Ukraine War Update: Finland, Sweden officially apply to NATO; Mariupol fighters held as ‘war criminals’

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Historically nonaligned Sweden and Finland both officially applied to join NATO on Wednesday, a move driven by security concerns over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow has warned that it could retaliate for the move, which represents a significant blow to the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin justified the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, in part, by saying he aimed to prevent the eastward expansion of NATO. Several NATO allies, led by the United States and Britain, have indicated that they are ready to provide security support to Finland and Sweden should Russia attempt to destabilize or provoke them as their memberships are finalized.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said that the military alliance is prepared to move quickly to bring the two Nordic countries into its ranks.

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” Stoltenberg said as he stood alongside envoys from both nations against a backdrop of NATO, Finnish, and Swedish flags.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,“ Stoltenberg said. “All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.”

President Biden is expected to welcome the leaders of both countries to the White House this week. 

Moscow to investigate Mariupol fighters for ‘war crimes’

Ukrainian fighters evacuated from the last bastion of resistance in Mariupol have been taken to a former penal colony in enemy-controlled territory as part of a deal brokered with Moscow, the Associated Press reported.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 694 Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov battalion, including 50 who were seriously wounded, handed themselves over in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 959. It is unclear at this time if any fighters remain at the Azovstal steel factory where the defenders were holed up throughout two months of unrelenting attacks that virtually wiped out the entire city.

Ukrainian officials are attempting to negotiate their release in exchange for Russian prisoners of war, but Moscow claims the men are “war criminals” who must be brought to justice. Russia’s main federal investigative body said it plans to interrogate the troops to “identify the nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians. Russia’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate the Azov regiment as a terrorist organization.

The Russian military is also holding more than 3,000 civilians from Mariupol at another former penal colony near separatist-backed Olenivka. Among the detainees are about 30 volunteers who delivered humanitarian supplies to Mariupol while it was under siege, Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova said.

Russian oil revenue sees sharp increase, despite sanctions

Russia’s oil revenue shot up 50%, despite a boycott from global companies and Western nations following its invasion of Ukraine, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday, according to a Yahoo Finance report. The EU has been working on establishing a crude import ban from Russia but Moscow remained the top market for oil exports last month despite the widespread sanctions.

The European Commission has unveiled a 210 billion euro plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027 that includes speeding up its transition to green energy, Reuters reported.

G7 to address Moscow’s ‘wheat war’ as global food crisis looms

Senior diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and the European Union pledged to continue supplying Ukraine with military and defense assistance for “as long as necessary.” 

G7 leaders, who met Saturday at the Baltic Sea resort of Weissenhous, also vowed to reinforce Russia’s economic and political isolation and to address what Germany’s foreign minister called a “wheat war” being waged by Moscow. This would include tackling a Russian misinformation campaign aimed at blaming the West for food supply issues across the globe.

Combined, Ukraine and Russia make up about 30 percent of global wheat exports, and Russia is the largest exporter of wheat in the world. Half of the fertilizer used in the United States is produced by both Russia and Ukraine, and fertilizer prices have quadrupled since the war began. Moreover, planting season has begun in Ukraine in the midst of war. 

“Have we done enough to mitigate the consequences of this war? It is not our war. It’s a war by the president of Russia, but we have global responsibility,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters, Reuters reported.

“People will be dying in Africa and the Middle East and we are faced with an urgent question: how can people be fed around the world? People are asking themselves what will happen if we don’t have the grain we need that we used to get from Russia and Ukraine,” Baerbock said, adding that the G7 is committed to working out the logistics to get stored vital commodities out of Ukraine before the next harvests.