Ukraine war: Kremlin fury over Azovstal commanders as Biden heads to Europe

Five commanders of the defence of the Azovstal steel plant, a gruelling months-long siege early in the war, were returning from Turkey on with Zelenskyy. 8 July, 2023
Five commanders of the defence of the Azovstal steel plant, a gruelling months-long siege early in the war, were returning from Turkey on with Zelenskyy. 8 July, 2023 Copyright AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
By Euronews with AP
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All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.


The Kremlin on Saturday blasted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's repatriation of several Ukrainian commanders who were to remain in Turkey until the end of the conflict, following an agreement between Moscow and Kyiv.

The Ukrainian presidency confirmed that it had obtained the return of these members of the Azov regiment, hated in Russia, after "negotiations with the Turkish side". They were welcomed at Istanbul airport by President Zelenskyy, who was visiting Turkey.

There was no immediate official explanation from Ankara or Kyiv about why they were allowed to return to Ukraine.

"The return of the leaders of the Azovites from Turkey to Ukraine is nothing more than a direct violation of the terms of the existing agreements. Moreover, in this case, the terms were violated by both the Ukrainian side and the Turkish side,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

According to him, both Ukraine and Turkey have violated the terms of this agreement, which stipulated that these men remain in Turkey until the end of the conflict.

Peskov linked this return to the "failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive" conducted since early June and to Ankara's desire to show its "solidarity" ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11 and 12.

"Preparations for the NATO summit are underway and, of course, there has been a lot of pressure on Turkey," he said.

The sprawling Azovstal steelworks was the last bastion of resistance as Russian forces took control of the port city of Mariupol. Its defenders became renowned among Ukrainians for holding out for months in wretched conditions in the plant's tunnels and corridors.

Azovstal's more than 2,000 defenders left the steelworks in mid-May 2022 and were taken into Russian captivity. The five leaders, some of whom were part of the Azov national guard regiment that Russia denounces as neo-Nazi, were freed in a September prisoner swap and taken to Turkey.

Biden heading to NATO summit via UK

US President Joe Biden flew to the UK on Sunday, where he will meet British King Charles III, before attending the Nato summit in Vilnius.

The Democrat hopes to use the occasion to convince Turkey to accept Sweden's application to join NATO.

To overcome the reluctance of Turkey, which criticises Sweden for its alleged leniency towards Kurdish militants who have taken refuge in the Scandinavian country, the American president mentioned a solution that could involve modernising Turkey's F-16 fleet.

"I'm trying to put together a kind of consensus where we strengthen Nato through the military capabilities of both Greece and Turkey, and we allow Sweden in. But it's not done yet", he detailed.

As for Ukraine, Joe Biden was adamant. "I don't think it's ready to join NATO", he said.

The membership process requires the unanimous agreement of all members. "I don't think we have unanimity in Nato on whether or not to bring Ukraine in (...) in the middle of a war", said the President.

"We would be at war with Russia if that were the case", he warned.

Cambodia warns Ukraine about long-term horror of cluster bombs

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday warned Ukraine against using cluster munitions, recalling his country's "painful experience" of being hit by US cluster bombs in the early 1970s.

"It would be the greatest danger for Ukrainians for many years, even up to a hundred years, if cluster bombs were used in the areas occupied by Russia on Ukrainian territory", Hun Sen tweeted.


Cambodia's strongman cited the "painful experience" of his country, where American airdrops in the 1970s killed or maimed tens of thousands of people.

The US dropped millions of bombs on Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s in an attempt to hit communist bases.

"Out of pity for the Ukrainian people, I call on the US President, as the supplier, and the Ukrainian President, as the recipient, not to use cluster bombs in the war because the real victims will be the Ukrainians," he said.

After 30 years of a civil war that ended in 1998, Cambodia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Some 20,000 Cambodians have been killed over the past four decades as a result of stepping on mines or unexploded ordnance. Demining work continues to this day, with the government pledging to eliminate all mines and unexploded ordnance by 2025.


In January, a group of Ukrainian deminers visited minefields in Cambodia as part of a training course.

Biden heads for NATO summit as cluster bomb tensions continue

President Joe Biden leaves on Sunday for Europe where he will spend time in three nations tending to alliances that have been tested by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

After arriving at night in London, Biden will meet the next day with King Charles III for the first time since he was crowned. Next is the centrepiece of the trip, the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Alliance leaders will debate the war and revise plans for dealing with Russian aggression.

The final stop is in Helsinki, where Biden on Thursday is expected to celebrate the expanding alliance, with Finland as the newest member of NATO.

His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the trip would “showcase the president's leadership on the world stage.”


Biden will spend two days in the capital of Lithuania, which is hosting the annual NATO summit. He will participate in meetings with leaders and deliver a speech from Vilnius University.

The alliance has been reinvigorated by the war in Ukraine, and members have been pouring military hardware into the country to help repel Russia's invasion.

Biden on Friday defended what he said was a “difficult decision” to provide to Ukraine, a move his administration said was key to the fight and buttressed by Ukraine’s promise to use the controversial bombs carefully. Biden is likely to face questions from allies on why the US would send a weapon into Ukraine that more than two-thirds of NATO members have banned because it has a track record of causing many civilian casualties.

For Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the summit “will send a clear message: NATO stands united, and Russia’s aggression will not pay.”

Zelenskyy rallies support from Erdogan over NATO entry

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed support early Saturday for Ukrainian NATO membership, saying the war-torn country deserves to join the alliance.


Erdogan made the comment at a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who arrived in Turkey as part of a European tour to rally support for Ukraine’s entry into the military alliance after the war with Russia comes to an end.

NATO leaders meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week are expected to reaffirm that Ukraine will join their alliance one day.

Zelenskyy's visit to Istanbul came ahead of the alliance's two-day summit in Vilnius next week.

Talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were expected to focus on a grain deal which Turkey helped broker with the UN last year and allowed the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

NATO member Turkey has maintained close ties with both Ukraine and Russia, using its relations with the two countries to act as a mediator.

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