infrastructure being deployed there, we will have to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats in those territories from where threats have arisen for us,” Putin said at a news conference following the Caspian Summit in Turkmenistan on Wednesday.
Sweden and Finland are set formally to end decades of neutrality and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in a historic breakthrough for the alliance that deals a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The last major hurdle to the two nations' entry to the bloc was removed when Turkey dropped its opposition on Tuesday.
That breakthrough came during a NATO summit in Madrid that has already become one of the most consequential meetings in the history of the military alliance.
See a map of NATO countries:
CNN's Rob Picheta and Josh Berlinger contributed to this report.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, speaking to media on Wednesday, denied that Russia was behind a strike on a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, that left at least 18 dead and dozens missing and wounded.
"The Russian army does not attack any civilian site. We don’t have the need for this. We have every capability to detect specific locations; and thanks to our high-precious long-range weapons we are achieving our goals,” Putin said, at a news conference following a meeting of the "Caspian five" leaders —Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan — in Ashgabat.
More background: On its Telegram channel, the ministry said Russian "Aerospace Forces launched a strike with high-precision air-based weapons on hangars with weapons and ammunition received from the United States and European countries," hitting a plant of "road machines."
"As a result of a high-precision strike, Western-made weapons and ammunition, concentrated in the storage area for further shipment to the Ukrainian group of troops in Donbas, were hit."
The ministry blamed "the detonation of stored ammunition for Western weapons" for causing a fire in what it described as a "non-functioning" neighboring shopping mall.
Video from Kremenchuk shows that a shopping mall in the heart of the city was obliterated by one of the two missiles that were fired. Despite an air raid siren, dozens of people were still inside the mall when the missile struck.
It's unclear what "road machine" plant the Russian Defense Ministry is referring to.
Russian forces have continued to try and storm Lysychansk, continuously shelling the eastern Ukrainian city where around 15,000 people still remain, Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Wednesday.
“The fighting continues on the outskirts of the city, [the Russians] are trying to storm constantly,” Hayday said in a televised address. “Lately, our guys have been hitting warehouses, headquarters and barracks [of the Russian forces]. And this makes it possible to have a pause in these attacks.”
Hayday also said “around 15,000 people” remain in Lysychansk, despite a recommendation from officials in the past few weeks that they evacuate away from the frontline. Now, with the city under constant shelling, it has become much harder for people to leave.
“Now the density of fire is so strong. So much that we can only put 30 people on a bus,” he said. “Therefore, we are very careful about this.”
“The Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway has not been used for a long time. But we have other routes, we do not name them, and we have the opportunity to pick up something sometimes,” he added. “Now is the peak of hostilities.”
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told CNN that deciding to join the NATO military alliance was not easy but it was the right decision for the country’s security.
“This was not an easy decision to take for me as prime minister. But I'm sure it was the right decision, and it has an overwhelming support in the Swedish parliament,” the PM told CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour Wednesday.
“This is something that would make Sweden a safer country and safer for Swedish citizens. But we want to be a security provider in NATO and contribute to the security of all NATO countries and all citizens in the NATO countries,” she added.
Alongside Finland, Sweden has been formally invited to the NATO alliance following Tuesday’s agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By becoming a member of the alliance, Sweden will end 200 years of military non-alignment.
In the agreement with Turkey, the Swedish prime minister said that the country will take steps to “counter terrorists” but that the country “will… follow Swedish and international conventions when it comes to extraditions.”
The prime minister also said that NATO membership would be of strategic advantage to Baltic countries vulnerable to Russian aggression. “The geographic situation of both Finland and Sweden will make it easier to protect the Baltic states if something happens,” she said.
Speaking to Amanpour, Andersson warned against “Ukraine fatigue.”
“We have to continue with the sanctions. We have to continue to support Ukraine humanitarianly, financially, and not the least, with military support," she said.
The Ukrainian government has been able to secure the return of 144 soldiers, including 95 who were part of the defense of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, the Ukraine Defense Ministry’s Defense Intelligence said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Another exchange of prisoners took place, thanks to which 144 Ukrainian defenders returned home. This is the largest exchange since the beginning of a full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 released, 95 are Azovstal defenders. Among them are 43 servicemen of the Azov Regiment,” the statement read.
“Most of the released Ukrainians have serious injuries: gunshot and shrapnel wounds, explosive injuries, burns, fractures, amputations of limbs. They all receive appropriate emergency medical and psychological care,” the statement added.
The Ukrainian government released an equal number of soldiers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Russian Federation in the latest prisoner swap, DPR head Denis Pushilin said on Wednesday.
“Today, we are returning home 144 soldiers of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Federation who were captured by the enemy,” Pushilin said. “We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from the armed formations of Ukraine.”
CNN's Julia Presnikova contributed reporting to this post.
NATO has been “naive” in its relations with Russia over the years, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told CNN on Wednesday.
Speaking from the NATO summit in Madrid, Sánchez said that NATO is “sending a clear message to Putin, which is that we are going to support Ukraine, and we are ready to support Ukraine until the Russian troops leave the country and they respect the territorial integrity and the national sovereignty of Ukraine.”
“I think it is important to send this message of unity and determination of the international community, especially NATO allies, and of course the G7, in order to make possible to return to a scenario where different countries – especially Russia in this case – respect a rules-based international order, which is undermined because of this terrible war in Ukraine,” Sánchez continued.
Reacting to Turkey’s agreement to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bid, Sánchez said that “the entrance of Finland and Sweden in NATO is not because they want to expand their territories but to defend their values, their democracies, and of course, an international order based on rules, clear rules, that provide certainty and security to our societies.”
Asked whether it was a mistake to consider Russia a “strategic partner” even in 2010, Sánchez said that at that time, NATO had “tried to give Russia and Putin an opportunity,” but that “perhaps, over the years, we’ve been a bit naive in our relations with Russia."
“Nowadays, we’re seeing expansionist and imperialism behavior by Putin and his regime, and this is something unacceptable,” he added.
“I think it is important what we are now approving in this Madrid summit, which is to define Russia as a strategic threat for the allies, and define what are the means, the instruments that we are going to put in place in order to respond to this global threat,” Sánchez said.
Spain has sent 400 tons of “military capacities” as well as humanitarian aid to Ukraine, he added.
US President Joe Biden thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the start of a meeting Wednesday for agreeing to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
"I want to particularly thank you for what you did, putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden, and all the incredible work you're going to try to get the grain out of ... Ukraine," Biden told Erdoğan during the NATO summit in Madrid.
"You're doing a great job," Biden added.
“I pray that we’ll be able to re-establish the balance through diplomacy in order to cultivate positive results, especially with regards to the grain,” Erdoğan told Biden.
“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the negative developments with regards to taking grain out of Ukrainian ports, as well as the developments involving oil and natural gas, require all of us to work together in order to settle the disputes once and for all,” he added.
“There are countries that are deprived of the grain and we will open corridors and we will allow them access to the grain that they so need,” he said.
Erdoğan said it gave him “great pleasure” to meet with Biden “after a long interval.”
Erdogan said that the two leader's joint efforts mean that "we will be able to go back to our countries with our hands full."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo in Kyiv Wednesday and accepted his personal invitation to attend the G20 summit in Bali in November.
“Ukraine’s participation will depend on the security situation in Ukraine and who else might be attending,” Zelensky said at the joint press briefing to mark Widodo’s first visit to Ukraine.
Zelensky went on to say Widodo’s visit was important to help stop the war.
“I consider our talks today to be an important step for strengthening global anti-war coalition of all the countries that can bring back and guarantee stability to the world,” he said. “You achieved victory in your struggle for freedom, we believe that we can defend our freedom and independence from the colonizing war of the Russian Federation.”
Widodo also said he will convey a message of peace from Zelensky to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he meets with him on Thursday. Widodo also invited Putin to the G20.
The Indonesian president also discussed the importance of Ukraine to the world food supply chain, saying, “all efforts must be made so that Ukraine can return to exporting food again.”
Remember: In April, Putin accepted an invitation to attend the G20 summit, Widodo had announced. However, there has been vehement opposition to the prospect of his attendance. The White House has conveyed privately to Indonesia that Russia should not be allowed to participate in this year’s G20 summit. Finance ministers from multiple nations walked out of a closed-door G20 session in Washington in April when the Russian delegate began his prepared remarks.
CNN's Masrur "Jamal" Jamaluddin contributed reporting to this post.