BERLIN — The leaders of Finland and Sweden have indicated that their governments haven’t yet decided whether to join NATO, but stressed close security cooperation with other European countries in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Speaking Tuesday after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz near Berlin, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said “Russia’s attack on Ukraine has changed our security environment completely” and there was “no going back.”
“We have to decide on whether to apply for NATO membership or continue on our current path,” she said. “That is the discussion we are having now in our national parliament.”
Her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, said the Nordic nation’s parliament is conducting a security review that will be presented on May 13.
“The analysis includes future international defense partnerships for Sweden, including a discussion on NATO, and all options are on the table,” she said.
“While our respective security arrangements are of course decided nationally, we coordinate very closely with Finland,” Andersson added.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said both countries would be welcomed if they decide to join the 30-nation military organization and could become members quite quickly.
The foreign ministers of NATO’s member countries are scheduled to meet in Berlin on May 14-15.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— US official says Russia plans to annex parts of eastern Ukraine
— Civilians rescued from Mariupol steel plant head for safety
— Push to arm Ukraine putting strain on US weapons stockpile
— UEFA removes more Russian soccer teams from its competitions
Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — A group of 20 children from an orphanage in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine has arrived in Slovenia where they will stay until the end of the war.
Officials said Wednesday that the children are mostly toddlers who travelled together with orphanage staff, doctors, nurses and their families.
The group will be staying near the western town of Postojna and will be granted temporary protection status in the small European Union country.
Local civil protection commander Sandi Curk says “the arrival was quite emotional.” Curk says there have been no problems along the route and that the trip lasted for 24 hours.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s energy minister says the country is not ready to join a European Union embargo on imports of Russian oil as part of a new package of sanctions to be imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Slovakia is almost fully dependent of Russian oil it receives through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline. Economy Minister Rchard Sulik told reporters Tuesday that the sole Slovak refiner, Slovnaft, cannot immediately switch from Russian crude to any different oil. To change the technology would take several years, he said.
“We will insist on the exemption, for sure,” Sulik said.
European Union leaders are debating Tuesday new proposals for sanctions, which could include a phased-in embargo on oil. The 27 member countries are likely to start debating the plans on Wednesday, but it could be several days before the measures enter force.
STRASBOURG, France — Italian Premier Mario Draghi is calling for Europe to move more rapidly toward greater defense integration following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Draghi told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg on Tuesday that European defense spending “is a deeply inefficient distribution of resources, that blocks the construction of a true European defense.” He called for a conference to improve coordinated of defense spending.
Draghi praised the European Council’s ambitious plan of action to strengthen the EU’s security and defense policy by 2030, but said “it is necessary to go quickly beyond these first steps and construct an efficient coordination among defense systems.”
GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s incident manager for Ukraine says evacuees from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol “are on the way” toward government-controlled areas away from the most intense combat zones where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting.
Dr. Dorit Nitzan, speaking by video to reporters in Geneva from government-controlled Zaporizhzhia, said WHO teams have been among workers from the U.N. and other aid groups who have deployed to help dozens of evacuees — up to 100 — from the plant.
“Things are moving,” she said Tuesday. “We know that they are on the way.”
Nitzan said the U.N. health agency was not clear what kind of health needs that the evacuees would present but that hospitals nearby and trauma teams were on standby to help the arriving evacuees.
The United Nations humanitarian aid coordinator and the International Committee of the Red Cross were leading the evacuation, after securing agreement from Ukrainian and Russian authorities in recent days.
Nitzan said about 100 people have been trickling out in their own vehicles from Mariupol in recent days.
LVIV, Ukraine — The British military says it believes the Russian military is now “significantly weaker” after suffering losses in its war on Ukraine.
The British Defense Ministry made the comment Tuesday in its daily statement on Twitter regarding the war.
It said: “Russia’s military is now significantly weaker, both materially and conceptually, as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Recovery from this will be exacerbated by sanctions. This will have a lasting impact on Russia’s ability to deploy conventional military force.”
The ministry added while Russia’s defense budget has doubled from 2005 to 2018, the modernization program it undertook “has not enabled Russia to dominate Ukraine.”
“Failures both in strategic planning and operational execution have left it unable to translate numerical strength into decisive advantage,” the ministry said.
LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show nearly 50 Russian military helicopters at a base close to the Ukrainian border.
The image captured Monday by Planet Labs PBC shows the helicopters in Stary Oskol, Russia, some 175 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
The helicopters are stationed on the tarmac, runway and grass of the otherwise civilian airport. Military equipment is stationed nearby to support the aircraft.
Russia has been using its military attack helicopters in its war on Ukraine, flying low to the ground to try to avoid anti-aircraft missiles.
Meanwhile, another satellite image showed a bridge repeatedly targeted by Moscow near the Black Sea port city of Odesa still standing as of around noon Monday. That strategic bridge connects Odesa to the wider countryside and would be key to defending the area.
A breakaway region of neighboring Moldova home to Russian troops nearby has seen a series of mysterious explosions in recent days, raising concerns about the conflict widening.
ROME — Pope Francis has told an Italian newspaper that he offered to travel to Moscow to meet the Russian president about three weeks into the invasion, but that he has not received a response.
Francis was quoted Tuesday by Corriere della Sera as saying his offer to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow was made through the Vatican’s No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, 20 days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said, “Of course, it would be necessary for the leader of the Kremlin to make available some window of opportunity. But we still have not had a response and we are still pushing, even if I fear that Putin cannot and does not want to have this meeting at this moment.”
Francis said he spoke with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, for 40 minutes by videoconference and for the first half “with paper in hand, he read all of the justifications for the war. I listened and told him: I don’t understand any of this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use language of politics, but that of Jesus. … For this we need to find the paths of peace, to stop the firing of arms.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod says his visit to Ukraine's capital showed “the full support from the Danish side” on transfer of weapons, sanctions on Russia, but also humanitarian assistance.
Kofod reopened the Danish embassy in Kyiv and met with his counterpart Dymtro Kuleba and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday. His meetings come as Denmark's neighbors, Sweden and Finland, are debating joining NATO. Denmark is a founding member.
Moscow has warned that such a move would have consequences, without giving specifics. Yet on Friday, a Russian military plane violated Swedish and Danish airspace.
“I have to say to Russia that it’s a sovereign right of each country to arrange themselves when it comes to security. Denmark is not threatening anybody. Sweden, Finland is not threatening anybody,” Kofod told The Associated Press. “It’s totally unjustified if Russia or anybody else is trying to, in a way, violate our airspace (…) or doing some kind of other hybrid attacks on us, this is totally unjustified. And we will, of course, protect ourselves against that.”
Earlier in the day, Kofod visited Irpin in the suburbs of Kyiv to witness firsthand the destruction and devastation.
OTTAWA — Ukraine’s ambassador-designate to Canada says Russia must be held accountable for its troops committing sex crimes, including against children.
Yulia Kovaliv told a Canadian House of Commons committee Monday that Russia is using sexual violence as a weapon of war and said rape and sexual assault must be investigated as war crimes.
She said Russia also has kidnapped Ukrainian children and taken them to Russian-occupied territories and now Russia itself. Ukraine is working with partners to find the children and bring them back.
“Russians, a few days ago, killed a young mother and taped her living child to her body and attached a mine between them,″ the ambassador said. She said the mine detonated.
All of Russian society, and not just President Vladimir Putin “and his proxies,” should bear responsibility for the war on Ukraine because more than 70% of Russians support the invasion, Kovaliv said.