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Wednesday July 6th, 2022 6:29PM

Live updates | Turkey: No to Sweden, Finland joining NATO

By The Associated Press
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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday ratcheted up his objection to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

Erdogan accused the countries of failing to take a clear stance against Kurdish militants and of imposing military sanctions on Turkey.

“Neither country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference with the visiting Algerian president. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, on joining NATO which is a security organization.”

The Turkish leader described Sweden as an “incubation center for terrorist organizations,” claiming some members of its parliament supported the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The group has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984, costing tens of thousands of lives.

Erdogan said Swedish and Finnish officials — who are expected in Turkey next week — should not bother to come if they hope to convince Ankara into relaxing its objections to their membership.

___

KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— Russian war effort in Ukraine runs into diplomatic, military hurdles

— EU’s Russia sanctions effort slows over oil dependency

— Sweden ends neutrality, joins Finland in seeking NATO berth

— McDonald’s to sell its Russian busines s, try to keep workers

— 10 weeks of war: AP photographer Felipe Dana looks at the carnage in Ukraine

— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

___

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. defense official said Monday that Russian long-range strikes near Lviv appeared to target the Ukrainian military training center in Yavoriv, which is less than 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the border with Poland.

The official said the U.S. military assessment, at this point, is that there were as many as a half-dozen missiles fired and that a few small buildings were damaged.

There are no reports of casualties yet, the official said, adding that the missiles were fired from the Black Sea and likely came from a Russian submarine.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military assessment, said Howitzers provided by the U.S. and others have helped Ukrainian forces hold off or gain ground against Russian troops, particularly in the Donbas region.

The official said the U.S. believes that Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian forces to within one to four kilometers of Russia’s border. The official said that the Russians now have about 106 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine.

— By Lolita C. Baldor

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s agriculture minister said Monday that Ukraine’s grain exports could be routed through Poland as long as Russia's war prevents them from departing Black Sea ports.

Henryk Kowalczyk, the agriculture minister and a deputy prime minister, spoke in Warsaw alongside U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Ukraine’s agriculture secretary and the European Union’s commission for agriculture, who is Polish.

Ukraine is a bread basket whose exports to world markets have been disrupted, threatening to exacerbate food shortages, hunger and inflation across the world.

Vilsack denounced Russia’s theft of Ukraine’s grain and its use of hunger as a tool of war. He said the U.S. would do what it could to prevent Russia from profiting from the theft.

Kowalczyk said that Poland’s ports on the Baltic Sea are prepared to be put to use to transport Ukraine’s grain abroad.

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ISTANBUL — A Ukrainian singer and former Eurovision song contest winner appealed to Turkey’s president to save Ukrainian fighters from the besieged city of Mariupol.

Ruslana — whose song ‘Wild Dances’ catapulted her to number one in the music contest in 2004 — spoke in Istanbul Monday flanked by mothers and wives of the so-called Mariupol defenders, Ukrainian fighters defending the city’s steel mill.

“Stand with Ukraine. Unite for Ukraine. Help Mariupol. Help Azovstal. Help our brave Ukrainian soldiers,” she said. “I truly believe that today Turkey’s leader President Erdogan, who has an international role and presence, will help our citizens in need.”

Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are estimated to be holed up at the sprawling Azovstal steelworks plant, the last pocket of resistance in a city largely reduced to rubble over the past two months.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — As European Union leaders continue to push for an embargo on Russian oil, Hungary’s prime minister insisted Monday that his country would not support any sanctions that negatively affect Hungary’s energy security.

In a speech in Hungary’s parliament, nationalist leader Viktor Orban said Hungary would not block EU sanctions as long as they “don’t go beyond the red line of Hungary’s economic protection. That is, as long as they don’t jeopardize Hungary’s energy security.”

Orban said that EU leaders are “convinced that European sanctions can force Russia to its knees … but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember any continental blockade ever being successful.”

Orban’s government has remained firm in its rejection of sanctions on Russian energy exports.

Earlier EU offers to Hungary to extend the deadline for dropping Russian oil from its energy mix have not swayed the government in Budapest.

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WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says the U.S. would move quickly to approve Sweden’s application to join the NATO military alliance.

McConnell said during a press conference in Stockholm that while other countries in the Western alliance may be able to approve Sweden’s application sooner, he had no doubt it will be approved in the U.S. Congress, likely by August.

“We anticipate moving this rapid -- in a more rapid fashion than past applications for NATO,” McConnell said

“We hope to approve it before August,” he said. “We are confident it will be approved.”

The minority leader was visiting the region with a delegation of Republican senators in a show of support as the region confronts Russian aggression with its invasion of Ukraine.

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Sweden’s prime minister has announced that Sweden will join Finland in seeking NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a historic shift that comes after more than 200 years of military nonalignment in the Nordic country.

The move on Monday, which is likely to upset the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, came after neighboring Finland announced Sunday that it too would seek to join the 30-country military alliance.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy” as she addressed lawmakers in the Swedish capital.

“We will inform NATO that we want to become a member of the alliance,” she said. “Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO.”

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The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday said there is an agreement for injured Ukrainian troops at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to leave the plant for medical treatment under a local cease-fire.

The Defense Ministry on Monday said in a statement that following talks with Ukrainian representatives at the site a so-called humanitarian corridor would be organized to transport wounded troops to a medical facility in the town of Novoazovsk. That town has been held by Russia-backed separatists since before the wider invasion of Ukrainian territory in February.

There was no word on whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Ukrainian side. It was not clear how many wounded Ukrainians might leave the site and if any had so far done so.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership but that it will react to any military expansion in the countries.

Discussing Finland and Sweden, Putin said that Russia “does not have a problem with these states. And therefore in this sense there is no direct threat to Russia created by the expansion involving these countries, but the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”

Putin was speaking at a summit in Moscow of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes five other ex-Soviet countries.

___

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Swedish officials say the country has decided to follow neighboring Finland and apply for NATO membership, ending more than 200 years of military non-alignment because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Monday called it “a historic change in our country’s security policy” as she addressed lawmakers in the Swedish capital.

“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO,” Andersson said, adding that the country was acting together with Finland, whose government announced on Sunday it would seek to to join the alliance.

Andersson was expected to formally announce the Swedish government’s decision later Monday together with opposition leader Ulf Kristersson.

___

PARIS — The European Union and the United States on Monday agreed to further coordinate their actions “to mitigate the negative impacts” of Russia’s war in Ukraine on the global economy.

Representatives of the EU Commission, the bloc of 27 nations’ executive body, and the U.S. administration gathered in Saclay, southwest of Paris, to discuss cooperation issues.

A joint statement after the meeting Monday of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council said they committed to “work jointly with Ukraine to rebuild its economy and ... facilitate trade and investment.”

They also agreed to developing a “common analytical framework” for identifying Russia’s information manipulation and interference.

Both parties praised “unprecedented cooperation on export controls” which notably aims at preventing Moscow from further developing its industrial and military capabilities.

The EU Commission executive vice-president in charge of competition, Margrethe Vestager, said EU-U.S. cooperation “goes beyond our reaction to the war” in Ukraine.

“We can create a positive vision for our economies and for a democratic governance of the internet,” she said.

___

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian border guards say they repelled a Russian attempt Monday morning to send troops into the northern Sumy region, which is outside the current focus of fighting.

The border guard service said Russian forces deployed mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns in an attempt to cover a “sabotage and reconnaissance group” crossing the border from Russia.

The border guard service said its officers returned fire and forced the Russian group to retreat back across the border into Russia.

The area is largely rural and hasn’t seen intense fighting in more than a month. Russian troops moved through the Sumy region early in the war in an attempt to join up with forces around the capital, Kyiv, but they retreated in early April to focus on fighting in eastern Ukraine.

There was no immediate word from Russia about the incident described by Ukraine.

___

CHICAGO — McDonald’s says it’s started the process of selling its Russian business, which includes 850 restaurants that employ 62,000 people.

The fast food giant pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, saying holding on to its business in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.”

The Chicago-based company had temporarily closed its stores in Russia, but was still paying employees.

On Monday, it said it would seek to have a Russian buyer hire its employees and pay them until the sale closes. It didn’t identify a prospective buyer. McDonald’s said it plans to start removing golden arches and other symbols and signs with its name.

___

KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military commander in the eastern Luhansk region says strikes overnight hit a hospital in Severodonetsk, killing two and injuring nine, including a child. Overnight strikes also hit other towns.

Regional military governor Serhiy Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian special forces blew up Russian-held railway bridges between Rubizhne and Severodonetsk as part of efforts to slow the Russian offensive, and posted a video on Telegram purportedly showing such a blast. The information could not immediately be independently verified.

Russian forces have been trying for weeks to seize Severodonetsk, a key site in the Donbas that’s outside the territory that separatists held for the past several years.

___

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat says there is no guarantee that the 27-nation bloc will be able to quickly agree on a new set of sanctions against Russia, as a small group of countries led by Hungary oppose an oil embargo.

The European Commission proposed on May 4 a sixth package of Ukraine war sanctions that included a ban on oil imports from Russia. Hungary is one of a number of landlocked countries that are highly dependent on Russian oil, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says “we will do our best in order to deblock the situation. I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because positions are quite strong.” His remarks Monday came as he prepared to chair a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Borrell says “that some member states face more difficulties because they are more dependent, because they are landlocked,” and that “they only have oil through pipelines, and coming from Russia.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says “the whole union is being held hostage by one member state.” He says countries like Hungary were offered a phase out of Russian oil until Dec 31, 2024, and that “everybody expected that this would be enough.”

___

PARIS — French carmaker Renault says it is selling its Russian branch to Moscow City and its stake in Russian company Avtovaz to a local state-owned institute.

Renault said Monday its board of directors approved the deal to sell its 67.69% stake in Avtovaz, the company making Lada, to NAMI, the scientific research automobile and automotive engine institute of the Russian Federation.

The agreement provides for a six-year option for Renault to buy back its stake in Avtovaz.

The CEO of Renault Group, Luca de Meo, called it “a difficult but necessary decision.”

He says “we are making a responsible choice towards our 45,000 employees in Russia while preserving the Group’s performance and our ability to return to the country in the future, in a different context.”

In March, Renault said it would pause production at its Moscow plant amid mounting criticism of its foothold in the Russian Federation.

___

BRUSSELS — Canada says it supports plans from Finland and Sweden to join NATO amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Melanie Joly, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, spoke Monday in Brussels ahead of meeting with the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell.

Joly said Canada is in favor of a “quick accession” for both countries. “Our goal is to be among the first countries to be able to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland,” she said. That process in the past has taken eight months to a year.

Given the security crisis sparked by the war and the potential threat to Finland and Sweden, NATO countries are keen to move fast if the pair of nations officially apply, which they have not done yet.

Asked whether Canada would be in favor of Ukraine’s joining the military alliance, Joly said her country is in favor of an “open-door policy” but stopped short of endorsing such a move, which is unrealistic at this stage since it would require allies to intervene military in the war-torn country.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces focused their latest attacks in Ukraine on the Donetsk region in the east, targeting civilian and military sites in multiple towns, the Ukrainian military said Monday.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia’s military also continued air and artillery strikes around the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, the last holdout of Ukrainian forces in the strategic city.

In the Donetsk region, it said Russian forces used a range of weaponry on Ukrainian military fortifications and units and fired artillery at civilian infrastructure in the towns of Dovhenke, Ruski Tyshki, Ternova and Petrivka.

Around Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, Russian forces are now concentrating on “maintaining positions and preventing the advance of our troops toward the border.” Ukraine’s military posted a video Sunday night showing its troops at the border in the Kharkiv region.

The Ukrainian daily note did not detail specific gains or losses. It is very difficult to get a clear overall picture of fighting in the east because of tight travel restrictions imposed by both sides and the danger of frequent air and artillery strikes around the region.

___

LONDON — British military authorities say the presence of Belarusian forces on the border may force Ukrainian troops to stay in the area instead of going to support operations in the eastern Donbas region.

Belarus, a close ally of Russia, said last week that it planned to send special operations troops to three areas near the Ukrainian border as it complained about the buildup of NATO troops in the region. The U.K. Ministry of Defense, in an intelligence briefing released Monday, said Belarus has also deployed air defense forces, artillery and missile units to training sites in western Belarus.

The ministry says Belarusian forces haven’t been directly involved in the invasion of Ukraine, though Belarus was used as a staging area for Russian attacks on the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv. Russia has also launched aircraft and missiles from Belarusian territory.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “is likely balancing support for Russia’s invasion with a desire to avoid direct military participation with the risk of Western sanctions, Ukrainian retaliation and possible dissatisfaction in the Belarusian military,” U.K. authorities said.

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