Deal lifts Turkish objection to Sweden, Finland joining NATO; 'Hollowed out' Russian forces could face trouble: June 28 recap

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Editor's note: This page recaps the news from Ukraine on June 28. Follow here for the latest updates and news from Wednesday, June 29, as Russia's invasion continues.

Turkey has agreed to withdraw its objection to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, a breakthrough that bolsters the alliance amid Europe’s worst security crisis in decades following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“We now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday at a summit in Madrid, hailing the "historic decision.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had voiced opposition to granting the two Nordic countries membership, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

NATO admission requires a unanimous vote from member states, and after weeks of negotiations it appears to have been achieved. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said Tuesday the three countries’ leaders had signed a joint agreement to break the impasse.

Though relatively small in population -- both under 11 million -- Sweden and Finland have strong, modern armed forces and have expressed a commitment to boost their defense budget after the Russian invasion, which also prompted their pursuit of NATO membership after decades of nonalignment.

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Latest developments:

►President Joe Biden opened his three-day visit to a NATO summit Tuesday in Madrid by pledging to beef up the American military presence in Europe, saying the number of Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, would increase from four to six. Biden said more such announcements will be coming during the meetings.

►Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the European Union had reduced its dependence on Russian gas from 40% to 25% and continues to invest in renewable energy.

Ukraine will start trading electricity with European countries this week via the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity. Ukraine was previously part of the Integrated Power System that also includes Russia and Belarus.

►A Russian court has rejected an appeal by imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

16 Ukrainian servicemen, including two officers, were released in a prisoner exchange. Five were wounded, Ukraine authorities said. The number of Russians released was not immediately revealed.

Ukraine fighting to retain last city it controls in Luhansk

Ukrainian forces are consolidating on higher ground in Lyschansak, the last major city in the Luhansk region not controlled by Russia, and continue to disrupt Russian command and control with strikes deep behind enemy lines, the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment Tuesday.

Over the last few days, Russia launched "unusually intense" strikes across Ukraine using long-range missiles, the ministry said. On Monday, a missile strike that hit a shopping mall in central Ukraine killed at least 18 people and injured dozens more.

"These weapons were designed to take on targets of strategic importance, but Russia continues to expend them in large numbers," the assessment said. Moscow also fielded the core elements of six armies yet achieved only tactical success in the city of Sieverodonetsk.

"The Russian armed forces are increasingly hollowed out," the assessment says. "They currently accept a level of degraded combat effectiveness, which is probably unsustainable in the long term."

Russian 'totally insane terrorists' blamed in deadly mall missile strike

The deadly Russian missile strike at a crowded Ukraine shopping mall was one of the "most defiant acts of terrorism in European history," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. Zelenskyy spokesman Kirill Timoshenko said at least 20 had died in Monday's blast while local officials in the central city of Kremenchuk said at least 18 were killed. At least 40 people were missing as rescue workers searched through the rubble.

"Only totally insane terrorists who should have no place on Earth can strike missiles at such a target," Zelenskyy said.

Timoshenko said at least 59 people were injured, 25 of them requiring hospitalization.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said warplanes fired missiles at a nearby depot containing Western weapons that caught fire. Ukraine officials deny the depot held weapons and say the mall itself was hit by the missile.

French president Macron: 'Russia cannot and should not win'

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has suggested a middle-ground approach to ending the war in Ukraine that wouldn't embarrass Russia, has hardened his stance after Monday's missile strike in a crowded mall left at least 18 people dead and 59 wounded.

Calling Monday's attack in the central Ukraine city of  Kremenchuk "a new war crime, Macron pledged the West's continued support for Kyiv, saying Tuesday, “Russia cannot and should not win.”

The airstrike on a mall with more than 1,000 people took place as leaders from the Group of Seven nations met in Germany, and it rekindled images of the bombing of a theater in Mariupol that killed an estimated 600 people, horrifying much of the world. The latest assault on civilians was part of an intense barrage of Russian fire across Ukraine, including in the capital of Kyiv, and has drawn new attention to the war even as it drags on.

Kyiv mayor to NATO countries: You're next if Russia's not stopped

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko issued not only a plea for Western allies to provide his country “whatever it takes” to repel Russia's invasion but also a warning that some of their own countries could be targeted by the Kremlin unless it's stopped.

“Wake up, guys. This is happening now. You are going to be next. This is going to be knocking on your door just in the blink of an eye,” Klitschko said in Madrid, where NATO leaders are meeting.

Attending the summit with his brother Wladimir, like him a former heavyweight boxing champion, Klitschko rejected the notion of conceding any Ukrainian territory to Russia to end the war.

“Bully the bully, it’s the only way how to stop it,” Vitali Klitschko said. “And in this case, Russia is the bully.''

President Joe Biden's family not welcome in Russia

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that it added 25 people to the list of Americans banned from entering Russia "as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures." Included are first lady Jill Biden and the couple's daughter Ashley. The president was included on a previous list. The latest list also includes four senators the ministry blames for "the formation of the Russophobic course" in Congress. They are Republicans Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

"It just goes to show you that the Russian capacity for these kinds of cynical moves is basically bottomless," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. "So it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us that they would do something like this."

The U.S. and other countries have hit numerous Russian oligarchs with sanctions that have led to seizure of massive yachts and other property.

Ukraine: Russians abduct Kherson mayor

Kherson Mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev has been abducted by Russian forces that occupy the southern city of almost 300,000, a mayoral adviser said. Halyna Liashevska said the mayor had remained in the city after the Russians swept in out of a sense of duty to his constituents. Russian forces have routinely abducted pro-Ukrainian activists and other public figures in the cities they overrun. Kolykhaiev was escorted out of his office in handcuffs, Liashevska said.

Control of the region gives Russia a crucial "land bridge" connecting its mainland to Crimea, which Russia took from Ukraine in 2014. Separatists have called for a referendum aimed at leaving Ukraine to become a part of Russia.

Workers are seen clearing the rubble of the Amstor mall, the day after it was hit by a Russian missile strike according to Ukrainian authorities in Kremenchuk, on June 28, 2022.
Workers are seen clearing the rubble of the Amstor mall, the day after it was hit by a Russian missile strike according to Ukrainian authorities in Kremenchuk, on June 28, 2022.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine recap: Turkey lifts objection to Sweden, Finland in NATO

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