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Finland leaders back NATO bid; Russia vows 'retaliatory' military measures: May 12 recap

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Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on Thursday, May 12. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Friday, May 13, as Russia's invasion continues.

Finland's leadership announced support Thursday for expedited NATO membership despite dire Kremlin warnings of “retaliatory steps.”

The decision by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin is strongly supported by lawmakers and citizens of Finland, though a few steps remain before the application process can begin. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in the coming days. The U.S. supports both countries joining the military alliance.

"NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security," the leaders said in a joint statement. "As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay."

They said they hoped the application would be submitted in the next few days. Finland's minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, said Finland's parliament will vote on the matter early next week. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

“We want to defend our freedom and our equality,” Tuppurainen said. “This is not only about territories and borders. This war is also about values and ideology.”

Russia would view the move as a violation of international legal obligations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of military and other nature, in order to curtail the threats that arise to its national security in this regard,” the ministry said in a statement.

Guns, bomb shelters and anti-radiation meds: More people in Finland prepare for war with Russia

USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive the latest updates straight to your inbox

Latest developments:

►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces on Thursday night struck the Chernihiv region and hit schools. “What can be achieved by destroying Ukrainian schools?'' Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. "All Russian commanders who give such orders are simply sick and incurable.”

Since Russia began its invasion, its forces have damaged 570 medical facilities, destroying 101 hospitals, Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Thursday, noting that it was International Nurses Day.

►Russian forces and affiliated armed groups are responsible for most civilian deaths during the war in Ukraine, said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Bachelet said the bodies of more than 1,000 civilians were found north of Kyiv after Russian soldiers retreated from the area.

►As many as 12 Russian missiles hit an oil refinery and other infrastructure Thursday in the Ukrainian industrial hub of Kremenchuk, the acting governor said. Dmytro Lunin urged residents to remain in underground shelters, citing the “persistent” threat of airstrikes.

►About 3,000 Mariupol civilians are being detained in prisons controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s human rights chief said. Lyudmyla Denysova said officials are aware of at least two de facto prisons.

►A Ukrainian human rights activist says LGBTQ people in her country are “on the front line of resistance” against Russia’s invasion and many have joined the Ukrainian army. Olena Shevchenko told a European forum via video link that Ukraine’s LGBTQ support groups also have joined in offering humanitarian assistance.

Sen. Rand Paul's last-minute demand delays approval of $40 billion Ukraine package

Kentucky Republican Rand Paul went back to his bag of tricks Thursday when he defied leaders of both parties and prevented the quick Senate approval of an additional $40 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine as it tries to repel the Russian invasion.

The bill had passed with widespread bipartisan support in the House and appeared headed for a similar fate in the Senate, but Paul denied leaders the unanimous agreement they needed to begin debate. The measure is still likely to get approved, but may have to wait until next week.

Paul demanded language added to the bill, without a vote, to have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending. He has a history of requiring last-minute changes by holding up or threatening to delay bills about to be passed, including measures regarding the defense budget, lynching and providing health care to the Sept. 11 attack first responders.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine 'won't save Putin’s face' by giving up territory

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he's open to talking with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to find a way to end the war but is not willing to give up territory — not even Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

“Crimea has always had its autonomy, it has its parliament, but on the inside of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy told Italian RAI state TV in an interview to be broadcast Thursday night. He said Ukraine will never recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

Asked about a comment by French President Emmanuel Macron cautioning against humiliating Putin, for whom the war is not going as well as expected, Zelenskyy pointed out it was the Russians who invaded, and Ukraine wants them out.

“We won’t save Putin’s face by paying with our territory,'' Zelenskyy said. "That would be unjust.”

Emergency Situations Ministry employees of the unofficial Donetsk People's Republic clear rubble at the side of the damaged Mariupol theater in Ukraine, Thursday, May 12, 2022. (AP Photo) ORG XMIT: XAZ104
Emergency Situations Ministry employees of the unofficial Donetsk People's Republic clear rubble at the side of the damaged Mariupol theater in Ukraine, Thursday, May 12, 2022. (AP Photo) ORG XMIT: XAZ104

White House backs possible NATO expansion with Finland and Sweden

Finland and Sweden are already close and valued defense partners and would be a beneficial addition to NATO if they become part of the alliance, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“If they decide to join, it should be reassuring to the American people about our own security interests,” Psaki said.

Finland’s leadership announced Thursday it supports joining NATO. Sweden is also considering applying. Russia has warned it will retaliate.

Psaki said Russian President Vladimir Putin has only himself to blame for spurring an expansion of NATO by invading Ukraine. “This is Putin who caused this,” she said, emphasizing that NATO is a “defensive alliance. It’s not an offensive alliance.”

“There's no aggressive intent from NATO, from the United States, from Finland or Sweden … to Russia,” she said.

-- Maureen Groppe

Navalny anti-corruption foundation hails seizure of alleged Putin mega-yacht

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation on Thursday hailed Italy’s seizure of the $700 million mega-yacht Scheherazade, saying it will deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin and his alleged mistress Alina Kabaeva of one of their biggest perks.

“In March, we released an investigation where we proved that Scheherazade belonged to Putin, and we’ve been pursuing its arrest ever since. So now we can celebrate victory,” said an email sent to supporters by the foundation. “Thanks to you, Putin and Kabaeva will no longer be using the gold-plated jacuzzi and spa.”

The foundation is raising money for Navalny’s release. He's serving 2 1/2 years in a penal colony east of Moscow after his arrest in early 2021 and was sentenced to another nine years in a maximum-security prison in March in a trial Kremlin critics see as an attempt to keep Putin's most ardent opponent incarcerated as long as possible.

Italian authorities seized the Scheherazade on Friday night as it appeared to be readying to leave the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, where it had been undergoing maintenance work.

The vessel is being held pending a decision by the European Union related to its latest package of sanctions against Russia, the Italian government said in a statement, adding that an investigation found the yacht was linked to "prominent elements of the Russian government" and others subject to EU sanctions.

-- Josh Meyer

More: Silenced by poison, bullets, jail: Navalny, Nemtsov and more Putin critics

EU unveils plans for allowing Ukraine to export agricultural products

The European Commission on Thursday unveiled plans to establish "solidarity lanes" to help Ukraine export its agricultural produce and import products and humanitarian aid. Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports has bottled up Ukrainian grain and other agricultural goods in the country, threatening global food security. EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said 20 million tons of grains must leave Ukraine in less than three months using the EU infrastructure.

"This is a gigantesque challenge," she said, adding that it was essential to coordinate supply chains, set up new routes and "avoid as much as possible the bottlenecks."

Ukraine and Russia provide about 30% of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its corn and more than half of its sunflower oil.

Parts of Africa, the Near East and Central Asia have been hit the hardest by price shocks, the UN said. In Somalia, many farmers rely on irrigation powered by diesel engines. High fuel prices compounded with drought have experts worried about famine.

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Putin blames world hunger issues on West's drive for 'global domination'

The West is to blame for the fast-rising food, fuel and fertilizer prices sweeping across the globe that have left some of the world’s poorest countries vulnerable to food insecurity, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. Putin, speaking at a meeting on economic issues, said sanctions placed on Russia will prompt consequences elsewhere that would be difficult to reverse.

"The blame for this entirely and completely rests with the elites of the Western countries, who for the sake of preserving their global domination are ready to sacrifice the rest of the world," Putin said. He claimed that Russia is coping well, with domestic companies providing goods lost due to sanctions "after unscrupulous partners left."

War, explained: Evacuations, accusations and denials: Key events in Russia's war in Ukraine in 5 graphics

Ukraine liberates towns near Kharkiv

Ukrainian counterattacks have been recapturing several towns and villages north of Kharkiv towards the Russian border, the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment Thursday. Russia’s prioritization of operations in the eastern Donbas region has left elements deployed around Kharkiv vulnerable to the mobile and "highly motivated" Ukrainian counter-attacking force, the assessment says. Russia encircled Kharkiv in the initial stages of the conflict but has reportedly withdrawn units from the region to reorganize and replenish elsewhere following heavy losses, the assessment adds.

"The withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv Oblast is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population," the assessment says.

Russia still wants to take Kyiv, Ukrainian general warns

Russia still has plans to take control of Ukraine's capital, a Ukrainian general said. Brigadier Gen. Oleksiy Hromov said at a briefing that Russian troops will try to storm Kyiv and have plans to take control over the southern Mykolaiv and Odesa regions to build a land corridor to Moldova, home to the Transnistria separatist region.

Hromov also said Russia will try to hold sham elections in captured Ukrainian territories to annex them. Russian-appointed authorities have already announced plans to seek annexation in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to capture the capital in the early days of the invasion, but Russian troops have since refocused on the hotly contested eastern Donbas region.

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen and Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Reservists of the Karelia Brigade shoot with live rounds during the Etel'-Karjala 22 (South Karelia 22) local defense exercise in Taipalsaari, south-eastern Finland, on March 9, 2022.
Reservists of the Karelia Brigade shoot with live rounds during the Etel'-Karjala 22 (South Karelia 22) local defense exercise in Taipalsaari, south-eastern Finland, on March 9, 2022.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Finland backs NATO; Russia vows 'retaliatory' steps