UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief said Wednesday he is in “intense contacts” with Russia and other countries to stop escalating global hunger exacerbated by the war in Ukraine by allowing the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and ensuring Russian food and fertilizers have unrestricted access to world markets.
Guterres said Ukraine and Russia together produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, and Russia and its ally Belarus are the world’s number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertilizer.
The secretary-general said the number of people facing severe food insecurity has doubled in just two years from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- Interrogation, uncertainty for surrendering Mariupol troops
- Ukraine hopes to swap steel mill fighters for Russian POWs
- Russian soldier pleads guilty at Ukraine war crimes trial
- In Ukraine, limbs lost and lives devastated in an instant
- Europe’s push to cut Russian gas faces a race against winter
- Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says his country is seeking guarantees that Sweden and Finland would not revert to backing Kurdish militants and others that Turkey views as threat, after they join the NATO alliance.
Speaking to Turkish journalists after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Cavusoglu accused Sweden of not just backing groups linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but also providing arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters, which Turkey views as an extension of the militant group.
Cavusoglu also said he held “positive” talks with Blinken concerning Turkey’s request to purchase new F-16 fighters as well as kits to refurbish its existing fleet.
He said Turkey wants the U.S. to reverse sanctions imposed on Turkish officials following Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile systems and for Washington to also stop its support to Syrian Kurdish militants.
The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.
There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defense.
The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private Pentagon discussions.
– AP writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
Sullivan said Finland and Sweden won’t be covered by NATO’s mutual defense agreement until all 30 members have ratified the accession, but U.S. and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process.”
The State Department said U.S. embassy operations in Kyiv resumed Wednesday, with diplomats returning on permanent basis to the capital from where they had been temporarily relocated to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and neighboring Poland.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “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.”
Other Western countries have been re-opening their embassies.
U.S. embassy staffers had begun returning to Kyiv on a limited basis on May 8 to mark the anniversary of WWII Victory in Europe day but the embassy itself remained closed.
OTTAWA - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s not surprising Russia has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC broadcaster because the truth and responsible journalism is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced the closing in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.
“It’s unfortunate but not surprising that he’s trying to shut down strong journalistic institutions,” Trudeau said.
MOSCOW - A Russian Foreign Ministry official has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC broadcaster in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that CBC has “essentially turned into a propaganda megaphone which broadcasts fake and doubtful information related to our country.”
Zakharova said that “when practical actions were taken targeted at Russian media outlets … we obviously responded in essentially the same way.”
CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said CBC/Radio-Canada is deeply disappointed.
“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,” he said. “To our knowledge, this is the first time in the history of CBC/Radio-Canada that a foreign government has forced the closure of one of our bureaus.”
ANKARA, Turkey - A senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told officials from Sweden, Finland other countries that there can be no progress concerning the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership unless concrete steps are taken to address Turkey’s security concerns.
Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy advisor and spokesman for Erdogan, held phone calls on Wednesday with officials from Germany, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States to discuss the two countries’ NATO membership applications, his office said.
Kalin’s office said “the expectation that concrete steps will be taken to address Turkey’s security concerns was conveyed.”
Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted on Wednesday.
Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change of neighboring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easer for Bosnian Croats to get their representatives elected to leadership positions.
“Finland and Sweden are longtime, stalwart partners of the United States,” Biden said in a statement. “By joining NATO, they will further strengthen our defense cooperation and benefit the entire Transatlantic Alliance.”
BRUSSELS - The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment, offering financial incentives to those willing to work together to replace materiel sent to Ukraine.
Many of the EU’s 27 members have sent equipment to help Ukrainian troops. At first it was mostly ammunition, but now includes portable missiles to destroy warplanes and tanks, as well as heavier equipment.
The EU’s executive branch is offering a fund of 500 million euros ($526 million) over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks. Officials declined to say, for security reasons, what shortages nations have.
The commission is also ready to provide incentives to encourage countries to replace their Soviet-era stocks of battle tanks, heavy artillery and armored vehicles. Some have already been supplying these to Ukraine, whose troops are trained to use them.
The Foreign Ministry said it responded that “the choice of ways to ensure national security is the sovereign right of each state, but together with that, it should not create threats to the security of other countries.”
Russia’s “specific reaction and possible responsive measures, including the military-technical side, will to a large extent depend on the real consequences of the integration of Sweden into the North Atlantic Alliance, including the deployment on Swedish territory of foreign military bases and offensive weapons systems,” the ministry said.
The list published by Sabah newspaper on Wednesday calls on the two countries to stop any financial support to groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as well as to Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara views as extensions of the banned group. There are also demands that these countries halt contacts with members of the Syrian Kurdish group.
The list also includes a demand that Sweden clamps down on what Sabah called a “disinformation” campaign against Turkey led by followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims was behind a coup attempt in 2016. Many followers of the Gulen movement have fled to Sweden.
PRAGUE - Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova says Germany will donate 15 Leopard 2 A4 tanks to the Czech armed forces.
Cernochova says she has struck a deal with her German counterpart Christine Lambert. She says the move shows Germany’s appreciation of her country’s military help to Ukraine facing Russia’s aggression.
The Czechs have given Ukraine unspecified Soviet-era heavy weapons worth at least $130 million.
Cernochova said Wednesday that the tank deal is “great news for the Czech army.”
She said the tanks are ready for combat and the deal includes spare parts and ammunition. They should be delivered this year.
The minister also says the Czechs have opened talks with Germany about purchasing up to 50 more new Leopard A7+ tanks.
PARIS - The French Foreign Ministry has condemned Moscow’s decision to expel 34 French diplomats in retaliation for the April expulsion of Russians who Paris claims were secret agents “working against (French) security interests.”
The Foreign Ministry says that the French ordered expelled by Moscow are real diplomats. It said the Russian decision Wednesday “has no legitimate basis” and “we can only deplore it.”
Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Wednesday he welcomes the nations’ decisions to join the alliance. He added that their militaries fully meet all necessary accession criteria.
The accession protocol still needs to be ratified by both chambers of Czech Parliament, which is expected to happen soon. Fiala said he doesn’t anticipate any obstacles, as governing parties hold the majority in both chambers of parliament.
The Polish military said Wednesday that volunteers will be able to provide a year’s paid service that can be turned into long-term or professional service.
Those who enter the program will go through 28-day training with a military unit, and then 11 months of service. They will be accommodated with their unit or outside, and will receive a pre-tax monthly pay of some 4,500 zlotys ($1,000).
It was not immediately clear how much interest the offer could draw. The first volunteers will be able to enlist from May 21.
Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Germany is “actively working” to resolve the issues raised by Turkey, but declined to elaborate.
“The German government remains confident that all NATO members will support this accession and that it can be achieved quickly,” she said.
Hoffmann said the German Cabinet on Wednesday backed the accession protocol. Parliamentary approval is still required, but that is all but assured in Germany.
Hoffmann added that Germany would also support NATO membership for Austria and Ireland, should those neutral countries decide to join the military alliance.
Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin pleaded guilty to the charges during his trial in Kyiv on Wednesday. The 21-year-old soldier could get life in prison if convicted of shooting a Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.
It was not immediately clear how many of the suspects are in Ukrainian hands and how many could be tried in absentia.
Moscow said on Wednesday the move is in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats last month from Spain.
Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the country was expelling 34 French and 24 Italian diplomats.
Multiple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv, accusations the Kremlin has fiercely denied.
BRUSSELS - The European Commission is proposing a nine-billion euro ($9.5 billion) loan to Ukraine to help the war-torn country.
The EU’s executive arm said Wednesday that the macro-financial assistance in the form of loans will be complemented by support from other partners including countries from the Group of Seven major economies.
“We are proposing to top up the significant short-term relief provided until now, with a new exceptional macro-financial assistance for Ukraine of up to 9 billion (euros) in 2022,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.
“But we also need to think about the day after for the wider reconstruction effort. The EU has a responsibility and a strategic interest in leading this reconstruction effort.” The EU said it already has mobilized around 4.1 billion euros ($4.3 billion) to support Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the French diplomatic staff would be given two weeks to leave the country.
Russia said it was responding to “the provocative and utterly baseless decision of French authorities” in April to expel 41 Russian diplomats, which it said had damaged the relationship between the two countries.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told state news agency RIA Novosti that 24 Italian diplomats also will be expelled. She gave no other details.
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said after a meeting with his Finnish counterpart that “this should not interrupt diplomatic channels, because it is through the channels that, if successful, peace will arrive.’’
Mutliple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv, accusations the Kremlin has fiercely denied.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Wednesday that the Russian military has hit a battery of U.S.-supplied M777 howitzers near the village of Pidhirne of the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry later released a video showing a drone strike on Ukrainian artillery positions.
Konashenkov’s claims couldn’t be independently verified.
The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly reported strikes targeting Western-supplied weapons.
Erdogan spoke hours after Finland and Sweden officially applied to join the military alliance, a move that was driven by security concerns over Russia’s war in Ukraine. His comments suggested Erdogan is refusing to back down on his opposition to the two Nordic countries’ membership in the alliance because of their alleged support for Kurdish militants.
MOSCOW - The Kremlin says the Ukrainian soldiers at a giant steel mill in the port of Mariupol are surrendering.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered since Monday.
Ukrainian authorities say they ordered the fighters to save their lives and said the mission to tie up Russian forces by defending the Azovstal plant is complete.
But they have have avoided describing the action of the ones who left the plant as a surrender.
Asked about the conflicting Russian and Ukrainian narratives, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “There can be just one interpretation: the troops holed up at Azovstal are laying down their weapons and surrendering.”
The Kiel Institute for the World Economy said Wednesday that a new aid package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives takes American military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine to almost 43 billion euros (over $45 billion) between Jan. 24 and May 10.
The institute found that aid from the EU amounted to just under 16 billion euros ($16.8 billion) during the same period. However, some countries in the 27-nation bloc have shied away from giving the value of their Ukraine aid, particularly for arms supplies.
Compared to their gross domestic products, Estonia, Latvia and Poland provided the most support, ahead of the United States, according to the think tank’s calculations.
Austria joined the European Union at the same time as the two Nordic nations in 1995. The Swedish and Finnish applications to join NATO will likely leave Austria as one of very few EU countries that aren’t also a member of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday that “we decided on neutrality in 1955 and is still the case that a very, very large majority of the population views this positively.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 694 Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal steel plant handed themselves over to Russian troops the past 24 hours, bringing the total of Ukrainian troops who have conceded since Monday to 959.
Konashenkov’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.
Ukrainian authorities have avoided mentioning any numbers for the troops who left the plant.
LONDON - British military authorities say Russia relied heavily on auxiliary forces, including Chechen fighters, to overcome Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, underscoring the manpower and command problems that are hampering Russian operations.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in a briefing posted Wednesday morning, says “staunch” Ukrainian resistance delayed Russia’s ability to take full control of the strategic port city and inflicted “costly personnel losses” on Russian forces.
The ministry says the Kremlin has made significant use of auxiliary personnel, including thousands of Chechen fighters concentrated around Mariupol and in the Luhansk region.
These forces include individual volunteers and National Guard units that are usually dedicated to securing the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic.
“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday after a receiving their application letters from the two Nordic countries’ ambassadors.
The application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries.
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