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Ukraine Thwarts Russian Forces as War Crimes Trial Begins for Russian Soldier

Smoke rises from what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this handout image uploaded on May 12, 2022. (Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Handout via REUTERS)
Smoke rises from what appears to be a makeshift bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River, eastern Ukraine, in this handout image uploaded on May 12, 2022. (Ukrainian Airborne Forces Command/Handout via REUTERS)

Ukrainian forces repelled Russian troops trying to cross a strategically important river in the eastern Donbas region, British intelligence officials said Friday, as the conflict entered its 79th day.

Footage released by the Ukrainian military showed burned out Russian military vehicles and a destroyed pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River, likely from clashes that took place earlier in the week.

As fighting continues, a 21-year-old Russian soldier was brought before a Kyiv court Friday, in the first war crimes proceeding since the war began.

War crimes trial

Ukrainian prosecutors say Vadim Shishimarin fired several shots from a car in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine on February 28, just days after the conflict began, killing an unarmed 62-year-old man who was pushing a bike on the side of the road.

Ukraine’s government says it is investigating more than 10,000 war crimes involving Russian forces, with cases of torture and mutilation having often been revealed after Russian forces left a Ukrainian city, as in the case of Bucha.

Russia has denied committing war crimes in Ukraine, and the Kremlin on Friday said it had no knowledge of the trial.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu, for the first time since February 18.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement Austin “urged an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.”

Austin also spoke Friday with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Ukraine’s “evolving battlefield needs.”

“Secretary Austin highlighted the President’s May 6 announcement of $150 million in Presidential Drawdown Authority to provide Ukraine’s Armed Forces with artillery, counter-artillery radars, and electronic jamming equipment,” Kirby said in a statement. “Minister Reznikov shared his assessment of the situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine.”

Putin-Scholz call

In Moscow Friday, Russian President Vladmir Putin spoke by phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about the stalled Ukrainian-Russian peace talks.

In a tweet, the German leader said he had called during the 75-minute conversation for an immediate cease-fire; countered the Russian claim “that Nazis are in power” as false; and “also reminded Putin “about Russia’s responsibility for the global food situation.”

G-7 meeting

The call came as G-7 ministers meeting in Germany pledged unity and more weapons and aid to Ukraine.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced an additional $520 million worth of military support to Ukraine for heavy weaponry, while expressing hope that member states would agree to a Russian oil embargo.

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss also announced new sanctions against members of Putin’s inner circle, including his former wife and cousins.

NATO expansion

Separately Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country does not support Finland and Sweden joining NATO, citing their support of what Turkey considers terrorist organizations, such as Kurdish militant groups.

“We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. Any NATO enlargement requires the unanimous consent of the existing members.

The comments come a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said if Finland does apply for NATO membership, “they would be warmly welcomed into NATO and the accession process would be smooth and swift.”

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, and Prime Minister Sanna Marin Thursday expressed their approval for joining the alliance, a move that would complete a major policy shift for the country in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said in a joint statement. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”

The leaders said they came to their decision after allowing time for Finland’s parliament and the public to consider the matter, and to consult with NATO and neighboring Sweden. Officials in Sweden are expected to consider their own possible NATO application in the coming days.

Russia has warned against NATO expansion and said Finland and Sweden joining would bring “serious military and political consequences.”

"The expansion of NATO and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday.

The White House said U.S. President Biden held a call Friday with Sweden’s prime minister and Finland’s president.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press and Reuters.