Fall of Mariupol imminent; Russian soldier pleads guilty

A Russian sergeant pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial to shooting and killing an unarmed civilian in the northeast region of Sumy four days after the invasion began.

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, could be sentenced to life in prison for shooting the 62-year-old Ukrainian. Shishimarin was among a group of Russian soldiers who fled from Ukrainian forces on February 28, prosecutors say. The Russians reportedly fired on a private car and seized the vehicle, then drove to Chupakhivka, a village about 200 miles east of kyiv.

Along the way, prosecutors say Russian soldiers saw a man walking down the sidewalk and talking on the phone. Shyshimarin was ordered to kill the man so he could not report them to Ukrainian military authorities. Who gave the order has not been revealed.

“I was ordered to shoot,” Shyshimarin told investigators on video. “I fired a (shot) at him. He falls. And we kept going.”

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was preparing war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses including bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, raping and looting.

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Latest developments:

►The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment to replace equipment sent to Ukraine. The EU executive is offering $526 million over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks.

►The Kremlin may have accepted a conditional surrender from defenders of the Azovstal steel plant to hasten Russia’s declaration of full control of Mariupol, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment. Russia could also seek to deflect criticism at home for the overall slowness of the invasion, the institute said.

►The Russian parliament was due to consider a resolution banning the exchange of fighters from the Azov regiment but did not address the issue on Wednesday.

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces fired missiles at the western Lviv region and the Sumy and Chernihiv regions to the northeast. He said Ukraine’s border regions were the scene of Russian “sabotage activities”.

EU plan would create energy independence from Russia by 2030

The European Union on Wednesday unveiled a $316 billion plan to become independent of Russian energy by 2030. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the plan will also save energy and phasing out fossil fuels. The plan includes easing approval procedures for renewable energy projects and requiring solar panels on some rooftops, among other things.

In the short term, conventional coal and nuclear power generation would be increased in the EU to relieve demand for Russian fuel. EU heads of government have agreed to set up a platform for the joint purchase of gas, liquefied natural gas and hydrogen.

“We now need to reduce our dependence on Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible,” von der Leyen said.

Amnesty International: Red Cross should have access to Ukrainian fighters

Ukrainian soldiers deployed in Mariupol were ‘dehumanised’ by Russian media and portrayed as ‘neo-Nazis’ throughout the war, raising concerns about their fate as prisoners of war, Amnesty says International Wednesday. About 1,000 have surrendered since Monday, according to both sides.

The advocacy group said it has documented summary killings of captives by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, as well as extrajudicial executions of Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces in recent weeks.

“The soldiers who surrendered today should not suffer the same fate,” Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “Prisoners of war must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment and must have immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

Biden applauds NATO membership applications from Finland and Sweden

President Joe Biden has expressed strong support for Finland’s and Sweden’s “historic” NATO membership bids. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are both due to travel to Washington on Thursday, the White House said.

“NATO guarantees the security of one billion people in Europe and North America, united by our shared commitment to democratic principles and our vision of peace and prosperity in Europe and around the world,” said Biden in a statement.

He added that NATO’s “all for one and one for all” security commitment was “ironclad”.

While the nominations are being considered, the United States will work with both countries “to remain vigilant against any threats to our common security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression.”

Turkey reveals its demands to accept Sweden and Finland into NATO

A pro-government Turkish newspaper lists 10 demands that were allegedly made to Sweden and Finland before the Turkish government approved their NATO membership. The list published by the Sabah newspaper on Wednesday calls on both countries to end all financial support for groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Syrian Kurdish fighters. These countries are also being asked to end contact with members of the Syrian Kurdish group. Sabah said Turkey further wants the two countries to “speed up” extradition proceedings for suspects wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges.

Russia has said that its military and political reactions to Sweden’s decision will depend “on the deployment on Swedish territory of foreign military bases and offensive weapon systems”.

The Azovstal ironworks will be demolished; The fall of Mariupol is imminent

The iconic steel plant that was the last stand in Ukraine’s ill-fated struggle to prevent Russian troops from capturing the city will be demolished, a separatist leader said on Tuesday.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, told the Donetsk News Agency that the Azovstal plant – four square miles of bunkers, tunnels and industrial space – will be transformed into park or technology business park.

Pushilin said around 60% of all buildings in Mariupol were destroyed. Ruined buildings will be demolished and replaced, he said, and the city will be rebuilt as a resort with Russian help.

The complete fall of Mariupol to the Russians appeared imminent on Wednesday morning. The Russian Defense Ministry said 959 resistance troops had surrendered since Monday. Pushilin, however, said the main commanders of the plan had yet to emerge.

“No matter what emotions some people might feel, and I know opinions differ, if the enemy lays down their arms, their further fate is decided by a court,” Pushilin said during his visit to Mariupol. “If it’s a (Nazi) criminal, it’s a court.”

Finland and Sweden formally apply for NATO membership

Finland and Sweden have formally applied to join NATO, a move prompted by security concerns related to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries and all must agree for membership to be approved. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining. If these objections can be resolved, fast-track membership could be granted within a few months.

“I warmly welcome Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership. You are our closest partners,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday after receiving letters of application from the ambassadors of the two Nordic countries.

US pushes for regular contact with detained WNBA star Brittney Griner

The United States has yet to establish regular contact with Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia for nearly three months.

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, has been detained — wrongfully, according to the Biden administration — in Russia since February after marijuana was allegedly found in her luggage at a Moscow airport.

The 31-year-old faces drug trafficking charges which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Last week, his pretrial detention in Russia was extended for another month – at which time a US consular official was able to meet Griner.

– Celina Tebor

Contribute: The Associated Press

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