Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Monday, the village of Yahidne in north Ukraine on the anniversary of its liberation and commemorated the brutal captivity of nearly 400 civilians by Russian invaders in a school basement for 27 days before they were freed.
— Russian authorities blamed Ukrainian intelligence agencies for orchestrating a bombing at a St. Petersburg Cafe that killed a Russian military blogger who supported Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
— The U.S. government is pushing hard for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia on charges of espionage, the White House said Monday.
— Ukrainian and Russian forces have given competing reports about the status of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the site of months of fierce fighting between the two sides.
— International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Rafael Grossi will meet with a Russian delegation Wednesday in Moscow to discuss the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
Finland's official entry into NATO on Tuesday will double the Alliance's border with Russia. The move, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday, is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to avert with his attack on Ukraine.
"What we see is that President Putin went to war against Ukraine with a declared aim to get less NATO," Stoltenberg said. "He's getting the exact opposite."
Russia immediately warned that it would bolster forces near Finland if NATO sent any additional troops or equipment to what will be its 31st member country.
NATO has said that it has no immediate intention to step up its presence in Finland. Some members have deployed troops there for war games over the past year.
Finland's entrance into the military alliance Tuesday is less than a year after the country submitted its application in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The ceremony falls on NATO's very own birthday, the 74th anniversary of the signing of its founding Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949.
Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Finland brings a well-trained, well-equipped military to the alliance after Turkey became the final existing member to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous.
The secretary-general also said he is "absolutely confident" that Sweden will follow Finland as a new NATO member, and that it is a priority for that to happen as soon as possible.
As the NATO foreign ministers prepare for their talks, Stoltenberg said there is an urgent need for both lethal and non-lethal support for Ukraine and called on allies to "sustain and further step up" their support. He said Ukraine needs economic aid as well.
So far, Ukraine's Western allies have sent the country 65 billion euros ($70 billion) in military aid to help thwart Russia's full-scale invasion. With no prospective peace negotiations, the alliance is preparing to provide more help, Stoltenberg said: "We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security." He added that there are "no signs" that Putin is preparing for peace.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday are to discuss how to step up support for Ukraine, including by strengthening its armed forces. Stoltenberg said: "Our support is for the long haul."
Ukraine denied on Monday Russian claims to have captured the eastern city of Bakhmut. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary force spearheading the siege, said Sunday his troops had raised a Russian flag on the city-center administrative building and taken control "from a legal point of view."
Responding to these claims, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesperson for the Ukrainian eastern military command, scoffed, "they raised the flag over some kind of toilet. They attached it to the side of who knows what, hung their rag and said they had captured the city. Well good, let them think they've taken it," Cherevaty told Reuters in a phone interview. He added that combat in Bakhmut is raging and that Ukrainian troops were "courageously holding the city as they repel numerous enemy attacks."
The U.S. government is pushing hard for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich who is being held in Russia, and it is closely tracking his detention, the White House said Monday.
The U.S. is "keenly, strongly, closely" tracking his detention, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
"We will do everything we can to get Evan home and Paul Whelan," Kirby said, referring to the former U.S. Marine serving a 16-year jail sentence in Russia on charges of espionage that he and the United States deny. "We have no illusions that it's going to take a lot of hard work, that doesn't mean we're going to shy away from it.
In a statement released last week, "The White House said it “condemns the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest terms.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also called for the immediate release of Gershkovich, in a phone conversation Sunday with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
Responding to Blinken, Lavrov said that Gershkovich’s fate will be determined by a Russian court and told Blinken it was unacceptable for Washington to politicize the case. Lavrov said the journalist was caught “red-handed,” although Russia has yet to present any evidence.
The Kremlin alleges Gershkovich was using journalism as a cover for spying, something the newspaper has vehemently denied. The Wall Street Journal has demanded his immediate release, calling his arrest Thursday "a vicious affront to a free press," while The New York Times published a statement from a coalition of news organizations expressing deep concern about Gershkovich’s detention.
St. Petersburg explosion
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declined to comment on the explosion that killed Russian pro-war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in St. Petersburg on Sunday.
CNN reports that while on a tour of the northern Chernihiv region, Zelenskyy said, "I'm not thinking what is going on in St. Petersburg, or in Moscow. They have to think. Russia have to think about their cities. I'm thinking about our country. And our cities."
Russia has arrested an anti-war activist named Daria Trepova in connection with the explosion that killed Tatarsky and injured at least 32 others at a St. Petersburg Cafe on Sunday.
Trepova's husband, Dmitry Rylov, says he is convinced his wife "was really just set up and used." Russia on Monday accused Ukraine of organizing the murder of Tatarsky. [VOA/JS]