As a direct consequence of the Russian offensive on its neighbour, the NATO candidacies of Sweden and Finland – which shares 1,300 kilometers of border with Russia – will also be submitted on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Atlantic Alliance in Brussels.
In Mariupol, in the south of Ukraine, “the evacuation mission” of the soldiers still inside the Azovstal steelworks “continues”, affirmed, without specifying the number, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on its website.
Moscow announced on Tuesday the surrender of 265 Ukrainian fighters, including 51 “seriously wounded”, who had fallen back on this huge steel complex, the last bastion of resistance in this city ravaged by Russian attacks.
Ukraine assured last week that more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers – including 600 wounded – were there.
“These Ukrainian heroes” who have “fulfilled their mission” will be exchanged for Russian prisoners to allow them to return to the country “as quickly as possible”, for its part declared the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, indirectly confirming that these men are well in the hands of the Russians.
The evacuation operation, which Mr. Zelensky discussed with French President Emmanuel Macron on the telephone on Tuesday, “is supervised by our military and our intelligence services” and involves “the most influential international mediators”, he said. he adds. “We have made the decision not to comment as long as the operation is in progress,” his adviser, Oleksiï Arestovich, told Ukrainian media.
At the same time, the Russian forces present in Mariupol are concentrating their efforts “on blocking our units near Azovstal”, with artillery fire and air strikes, noted the staff of the Ukrainian army Wednesday morning.
The total capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov besieged from the beginning of March by the Russians and dearly defended by the Ukrainians at the cost of vast destruction, would constitute an important step forward for Moscow in this conflict.
It would allow him to control a strip of territory ranging from the Crimean peninsula, which the Russians annexed in 2014, to the territories of Donbass (east) already in the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
Nearly three months after the start of the Russian invasion, on February 24, a Russian soldier – accused of having killed an unarmed civilian – appeared before a Ukrainian court on Wednesday for a war crime, a first since the outbreak of the conflict.
This trial will be a test for the Ukrainian judicial system, as international institutions conduct their own investigations into the abuses committed by Russian troops in that country.
In The Hague, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, announced the deployment to Ukraine of a team of 42 investigators and experts, the largest mission in terms of personnel ever sent on the ground, in order to light on the crimes committed during the Russian invasion.
And the United States announced on Tuesday the creation of a “conflict observatory”, initially endowed with six million dollars, to “collect, analyze and widely share the evidence of the war crimes” that they attribute to Russia in Ukraine.
As the war enters a “prolonged phase”, in the words of Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov on Tuesday, Sweden and Finland jointly submit their candidacies to NATO on Wednesday, after decades of military non-alignment.
The applications for membership of the two Nordic countries will be submitted to the headquarters of the alliance in Brussels to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday at 0800 (0600 GMT) by the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors.
The Finnish Parliament on Tuesday opened the way to this candidacy with a massive vote, in the wake of the official announcement the day before by Sweden of its own.
While Vladimir Putin seemed to put the mute on Monday on Russian threats of reprisals for a Swedish-Finnish membership, the main obstacle now seems to come from within the alliance: Turkey, whose ratification is imperative like that of each of the 30 members of NATO, reaffirmed on Monday its hostility to the entry of Sweden and Finland.
– “The ‘dictator’ will lose” –
On the ground of military operations, eight people died and 12 were injured in a Russian bombardment on Desna, a village located about sixty kilometers north of kyiv known to host a large military training camp, according to the local relief.
Another Russian attack on Tuesday morning hit a Ukrainian military base in the Lviv region (west) located just 15 kilometers from the border with Poland, according to Maxim Kozitsky, the governor of the Lviv region.
The east of the country, however, remains the priority objective of Russian troops since their withdrawal from the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital at the end of March.
According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, speaking on Tuesday to European Union Defense Ministers and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, “the Kremlin’s main efforts are focused on attempts to encircle and destroy the regrouping of Ukrainian armed forces in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” (east), partly in the hands of pro-Russian separatists.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for its part indicated in its evening report on Tuesday that the Russian forces were carrying out “offensives along the entire line of contact” in the Donetsk region, and partially in that neighboring Lugansk.
On Tuesday, seven civilians were killed “by the Russians” and six others injured in the Donetsk region, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Telegram.
In the Lugansk region, Russian forces are trying to break through near Popasna and towards Severodonetsk, one of the major cities in the region under Ukrainian control, indicated its governor Serguiï Gaïdaï, noting “the intensification of the bombardments on the civilian population”.
To support this offensive, the Russian army notably mobilized “up to fifteen helicopters”, noted the Ukrainian general staff on Wednesday, adding that, near Zaporizhya, “the enemy is reinforcing” its troops “to carry out an offensive in the direction of Polohy – Orikhiv”.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also called on Ukraine’s Western allies for more coordination in arms deliveries to kyiv.
France will intensify its arms deliveries to Ukraine “in the days and weeks to come”, promised President Emmanuel Macron to his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
The latter spoke in a video message during the opening gala of the Cannes Film Festival to say that “we need a new Chaplin who will prove that cinema is not silent” in the face of the war in Ukraine. “I am convinced that the dictator will lose,” he added, referring to the Russian president and Charlie Chaplin’s film.