LVIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 19: Ukrainians take part in an action in support of the residents and defenders of Mariupol on March 19, 2022 in Lviv, Ukraine. Lviv has served as a stopover and shelter for the millions of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, either to the safety of nearby countries or the relative security of western Ukraine. (Photo by Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The fall of Mariupol appears at hand as Ukraine is moving to abandon a sprawling steel plant where its soldiers had held out under relentless bombardment for months, which would make it the biggest city to fall into Russian hands. Much of it, though, has been reduced to rubble. Ukraine estimates some 20,000 civilians have been killed in the Russian assault on Mariupol, a city on the Azov Sea and that stands between the Russian mainland and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have left the Azovstal steel plant and turned themselves over to Russian hands.

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BRUSSELS — The International Criminal Court prosecutor says he’s sent a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support personnel to Ukraine as part of a probe into suspected war crimes during Russia’s invasion.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said Tuesday that the team “will significantly enhance the impact of our forensic and investigative actions on the ground.”
Khan says the team will improve the gathering of witness testimony, the identification of forensic materials and help ensure that “evidence is collected in a manner that strengthens its admissibility in future proceedings” at the Netherlands-based court.
Several thousand civilians are believed to have died since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. Exact figures are impossible to verify. Incidents of summary executions and the use of cluster bombs by Russian forces have regularly been reported.
To be classed as crimes against humanity, attacks have to be part of what the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, calls “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”
Khan says that “now more than ever we need to show the law in action” in Ukraine.
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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— Ukraine mounts effort to rescue last fighters at steel mill
— Sweden signs NATO request, Finland formally endorses move
— In targeting Ukraine’s schools, Russia bombs the future
— From civilian to soldier: Ukrainian army volunteer buried
— With echoes of Trump, GOP splinters over $40B for Ukraine
— Vatican minister visits Ukraine as pope toes delicate line
— Europe accused of `double-standard’ on Ukrainian refugees
— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:
HELSINKI — A small Finnish brewery has launched a NATO-branded beer as Finland has sought membership in the 30-member Alliance along with neighboring Sweden.
The OTAN beer features a blue label, a beer-drinking cartoon character in a metal armor emblazoned with NATO’s compass symbol.
The words “OTAN olutta” means “I will have a beer” in Finnish.
According to a Twitter posting, the Olaf brewery in the eastern Finnish town of Savonlinna, the pun is intended. OTAN is French abbreviation for NATO — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization which has two official languages, English and French.
The town of Savonlinna which houses the Olavinlinna Castle from 1475, has been the site of numerous battles and lies close to the Russian border.
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HELSINKI, Finland — Finland’s Parliament has overwhelmingly endorsed a bid from the Nordic country’s government to join NATO.
Lawmakers at the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature voted 188-8 Tuesday to approve Finland seeking membership in the 30-member Western military alliance.
The vote was considered a formality as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the intention to join on Sunday.
Lawmakers’ approval wasn’t necessarily required. However, both Niniisto and Marin stressed that it was important for the Parliament to weigh in on the NATO bid, described by the Finnish head of state as “historic.”
Finland is now expected to sign a formal application and file it to NATO headquarters in the coming days together with Nordic neighbor Sweden where the government announced a similar NATO bid on Monday.
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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Sweden and Finland “can always rely on our assistance” as they wait to join NATO, and is voicing confidence that Turkey will back their membership bid.
Scholz pledged Tuesday that Germany will push for quick accession by the Nordic nations. He noted that United Nations and European Union provisions call for mutual protection.
Asked whether that means Germany is giving the two countries a security guarantee for the period between their application and becoming members, Scholz replied: “Both countries can always rely on our assistance, particularly in this very special situation.”
Scholz signaled that he’s confident a skeptical Turkey can be won over to the Nordic membership bid, though he sidestepped a question on whether it’s time to rethink restrictions on arms exports to Ankara.
He said: “I am as confident as the NATO secretary general that this (accession) will succeed quickly with the support of all countries, including Turkey as a NATO member.” He said that Turkey has made “very many constructive contributions” in addressing the war.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden Biden will host Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House for a meeting Thursday amid their push to join NATO.
The White House said they would discuss the two countries’ applications to join the alliance, as well as European security broadly. The meeting is set to take place before Biden departs for a four-day trip to South Korea and Japan.
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MOSCOW — Russia says it is expelling two Finnish diplomats and will leave a multinational organization focused on the Baltic Sea, as tensions remain high over Finland and Sweden’s ambitions to join NATO.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday framed the expulsion of the two Finnish diplomats as a response to Finland expelling two Russians last month.
It also said the Finnish ambassador was read a protest against “Finland’s confrontational course in relation to Russia,” including its role in international sanctions against Russia and arms supplies to Ukraine. The statement made no mention of NATO.
Russia said it was leaving the Council of the Baltic Sea States, an 11-nation grouping where Finland and Sweden are prominent members, and the related Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference, a grouping of national lawmakers.
Moscow says European Union and NATO member countries were seeking to use the CBSS as “an instrument of anti-Russian policy.” Russia was suspended from participating in the CBSS in March by the other members.
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STOCKHOLM — Sweden has signed a formal request to join NATO, a day after the country announced it would seek membership in the alliance. In neighboring Finland, lawmakers are expected later Tuesday to formally endorse Finnish leaders’ decision also to join.
The moves by the two Nordic countries, ending Sweden’s more than 200 years of military nonalignment and Finland’s nonalignment after World War II, have provoked the ire of the Kremlin.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto arrived in Sweden for an official two-day visit and said: “we took peace for granted; on Feb. 24 the peace was broken,” in a reference to the date that Ukraine was invaded by Russia.
“Our old ways of handling things no longer correspond to the new situation,” Niinisto told Swedish lawmakers. “Our relations with Russia have changed.”
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BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says she is “very confident” that Sweden and Finland will be cleared to join NATO, despite objections from Turkey.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday that the two Nordic nations’ military standards are “more than NATO-compatible” so it is in the alliance’s own interest for them to become members.
Baerbock, who hosted a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the weekend, said the allies had “taken note” of Turkish concerns over “some things.” She adds that “this is being talked about now, but I am very confident that there will be a quick accession of Sweden and Finland because everyone is very aware that this is a decisive moment, a historic moment.”
All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that they failed to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and imposed military sanctions on Turkey.
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STOCKHOLM — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on Finland’s accession to NATO were “surprising and interesting.”
“Turkey’s statements have changed and toughened very quickly in recent days, but I am sure that we will resolve the situation with the help of constructive talks,” Niinisto said during a visit to neighboring Sweden, which also has sought membership in the 30-member Alliance.
The twin move comes after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Also Tuesday, Turkey’s justice minister accused Sweden and Finland of topping a list of European Union countries that he says “openly support” organizations that his country views as terrorists.
Bekir Bozdag said the two countries “have not returned a single” suspect that Turkey wants extradited for alleged links to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, or to the movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup in 2016.
Turkish media say Turkey has sought the extradition of 33 suspects from Finland and Sweden.
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VIENNA — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that it plans to send another team of experts to the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine in “the coming weeks.”
Tuesday’s announcement by the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, came after he led a first mission to the site in northern Ukraine late last month. Russian forces took control of Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, at the beginning of the invasion and withdrew at the end of March.
Grossi said in a video message that, after that trip and a previous visit to the active South Ukraine nuclear plant, “we now have a clear picture of what needs to be done.” He said he has drawn up a “comprehensive program of assistance” to Ukraine.
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ANKARA, Turkey — The leader of a Turkish nationalist party that is allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expressing concern that NATO’s expansion to include Sweden and Finland will provoke Russia and cause an expansion of the war in Ukraine.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, on Tuesday told his party’s lawmakers that the most “logical” option would be for the two countries to be kept in “NATO’s waiting room.”
Bahceli says that Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO “will mean the lengthening of the war in Ukraine and even its geographical expansion.”
Bahceli’s speech comes a day after Erdogan said Sweden and Finland should not be allowed in. Erdogan has cited the two countries’ perceived support for groups Turkey considers to be terrorists, refusal to extradite “terrorists” wanted by Turkey and arms export restrictions on Turkey.
All 30 current NATO countries must agree to open the door to new members.
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BRUSSELS — The European Union is throwing its weight behind Finland and Sweden as they prepare to apply to join the NATO military alliance, and EU countries are optimistic that Turkish concerns can be assuaged.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says Finland and Sweden, should they apply to join NATO, “will receive strong support, I’m sure, from all member states, because it increases our unity, and it makes us stronger.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the two countries should not be allowed in because they are too lax in confronting Kurdish militants, like the banned Kurdistan Workers´ Party, or PKK. The PKK figures on the 27-nation EU’s anti-terror blacklist.
Borrell acknowledged Tuesday that Turkey has raised some objections, but said “I hope that NATO will be able to overcome them.”
Finland and Sweden are in the EU, and indeed 21 of the bloc’s members also stand among the ranks of the 30-nation military organization.
Luxembourg Defense Minister Francois Bausch says that “nobody would understand if we were to refuse Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”
But Bausch says he’s convinced “that the situation will go in a good direction and Turkey will agree that they can join.”
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BERLIN — Luxembourg’s foreign minister says he doesn’t believe Turkey will prevent Sweden and Finland from joining NATO, despite the Turkish president’s stated objections.
All 30 current NATO members, among them Turkey, must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said they failed to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and imposed military sanctions on Turkey.
However, Luxembourg’s long-serving Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday that he suspects Erdogan is merely “pushing up the price” for the two countries’ membership. He said: “At the end of the day, I am convinced that Turkey can’t slam the brakes on this.”
Asselborn added that “this will take some time, I hope not too long.”
He pointed to Turkey’s removal in 2019 from the U.S.-led F35 stealth fighter jet program and the possibility of Ankara getting F-16 fighter jets from the U.S.
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LONDON — British military authorities say Russia will probably rely heavily on massive artillery strikes on towns as it seeks to make gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, citing widespread damage to residential buildings in areas attacked earlier in the war.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense says residential structures accounted for 80% of the roughly 3,500 buildings that were damaged or destroyed in the Chernihiv region during Russia’s now-abandoned advance toward the capital, Kyiv.
“The scale of this damage indicates Russia’s preparedness to use artillery against inhabited areas, with minimal regard to discrimination or proportionality,” the ministry says in a briefing posted Tuesday morning.
The ministry says Russia has probably resorted to “indiscriminate artillery bombardment” because it has limited ability to accurately target such strikes and doesn’t want to risk flying combat aircraft beyond its own front lines.