EU to help break blockade on Ukraine’s Odesa to free up grain exports – FRANCE 24 English

The European Commission said Thursday it would help Ukraine break the Russian blockade on the port city of Odesa, where thousands of tonnes of grain destined for the global market remains trapped. UN and EU officials have warned that Russia’s continuing siege of the southern port risks causing a global food crisis. 

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Thursday’s live blog is now closed, but coverage on France24.com continues. Click here to read more about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

12:45am: US says Russia has forcibly taken ‘thousands’ of Ukrainians

The United States on Thursday accused Russia of forcibly taking onto territory under its control tens of thousands of Ukrainians, often singled out for their resistance to the invasion.

The remarks support allegations by the Ukrainian government which estimates nearly 1.2 million people have been deported into Russia or Russian-controlled territory and has denounced so-called “filtration camps” in which Moscow interrogates detained people.

Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that witness testimony attests to “brutal interrogations” in the camps.

“Accounts of this brutality and forced displacement are happening right now, as we speak, and these actions amount to war crimes,” Carpenter told the organisation in Vienna.

“We must not allow this evil to stand,” he said.

9:39pm: German lawmakers approve possible expropriation of energy companies

Germany’s lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a new version of a bill to secure energy supply, including possible expropriation of critical energy infrastructure and assets in the event of an emergency. As Europe’s biggest economy looks to guard against the risk of Russia turning off supplies, the new amendments, expected to come into effect in June, would enable the government to put energy companies under trusteeship if they can no longer fulfil their tasks and if the security of supply is at risk.

The renewed law – which still needs to pass the upper house of parliament – could be applied for the first time if no solution is found on the ownership of the Schwedt oil refinery, which is majority-owned by Russian state-owned Rosneft. The law authorizes the government to take control over companies’ energy production, transport and distribution of energy if supply is at risk.

9:22pm: Russian gas nominations for Slovakia rise, operator data shows

Daily nominations for Russian gas deliveries to Slovakia via Ukraine rose on Thursday, data from Slovakian operator TSO Eustream showed. Nominations via the Velke Kapusany border point rose to around 625,135 megawatt hours (MWh), having fallen earlier on Thursday.

8:58pm: Ukrainian forces damage Russian navy ship in Black Sea says military spokesman

Ukrainian forces have damaged a modern Russian navy logistics ship in the Black Sea, setting it on fire, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine said on Thursday. Spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said in an online post that the Vsevolod Bobrov had been struck near Snake Island, the scene of renewed fighting in recent days, but did not give details. The tiny island is located near Ukraine’s sea border with Romania.

5:27pm: Number of refugees fleeing Ukraine war exceeds 6 million, says UN agency

 The number of people who have fled Ukraine to escape Russia’s invasion has passed 6 million, in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the end of World War Two, a UN refugee agency said on Thursday. Russia’s invasion, which started on February 24, has triggered a massive displacement of people, including more than 8 million Ukrainians within the country, according to the latest International Organization for Migration (IOM) report.

UN data showed that 6.03 million had fled Ukraine as of Wednesday. Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation,” saying its aim was to demilitarise and “denazify” its southern neighbour. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext for an unprovoked land grab.

5:26pm: France ‘fully supports’ Finland’s choice to join NATO says Élysée

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday told his Finnish counterpart that France fully supported the country’s choice to join NATO, the Elysee presidential office said in a statement.

5:00pm: US senators promise quick support to bring Finland into NATO

US senators promised Thursday to move quickly to bring Finland into NATO after the country’s leaders voiced support for joining the alliance in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Senate approves treaties and must consent to bringing new members into NATO.

Senator Bob Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a hearing that the panel “is already working to ensure swift consideration” for both Finland and Sweden if either applies. The committee’s top Republican, Jim Risch, called Finland’s announcement “a tremendous step forward in the future of transatlantic security.”

“The decision to move toward NATO membership is a serious one, and I extend my commitment to support Finland through this process,” Risch wrote on Twitter.

4:52pm: UN sets up inquiry into Russia’s alleged rights abuses in Ukraine 

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly Thursday to launch an inquiry into alleged serious violations committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, putting their conduct further under the microscope.

Concerned by extrajudicial executions, civilian casualties, the use of torture and abuses against children, the council voted 33-2 to create an investigation into alleged violations, with a view to holding the perpetrators to account. China and Eritrea voted against the resolution, while 12 countries including India, Pakistan and Cuba abstained. Russia branded the extraordinary meeting of the UN’s top rights body a politicised stunt and refused to attend.

Telling the council that an 11-year-old boy, now traumatised, had been raped in front of his mother, Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces were inflicting “pure evil”. Russia was committing “the most gruesome human rights violations on the European continent in decades”, she said, speaking from Kyiv. “These have been 10 weeks of sheer horror to the people of my country. “Torture and enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence; the list of Russia’s crimes is endless. “Only the world standing strong in solidarity with the Ukrainian people can defeat this pure evil.”

Ukrainian prosecutors are also investigating a series of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces, including the fatal shooting of two unarmed civilians outside Kyiv, officials said Thursday.

CNN released what it said was security camera footage showing two Ukrainian civilians shot in the back by Russian soldiers near a car dealership outside of Kyiv on March 16. 

One man died on the spot, the other died shortly after. Prosecutors are investigating the attack as a war crime, CNN reported.

France 24’s UN correspondent Jessica Le Masurier


01:24

4:42pm: North Macedonia: US leads exercise in NATO’s newest member

US troops joined forces from Britain, France, Italy and allied countries in the region Thursday in a military exercise held in NATO’s newest member, North Macedonia, aimed at displaying deployment readiness along the alliance’s eastern borders. 

Nearly 10,000 soldiers from 19 nations are taking part in NATO’s planned “Swift Response” exercises as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues for a 12th week. The exercises are being held in five separate locations, spanning from Norway to North Macedonia, military officials said. 

“I think it’s a fantastic demonstration of what we can do as an alliance and our ability to project combat power if asked to do so and how quickly we can do it,” Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak, US Army Deputy Commanding General for Europe and Africa, told reporters after an hourlong display in North Macedonia. 

Over the past 10 days, about 4,600 soldiers from Albania, France, Greece, Italy, North Macedonia, Montenegro, the UK, and the US have taken part in the exercises, which have included parachute jumps at several locations around the country.

3:58pm: Russia’s Sberbank to appeal against Ukraine’s move to seize its assets

Russia’s top lender Sberbank said on Thursday it was initiating investment arbitration proceedings against Ukraine after its parliament approved a presidential decree allowing for the forced seizure of Sberbank-owned assets in the country.

Ukraine’s parliament, or Rada, on Thursday approved President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s decree that allows Ukraine to forcibly seize the assets of Sberbank-owned International Reserve Bank, news agency Interfax Ukraine reported. The decree also allows the seizure of a subsidiary of Russian state development bank VEB, Prominvestbank.

“Sberbank initiates investment arbitration against Ukraine claiming damages,” the bank said in a statement, referring to a 1998 agreement on the mutual protection of investments between the two countries.

3:25pm: Germany offers Finland full support for its NATO bid

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed on Thursday Finland’s decision to apply to join the NATO military alliance, saying in a tweet it had Germany’s backing. “In a telephone conversation with the President.. I have assured Finland of the full support of the German government,” tweeted Scholz.

3:24pm: Poland can manage without reverse gas flow on Yamal pipeline, says minister

Poland can manage without reverse gas flow on the Yamal pipeline, climate minister Anna Moskwa said on Thursday, after Moscow imposed sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal pipeline that carries Russian gas to Europe.

3:12pm: IEA may release more oil if needed, says executive director

The International Energy Agency (IEA) may release more oil in future if it is necessary, its executive director Fatih Birol said on Thursday during a visit to Warsaw. In two recent moves the IEA released only 9% of what it has in stock.

2:58pm: German regulator does not expect immediate fallout from Russia’s Yamal move

Germany’s energy regulator on Thursday said a stop of Russian gas flows through the Yamal pipeline to Europe via Poland was not expected to endanger German supply security.

“Hardly any gas to Germany has been going through this pipeline for weeks,” a spokesman for the regulatory authority said in a written statement. “Most volumes went to Poland,” he added.

2:55pm: Putin says West suffers more from sanctions than Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the West was suffering more than Russia from the sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine offensive, boasting that the Russian economy was resilient in the face of “external challenges”.

The authors of the sanctions, “guided by their inflated and blind ambitions and Russophobia, are dealing a much harder blow to their own national interests, their own economies and the prosperity of their own citizens”, Putin said at a meeting on economic issues. 

“We see this, above all, by looking at a sharp rise in inflation in Europe, which is approaching 20% in some countries,” he said. Actually, Euro-area annual inflation was estimated at 7.5% in April this year, according to Eurostat. But inflation in Russia is hovering near 20% amid Western sanctions, according to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

According to Putin, “it is obvious that (…) the continuation of the obsession with sanctions will inevitably lead to the most difficult consequences for the European Union, for its citizens”.

2:43pm: Swiss report 6.3 billion Swiss francs in frozen Russian assets as some released

The Swiss government on Thursday reported some 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.33 billion) worth of Russian assets frozen under sanctions introduced to punish Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a decline from early April, as a government official said some assets had been released.

“On April 7, 7.5 billion francs were frozen. Since then, a further 2.2 billion francs have been reported (frozen), but 3.4 billion in provisionally frozen assets were released,” Erwin Bollinger, a senior official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) agency overseeing sanctions, told journalists.

2:38pm: Euro strikes five-year low against dollar

The euro sank to a five-year low of $1.0389 on Thursday as the dollar was lifted by its haven status and US interest rate hikes.

With stock markets hit with risk aversion as inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Chinese Covid lockdown sap global growth, the dollar has been invigorated as investors seek refuge in US bonds.

2:24pm: Gazprom says it will no longer ship gas via Yamal pipeline through Poland

Russian energy giant Gazprom said on Thursday it would no longer be able to export gas through Poland via the Yamal-Europe pipeline after Moscow imposed sanctions against the firm that owns the Polish section of the pipeline.

“A ban on transactions and payments to entities under sanctions has been implemented,” Gazprom said in a statement. “For Gazprom this means a ban on the use of a gas pipeline owned by EuRoPol GAZ to transport Russian gas through Poland.”

2:06pm: EU moves to help Ukraine export grain as Russia blocks sea routes

The European Commission said on Thursday it would work with EU governments to help Ukraine export millions of tonnes of grain stuck in the country because the Russian navy is blocking Ukrainian ports.

Ukraine was the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter in the 2020-2021 season, International Grains Council data shows, selling 44.7 million tonnes abroad, mainly to China, Africa and Europe. It is also one of the biggest producers of sunflower oil.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 90% of the grains and sunflower oil were shipped out through Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea – a route now closed off. Problems with getting the grain out of Ukraine threaten to cause a food crisis, especially in poorer regions like Africa. “Twenty million tonnes of grains have to leave Ukraine in less than three months using the EU infrastructure,” EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said.

2pm: OPEC cuts 2022 world oil demand forecast again on Ukraine war

OPEC on Thursday cut its forecast for growth in world oil demand in 2022 for a second straight month, citing the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising inflation and the resurgence of the Omicron coronavirus variant in China.

In a monthly report, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said world demand would rise by 3.36 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2022, down 310,000 bpd from its previous forecast. The Ukraine war sent oil prices briefly above $139 a barrel in March, the highest since 2008, worsening inflationary pressures. OPEC has cited suggestions that China, with strict COVID lockdowns, is facing its biggest demand shock since 2020 when oil use plunged.

1:45pm: Deadly Russian strike on town in northern Ukraine

Three people were killed and 12 others wounded in a Russian strike on a town in Ukraine’s northern Chernigiv region, the emergency services told AFP. 

“We have three people killed and 12 wounded as a result of a strike” in Novgorod-Siversky, a spokesman said.  

The town is in the northeastern corner of the country, around 45 kilometres south of the Russian border. 

In a posting on Telegram, Chernigiv governor Vyacheslav Chaus said there were “dead and wounded” but did not give numbers, saying only that rescuers and medics were “working at the scene”.

He said the strike took place at night and hit “critical infrastructure”, including a school, posting photographs of badly damaged buildings in the town.

1:13pm: Pentagon says it would not be hard to integrate Finland into NATO

Finland’s entry into the NATO would be historic, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC in an television interview on Thursday, adding it would not be difficult to integrate the country into the military alliance.

1:06pm: Russian sanctions are not designed to stop gas to EU, says Germany

Germany said on Thursday it didn’t expect Russian sanctions against EU subsidiaries of state-firm Gazprom to result in a stoppage of gas deliveries, adding that the punitive measures seem designed to drive up prices.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck said during a news conference that the sanctions constituted an escalation, accusing Russia of using energy as a weapon. He said Germany would not raise the emergency level from its current level as an expected drop of 3% of Russian gas deliveries as a result of the news sanctions could be compensated on the market albeit at higher prices.

12:52pm: Putin: good grain harvest in Russia to support higher exports

Russia will increase grain exports this year due to a good harvest, President Vladimir Putin told a government meeting on Thursday. Russia, one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, currently expects to harvest 130 million tonnes of grain in 2022, including 87 million tonnes of wheat, Putin said.

12:46pm: Russia will respond to Finland’s NATO accession, says foreign ministry

Russia said on Thursday it would be forced to respond to Finland’s decision to join NATO. “Finland joining NATO is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising.”

12:05pm: Sweden plans to send NATO application next week, Expressen daily says

Sweden’s government plans to submit an application to join NATO next week, following neighbour Finland in re-writing its post-World War Two security policy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Expressen newspaper reported on Thursday.

Sweden’s parliament will debate the security situation on Monday and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson will then call a special cabinet meeting where the formal decision to apply will be taken, Expressen said, citing unnamed sources.

11:54am:  Finland’s accession process to NATO would be smooth and swift, Stoltenberg says

A NATO membership of Finland would strengthen both the Western military alliance and Finland, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift,” Stoltenberg said after Finland announced it would apply to join NATO “without delay”.

“Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security.”

11:51am: Ukraine’s Zelensky lauds Finnish readiness to apply to join NATO 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lauded Finland’s readiness to apply to join the NATO military alliance in a phone call with Finland’s president on Thursday, Zelensky said. “We also discussed Ukraine’s European integration. And defence interaction,” he wrote on Twitter.

11:45am: Kremlin says Finland joining NATO is ‘definitely’ a threat to Russia

The Kremlin has said it considers the prospect of Finland joining the Atlantic alliance as “definitely” a threat to Russia.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the expansion of the military bloc would not make Europe or the world more stable.

Peskov said the steps taken by Finland to join NATO were a cause for regret and a reason to impose a symmetrical response.

11:45am: Kremlin says no business possible with entities on its gas sanctions list

Russian sanctions imposed on the former German unit of Russian gas producer Gazprom and a number of other entities mean no relations are possible between them and the Russian state gas company, Kremlin said on Thursday. Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, declined further comments.

11:26am: EU says gas supply not at risk from Ukraine transit issue, blames Moscow

Ukraine’s announcement on Tuesday that it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point bringing Russian fuel to Europe does not present a gas supply issue, the European Commission said on Thursday.

“While these developments may have an impact on part of the gas transit to the EU, they do not bring about any immediate security of supply issue for the EU,” a commission spokesperson said, adding that Ukraine’s inability to operate the Novopskov gas compressor station was a result of actions by Russia. “Ukraine has been a reliable transit partner for many years,” the spokesperson said.

11:12am: Shell sells Russian retail business to Lukoil

Russia’s Lukoil has agreed to buy oil major Shell’s Russian retail and lubricants businesses, the companies said on Thursday, as part of the British company’s plans to exit the country following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The deal includes 411 retail stations, mainly located in the Central and Northwestern regions of Russia, and the Torzhok lubricants blending plant, Shell said in a statement.

10:25am: Sweden to take Finland’s NATO stance ‘into account’

Sweden will take into account Finland’s NATO assessments when deciding on whether it will send an application, the Swedish foreign minister said in a Twitter post, shortly after Finland’s leaders backed applying for membership of the alliance.

“Finland is Sweden’s closest security & defence partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said.

Helsinki’s decision is significant for Sweden as it is likely to move in tandem with Finland, with whom Sweden has close historic and military ties. Sweden is expected to announce it will apply for membership within days.

10:08am: Russia’s Gazprom says gas transit via Ukraine down

Russian gas producer Gazprom said it continues shipping gas to Europe via Ukraine at the Sudzha entry point,  with volumes on Thursday seen at 50.6 million cubic metres (mcm), down from 72 mcm on Wednesday. The application for gas supply via the Sokhranivka entry point was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom said. Russian gas flows to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter on Wednesday after Kyiv halted use of the Sokhranivka route.

10:00am: Russia says it hit two ammunition depots in Ukraine’s Chernihiv region

Russia said on Thursday its forces hit two ammunition depots in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported. The defence ministry also said Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile system in the Kharkiv region and a radar station near the city of Odesa.

10:00am: More oil and slower demand mean world can weather Russian losses says IEA

Lower output from Russia due to the fallout from its invasion of Ukraine will not leave the world short of oil, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday, as supply ramps up elsewhere and Chinese lockdowns tamp down demand.

“Over time, steadily rising volumes from Middle East OPEC+ and the U.S. along with a slowdown in demand growth is expected to fend off an acute supply deficit amid a worsening Russian supply disruption,” the IEA said in its monthly oil report. 

9:48am: One dead in munitions blast at Russian military base

One person died and several others were injured in an explosion that took place while ammunition was unloaded at a military base in Russia’s Far East, Russian news agency TASS reported Thursday.

Accidents at arms depots are fairly common in Russia, especially due to lax safety requirements and large amounts of old munitions remaining in storage.

 “As a result of an explosion of gunpowder during the unloading of ammunition, seven people were injured. They received minor wounds. Another person died,” a source in the emergency services told TASS state news agency, adding that the victim was a serviceman.

9:35am: Ukraine wants spot ‘reserved’ in EU

Ukraine wants a spot reserved in the European Union, even if obtaining full membership could take time, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said on a visit to Berlin. 

“It is not about the fastest possible membership for Ukraine in the EU. But what is very important for us is for this spot to be reserved for Ukraine,” Kuleba told German broadcaster ARD.

“We hear often that Ukraine belongs in Europe, belongs in the European family, and now it’s about reserving this place,” he added. 

French President Emmanuel Macron warned early this week that it would take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU. 

Macron suggested instead that a broader European political community could be created to include members like Ukraine or post-Brexit Britain.

9:27am: Germany’s Russian energy imports surge in value even as volumes fall

The value of Germany’s oil and gas imports from Russia jumped by more than 50% in March due to a surge in energy prices even as volumes shrank, the statistics office said. Aiming to reduce its dependence on Russian energy after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany has been seeking alternative supplies of oil and gas.

9:21am: Finland says NATO membership would ramp up security in Baltic Sea region

Finland’s accession to NATO would strengthen security in the Baltic Sea region, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told EU lawmakers on Thursday, referring to a region seen as NATO’s weakest flank.

“Should Finland decide to apply, the accession of Finland would strengthen the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe,” Haavisto said, addressing EU lawmakers via videolink.

9:21am: Denmark to push for quick NATO admission of Finland

Denmark will push for a quick NATO admission process of Finland, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Thursday after Finland  signaled it would apply for membership of the military alliance “without delay”.

“Denmark will of course warmly welcome Finland to NATO. will strengthen NATO and our common security,” Frederiksen said on Twitter. “Denmark will do everything for a quick admission process after the formal application.”

9:15am: Finland’s leaders back NATO membership in major policy shift

Finland should submit an application to join the NATO military alliance, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have said in a joint statement, signalling a major policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Niinisto and Marin said in the joint statement.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mile) border and a difficult past with Russia, has previously remained outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbour.

9:11am: UK economic growth slows in first quarter

Britain’s economy grew at a slower pace in the first quarter compared with the final three months of last year as the country battled soaring inflation, official data showed Thursday. The economy grew 0.8 percent in the January-March period compared with expansion of 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

Consumer prices are surging worldwide on supply strains as economies reopen from pandemic lockdowns – and in the wake of the Ukraine war that is aggravating already high energy costs.

9:00am: Czechs in talks to get German tanks as they send theirs to Ukraine

The Czech Republic is in talks with Germany on the supply of tanks that would allow the Czechs to send more of their Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, Defence Minister Jana Cernochova said late on Wednesday. The Czech Republic may get Leopard tanks from Germany, but probably not the most modern variant, Cernochova said on Czech Television.

“I think we are on the right, good path,” she said. “It concerns acquiring Leopard tanks.” She said they may be “somewhere in the middle” between he old Leopard 1 and newer Leopard 2 versions. The Czechs have 30 modernised T-72M4CZ tanks assigned to its tank unit and several dozen more in storage that have not been modernised.

8:42am: UK PM Johnson says no return to normal relations for Russia’s Putin

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday there could be no renormalisation of relations with President Vladimir Putin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Asked during an interview on LBC Radio whether Putin could be welcomed back on the global stage if he were to repent, Johnson said: “The short answer is no. No renormalisation and the UK is very clear about that.”

8:12am: Finland’s Fortum prepares Russia exit

Finnish utility Fortum said on Thursday it would pursue a “controlled exit” from Russia through a process which preferably includes a sale of its business in the country, where it earned a fifth of its operating profit last year.

8:01am: Demand to ship Russian gas via Ukraine falls to 53 mcm says Ifax

Demand for Russian gas to be shipped via Ukraine fell to 53 million cubic metres (mcm) on Thursday from 72 mcm the day before, the Interfax news agency reported. Volumes have declined since Kyiv halted the use of one major transit route, the Sokhranivka entry point, on May 11, blaming interference by occupying Russian forces.

7:45am: Ukraine keeps up counterattack to north of Kharkiv, Britain says

Ukrainian forces are keeping up a counterattack to the north of the second largest city of Kharkiv and recapturing several towns and villages toward the Russian border, Britain said on Thursday. Russia has reportedly withdrawn units from the area and the forces are likely to redeploy after replenishing the losses to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, the British defence ministry said in a regular Twitter bulletin.

On Wednesday, Ukraine said it had pushed back Russian forces in the east to recapture Pytomnyk, a village on the main highway north of Kharkiv, about halfway to the Russian border.

6:55am: Ukraine to hold first war crimes trial

Ukraine, which has repeatedly accused Russian troops of committing atrocities, has announced it will hold its first war crimes trial over the Russian invasion.

The prosecutor general’s office said Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian service member, is accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian as he fled with four other soldiers in a stolen car.

“The man died on the spot just a few dozen metres from his home,” said a statement from prosecutor Iryna Venediktova’s office. Shishimarin faces possible life imprisonment if found guilty.

Venediktova’s office has said it has received reports of more than 10,000 alleged war crimes, with 622 suspects identified.

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>> Bucha massacre: ‘The first step is to preserve the evidence’

6:49am: Russian governor says Ukrainian fire kills villager

Firing from Ukraine killed one person and wounded seven in the Russian border village of Solokhi in the province of Belgorod, the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Thursday.

Authorities in the area bordering Ukraine have accused Kyiv of a series of strikes, including a helicopter raid on a fuel depot. Kyiv, which has been fighting off a Russian invasion since February, has not claimed responsibility for the attacks.

6:10am: Russia ‘most direct threat to world order’: EU’s von der Leyen

Top European officials warned Thursday that Russia poses the “most direct threat” to world order and urged China to play a more constructive role on the international stage as they held talks in Tokyo.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are in Japan for talks that have touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but also growing concerns about China’s role in Asia and beyond.

2:50am: NATO to welcome Nordic members as Ukraine pushes back Russian forces

Finland is expected to announce on Thursday its intention to join NATO with Sweden likely to follow soon after, diplomats and officials said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshapes European security and the Atlantic military alliance.

NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to be granted membership quickly, five diplomats and officials told Reuters, paving the way for increased troop presence in the Nordic region during the one-year ratification period. 

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members, and the addition of Finland and Sweden would likely anger Moscow, which says NATO enlargement is a direct threat to its own security.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited the issue as a reason for his actions in Ukraine, which has also expressed a desire to eventually join the alliance.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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