The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Live updates: Russian soldier says officer ordered man shot

Associated Press Thursday, 19 May 2022, 06:35 Last update: about 2 months ago

KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since the start of the war in Ukraine has testified that he shot a Ukrainian civilian on an officer's orders.

Vadim Shishimarin could get a life prison sentence prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.

The 21-year-old soldier told a court in Kyiv on Thursday that the officer insisted the man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to Ukrainian forces.

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Looking subdued, Shishimarin said he had to obey the orders of the officer. He asked the victim’s widow, who also was in court, to forgive him for what he did.

The woman, Kateryna Shelipova, said she saw her husband, Oleksandr Shelipov, shot dead just outside their home.

Shelipova told the court that Shishimarin deserves a life sentence for killing her husband but added that she wouldn’t mind if he’s exchanged as part of a possible swap for the Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

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LISBON, Portugal — The Portuguese government says Russia is expelling five diplomats from its Moscow embassy, a day after the Kremlin also expelled diplomats from Spain, France and Italy.

The Portuguese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Russia’s decision was “unjustified” and merely a tit-for-tat step after Portugal last month expelled Russian diplomats at the Lisbon embassy.

“Unlike the Russian staff expelled from Portugal, these Portuguese staff members were involved in strictly diplomatic tasks,” a Portuguese Foreign Ministry statement said.

Multiple European countries expelled Russian diplomats last month after accusing Russian forces in Ukraine of killing civilians in Bucha and other towns outside Kyiv. The Kremlin denied the accusations.

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BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers have voted to suspend import duties on all Ukrainian exports for a year to support the war-torn country’s economy.

The European Parliament on Thursday said the temporary move passed on a 515-32 vote, with 11 abstentions.

The measure covers industrial products, fruits, vegetables and steel. The EU is Ukraine’s most important trading partner, accounting for more than 40% of its total trade in goods last year.

Before the war, Ukraine was the EU’s 15th-largest trading partner, representing around 1.2% of overall EU trade.

“We must support Ukraine at all levels with every tool at our disposal: not only with weapons and sanctions but with our trading power, too,” said lawmaker Sandra Kalniete. “Giving Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself does not end on the battlefield; it includes ensuring that Ukraine’s economy remains resilient and competitive.”

In 2016, the EU and Ukraine signed an association agreement that was aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and deepening the country's connection to Europe.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president emphasized his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, stating Ankara would say “no” to their bid.

Speaking to a group of Turkish youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two countries — and especially Sweden — of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” The video of their conversation was released Thursday.

Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stems from Turkey’s grievances with Stockholm’s — and to a lesser degree with Helsinki’s — perceived support to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses them of harboring the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.

Turkey’s approval is crucial because the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus. Each of its 30 member countries can veto who can join.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his country’s decision to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia, saying this “does not constitute an escalation.”

In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Scholz dismissed concerns raised by some in Germany that arming Ukraine could result in a wider conflict. Arming Ukraine was “a contribution to fending off the attack and thereby ending the violence as quickly as possible,” he said.

Scholz added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “mistaken” in thinking peace can be imposed on Ukraine by force.

“There will be no peace diktat, because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and neither will we,” he said. “Only when Putin understand this, only when he understand that he can’t break Ukraine’s defense, will he be prepared to negotiate the peace in earnest.”

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GENEVA — The international Red Cross says it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who left the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said Thursday the registrations of Ukrainian prisoners of war, which included wounded fighters, began Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

It said a team from the Geneva-based humanitarian agency, which has experience in dealing with prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges, did not transport them to “the places where they are held” — which was not specified.

The registration process, which was ongoing Thursday, involves noting down personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative — partly as a way to help the Red Cross keep in touch with relatives of the prisoners of war.

The Red Cross cited rules under the Geneva Conventions that should allow the organization to interview prisoners of war “without witnesses” and that visits with them should not be “unduly restricted.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the country won’t accept any cease-fire until all the Russian troops pull back.

Thursday’s statement from Mykhailo Podolyak, who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, reflects an increasingly confident stand taken by Ukraine as it has fought the Russian offensive to an effective standstill.

“Do not offer us a ceasefire — this is impossible without total Russian troops withdrawal,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. In a reference to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Podolyak wrote: “Ukraine is not interested in new ‘Minsk’ and the war renewal in a few years.”

Several Ukrainian officials have recently issued similar statements. Podolyak didn’t specify what would constitute “total” withdrawal.

He added that “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money.”

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LONDON — British military authorities say Russia’s centralized command and control structure is likely to come under increasing strain as senior officers seek to avoid responsibility for failures during the invasion of Ukraine.

The U.K Ministry of Defense, in a briefing posted Thursday morning, says a number of senior Russian commanders have already been fired for poor performance during the war.

The ministry says Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, who led the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, was suspended for failing to capture Kharkiv, and Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded the Black Sea Fleet, has probably been suspended following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva. The ministry also said it is unclear whether Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov retains the support of President Vladimir Putin.

The ministry says senior officials are likely to be increasingly distracted as they seek to avoid personal culpability amid this culture of “cover-ups and scapegoating.”

“This will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralized model of command and control as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors,” the ministry said. “It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions.”

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MOSCOW — The head of the Russia-backed separatist region in eastern Ukraine says that over half of Ukrainian troops holed up at a steel plant in the key port of Mariupol have come out.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said Thursday that more than a half of Ukrainian servicemen who were holed up at the giant Azovstal steel plant have surrendered.

Pushilin didn’t give specific numbers, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian troops had abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday. The Russian military has previously estimated the number of Ukrainian troops at Azovstal at over 2,000.

Pushilin said that those Ukrainian soldiers who needed medical assistance were hospitalized while others were put in a detention facility. He charged that the International Red Cross Committee representatives were allowed to inspect the facility, the claim that couldn’t be immediately verified.

He added that over 60% of residential buildings in Mariupol have been damaged beyond repair and will need to be razed after more than two months of fighting over the strategic port on the Sea of Azov.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday his country will double its financial aid for Ukraine to $600 million in support of the country badly damaged by Russia’s aggression.

Japan will provide the additional $300 million through the World Bank to help Ukraine’s financial difficulties because of the Russian invasion, Kishida said.

The announcement comes just before Japan hosts U.S. President Joe Biden and two other leaders for a regional strategic framework known as the Quad summit and bilateral meetings next week when Kishida is expected to emphasize Japanese support for Ukraine.

Japan has quickly joined the United States and other Group of Seven countries and Europe in their sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine, due to fear that Russia’s move may embolden China in the region.

The new pledge, combined with the $300 million Japan promised last month, brings Tokyo’s total contribution to $600 million.

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MOSCOW — A provincial governor in western Russia says a civilian has been killed by cross-border shelling from Ukraine.

Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said the Ukrainian shelling early Thursday hit a driver who drove his truck to a distillery in the village of Tetkino.

Starovoit said several others were wounded in Thursday’s shelling.

Russian authorities have repeatedly reported damage and casualties from the Ukrainian shelling of areas on the border.

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KYIV, Ukraine — A regional governor in Ukraine says four civilians have been killed by the latest Russian shelling.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said they died Wednesday when Russian troops bombarded the town of Sievierodonetsk. He said another three residents were wounded.

Haidai said the Russian shelling continued early Thursday. Sievierodonetsk is in the epicenter of the fighting in the east where the Russian forces have been trying to press their offensive amid staunch Ukrainian resistance.

Separatist authorities in the Donetsk region bordering Luhansk in eastern Ukraine said two civilians were killed and another five were wounded in the Ukrainian shelling over the last 24 hours.

 

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Bridget Brink late Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, filling the post as officials plan to return American diplomats to Kyiv during the nation’s continuing battle against the Russian invasion.

The veteran foreign service officer, who has spent most of her career in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, was nominated to the position last month by President Joe Biden.

Brink was confirmed by the Senate unanimously without a formal roll call vote.

American diplomats evacuated Kyiv when the war began three months ago, but Brink told senators during her confirmation hearing earlier this month that she would work to reopen the embassy.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The military administration for the region that includes Melitopol reported more actions of resistance on Wednesday against the Russian troops who have occupied the southern city since early in the war.

It said a grenade exploded near a Russian command post, followed by an exchange of fire. No casualties were reported.

On Tuesday, the regional administration said Ukrainian resistance fighters killed several high-ranking Russian officers in the occupied city. The report could not be independently confirmed.

Also on Wednesday, a Russian armored train carrying troops and ammunition overturned in Melitopol, causing the ammunition to detonate, the regional administration said on Telegram.

It said the Russian military does not maintain the tracks while overloading the trains, and as a result of the negligence and “with help” from resistance fighters, the armored train derailed.

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The U.S. has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Russian forces in the port city of Mariupol are carrying out grievous abuses, according to an American official familiar with the findings.

The official said Russian officials reportedly are concerned that the abuses will further inspire Mariupol residents to resist the Russian occupation and runs counter to Russia’s claim that they’ve liberated the Russian-speaking.

According to the intelligence findings, the abuses include beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes.

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KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia has already fired more than 2,000 missiles during its attack on Ukraine, which he said was a large part of its arsenal.

He said the majority of the missiles hit civilian infrastructure and brought no strategic military benefit. In the past day, Russian missiles hit the southern cities of Mikolaiv and Dnipro, Zelenskyy said late Wednesday in his nightly video address to the nation.

Zelenskyy noted Russia’s claims on Wednesday to have deployed new laser weapons in Ukraine, saying it reflected a desire to find an alternative to its missiles.

A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday the U.S. has seen nothing to corroborate Russia’s claims that it has used laser weapons in Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military assessment.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is determined to restore its control over the southern cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, Enerhodar and Mariupol, now occupied by Russian troops.

“All of our cities and communities under occupation – under temporary occupation – should know that Ukraine will return,” Zelenskyy said.

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WASHINGTON — A senior defense official says U.S. Pentagon officials are having discussions with Sweden and Finland on their security needs to deter Russia as both move toward NATO membership.

The official said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday and spoke about the interim period between when the NATO application is formally made and when it is approved.

There have been concerns about threats from Russia during that period, in which Sweden and Finland would not formally be covered by NATO’s Article 5 which says that an attack against one member is an attack against all and calls for collective defense.

The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private Pentagon discussions.

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WASHINGTON — White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says Biden asked his national security team and cabinet principals about the risks and benefits of Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

He said the team “emphatically supported the entry of Finland and Sweden."

Sullivan said Finland and Sweden won’t be covered by NATO’s mutual defense agreement until all 30 members have ratified the accession, but U.S. and European allies are prepared to send the message “that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process.”

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WASHINGTON — The United States has re-opened its embassy in Ukraine three months after shuttering it and withdrawing American diplomats from Kyiv ahead of Russia’s invasion in February.

The State Department said U.S. embassy operations in Kyiv resumed Wednesday, with diplomats returning on permanent basis to the capital from where they had been temporarily relocated to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv and neighboring Poland.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “the Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again.”

Other Western countries have been re-opening their embassies.

U.S. embassy staffers had begun returning to Kyiv on a limited basis on May 8 to mark the anniversary of WWII Victory in Europe day but the embassy itself remained closed.

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OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s not surprising Russia has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada’s CBC broadcaster because the truth and responsible journalism is a deep threat to Vladimir Putin.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced the closing in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.

“It’s unfortunate but not surprising that he’s trying to shut down strong journalistic institutions,” Trudeau said.

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MOSCOW — A Russian Foreign Ministry official has announced the closing of the Moscow bureau of Canada's CBC broadcaster in response to Canada ceasing the broadcasting of state-funded Russian TV channels.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that CBC has “essentially turned into a propaganda megaphone which broadcasts fake and doubtful information related to our country.”

Zakharova said that “when practical actions were taken targeted at Russian media outlets ... we obviously responded in essentially the same way.”

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said CBC/Radio-Canada is deeply disappointed.

“We have maintained a bureau in Moscow for more than 44 years and are currently the only Canadian news organization with a permanent presence in the country,” he said. “To our knowledge, this is the first time in the history of CBC/Radio-Canada that a foreign government has forced the closure of one of our bureaus.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — A senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told officials from Sweden, Finland other countries that there can be no progress concerning the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership unless concrete steps are taken to address Turkey’s security concerns.

Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy advisor and spokesman for Erdogan, held phone calls on Wednesday with officials from Germany, Sweden, Finland, Britain and the United States to discuss the two countries’ NATO membership applications, his office said.

Kalin’s office said “the expectation that concrete steps will be taken to address Turkey’s security concerns was conveyed."

Kalin told counterparts that it was “unacceptable” for NATO countries to harbor members belonging to groups that Turkey views as terrorists on their territories, his office said.

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ZAGREB, Croatia -- President Zoran Milanovic of Croatia wants his country to follow Turkey’s example by trying to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO.

Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted on Wednesday.

Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change of neighboring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easer for Bosnian Croats to get their representatives elected to leadership positions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Wednesday that NATO’s enlargement would depend on Finland and Sweden showing respect to Turkish sensitivities concerning terrorism.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Finland and Sweden’s decision to seek membership in NATO “historic” and said he would “strongly support” the applications.

Biden is set to meet Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Washington on Thursday to discuss their NATO memberships bids and the situation in Ukraine.

“Finland and Sweden are longtime, stalwart partners of the United States,” Biden said in a statement. “By joining NATO, they will further strengthen our defense cooperation and benefit the entire Transatlantic Alliance.”

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BRUSSELS — The European Union on Wednesday urged member countries to quickly replenish their depleted stocks of ammunition and military equipment, offering financial incentives to those willing to work together to replace materiel sent to Ukraine.

Many of the EU’s 27 members have sent equipment to help Ukrainian troops. At first it was mostly ammunition, but now includes portable missiles to destroy warplanes and tanks, as well as heavier equipment.

The EU’s executive branch is offering a fund of 500 million euros ($526 million) over two years to countries willing to work in groups of at least three to replenish their stocks. Officials declined to say, for security reasons, what shortages nations have.

The commission is also ready to provide incentives to encourage countries to replace their Soviet-era stocks of battle tanks, heavy artillery and armored vehicles. Some have already been supplying these to Ukraine, whose troops are trained to use them.

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MOSCOW — Russia says it told Sweden on Wednesday that its response to the Nordic nation joining NATO will be based on how the alliance deploys its military strength in the future.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said officials met with Swedish Ambassador Malena Mard at her request and that she notified Moscow about Sweden’s NATO ambitions.

The Foreign Ministry said it responded that “the choice of ways to ensure national security is the sovereign right of each state, but together with that, it should not create threats to the security of other countries.”

The ministry added that Moscow’s reaction would depend on NATO weapons deployments to Sweden.

Russia’s “specific reaction and possible responsive measures, including the military-technical side, will to a large extent depend on the real consequences of the integration of Sweden into the North Atlantic Alliance, including the deployment on Swedish territory of foreign military bases and offensive weapons systems,” the ministry said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — A pro-government Turkish newspaper says Turkey has drawn up a list of 10 demands it will reportedly ask Sweden and Finland to meet before it can approve their NATO membership.

The list published by Sabah newspaper on Wednesday calls on the two countries to stop any financial support to groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as well as to Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara views as extensions of the banned group. There are also demands that these countries halt contacts with members of the Syrian Kurdish group.

Sabah said Turkey furthermore wants the two countries to “expedite” extradition proceedings for suspects wanted by Turkey on terror charges.

The list also includes a demand that Sweden clamps down on what Sabah called a “disinformation” campaign against Turkey led by followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims was behind a coup attempt in 2016. Many followers of the Gulen movement have fled to Sweden.

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PRAGUE — Czech Defense Minister Jana Cernochova says Germany will donate 15 Leopard 2 A4 tanks to the Czech armed forces.

Cernochova says she has struck a deal with her German counterpart Christine Lambert. She says the move shows Germany’s appreciation of her country’s military help to Ukraine facing Russia’s aggression.

The Czechs have given Ukraine unspecified Soviet-era heavy weapons worth at least $130 million.

Cernochova said Wednesday that the tank deal is “great news for the Czech army.”

She said the tanks are ready for combat and the deal includes spare parts and ammunition. They should be delivered this year.

The minister also says the Czechs have opened talks with Germany about purchasing up to 50 more new Leopard A7+ tanks.

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PARIS — The French Foreign Ministry has condemned Moscow’s decision to expel 34 French diplomats in retaliation for the April expulsion of Russians who Paris claims were secret agents "working against (French) security interests.”

The Foreign Ministry says that the French ordered expelled by Moscow are real diplomats. It said the Russian decision Wednesday "has no legitimate basis” and “we can only deplore it.”

Russia said it was responding to “the provocative and utterly baseless decision of French authorities” last month to expel 41 Russians, part of a wave of expulsions by EU nations.

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic’s government has unanimously approved NATO membership for Finland and Sweden — just hours after the two countries submitted their requests.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said Wednesday he welcomes the nations’ decisions to join the alliance. He added that their militaries fully meet all necessary accession criteria.

The accession protocol still needs to be ratified by both chambers of Czech Parliament, which is expected to happen soon. Fiala said he doesn’t anticipate any obstacles, as governing parties hold the majority in both chambers of parliament.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland is launching a new form of military service this month amid security concerns because of the war in neighboring Ukraine.

The Polish military said Wednesday that volunteers will be able to provide a year's paid service that can be turned into long-term or professional service.

Those who enter the program will go through 28-day training with a military unit, and then 11 months of service. They will be accommodated with their unit or outside, and will receive a pre-tax monthly pay of some 4,500 zlotys ($1,000).

It was not immediately clear how much interest the offer could draw. The first volunteers will be able to enlist from May 21.

A NATO member since 1999, Poland has some 111,500 professional soldiers and 32,000 volunteer territorial troops.

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BERLIN — Germany says it remains confident that Sweden and Finland will be able to join NATO, despite alliance member Turkey’s current objections.

Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that Germany is “actively working” to resolve the issues raised by Turkey, but declined to elaborate.

“The German government remains confident that all NATO members will support this accession and that it can be achieved quickly,” she said.

Hoffmann said the German Cabinet on Wednesday backed the accession protocol. Parliamentary approval is still required, but that is all but assured in Germany.

Hoffmann added that Germany would also support NATO membership for Austria and Ireland, should those neutral countries decide to join the military alliance.

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