Moscow said nearly 700 more Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Russian-held Mariupol as it shored up a key gain in the south, while the United States became the latest Western country to reopen its embassy in Kyiv.
Ukraine has ordered its garrison in Mariupol to stand down, but the ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle for decades remains unresolved.
Top commanders of Ukrainian fighters who had made their last stand at the Azovstal steelworks in the port city are still inside the plant, according to the leader of pro-Russian separatists in control of the area, Denis Pushilin, quoted by local news agency DNA on Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials have declined to comment publicly on the fate of the fighters.
“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our service personnel,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik told a news conference. “Any information to the public could endanger that process.”
Ukraine confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters on Tuesday but did not say how many more were inside.
Russia said on Wednesday an additional 694 more fighters had surrendered, bringing the total number to 959. Its defence ministry posted videos of what it said were Ukrainian fighters receiving hospital treatment after surrendering at Azovstal.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in talks, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said, but gave no details.
Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has captured so far and allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in the invasion it began on Feb. 24.
Moscow has focussed on the southeast in recent offensives after pulling away from Kyiv, where, in a further sign of normalisation, the United States said it had resumed operations at its embassy on Wednesday.
“The Ukrainian people … 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,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
A small number of diplomats would return initially to staff the mission but consular operations will not resume immediately, said embassy spokesperson Daniel Langenkamp. The U.S. Senate later approved veteran diplomat Bridget Brink as ambassador to Ukraine, filling a post that has been vacant for three years.
Canada, Britain and others have also recently resumed embassy operations.
Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext for invasion.
Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on Wednesday, a decision made in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion and the very kind of expansion that Putin cited as a reason for attacking Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith called for an expedited accession process that could be “done in a couple of months”, but NATO member Turkey said its approval depended on the return of “terrorists”, namely Kurdish militants and Fethullah Gulen followers.
Finland and Sweden were both militarily non-aligned throughout the Cold War.
Although Russia had threatened retaliation against the plans, Putin said on Monday their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.
Russia could, however, cut off gas supplies to Finland this week, Finland’s state-owned energy provider Gasum said.
The European Commission announced a 210 billion euro ($220 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian oil, gas and coal by 2027.
Meanwhile, Google (GOOGL.O) became the latest big Western company to pull out of Russia, saying its local unit had filed for bankruptcy and was forced to shut operations after its bank accounts were seized. read more
On the battle front, Russian forces pressed on with their main offensive, trying to capture more territory in the eastern Donbas region which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukrainian saboteurs had blown up the tracks ahead of an armoured train carrying Russian troops in the occupied southern city of Melitopol. read more
“The partisans got it, although they did not blow up the armoured train itself,” he said in a video posted on social media, contradicting an earlier statement from Ukraine’s territorial defence force that the train had been blown up.
Arestovych said the incident showed that the partisan movement was actively disrupting Russian forces.
The capture of Mariupol, the main port for the Donbas, has given Moscow full control of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken swathe of territory across Ukraine’s east and south.
The governor of the Luhansk region, part of the Donbas, said there had been a number of attacks there.
“Most of the shelling today was conducted in Severodonetsk and villages nearby… The Russians are still trying to cut the “road of life” through the centre of Luhansk region linking Lysychansk and Bakhmut,” Serhity Gaidai wrote on Telegram.
Dozens of migrants die in truck in Texas
More than 40 migrants were found dead inside a tractor-trailer in Texas State of the United States on Monday, reports said.
Sixteen other people found inside the trailer were taken to hospital for heat stroke and exhaustion, including four minors, Reuters reported citing the fire department of the San Antonio city where the truck was found.
Officials also said three people were arrested following the incident.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the suffocation of the migrants in the truck the “tragedy in Texas” on Twitter and said the local consulate was en route to the scene, though the nationalities of the victims had not been confirmed.
There have been a record number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, which has sparked criticism of the immigration policies of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Temperatures in San Antonio, which is about 250 km from the Mexican border, swelled to a high of 39.4 degrees Celsius on Monday with high humidity.
In July 2017, ten migrants died after being transported in a tractor-trailer that was discovered by San Antonio police in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The driver was sentenced the following year to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.
G-7 leaders set to commit to long haul in backing Ukraine
Leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers are set to commit themselves to the long haul in supporting Ukraine as they meet in the German Alps and confer by video link with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The G-7 leaders will begin Monday’s session of their three-day summit with a focus on Ukraine. Later, they will be joined by the leaders of five democratic emerging economies — India, Indonesia, South Africa, Senegal and Argentina — for a discussion on climate change, energy and other issues, AP reported.
The war in Ukraine was already at the forefront of the G-7 leaders’ minds as they opened their summit at the secluded Schloss Elmau luxury hotel on Sunday — just as Russian missiles hit the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv for the first time in weeks.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO and the G-7 would splinter, but we haven’t and we’re not going to.” Britain’s Boris Johnson warned the leaders not to give in to “fatigue.”
On Monday, they have the opportunity to demonstrate that unity to Zelenskyy and reaffirm their commitment to supporting Kyiv financially and otherwise, AP reported.
Biden hopes to use his trip to Europe to proclaim the unity of the coalition pressing to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine as much as he is urging allies to do even more — seeking to counter doubts about its endurance as the war grinds into its fifth month.
The summit’s host, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said last week that he wants to discuss the outlines of a “Marshall plan for Ukraine” with his G-7 counterparts, referring to the U.S.-sponsored plan that helped revive European economies after World War II.
With the war still in progress and destruction mounting by the day, it’s unlikely to be a detailed plan at this stage. Scholz has said that “rebuilding Ukraine will be a task for generations.”
The G-7 already is committed to help finance Ukraine’s immediate needs. Finance ministers from the group last month agreed to provide $19.8 billion in economic aid to help Kyiv keep basic services functioning and prevent tight finances from hindering its defense against Russian forces, AP reported.
G7 nations announce Russia gold ban as summit starts under shadow of war
Members of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Sunday announced a ban on imports of Russian gold as the G7 summit in the Bavarian Alps kicked off under the shadow of the war in Ukraine and consequences ranging from energy shortages to a food crisis.
The move by Britain, the United States, Japan and Canada is part of efforts to tighten the sanctions squeeze on Moscow and cut off its means of financing the invasion of Ukraine more than four months into a conflict Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a special military operation, Reuters reported.
“The measures we have announced today will directly hit Russian oligarchs and strike at the heart of Putin’s war machine,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“We need to starve the Putin regime of its funding. The UK and our allies are doing just that.”
A senior U.S. administration representative said the G7 would make an official announcement on the gold import ban on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
“This is a key export, a key source of revenue for Russia in terms of their ability to transact with the global financial system,” the U.S. official said.
Russian gold exports were worth $15.45 billion last year and wealthy Russians have been buying bullion to reduce the financial impact of Western sanctions, the British government said.
As well as the gold import ban, G7 leaders were also having “really constructive” talks on a possible price cap on Russian oil imports, a German government source said.
The three-day summit takes place against an even darker backdrop than last year, when British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Japanese and U.S. leaders met for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soaring global energy and food prices are hitting economic growth in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, with the United Nations warning of an “unprecedented global hunger crisis”.
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