Russia-Ukraine war: questions over future of evacuated Azovstal fighters; peace talks stall – live | Russia

 Russia-Ukraine war: questions over future of evacuated Azovstal fighters; peace talks stall – live | Russia


Duma appears to be trying to prevent Azovstal soldiers to be part of prisoner swap

The Russian state Duma appears to be moving toward trying to prevent Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov battalion being included in any prisoner swap.

The Azov Regiment, a one-time nationalist militia integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard, has been alleged by Moscow to be the main perpetrator of anti-Russian nationalism from which Russia has claimed it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers from.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said its members were “Nazi criminals” who should not be included in prisoner exchanges. “They are war criminals and we must do everything to bring them to justice,” he said.

Reuters reports the Duma website said he had asked the defence and security committees to prepare an instruction to that effect.

At the same time, the Telegram channel of the RIA news agency is carrying this short news snap, citing Russia’s justice ministry:

Supreme court on 26 May to consider case on recognising Ukrainian Azov battalion as a terrorist organisation and banning its activities in Russia.

This is Lauren Aratani taking over for Léonie Chao-Fong.

Bloomberg is reporting that the US government is preparing to block Russia from being able to pay off debt held by US bondholders, a move that would lead Russia closer to default on its debt.

In early April, the US government banned Russia from using money held in US banks as a way to financially squeeze the Kremlin.

The last time the Russian government defaulted was in 1917 during the Bolshevik Revolution. Defaulting will make it harder for the Russian government to borrow money in the future, potentially creating a dire financial situation in the country.

Summary

It is 9pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The fate of more than 260 Ukrainian soldiers who have ended weeks of resistance at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol remains unclear, after the fighters surrendered and were transferred to Russian-controlled territory. Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said they would be swapped in a prisoner exchange, but some Russian officials said they could be tried or even executed.
  • Eight people have died and 12 wounded after Russia launched a missile strike on the village of Desna in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, according to Ukraine’s state emergency service. The regional governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russia launched four missiles at around 5am local time on Tuesday. Two of the missiles hit buildings in the village, he said.
  • France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, promised his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that French arms deliveries to Kyiv would intensify in the coming days, the Élysée said. Zelenskiy said he had a “long and meaningful” conversation with Macron where they discussed “the course of hostilities, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process”.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, as I hand the blog over to my colleague, Lauren Aratani. I’ll be back tomorrow, thank you for reading.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, promised his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that French arms deliveries to Kyiv would intensify in the coming days, the Élysée said.

In a phone call with Zelenskiy held earlier today, Macron said France was ready to respond to additional demands for help from Ukraine, the French presidential office said in a statement.

Macron confirmed that arms deliveries by France will “continue and increase in intensity in the days and weeks to come, as will the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the statement said.

Macron also told Zelenskiy that Ukraine’s application to join the EU would be “examined” during a European Council session in June.

During the conversation, which lasted for an hour and 10 minutes, the leaders also discussed the evacuations of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol as well as “the challenge of food security and possible ways to allow exports of Ukrainian grains, which a large part of the world depends on for its food”.

Zelenskiy earlier tweeted that he had a “long and meaningful” conversation with Macron.

US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has spoken with the wife of basketball star, Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, according to a US state department official.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested at a Moscow airport allegedly in possession of vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil. If found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in prison. The US has said the 31-year-old was wrongfully detained and has assigned diplomats to work for her release.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia.
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Blinken told Cherelle Griner on Saturday that her wife’s release is a top priority for the Biden administration and that the US is working day and night on the case, the official said.

On Friday, Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, said her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by one month.

Seven buses carrying Ukrainian soldiers have left the Azovstal steel works in the port city of Mariupol and arrived at a former penal colony in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk, Reuters reports.

The Ukrainian fighters, many of them members of the Azov Battalion, will be questioned by the Russian investigative committee, according to Russia’s state-owned news agency Tass.

The questioning will be done as part of the Russian investigation into what Moscow calls “criminal cases concerning Ukrainian regime crimes”, Tass added.

Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces at Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military.
Buses carrying service members of Ukrainian forces at Azovstal steel works drive away under escort of the pro-Russian military. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Sweden and Finland to formally submit Nato bids ‘hand in hand’

Jon Henley

Jon Henley

Sweden and Finland will formally submit simultaneous requests to join Nato on Wednesday, the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, has said, in a seismic shift in Europe’s security architecture after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Finland and Sweden have agreed to go through this entire process hand in hand, and we will tomorrow file the application together,” Andersson told a joint news conference with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, in Stockholm.

“Membership of Nato strengthens security in Sweden but also in the Baltic Sea region,” Andersson said.

The fact that we are applying together with Finland means that we can contribute to security in northern Europe.

The announcement came as the White House said Niinistö, and Andersson would meet the US president, Joe Biden, on Thursday to discuss their bids to join the US-led mutual defence alliance and European security more broadly.

The Finnish parliament approved the country’s Nato membership application by 188 votes to eight on Tuesday.
The Finnish parliament approved the country’s Nato membership application by 188 votes to eight on Tuesday. Photograph: Kimmo Brandt/EPA

Finland, which shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia, has remained neutral or non-aligned since the end of the second world war, while Sweden has stayed out of military alliances for more than two centuries. Both had long seen Nato membership as an unnecessary provocation of Russia.

Andersson said the simultaneous applications reflected the brutal impact of “Russia’s illegal war” on Ukraine and the Nordic neighbours’ common history, traditions, values and culture. “In recent months, it has also become clear that Sweden’s and Finland’s security are closely linked,” she said.

Niinistö said Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine had “changed everything”, adding that Finnish and Swedish Nato membership meant the Nordic region would now be “a bastion not just of democracy, welfare and human rights – but also of security”.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said he held a “long and meaningful” phone call with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to discuss the issue of fuel supplies to Ukraine and defence support from France.

Zelenskiy tweeted that he told Macron about “the course of hostilities, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process”.

The two leaders also spoke about the “preparation of the sixth package of sanctions, possible ways to export Ukrainian agricultural products”, Zelenskiy said.

They also held a “substantive discussion of our application for the status of a candidate for EU membership”, he added.

Finished a long and meaningful phone conversation with @EmmanuelMacron. Told about the course of hostilities, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process. Raised the issue of fuel supply to Ukraine. (1/2)

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 17, 2022

We also discussed defense support from France, preparation of the 6th package of sanctions, possible ways to export Ukrainian agricultural products. Held a substantive discussion of our application for the status of a candidate for EU membership. (2/2)

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 17, 2022

Today so far…

It is almost 7.30pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • The fate of more than 260 Ukrainian soldiers who have ended weeks of resistance at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol remains unclear, after the fighters surrendered and were transferred to Russian-controlled territory. Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said they would be swapped in a prisoner exchange, but some Russian officials said they could be tried or even executed.
  • Eight people have died and 12 wounded after Russia launched a missile strike on the village of Desna in the northern Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, according to Ukraine’s state emergency service. The regional governor, Viacheslav Chaus, said Russia launched four missiles at around 5am local time on Tuesday. Two of the missiles hit buildings in the village, he said.

Hello, it’s Léonie Chao-Fong here to bring you all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

A Ukrainian self-propelled Howitzer in a field near Sydorove, eastern Ukraine.
A Ukrainian self-propelled Howitzer in a field near Sydorove, eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier in Kyiv wears a “Snake Island” embroidered badge on his uniform commemorating the moment when a Ukrainian soldier defiantly replied “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!’ when ordered to surrender.
A Ukrainian soldier in Kyiv wears a “Snake Island” embroidered badge on his uniform commemorating the moment when a Ukrainian soldier defiantly replied “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!’ when ordered to surrender. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Russia may be suffering ‘impressive losses’, says EU’s Borrell

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Russian forces may have suffered “impressive losses” since their invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Borrell said:

I wouldn’t dare to make an hypothesis about how long Russia can resist…

If it is true that Russia has lost 15% of their troops since the beginning of the war, this is a world record of the losses of an army invading a country.

He added that the European Union “will not let” Ukraine run out of military equipment, Reuters reports.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to reporters following a EU Defence Ministers Council in Brussels, Belgium.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks to reporters following a EU Defence Ministers Council in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

The International Criminal Court has sent a team of investigators and forensic experts to Ukraine to probe alleged war crimes in what it has called the “largest-ever” deployment in its history.

The ICC team will “advance our investigations into crimes falling into the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and provide support to Ukrainian national authorities”, said Karim Khan, the ICC’s chief prosecutor.

Investigators will chase up leads and collect witness testimony “relevant to military attacks”, Khan said in a statement.

They would also work with Ukrainian authorities to “strengthen chain of custody with respect to hard evidence,” he said.

Khan continued:

Now more than ever we need to show the law in action. It is essential that we demonstrate to survivors and the families of victims that international law is relevant to their experience…in order to bring them some measure of solace through the process of justice.

Khan announced an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity just four days after Russian troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

The fate of hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who have ended weeks of resistance at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol remains unclear, after the fighters surrendered and were transferred to Russian-controlled territory, Shaun Walker and Andrew Roth report.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister said they would be swapped in a prisoner exchange, but some Russian officials said they could be tried or even executed. MPs in Russia’s State Duma said they would propose new laws that could derail prisoner exchanges of fighters who Moscow claims are “terrorists”.

Buses leave Mariupol carrying Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at the Azovstal steelworks, under escort by pro-Russia forces.
Buses leave Mariupol carrying Ukrainian forces who have surrendered after weeks holed up at the Azovstal steelworks, under escort by pro-Russia forces. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Russia called the Azovstal operation a mass surrender, while the Ukrainian army said the soldiers defending the steel plant had “performed their combat task” and that the main goal was now to save their lives.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive,” said the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a video address.

For weeks, hundreds of troops have been holed up in a warren of tunnels and bunkers underneath the steelworks, as Russian forces took control of the rest of the city after turning much of it into an uninhabitable wasteland. Many of those stuck at Azovstal had serious injuries, with limited medical care and dwindling supplies.

Map

In the last few weeks, civilians who had also taken cover in the plant were rescued after a deal was brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow them to leave for Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Ukraine had been pushing for a deal that would also allow the fighters to retreat to Ukrainian-controlled areas, or for their evacuation to a neutral country. However, with that not forthcoming, Ukrainian officials announced in the early hours of Tuesday that the defence of the plant was in effect over.

“This was the only option,” said the deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, on Tuesday.

At least seven buses carrying surrendered Ukrainian fighters left the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, escorted by pro-Russian armed forces, Reuters reports.

Some of the Ukrainian fighters being transported did not appear to be wounded, according to a witness.

Russia’s prosecutor general has asked the supreme court to recognise Ukraine’s Azov regiment as a “terrorist organisation”, Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian justice ministry’s website.

Russia’s supreme court is scheduled to hear the case on 26 May, Interfax reports.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife Olena Zelenska attend the funeral ceremony of the first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife Olena Zelenska attend the funeral ceremony of the first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, in Kyiv. Photograph: Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters
Former Presidents of Ukraine, from left; Viktor Yuschenko, Petro Poroshenko, and Leonid Kuchma, pay their respects at the funeral of Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine’s first president.
Former presidents of Ukraine (from left) Viktor Yuschenko, Petro Poroshenko and Leonid Kuchma pay their respects at the funeral of Leonid Kravchuk. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Duma appears to be trying to prevent Azovstal soldiers to be part of prisoner swap

The Russian state Duma appears to be moving toward trying to prevent Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov battalion being included in any prisoner swap.

The Azov Regiment, a one-time nationalist militia integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard, has been alleged by Moscow to be the main perpetrator of anti-Russian nationalism from which Russia has claimed it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers from.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, said its members were “Nazi criminals” who should not be included in prisoner exchanges. “They are war criminals and we must do everything to bring them to justice,” he said.

Reuters reports the Duma website said he had asked the defence and security committees to prepare an instruction to that effect.

At the same time, the Telegram channel of the RIA news agency is carrying this short news snap, citing Russia’s justice ministry:

Supreme court on 26 May to consider case on recognising Ukrainian Azov battalion as a terrorist organisation and banning its activities in Russia.

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

With its urban areas sprawling along the coastline of the Sea of Azov in the shape of a comma, the siege of Mariupol came to define one of the most brutal episodes in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

It was one of the first major cities to be encircled and viewed as one of the Kremlin’s key objectives both for its economic importance and as a stepping stone in building a land bridge from Russia to Russian-occupied Crimea.

The capture of Mariupol loomed large in the Kremlin’s imagination for propaganda purposes too: as the home base of the Azov brigade, which at its 2014 inception, when the war in Donbas began, included far-right volunteers, some with neo-Nazi affiliations. (In recent years the brigade has been fully integrated into the Ukrainian military).

It was the sheer levels of violence inflicted on the city and on its civilian population day after day, however, that has kept Mariupol in the headlines.

The few who have been able to enter the city – including the International Committee for the Red Cross – have described conditions in the city as “apocalyptic”.

Read more of Peter Beaumont’s deep look at the siege of Mariupol: ‘Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time’ – the battle that gripped the world

Vladimir Putin has said that by abandoning Russian energy supplies, Europe risked paying the most expensive energy prices in the world.

Reuters reports Russia’s president said it was impossible for some European countries to quickly ditch Russian oil. They quote him saying:

Obviously, some EU states, in whose energy balance the share of Russian hydrocarbons is especially high, will not be able to do this for a long time, to ditch our oil.

Speaking at a televised meeting with domestic oil managers and government officials, Putin also said that western sanctions and a possible embargo on Russian oil had resulted in an increase in global oil prices. He also said that western sanctions had stoked inflation across Europe itself.

At the same time, the Polish president Andrzej Duda told a joint media conference with his Hungarian counterpart Katalin Novák that Hungary would struggle to diversify its energy supply.

“Please remember that it will be hard for the Hungarians to diversify if European recovery funds remain blocked,” Duda said, adding that he hoped a sixth package of EU sanctions on Russia could be agreed on.

Finland’s parliament approves bid to join Nato

Finland’s parliament has overwhelmingly approved a proposal to apply for membership in the Nato alliance.

The proposal was passed with 188 votes in favour and eight against.

Finland is expected to sign a formal application and file it to Nato headquarters in the coming days, along with Sweden, where its government announced a similar bid yesterday.

Parliament supports Finland’s application for NATO membership. Parliament adopted the position in accordance with the Foreign Affairs Committee report after a vote 188-8 in favour.

Parliament requires that the Govt keeps it informed of the progress of the membership process.

— SuomenEduskunta (@SuomenEduskunta) May 17, 2022

It comes as the White House announced that the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, and Sweden’s prime minister, Magdelena Andersson will meet with the US president, Joe Biden, on Thursday to discuss their Nato applications.





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