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A total of 1,730 militants blocked at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since May 16, including 80 wounded, the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that all those in need of inpatient treatment are hospitalized in Donetsk.

Russian and Ukrainian officials said that negotiations on a solution to the current crisis have been suspended as the process is mired in stalemate.

Putin says Russia would respond to expansion of NATO military infrastructure into Finland, Sweden.

Russia sees the prospect of Ukraine's membership of the European Union as the equivalent of its joining NATO.

07:39 2022-05-21
US agrees $40b weapon, aid package for Ukraine
By REN QI in Moscow
A man looks through cars destroyed during the conflict in Ukraine, in Irpin, near Kyiv, on May 19, 2022. [Photo/Reuters]

US President Joe Biden and Congress on Thursday deepened US involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with the Senate voting to finalize more than $40 billion in new military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

Biden and top lawmakers also reiterated their support for what could be the most significant expansion of NATO in nearly two decades.

The package includes $6 billion for Ukraine to enhance its armored vehicle inventory and air defense system, and the White House said Biden would authorize the weapons and aid package during his trip to Asia.

At the White House on Thursday, he offered "full, total, complete backing" to Finland and Sweden in their bids to join NATO, giving the leaders of the Nordic neighbors a red-carpet welcome at the White House.

Finland and Sweden had historically kept a distance from the alliance to avoid angering Russia, but changed course-despite warnings from the Kremlin-after the latter launched the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

But all 30 existing NATO members need to agree on expanding the alliance, and Turkey has voiced misgivings about the new applicants, accusing them of what it describes as leniency toward armed Kurdish groups.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was "addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that remark, saying,"I'm very confident that as this process moves forward, there will be a strong consensus for bringing both countries under the alliance."

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawicki said the country is prepared to build military bases to permanently station NATO forces.

"Russia should know that we will not cede any inch of NATO's territory," the prime minister added.

On the ground, after announcing its operation had entered its second phase, Russia has focused its attacks on the south and east of Ukraine.

Moscow's forces have been trying to take complete control of the Donbas.

In Severodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk Oblast of Ukraine, 12 people were killed and another 40 wounded amid an exchange of fire on Thursday, the regional governor said.

In southern Ukraine, 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered this week at the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, according to Russian authorities on Thursday.

09:40 2022-05-20
Britain to provide 1.3 bln pounds in military aid for Ukraine

KYIV - The British government will provide 1.3 billion pounds in military aid for Ukraine, the Ukrainian government-run Ukrinform news agency reported Thursday, citing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

During a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Johnson said that Britain would supply long-range artillery, shore-to-ship missiles and unmanned drones to Ukraine as a part of its military assistance.

Zelensky and Johnson also discussed ways to address the issue of the blockade of Ukraine's seaports and options to open up critical sea and land supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks.

Separately, Zelensky tweeted that he had informed Johnson about the course of hostilities in Ukraine and the operation to rescue the Ukrainian military from Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant.

09:34 2022-05-20
Russia expels more Western embassy staff
By REN QI in Moscow
A Russian soldier stands guard at the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on Wednesday. OLGA MALTSEVA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Biden to host Nordic leaders as Turkey opposes NATO bid of Sweden, Finland

Russia has announced plans to expel a total of 90 embassy staff from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal in response to similar moves by those countries, highlighting the damage to relations with some European Union members since it launched a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb 24.

This came as US President Joe Biden was scheduled to host the leaders of Finland and Sweden on Thursday to discuss their NATO membership bids, while Ukraine said no military option was left to rescue soldiers still inside a steel plant besieged by Russian forces.

On Wednesday, he said in a statement: "I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in NATO."

Biden will meet President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington on Thursday for consultations.

Finland and Sweden were both militarily nonaligned throughout the Cold War. Their bids face stiff resistance from NATO member Turkey, which accuses the two nations of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a video posted on his Twitter account on Thursday that Turkey had told allies that it will reject Sweden and Finland's membership to NATO.

Each of NATO's 30 countries has an effective veto over new members.

Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic wants his country to follow Turkey's example by trying to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, The Associated Press reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that it was expelling five employees of Portugal's embassy in Moscow in a tit-for-tat move following the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Portugal, one day after it kicked out 34 diplomatic staff from France, 27 from Spain and 24 from Italy.

The countries are among European nations that have collectively thrown out more than 300 Russians in the past three months. In many cases, they accused Russian diplomats of spying, which Moscow has denied.

Russia's response also included sending home 45 Polish staff and 40 Germans last month. It has also announced tit-for-tat moves against Finland, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Japan.

1,700 surrender in Mariupol

On the ground, in the port city of Mariupol, a new batch of 771 Ukrainian soldiers blocked at the Azovstal steel plant had surrendered over the past 24 hours, Russia said on Thursday.

"A total of 1,730 militants have surrendered since May 16, including 80 wounded," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that all those in need of inpatient treatment are hospitalized in Donetsk.

Mariupol, a key Azov Sea port city, has seen one of the worst bouts of bloody violence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Azovstal steel plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol. Military analysts said Mariupol's capture would hold more symbolic importance than anything else, since the city is already effectively under Moscow's control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting have already left, The Associated Press commented.

While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.

Russia's main federal investigative body said it intends to interrogate the surrendering troops to "identify the nationalists" and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.

Also, Russia's top prosecutor asked the country's Supreme Court to designate Ukraine's Azov Regiment-among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison-as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the far right, The Associated Press reported.

Agencies and Xinhua contributed to this story.

09:28 2022-05-20
Scholz says no shortcuts to Ukraine's EU membership bid
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a session of Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, May 19, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

BERLIN - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday that there would be no shortcuts to Ukraine's bid to join the European Union (EU).

The European Commission is expected to complete its initial assessment of Ukraine's EU membership application by the end of June, Scholz said in his address to the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament. Not allowing shortcuts on the country's road to the EU, however, is an "imperative of fairness" towards the other countries of the Western Balkans, Scholz said.

Accession to the EU can take several years. The Western Balkan countries of Montenegro, Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia have been recognized candidate countries for between eight and 17 years.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron also dampened Ukraine's hopes for a quick EU accession. "We all know perfectly well that the process which would allow them to join would in reality take several years, and most likely several decades," he said.

Ahead of the extraordinary meeting of EU leaders at the end of May, Scholz spoke in favor of a European solidarity fund for the reconstruction of Ukraine. "It is already clear, the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure, the revival of the Ukrainian economy, all this will cost billions," he said.

The solidarity fund would be "fed by contributions from the EU and our international partners", he said, stressing that the EU had to start preparations now to support Ukraine on "its European path".

Scholz stressed that solidarity in Europe was also required to cope with energy price increases. "At the European level, the main concern is to ensure that there are no bottlenecks in energy supply in individual member states."

To avoid energy shortages, Germany must become independent from fossil energy and expand the trans-European energy networks, Scholz said, praising the progress that was made together with Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands.

09:21 2022-05-20
UN chief urges reintegrating agricultural production of Russia, Ukraine into world markets
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a meeting of the UN Security Council on the situation in Ukraine at the UN headquarters in New York May 5, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for efforts to reintegrate the agricultural production of both Russia and Ukraine into world markets.

"Any meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine's agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets - despite the war," the UN chief told a Security Council meeting on conflict and food security.

"We are working to find a package deal that will enable Ukraine to export food, not only by train but through the Black Sea, and will bring Russian food and fertilizer production to world markets, without restrictions," said the top UN official.

Guterres said that this will require "the goodwill of all countries concerned".

To meet urgent food security and nutrition needs in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, the secretary-general has announced to release 30 million US dollars from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

"This brings to almost 95 million dollars the funding channeled through CERF to the Sahel since the start of the year," he said.

Investing in political solutions to end conflicts, prevent new ones, and build sustainable peace is crucial in addressing food insecurity, said the secretary-general.

Furthermore, he called for attention to the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy, and financing, which "require far greater coordination and leadership".

18:19 2022-05-19
Russia says 771 more Ukrainian soldiers surrender at Azovstal steel plant

MOSCOW - Russia said Thursday that a new batch of 771 Ukrainian soldiers blocked at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered over the past 24 hours.

"A total of 1,730 militants have surrendered since May 16, including 80 wounded," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that all those in need of inpatient treatment are hospitalized in Donetsk.

The soldiers began to surrender on Monday following an agreement reached between Moscow and Kyiv on the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

Mariupol, a key Azov Sea port city, has seen one of the worst bouts of bloody violence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Azovstal plant, which covers an area of about 11 square km, is the holdout of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

09:31 2022-05-19
Russia says 694 Ukrainian soldiers surrender at Azovstal steel plant
Ukrainian soldiers leave Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine, in this still image taken from a video released May 18, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

MOSCOW - Russia said Wednesday that 694 Ukrainian soldiers blocked at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol have surrendered over the past 24 hours, including 29 wounded.

"A total of 959 militants have surrendered since May 16, including 80 wounded," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that 51 of them are in need of medical assistance and have been admitted to a hospital in Donetsk's Novoazovsk for treatment.

The soldiers began to surrender on Monday following an agreement reached between Moscow and Kyiv on the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

Mariupol, a key Azov Sea port city, has seen one of the worst bouts of bloody violence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Azovstal plant, which covers an area of about 11 square km, is the holdout of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

09:25 2022-05-19
Global economic growth dragged down by spillover from Ukraine crisis
People shop at a grocery store on May 12, 2022 in New York City. [Photo/Agencies]

UNITED NATIONS - The global economy is predicted to expand by only 3.1 percent this year, down from the 4.0 percent projected in January, largely due to Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, according to UN's latest World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report, launched on Wednesday.

As the mid-year forecast shows, the conflict has disrupted the fragile economic recovery from the pandemic, resulting in a humanitarian crisis in Europe, rising food and commodity prices, and exacerbating inflationary pressures.

With sharp increases in food and energy prices, global inflation is projected to reach 6.7 percent this year, more than double the average of 2.9 percent during the period from 2010 to 2020.

"The war in Ukraine - in all its dimensions - is setting in motion a crisis that is also devastating global energy markets, disrupting financial systems and exacerbating extreme vulnerabilities for the developing world," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"We need quick and decisive action to ensure a steady flow of food and energy in open markets, by lifting export restrictions, allocating surpluses and reserves to those who need them, and addressing food price increases to calm market volatility," he added.

In addition to the world's largest economies - the United States, China, and the European Union, the majority of other developed and developing economies have seen their growth prospects downgraded.

The outlook for energy and food prices is particularly bleak for developing economies that import commodities, and food insecurity is on the rise, especially in Africa.

The WESP report, published by UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), examines how the spillover effects of the conflict in Ukraine are impacting different regions.

Besides the tragic deaths and the unfolding humanitarian crisis, Russia's special military operation has also had a severe economic impact on both countries. There are currently more than 6 million refugees alone.

Neighboring economies in Central Asia and Europe, including the European Union, are also affected.

The rise in energy prices has been a shock to the EU, which imported nearly 57.5 percent of its total energy consumption in 2020. The economy is forecasted to grow by only 2.7 percent instead of the 3.9 percent predicted in January.

Nearly a quarter of Europe's energy consumption in 2020 came from oil and natural gas imported from Russia, and a sudden halt in flows is likely to lead to increased energy prices and inflationary pressures.

EU member states from Eastern Europe and the Baltic region are severely impacted as they are already experiencing inflation rates well above the EU average, the report said.

The world's developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) are experiencing high inflation, which is reducing household real income.

It is especially true in developing countries, where poverty is more prevalent, wage growth is constrained, and fiscal support to mitigate the impact of higher oil and food prices is limited.

The rising cost of food and energy is also having an adverse effect on the rest of the economy, which presents a challenge for an inclusive post-pandemic recovery, as low-income households are disproportionately affected.

Furthermore, "monetary tightening" by the US Federal Reserve, the country's central banking authority, will increase borrowing costs and worsen financing gaps in developing nations, including LDCs.

"The developing countries will need to brace for the impact of the aggressive monetary tightening by the Fed and put in place appropriate macroprudential measures to stem sudden outflows and stimulate productive investments," said Hamid Rashid, DESA's chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch, and the lead author of the report.

Moreover, the global carbon dioxide emissions are at a record high, and rising energy prices are also threatening global efforts to address climate change. As countries are looking to expand energy supplies amid high oil and gas prices, the report predicts that fossil fuel production is likely to increase in the short term.

Nickel and other metal prices may adversely affect the production of electric vehicles while rising food prices may limit the use of biofuels.

"However, countries can also address their energy and food security concerns - brought to the fore due to the crisis - by accelerating the adoption of renewables and increasing efficiencies, thus strengthening the fight against climate change," said Shantanu Mukherjee, DESA's director of economic policy and analysis.

07:16 2022-05-19
Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO
By REN QI in Moscow
Ukrainian servicemen who surrendered are taken away on May 17, 2022, after evacuating the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. [Photo/Agencies]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that Finland and Sweden have officially applied for membership in the alliance, overhauling their decadeslong foreign policy.

"I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO," Stoltenberg told reporters after receiving application letters from the two countries' ambassadors. He described the nations as "our closest partners".

The application must now be considered by NATO's 30 member countries, a process that is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two countries could become NATO members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly, the Associated Press reported.

Moscow has threatened to react with unspecified "military-technical measures" should the Nordic states make what it called the "grave mistake" of joining NATO. The Kremlin warned that "the general level of military tensions will increase" in Europe if the alliance does expand to Russia's doorstep.

Russia will keep an eye on how NATO uses Finland's and Sweden's territory and "make its conclusions", said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have for years participated in NATO's military exercises," Lavrov said. "NATO has taken their territories into account in planning its eastward movement. In this context, it apparently makes no difference anymore."

He said that Moscow saw no reason for Finland and Sweden to be worried about their security. "Incidentally, the Finnish president and the Finnish ambassadors everywhere have been saying that they see no threats from Russia," Lavrov said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said that his country would retain its neutral status, even though European Union allies Sweden and Finland had overhauled their decadeslong foreign policy to apply for NATO membership.

"The situation for us looks a little different," he told German radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday, saying there was "overwhelming" public support for neutrality in Austria.

Schallenberg said that the country, which gets 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia, would continue to provide humanitarian support to Ukraine rather than lethal weapons.

Meanwhile, Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered this week at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol.

"Over the past 24 hours, 694 militants surrendered, including 29 wounded," the ministry said in its daily briefing on the conflict. "In total, since May 16, 959 militants surrendered, including 80 wounded."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that two employees of Finland's embassy in Russia will have to leave the country in response to a similar move by Helsinki.

While visiting the Russian-held city of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said that funds had already been allocated to a project to rebuild roads, bridges and buildings.

Russian troops gained control of Kherson in late April. The port city now uses Russian rubles rather than Ukrainian hryvnias, and Russian forces have installed a pro-Moscow "military-civilian administration".

Khusnullin said that rebuilding destroyed parts of the city would be Russia's first priority, but that Moscow was also specifically interested in supporting Kherson's agriculture sector.

Agencies contributed to this story.

10:13 2022-05-18
Ukraine not to exchange territories for peace with Russia: negotiator

KYIV - Ukraine will not exchange its territories for a peace deal with Russia, the government-run Ukrinform news agency reported on Tuesday, citing Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the peace talks with Russia.

"It is ideologically unacceptable for us to give something to the Russian Federation and pretend that it was some kind of easy war," Podolyak said.

He noted that many Ukrainian civilians were either killed or assaulted in the conflict, making it impossible for Ukraine to make concessions to Russia.

Ukraine will not agree on a ceasefire with Russia without troop withdrawal as Russia will control part of Ukrainian territory, Podolyak said.

He also ruled out the signing of a deal with Russia similar to the Minsk peace agreements, saying it would only lead to a frozen conflict, but not sustainable peace.

Earlier in the day, Podolyak said that the negotiation process within the delegations between Ukraine and Russia has been suspended. At the same time, he voiced the belief that peace talks will resume.

Ukraine and Russia held the latest round of their face-to-face peace talks in Istanbul of Turkey on March 29.

The Minsk agreements, reached in September 2014 and February 2015 respectively, outlined the steps needed to end the conflict in Ukraine's eastern region of Donbass that started in April 2014.

10:10 2022-05-18
Ukrainian president holds phone talks with German, French leaders
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. [Photo/Agencies]

KYIV - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday held separate phone talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

In his conversation with Scholz, Zelensky discussed the situation on the frontline, prospects for peace and further sanctions on Russia over the conflict with Ukraine, the Ukrainian president tweeted.

In the talks with Macron, Zelensky informed the French leader about the course of hostilities in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the operation to rescue the military from Azovstal and the vision of the prospects of the negotiation process with Russia.

Zelensky and Macron also discussed defense support for Ukraine, preparation of the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, and possible ways to export Ukrainian agricultural products.

They also touched upon the issue of fuel supplies to Ukraine, and Ukraine's application for the candidate status of a EU membership.

09:50 2022-05-18
Ukraine says evacuation from Azovstal only way to save troops
A view shows a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works in Mariupol, Ukraine May 15, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

KYIV - The evacuation of Ukrainian troops from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol was the only possible formula for their rescue, Ukraine's government-run Ukrinform news agency reported Tuesday, citing Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.

"Unfortunately, military unblocking is impossible in this situation. There can be no other formula of salvation than the one currently in use. It was the only way out," Malyar said.

Ukrainian military forces have fully fulfilled their combat mission in Mariupol, Malyar said.

She added that the rescue operation from Azovstal will continue until Ukrainian soldiers return home from the uncontrolled territory.

Malyar said that 53 seriously wounded soldiers were taken to a healthcare facility in Novoazovsk town for medical treatment, while 211 other troops were taken to Olenivka town through the humanitarian corridor.

Kyiv expects that the Ukrainian soldiers will be exchanged for the captured Russians.

Mariupol, a key Azov Sea port city in eastern Ukraine, saw one of the worst bouts of violence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Azovstal plant, which covers about 11 square km, is the holdout of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

09:27 2022-05-18
Sweden, Finland to submit NATO applications Wednesday
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (R) and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto attend a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 17, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

STOCKHOLM - Sweden and Finland will jointly submit their applications for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership on Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Tuesday.

NATO membership will strengthen security in Sweden as well as in the Baltic Sea region, she said at a press conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Submitting joint applications with Finland "means that we can contribute to security in northern Europe", Andersson added.

Security in the two countries is closely linked, she said, and close cooperation has been crucial. "Our joint NATO application is a signal that we are united for the future."

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signed the country's NATO membership application on Tuesday morning.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow would respond if NATO were to deploy military infrastructure on the territories of Finland or Sweden.

Niinisto is visiting Sweden from Tuesday to Wednesday. Andersson and Niinisto are then scheduled to meet with US President Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday, according to the Swedish government.

09:11 2022-05-18
Russia, Ukraine say their peace talks on hold
Photo taken on May 3, 2022 shows a damaged building in the port city of Mariupol. [Photo/Xinhua]

MOSCOW/KYIV - Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that negotiations on a solution to the current crisis have been suspended as the process is mired in stalemate.

"The talks are not going on. Ukraine has actually withdrawn from the negotiation process," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko told reporters.

Russia has received no response from Ukraine to its draft treaty, he added.

"Today the negotiation process was suspended. It was suspended because there are no significant changes or upheavals after the Istanbul communique," Mykhailo Podolyak, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying.

Nevertheless, he voiced the belief that the peace talks will be resumed, emphasizing that "every war ends at the negotiating table".

Ukrainian and Russian negotiators held the latest round of face-to-face peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey on March 29.

17:16 2022-05-17
Over 260 Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from Mariupol's Azovstal
A view shows a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 15, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

KYIV - More than 260 Ukrainian soldiers have been evacuated from the Azovstal plant in the embattled city of Mariupol, the government-run news agency Ukrinform reported Tuesday, citing Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.

Malyar said that 53 seriously wounded soldiers were evacuated from Azovstal to a healthcare facility in Novoazovsk for medical treatment, while 211 other troops were taken to the Olenivka through the humanitarian corridor.

Later, the Ukrainian soldiers will be exchanged for the captured Russians, Malyar said.

The operation to evacuate the Ukrainian military from the Azovstal steel plant is continuing, the press service of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Facebook.

Mariupol, a key Azov Sea port city in eastern Ukraine, saw one of the worst bouts of violence in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Azovstal plant, which covers an area of about 11 square km, is the holdout of the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol.

09:57 2022-05-17
EU fails to support new sanctions for Russian oil
By JONATHAN POWELL in London
Models of oil barrels are seen in front of the displayed sign "stop", EU and Russia flag colors in this illustration taken March 8, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

The European Union has been unable to agree on further sanctions against Russia as Hungary continues to oppose a proposed oil embargo in response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Brussels that sanctions were being obstructed by just one of the bloc's 27 members.

"The whole union is being held hostage by one member state ... we have to agree, we cannot be held hostage," Landsbergis said as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts on Monday.

Reuters cited EU diplomats as saying the country he was referring to is Hungary, which continues to oppose the oil embargo, despite being offered an extension on phasing out Russian crude until the end of 2024.

Member states are discussing a proposal by the European Commission for a sixth package of sanctions, including a ban on Russia oil. The proposed sanctions require unanimous support from the EU member states.

Hungary and other member states, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have expressed concerns, reported Euronews, which noted that the main point of contention is the ambitious timeline for an EU-wide ban.

In a social media post last week, Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban needed "hundreds of millions of dollars" for Hungarian refineries, a capacity increase for a Croatian pipeline and compensation for the Hungarian economy.

An oil embargo on Russia has already been implemented by the United States and the United Kingdom.

Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told reporters that he expects the EU sanctions will be approved in the coming days.

He said: "It is clear that there still is a certain need for discussion but I believe we should aim to have these discussions where they belong, at the council, in order not give an image of disaccord in public. Russia is watching us."

Other EU diplomats quoted by Reuters said an agreement on a phased ban on Russian oil would more likely be reached at a May 30-31 summit. It said the phase-out would probably be extended over six months, with a longer transition period for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said last week that Russian crude oil should be prohibited within six months and refined products by the end of the year. She said it would be a complete import ban on all Russian oil, seaborne and pipeline, crude and refined.

"Let us be clear: it will not be easy," Von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

"Some member states are strongly dependent on Russian oil. But we simply have to work on it.

"We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets," she said.

09:38 2022-05-17
Conflict a wake-up call for energy security
By Han Phoumin
A model of 3D printed oil barrels is seen in front of displayed stock graph going down in this illustration taken, December 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Even before the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic had brought the world economy into recession, with global oil demand declining about 8 million barrels per day in 2020 and 2021.

OPEC+-a group of nations allied with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-agreed to cut output by 10 million barrels per day from May 2020 to April 2022. This led crude prices to rise to around $75 per barrel in July last year, which prompted the oil producer group to raise output again at the end of last year.

Since Russia launched its "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb 24, the fear of rising oil prices has escalated globally, following sanctions by the United States and its allies.

Russia accounts for 10 percent of global oil supplies. Western-led sanctions removed this supply from the market, putting pressure on the oil supply-demand balance. The price of crude oil soared from $95.42 per barrel to $127.98 on March 8 before dropping back down to $95.64 on March 16 and jumping back to $111.70 on April 14.

The price is likely to remain elevated at over $100 per barrel throughout this year. As a result, gas prices-which are indexed to the global oil price-have also experienced wild growth.

In addition to the immediate impact on energy costs, the shortage has implications for global energy security. High energy costs could distract efforts toward long-term decarbonization, with the short-term agenda dominated by domestic energy security concerns for countries dependent on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

To stabilize the supply of oil and gas, the United States has led efforts to increase access to OPEC oil, explored a deal with Venezuela and announced the release of 180 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

But energy costs are still high, which affects the phasing out of coal, as coal prices remain very competitive compared with natural gas. This is especially the case for hard-to-abate industrial sectors in East Asia and ASEAN countries, where coal is known to provide energy security, affordability and reliability.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a wake-up call-not only for Europe, but for all countries needing secure energy sources.

Sky-high energy costs have led countries to realize that they can no longer simply depend on imported fossil fuels, which may drive a shift away from fossil fuels altogether. For example, the International Energy Agency issued 10 measures to reduce the European Union's reliance on Russian natural gas imports, including jump-starting renewable wind and solar projects and maximizing energy generation from existing low-emissions sources such as bioenergy and nuclear power.

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and in this sense the Russia-Ukraine conflict may lead to the fast-tracking of renewable energy, driving down costs in the next few years. According to Steve Cohen, a writer at State of the Planet, the news site of the Columbia Climate School, breaking dependence on fossil fuels is the only way to secure energy independence, since "no sovereign state owns the sun".

But fears of supply disruption and energy insecurity could also push some Asian countries to remain coal dependent, despite their commitments at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, held late last year in Glasgow, Scotland.

High oil prices could be an incentive to increase exports of traditional fossil fuels, leading to oil rigs being reopened and investment being funneled into fossil fuels. These temporary reopenings would likely result in rigs remaining open for years until oilfields are fully depleted, potentially prolonging the phasing-out of fossil fuels.

There is good reason to be concerned that countries may put climate change mitigation on the back burner while they focus on energy security by securing supplies of fossil fuels. If this is the case, the time frame for phasing out the use of fossil fuels under the Paris Agreement on climate change and the goal of limiting global warming to 2 C will be affected.

Oil market concerns could last longer if the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues and there is a lack of immediate alternatives to oil and natural gas. Any new investment in energy projects could take at least a year in the case of solar and wind, and potentially much longer for bioenergy or nuclear.

While there have been no signs of countries backing off from climate change commitments, authorities still need to be cautious in designing policies related to energy investments.

Countries should redesign energy policy to shift away from fossil fuel dependency over the long-term, beginning as soon as possible with large-scale investment in solar, wind and other clean energy sources.

For many developing countries, the path may be slow, but it needs to be steady with actionable strategies to achieve decarbonization and, ultimately, carbon neutrality.

The author is a senior energy economist at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

09:05 2022-05-17
Ukrainian, EU officials discuss Ukraine's European integration aspirations
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. [Photo/Agencies]

KYIV - Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and European Union (EU) Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi on Monday discussed Ukraine's European integration aspirations, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

At their talks in Brussels, Kuleba and Varhelyi discussed the prospect of granting Ukraine the EU candidate status, the ministry said in a statement.

"It is time to legally fix Ukraine on its path to the EU and make Europe stronger, safer and more prosperous," Kuleba said in the statement.

On Feb 28, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an official appeal to the EU asking for the accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave the EU membership questionnaire to Zelensky during her visit to Kiev in April. The first part of the document was submitted to the EU on April 18, while the second was on May 9.

The EU is set to consider Ukraine's candidate status next month, news reports said.

07:59 2022-05-17
Moscow, Kyiv welcomed at G20 summit
By PRIME SARMIENTO and YANG HAN in Hong Kong

Neutrality, non-alignment principle guides Indonesia's policy, experts say

Efforts by Indonesia to include Russia and Ukraine in November's Group of 20 summit, despite pressure from Western nations to exclude Russia, reflect the country's stated commitment to neutrality and non-alignment, experts say.

Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president and current chair of the G20, a bloc comprising 20 of the world's major developed and developing economies, has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the summit, to be held on the island of Bali.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have urged Widodo to bar Putin from attending the summit in light of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, G20 member countries including Argentina, Brazil and China have opposed this call.

Widodo said in a statement last month that "Indonesia wants to unite the G20, not let there be fractures". He said peace and stability were key to the recovery and development of the world economy.

The Indonesian leader has also invited Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to the summit. Ukraine is not a G20 member, but as host, Indonesia can invite guests to attend.

By welcoming both Russia and Ukraine to the summit, Indonesia is "making a bold gamble", Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, said in an interview. "Inviting one without the other is unacceptable."

Thitinan said that by inviting Putin and Zelensky, Indonesia could "take the high ground and (showcase) … a platform for both sides to be at the same table", even though the G20 is a platform to discuss the economy and development.

While one cannot say what the situation will be like in November concerning the Russia-Ukraine conflict, "the Indonesian move seizes the initiative", he said.

Thitinan said that there was an "outside chance" that Indonesia could serve as a mediator, noting that "this would be the ideal outcome for Indonesia, holding the G20 successfully with a global broker role" in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Ian Wilson, senior lecturer in politics at Australia's Murdoch University, has a less sanguine view. He said that Indonesia's invitation to Ukraine could serve as a "symbolic overture", adding that Indonesia's impartiality and neutral stance reflect the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' principle of non-interference.

Indonesia's foreign policy is anchored by the principle of bebas dan aktif, an Indonesian phrase that translates to "independent and active", experts say. The nation is independent and will not side with any world power. At the same time, Indonesia is not a passive state, and it aims to actively contribute to the settlement of pressing global issues.

'Earning global trust'

For example, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that holding the G20's rotating presidency will help Indonesia "earn credibility or global trust in leading the global recovery efforts (following the pandemic). Credibility is invaluable capital in diplomacy and foreign policy".

Indonesia was among the ASEAN member countries that voted in favor of the UN General Assembly's resolution demanding Russia to "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw "its military forces from Ukraine. However, it rejected the Western countries' move to impose unilateral sanctions against Russia.

Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer in international relations at Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani in Bandung, said that it is unlikely that Indonesia will succumb to any pressure to disinvite Putin from the G20 summit.

Yohanes said Indonesia needs to protect its relationship with Russia, as Moscow is a key source of investment and military weapons.

He said there is also domestic pressure on Widodo to reject the Western countries' demand to exclude Putin from the G20. Any move otherwise would be viewed as weakness and bowing to Western demands, Yohanes said.

Indonesia's adherence to an independent and active foreign policy has been evident since 1955, when then Indonesian president Sukarno convened the Bandung Conference. The conference, attended by Asian and African leaders, ended with a pledge to remain neutral in the Cold War and led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, in 1961. To this day, the principle of non-alignment continues to guide Indonesia's foreign policy.

23:08 2022-05-16
Russia concerned over Finland, Sweden's decision to join NATO
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov. [Photo/Agencies]

MOSCOW - The Kremlin said Monday it is concerned about the decision of Finland and Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and will closely study all implications.

"We have already said that...this is an issue that we are monitoring very closely," local media reported, citing Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said that Moscow would analyze all possible consequences of such a decision, and take into account all national security concerns.

He added that "the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO" wouldn't strengthen or improve European security architecture in any way.

The spokesman further noted that while Russia wasn't involved in any territorial disputes with Finland or Sweden, the situation is different with regard to Ukraine, where a potential NATO membership would pose "huge risks for the entire continent".

Peskov said that Russia is closely following all statements made on this issue, including Sweden's latest claim that it was not going to station foreign military bases or weapons systems on its territory if it were to become a member of the alliance.

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