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In a call with the Russian president, German Chancellor Scholz reiterated calls for a cease fire. Meanwhile, the EU said it would provide Ukraine with another €500 million for military aid.
Western weaponry pouring into Ukraine appears to have helped blunt Russia's initial offensive in Donbas
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The president of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, on Friday announced the territory would hold a referendum on July 17 on whether to become part of Russia.
South Ossetia is a small largely mountainous region with a population of around 60,000. It borders North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.
Moscow recognized South Ossetia and the coastal region of Abkhazia as independent after fighting a war with Georgia in 2008.
Bibilov said on March 30 that South Ossetia would take steps in the near future to join Russia, prompting Georgia to denounce the idea of a referendum as unacceptable. Georgia has not yet commented the latest announcement.
US President Joe Biden spoke on Friday with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland.
The leaders discussed the close defense and security cooperation between three countries, the White House said in a statement.
President Biden underscored his support for NATO’s Open Door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy, and security arrangements.
The leaders also reiterated their shared commitment to continued coordination in support of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people affected by the war.
Russia has destroyed 27 fuel depots and the Kremenchuk oil refinery in central Ukraine since it launched its invasion on February 24, First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said on Friday.
According to Svyrydenko, Ukraine has signed contracts to import 300,000 tonnes of diesel and 120,000 tonnes of petrol to cover consumption in May.
Fuel shortages create long lines in Ukrainian cities, as many petrol stations limit the selling of petrol to 10 liters per consumer.
In their first conversation since Russia invaded Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Friday to move immediately to implement a ceasefire in Ukraine.
"Secretary Austin urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication," the Pentagon said. According to its statement, Austin also stressed the importance of maintaining lines of communication between Russia and USA.
The call came as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle along a long front line in eastern and southern Ukraine, with the Pentagon maintaining that Russia is weeks behind goals set in its war plan.
It was the first time Austin had spoken with Shoygu since February 18, six days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
On Wednesday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and his US counterpart. Lloyd Austin, discussed the next steps to help Ukraine, including military aid, in talks held in the US on Wednesday, the UK's Ministry of Defense said Friday.
"We will continue to work with unity and resolve to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself against Russia's unprovoked invasion," Wallace said.
Also discussed was AUKUS (a defense pact between Australia, the United States and Britain), the future of NATO, and other security issues.
Sweden's and Finland's foreign ministers said on Friday that they were hoping to meet their Turkish counterpart in Berlin on Saturday to discuss their countries' potential NATO bids.
Earlier on Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey did not have a "positive opinion" about Finland and Sweden's ambitions to join the military alliance.
He accused both countries of harbouring "terrorist organisations" in his unfavourable assessment of the membership bids. Turkey has long accused Nordic countries, especially Sweden, of harbouring extremist Kurdish groups as well as supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher wanted over a failed 2016 coup.
Sweden, in particular, has a large immigrant community that hailed from Turkey, many of them Kurdish and some granted political asylum after decades of sporadic conflict between Kurdish groups and Turkey's security forces.
Turkey's opposition could pose a problem for Sweden and Finland given new NATO members need unanimous approval from existing ones.
Four Russian Russian Premier League clubs have filed an appeal against European football's governing body, UEFA's decision to bar Russian clubs from European competition next season.
"Zenit Football Club are supported in this action by FC Dynamo Moscow, FC Sochi and PFC CSKA Moscow in appealing against the decision of UEFA, and respectfully request this appeal to CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] be dealt with expeditiously," Zenit said in a statement.
Last week, UEFA announced that men's and women's teams in Russia would be excluded from European club competitions in the 2022/23 season as a result of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone on Friday for the first time in weeks to discuss stalled Ukraine peace talks, both governments confirmed.
Putin reportedly told the German leader that peace talks on the conflict had been "essentially blocked" by the Ukrainian government, the Kremlin said in a statement. Putin also told Scholz Moscow was fighting "Nazi ideology" in Ukraine.
In a Tweet, Scholz confirmed the call took place, saying he'd urged Putin for a rapid ceasefire in Ukraine. He also emphasized that the Russian leader's claim that Nazis are in charge of the country is "false."
"I also reminded him about Russia's responsibility for the global food situation," the German chancellor added.
A German government statement said the call lasted 75 minutes. In addition to quickly implementing a ceasefire, Scholz called on Putin to quickly "improve the humanitarian situation on the ground and [make] progress in the search for a diplomatic solution to the conflict."
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said London is imposing a new round of sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin's network, including his ex-wife, alleged girlfriend and cousins.
"We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin's luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle," Truss said in a statement.
"We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin's aggression until Ukraine prevails."
The sanctioned individuals include Putin's ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya and Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast who the British government said was "alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin."
A Russian soldier is appearing before a court in Kyiv over the killing of a 62-year-old unarmed Ukrainian civilian.
Ukrainian prosecutors say the 21-year-old Russian soldier shot the man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka.
The trial is the first prosecution of a Russian military member for a war crime in Ukraine since the war started on February 24.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova's office is looking into more than 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects.
On May 4, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) posted a short video of the same Russian soldier speaking in front of a camera and briefly describing how he shot the man.
The SBU described the video as "one of the first confessions of the enemy invaders."
Ukraine has been criticized by rights groups who say Kyiv is violating the Geneva Conventions by publishing footage and images of prisoners of war.
A coordinator for the Center for Civil Liberties, one of Ukraine's biggest human rights groups, said activists would be monitoring the trial to ensure the suspect's legal rights are protected, noting that it can be difficult to maintain judicial neutrality during wartime.
The observance of the trial's rules and norms "will determine how similar cases will be handled in the future," said Volodymyr Yavorskyy of the Center for Civil Liberties.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers that he wants to hold fresh talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, lawmakers from his Social Democratic Party (SPD) were quoted as saying by the dpa news agency.
"I heard, clearly heard that the chancellor also announced a new initiative for talks with Putin," dpa quoted as saying lawmakers Wolfgang Hellmich after a Bundestag defense committee meeting.
According to Hellmich, Scholz had earlier said that the conflict could not be resolved without channels for dialogue.
The German leader had spoken to Putin multiple times since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24.
During a meeting with his G7 and Ukrainian colleagues Friday, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said grain theft by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine was "repugnant."
"This is an especially repugnant form of war that Russia is leading, in that it is stealing, robbing, taking for itself grain from eastern Ukraine," Özdemir said at the start of a G7 meeting.
Ukraine's Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said he feared "great losses" in this year's wheat harvest because of the war.
Solskyi called for support for Ukraine in transporting grain, saying his country cannot solve the issue "singlehandedly."
Ukraine is traditionally a major wheat exporter. According to Solskyi, the country's harvest this year will be much smaller than last year's because half of the wheat cultivation land for winter is located in areas that are either witnessing intense fighting or are occupied by Russian forces.
The minister said Ukraine's allies must work to end a blockade on Black Sea ports for grain export.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, announced that the bloc was set to increase military aid to Ukraine with a further €500 million ($520 million).
Borrell made the announcement on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting in Germany.
"A new impetus for military support. [It will be] more pressure on Russia with economic sanctions and continuing the international isolation of Russia and countering misinformation," he said.
The latest aid package would increase the EU's funds for Ukraine's military support to a total of €2 billion, Borrell said.
The EU's top diplomat also said optimistic that an EU embargo on Russian oil imports could also be agreed in the coming days.
"I am sure we will have an agreement. We need it and we will have it. Because we have to get rid of the oil dependency from Russia," he said.
"If there is no agreement at the level of ambassadors, then on Monday the ministers when they gather they have to provide the political impetus."
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said supplying Ukraine with more weapons and imposing further sanctions on Russia was needed to increase pressure on Moscow.
"It is very important at this time that we keep up the pressure on [Russian President] Vladimir Putin by supplying more weapons to Ukraine, by increasing the sanctions," Truss said as she arrived for a second day of talks with her G7 counterparts in Germany.
"G7 unity has been vital during this crisis," she added.
The three-day meeting, running until Saturday, brings together diplomats from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the US and the EU to a 400-year-old castle estate in the Baltic Sea resort of Weissenhaus in Germany.
The foreign ministers of Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova, which is feared as a possible first target of another attack by Russia, were also attending.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed the G7's support to Moldova as she spoke with her Moldovan counterpart on the sidelines of the summit.
Baerbock told Moldova's Nicu Popescu it was a pleasure to see him for the third time in three months, even though "the situation is the opposite of a pleasure."
DW correspondent in Kyiv Fanny Facsar said Ukraine's counteroffensive in the east of the country "seems to be working."
Facsar said there has been "fierce" fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces trying to maintain control of villages in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.
Facsar said that while Russian forces were making "headway" in the region, Ukrainian forces were making their own advances as weapons from the West begin to arrive.
"But the question is whether this momentum that seems to now be working for Ukrainian forces can be maintained," she said.
The British Defense Ministry said Russia was "investing significant effort" near the eastern Ukrainian cities of Izium and Severodonetsk to isolate Ukraine's forces.
According to a UK defense intelligence report, Russia's main goal is to "envelop" Ukrainian troops to isolate them from support from the west of the country.
Meanwhile, Ukraine foiled an attempt by Russian forces to cross a important river in Donbas, the report said.
"Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky manoeuvre and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine," it added.
"Russian forces have failed to make any significant advances despite concentrating forces in this area after withdrawing and redeploying units from the Kyiv and Chernihiv Oblasts."
European industrial manufacturing company, Siemens AG, has announced that it will be exiting Russia after nearly 170 years of operating.
"We condemn the war in Ukraine and have decided to carry out an orderly process to wind down our industrial business activities in Russia,'' said CEO Roland Busch on Thursday.
According to its statement, Siemens was one of the first companies to put all new business in and international deliveries to Russia on hold while it evaluated the situation to ensure the safety of its 3,000 employees in the country.
The United Nations along with several aid organizations say that women are bearing the brunt of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There have been an increasing number of reports from civilians of sexual violence in areas that had been under Russian control.
Human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk heads up the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv and told DW that sexual violence is what she called "the most hidden crime."
"It's very difficult to speak. And that's why sexual violence is the most hidden crime. And survivors of sexual violence very often not apply to police nor to human rights defenders, because they consider this crime as a shame."
Matviichuk said that rape was a way of targeting Ukrainian society and that one of the consequences has been fear, which has allowed Russian forces to gain a level of control.
"Through the concrete victims of rapes, Russian soldiers targeted Ukrainian society... Some people feel guilty because they couldn't protect and stop it and other people feel fear to be treated in the same way. So in some in result, it's provide a frozen effect to resistance. And that's why we consider that Russians use rapes as a part of terror against civilians in order to quickly obtain control over the region.
Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, said he expects Germany to do more to help Ukraine's accession to the EU.
"Besides arms deliveries and the tightening sanctions, our main goal is to get support for accession to the EU," Melbyk said in a preprinted report by German newspaper network Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
A decision on Ukraine's candidate status is expected by the end of June.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuck has said that efforts were underway to try and rescue besieged troops still holed up in the Azovstal steelworks complex in Mariupol.
"We have started a new round of negotiations," Vereshchuck said, according to local publication, Ukrayinska Pravda.
"We would like to have a deal signed on how the evacuation from Azovstal will proceed — we are ready to sign," Vereshchuk said.
The deputy prime minister said the priority would be to evacuate 38 seriously injured soldiers. Ukraine is also willing to exchange Russian prisoners of war in return for the injured Azovstal fighters.
Russia has demanded the surrender of the Ukrainian soldiers in the complex and has thus far refused an evacuation of the remaining forces.
Last week, Ukraine said the remaining women, children and elderly had been evacuated from the steel plant after having spent weeks under siege.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Moscow's defeat is "obvious to everyone in the world, and also to those who still communicate with them [the Russians]."
Zelenskyy said that rather than admit defeat, Russia has hid behind artillery bombardments.
"They are cowards and try to hide this behind new missile, air and artillery attacks," Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian president's remarks come as Russia continues its offensive in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
Ukraine's military said it had recapturing some towns and villages in the country's northeast outside of Kharkiv, but acknowledged that Russian forces have seen "partial success'' farther south.
"In the area around Sievierodonetsk, the enemy is conducting attacks on Kudryashivka and Sievierodonetsk and is meeting partial success," the Ukrainian General Staff said in its daily briefing late Thursday.
The UN refugee agency said that more than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, with a total of 2.4 million people having moved beyond Ukraine's immediate border countries.
A thousand bodies have been recovered near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in recent days, with many of the killings possibly amounting to war crimes amid the Russian invasion, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
The EU has called on member states to urgently find ways to transport essential agricultural goods from Ukraine via land routes to stabilize global food supplies. Russia's blockade of key ports in the Black Sea has caused global food prices and shortages to hit record levels
Ukraine's prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, said that her office has charged a 21-year-old Russian sergeant in connection with the killing of an elderly civilian who was gunned down while riding a bicycle.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have said their country must apply to join the NATO military alliance as quickly as possible, a policy turnaround that has been prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
kb/wmr (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)