Finland and Sweden officially apply for NATO membership First war crimes trial in Ukraine Merz: Weapons deliveries are deliberately delayed Developments in the Ukraine war in the stern ticker.
Day 84 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: After the first Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated from the long-contested Azov Steelworks, the question of their fate now arises. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is pushing for a prisoner swap. But voices from Moscow are now opposing this. The fate of the soldiers still in the steelworks is also unclear for the time being. Meanwhile, negotiations between the warring parties have failed once again. Talks on ending the war between Moscow and Kyiv will only be resumed if there are concrete proposals, according to Kiev negotiator Mykhailo Podoliak. No good prospects. In the south of Ukraine, the Russian troops are now said to be literally “digging in”. Fighting continues unabated in the east of the country. Finland and Sweden have now officially applied to join the NATO alliance.
News of the war in Ukraine from Wednesday, May 18:
2:48 p.m .: Turkey is blocking NATO accession talks with Finland and Sweden
Turkey initially blocked the start of NATO accession talks with Finland and Sweden. As the German Press Agency learned from alliance circles, it was not possible in the morning in the NATO Council, as originally planned, to make the decision necessary to start the admission process.
A spokesman for the alliance declined to comment on the talks in the NATO Council. He only emphasized that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was determined to find a quick solution for Finland and Sweden. “Both countries are our closest partners and joining NATO would strengthen Euro-Atlantic security,” he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear once again that he makes approval of Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession conditional on approaching his country on security issues. For Turkey, the NATO expansion goes hand in hand with the respect shown to its sensitivities, he said in a speech to his conservative Islamic governing party, the AKP, in Ankara. Sweden and Finland wanted to continue supporting “terrorist organizations”, but at the same time Turkey’s approval for NATO membership, Erdogan criticized. “That’s a contradiction, to say the least.”
2:14 p.m.: Human Rights Watch considers Russian war crimes in Ukraine to be proven
The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch considers it proven that Russian troops committed war crimes in north-eastern Ukraine. According to their own statements, the human rights activists found evidence of killings, unlawful detention under inhumane conditions, torture and missing persons at 17 locations. “The numerous atrocities committed by Russian troops who occupied parts of north-eastern Ukraine at the start of the war are heinous, unlawful and cruel,” said the organization’s Europe and Central Asia director, Giorgi Gogia, in a statement following the release of a new report. He calls for an immediate investigation and trial.
A total of 65 survivors, family members and other witnesses were interviewed between April 10 and May 10 for the report. People were shot for possessing working cell phones, old military uniforms or suspected of having been in the Ukrainian military. Before they left, Russian soldiers had killed mostly men, some of them at random. It was even shot at playing children. Those arrested had to endure in a confined space in cold cellars, sometimes without food. Buckets served as toilets. The surviving victims described torture with electric batons and mock executions.
2 p.m .: Russia also expels Spanish and Italian diplomats
In addition to French, Russia has also expelled 27 Spanish and 24 Italian diplomats. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the 27 employees of the Spanish Embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in St. Petersburg have been declared “undesirable persons”. According to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, 24 Italian diplomats will also be expelled, Russian news agencies report.
The Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has condemned the decision and speaks of a “hostile act”. But it is also a “reaction” to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Italy, according to Draghi at a meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Rome. Despite everything, he urges that diplomatic channels be kept open at all costs in order to be able to continue negotiating peace in Ukraine.
1:14 p.m .: Von der Leyen is promising Ukraine up to nine billion euros in emergency aid
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has promised Ukraine emergency aid of up to nine billion euros. Von der Leyen said in Brussels that she was proposing “new one-off macro-financial assistance for Ukraine of up to nine billion euros” this year. The funds are intended to help cover the country’s acute financial needs in the Russian war of aggression.
12:55 p.m .: Erdogan ties approval for NATO accession to security issues
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made approval of Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession conditional on approaching his country on security issues. For Turkey, NATO expansion goes hand in hand with the respect shown for its sensitivities, Erdogan said in a speech to his conservative Islamic governing party, the AKP, in Ankara. Sweden and Finland wanted to continue supporting “terrorist organizations”, but at the same time Turkey’s approval for NATO membership, Erdogan criticized. “That’s a contradiction, to say the least.”
12.40 p.m .: The Kremlin accuses Ukraine of a lack of will to continue negotiations
Russia has blamed Ukraine for the deadlock in negotiations to settle the conflict. “The talks are indeed not progressing and we note that Ukrainian negotiators have a complete lack of will to continue this process,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow.
Ukraine said on Tuesday that talks had been suspended because of Russia’s stance. Moscow lacks understanding of “what is currently happening in the world and its extremely negative role,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak.
12:25 p.m .: Russia expels 34 French diplomats
Russia has ordered the expulsion of 34 French diplomats. A note was handed to the French ambassador declaring 34 employees of the French diplomatic mission to be undesirable, according to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. In April, France expelled 41 Russian diplomats from the country in response to the Russian military operation in Ukraine.
12 noon: Cabinet agrees to Finland and Sweden joining NATO
Immediately after Sweden and Finland submitted their applications for NATO membership, the German government decided to agree to the admission of both countries to the defense alliance. This would allow the German NATO Ambassador Rüdiger König to sign the two accession protocols after the completion of the internal NATO admission process. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had already authorized the signing authority in advance.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) had announced very fast processes in the NATO admission process for Sweden and Finland. In Germany, however, the approval of the Bundestag is required for ratification. Baerbock said at the weekend that the federal government had already spoken to all democratic parties in parliament.
10.49 a.m .: Ukraine gets another KfW loan of 150 million euros
The Ukraine receives a further loan of 150 million euros from the state development bank KfW. The money should be used to support the citizens and to rebuild the infrastructure, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal after a government meeting. Previously, Ukraine had also received 150 million euros from KfW in early April as the last tranche of a loan from the federal government totaling 500 million euros from 2015.
The new loan has a term of 15 years and repayments would only have to start after 5 years, Schmyhal said. Overall, Ukraine has received financial support of more than five billion dollars (currently around 4.8 billion euros) since the Russian invasion on February 24.
10:03 a.m.: 959 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered at Azov Steel Plant since Monday
Since the first evacuation last Monday, 959 Ukrainian soldiers barricaded at the besieged Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol have surrendered. This was announced by the Russian Ministry of Defense, according to the Interfax agency. Among them are said to be 80 injured. There was initially no confirmation of this number from the Ukrainian side. Volodymyr Zelenskyj urges that the men who have been resisting for many weeks be brought to safety by an exchange of prisoners. But voices are coming from Russia calling for the Ukrainian prisoners to be sentenced.
9.13 a.m .: British intelligence: Russia has significant resource and supply problems
According to British findings, the Russian armed forces have serious problems with supplies and troop reinforcements in their war against Ukraine. According to the Ministry of Defense in London, Russia must deploy many auxiliary troops to break down the Ukrainian resistance, including thousands of fighters from the autonomous republic of Chechnya. “The combat deployment of such diverse personnel demonstrates Russia’s significant resource problems in Ukraine and likely contributes to a patchy command that continues to hamper Russian operations.” Although Russian troops had encircled the strategically important port city of Mariupol for more than a decade, fierce Ukrainian resistance prevented full Russian control. This has led to frustration and high losses for the Russian armed forces, it said, citing intelligence information.
8.51 a.m .: Merz accuses the federal government of deliberately delaying arms deliveries
CDU leader Friedrich Merz has accused the federal government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) of deliberately delaying arms deliveries to Ukraine. “There are obviously delaying strategies in the federal government, at least one delaying tactic,” said Merz on the “RTL Direkt” program. He referred to public complaints from defense contractors that they were not being granted export licenses for tanks. “They don’t play with open cards here,” criticized Merz. “There can be reasons not to say everything, but then the chancellor should also express it.” Its “scramble around the topics” is not appropriate to the matter.
8:09 a.m .: Sweden and Finland apply for NATO membership
Sweden and Finland have officially applied for NATO membership. Ambassadors from the two countries handed over the relevant documents to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the morning at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels.
6:53 a.m.: Lviv under constant rocket fire
In western Ukraine on the border with Poland, the mayor of Lviv (Lemberg), Andriy Sadowyj, has complained about constant shelling with Russian rockets. There are many international organizations in the city that should be unsettled by this, said Sadovyj on Ukrainian television, reports the Unian agency. Russia is not only aiming for the military infrastructure, but also wants to trigger permanent tension through the shelling. “But if you react to the air raid alarm in good time and go into the bunker, then it’s not dangerous.” The Old Town of Lviv is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
People on the outskirts could have seen the rockets and heard very loud explosions, Sadowyj continued. However, there was no damage in Lviv itself. The people would have had to spend practically the whole night on Tuesday in air raid shelters. In the Yavoriv region near Lviv, a piece of railway infrastructure was damaged by rocket debris. The mayor said all of this is happening just a few kilometers from the border with EU country Poland.
4.45 a.m .: USA launch online platform on Russian war crimes
In view of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, the USA has started a conflict observatory. The new Conflict Observatory is intended to ensure “that crimes committed by Russia’s troops are documented and that the perpetrators are held accountable,” said a spokesman for the State Department in Washington. Among other things, the program will collect, analyze and publish information and evidence of “atrocities, human rights violations and damage to civilian infrastructure”. Reports would be posted on the ConflictObservatory.org website in the future.
The observatory is therefore a collaboration between scientists and the private sector. The aim is to support the pursuit of justice and, in the long term, to contribute to the prosecution of those responsible in courts in Ukraine, the USA and elsewhere. The information is also intended to help counter Russia’s disinformation campaigns.
4.30 a.m .: Strack-Zimmermann calls for a weapons aid coordinator
The chairwoman of the defense committee in the Bundestag, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), has reiterated calls for a chief manager for the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. She pleads for a special coordinator in the Chancellery to quickly bring everyone involved from politics, business and the military to one table, said Strack-Zimmermann of the German Press Agency.
So far, the Ukrainian government has placed its inquiries in a wide variety of places. “That also led to unfortunate misunderstandings that we cannot and do not want to be responsible for in this situation,” said Strack-Zimmermann. “All of this is not only annoying for everyone involved and creates uncertainty due to unclear regulations and processes, it also slows down the urgently needed aid to Ukraine,” she said. Approval processes, repairs and the procurement of spare parts and ammunition are time-consuming.
4:01 a.m.: First war crimes trial in Ukraine
The first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since the Russian war of aggression began on February 24 begins today (1:00 p.m. CEST) in Ukraine. The Solomjansky district court in the capital Kyiv is hearing against 21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin. He is accused of shooting dead an unarmed civilian from a stolen car in the northern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28.
Shishimarin faces a life sentence for war crimes and premeditated murder. According to his lawyer, he admitted to killing the 62-year-old. Ukraine accuses the Russian army of having committed numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity since the beginning of the war. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is also investigating alleged international crimes in the Ukraine war.
4:00 a.m.: Independence from Russian gas and oil: EU presents energy plan
The European Commission is today presenting its further plans for the EU’s independence from Russian gas and oil. In addition to a greater focus on renewable energies, an expansion of relationships with other oil suppliers such as the Gulf States is expected. In addition, it could be about Hungary’s demand to provide billions in aid for the construction of a new pipeline and thus become independent of the Druzhba pipeline from Russia. Hungary is currently blocking an agreement among member states to stop imports of Russian oil. The country sees its energy supply as endangered.
2.01 a.m .: Europe’s gas suppliers name a way to pay for Russian gas
Several European gas suppliers are confident that they have found a payment mechanism for Russian gas that is acceptable to both the EU and Moscow. Italian energy group Eni said it would open an account in euros and one in rubles with Gazprombank “in the coming days”. So Eni can pay in euros, the Russian bank then converts it into rubles. Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered gas deliveries to be paid for in rubles. The Europeans see this as a subsequent change in the current treaties and reject it. Companies complying with Russian demands risk being prosecuted for violating EU sanctions.
1.41 a.m .: Selensky calls the conversation with Scholz “quite productive”
After tensions in the relationship between Kyiv and Berlin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj described his phone call with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) as “quite productive”. Among other things, military support for Ukraine was discussed, Zelensky said in his daily video speech on Wednesday night. He informed Scholz about the current military situation and its possible future development, said the President.
Selenskyj chose slightly different words to describe his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. That conversation was “substantial and long,” he said. Among other things, it was about the next round of European sanctions against Russia and Ukraine’s plans for rapid accession to the European Union. According to the Élysée Palace, Macron promised that arms deliveries from France would continue and intensify. He also confirmed that Ukraine’s accession to the EU should be discussed in June.
1.02 a.m .: Reznikov: “Russia is digging in in the south”
According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, Russian forces are digging in in the south and east of his country. “Russia is preparing for a long-term military operation,” he told the European Union (EU) defense ministers and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Accordingly, the Russian troops are currently strengthening their positions in the areas occupied by them in the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions in order to “switch to defensive mode if necessary”. Reznikov reiterated that Moscow wants to create “a land corridor between Russia and Crimea” and occupy “the entire south of Ukraine.” Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The minister called on the western allies to coordinate arms deliveries to Kyiv “in order to liberate our territories as quickly as possible”. Meanwhile, Russia is determined to tie the occupied Cherson region in southern Ukraine to itself. The region around the port city will have a “worthy place in our Russian family,” said Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Chusnullin during a visit to Cherson on Tuesday. The Russian state agency Ria Novosti quoted him as saying that people will live and work together in the future.
12:00 a.m .: Deutsche Bahn helps with grain exports from Ukraine
According to Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing, transports by rail with the help of Deutsche Bahn have started to support grain exports from Ukraine. The goods subsidiary DB Cargo is in the process of enabling a “rail bridge” to enable future transport of large quantities of agricultural products to ports on the North Sea and the Adriatic, said the FDP politician on Tuesday in Berlin. The help has begun, DB Cargo is already driving on behalf of private grain exporters from Ukraine. Railway boss Richard Lutz spoke of two to three trains a day from the Ukraine via Poland and the corresponding terminals to Western Europe. The background is that the export of grain via the seaports of Ukraine has come to a standstill because of the Russian war against the country. This threatens deliveries to North Africa and Asia in particular, and there are fears of problems with the food supply and even famine.
12:00 a.m.: Location of the remaining fighters in the Azov steel plant unclear
After the evacuation of around 260 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov steelworks in Mariupol, the situation of the city’s remaining defenders in the huge industrial complex remains unclear. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj said on Wednesday night that influential international mediators were involved in the efforts to rescue them. The 260 soldiers who left the Azovstal plant on Tuesday night went into Russian captivity. Kyiv hopes to be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war at a later date, but the Russian military initially left such a step open. Moscow released a video purporting to show the Ukrainians being arrested, receiving medical treatment and the evacuation of the injured. A good 50 of the soldiers are said to be seriously wounded.