NATO leaders are meeting as Finland and Sweden make moves to join the US-led alliance. This comes as Ukraine’s defense minister says the country is now entering a “long” phase of war with Russia. Here’s the latest:
Nordic NATO developments: NATO foreign ministers are convening in Germany on Saturday while the Finnish government plans to issue a second white paper on Sunday proposing that the country joins NATO. But NATO-member Turkey signaled hesitancy about the bloc’s expansion. The Kremlin says it will be “forced to take retaliatory steps” if Finland goes forward. Russia will suspend power exports to Finland starting Saturday due to problems in receiving payments, Finland’s transmission system operator Fingrid said in a statement on Friday.
Where the fighting is happening: In eastern Ukraine, satellite imagery and first-hand testimony have provided a fuller picture of the multiple and disastrous efforts by Russian forces to cross the Siverskyi Donets River over the past week. Russians may have sustained heavy casualties, and lost as many as 70 armored vehicles and other equipment in attempting to cross the river early this week. Their goal was to try to encircle Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, but it failed spectacularly.
In the Luhansk region, more than 50 houses have been destroyed by Russian shelling, as fighting continues to rage around a belt of industrial towns in the area, according to Ukrainian officials. The Russians appear to have made little progress on the ground after consolidating their control over Rubizhne earlier this week.
In northern Ukraine, a Ukrainian counterattack has taken back a number of villages in the area east of Kharkiv. The Ukrainian advances threaten the symbolic embarrassment of expelling the Kremlin’s forces back to their own border and while posing the strategic threat of cutting Russia’s supply lines into Ukraine and its forces further south in the Donbas region. It has also revealed further evidence of apparent atrocities.
In Mariupol, difficult negotiations are continuing over the fate of Ukrainian soldiers still trapped in the Azovstal steel plant, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk region military administration, said. In the meantime, he said, the Russians continued to attack Avozstal from the air. “These are heavy, vacuum, high-explosive bombs,” the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine has retaken six settlements from Russian forces on Friday, and 1,015 overall since the start of the conflict in February. It is unclear exactly how much territory those settlements constitute. Zelensky did outline other gains by Ukraine’s military in those areas.
Ukraine appeals for more defense systems: A Ukrainian lawmaker called on the United States to provide air defense systems and fighter jets to Ukraine, saying that the situation on the battlefield is “far worse” than it was at the beginning of the war. The House of Representatives passed the $40 billion Ukraine aid supplemental this week, but the Senate failed to pass the bill after Sen. Rand Paul blocked its passage.
Rising food prices see India export ban: India is banning wheat exports as prices rise worldwide due to Russia’s prolonged war on Ukraine. India is the world’s second-highest producer of wheat, the bulk of which is consumed domestically. Ukraine and Russia together are responsible for about 14% of global wheat production. Wheat exports from the Black Sea region have plummeted since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, sending global buyers to turn to India to alleviate supply shortages.
War crimes trial: 21-year-old soldier Vadim Shishimarin is set to become the first Russian to be tried for war crimes at a trial in Kyiv on Friday. He is accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old man in Ukraine’s Sumy region, according to the country’s prosecutor general’s office.
War looms large at the Eurovision: Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra is the favorite to win at tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest, the continent’s garish and much-loved singing competition scheduled to take place in Turin, Italy. Russia was removed from the competition following its invasion of Ukraine.