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Mariupol Finally Falls as Last Fighters Surrender

Russia’s position in the south is now cemented as prospects for peace remain remote.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine
The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine
A view shows the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 10. STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the fall of Mariupol, U.S.-Turkey talks, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Mariupol’s Last Stand Is Over

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the fall of Mariupol, U.S.-Turkey talks, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Mariupol’s Last Stand Is Over

Ukraine’s defense of Mariupol is officially over after the final remnants of its armed forces surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant on Tuesday.

The capitulation means that, almost 12 weeks in, Russia has something to show for its invasion. It can now claim control of an unbroken swath of territory from Russia’s border to Crimea, more than 200 miles away. It also means Ukraine’s Black Sea shoreline has been cut in half since the war began.

With military casualty figures a closely guarded secret on both sides, it’s not possible to know exactly how high a price Russia and Mariupol’s Ukrainian defenders paid in personnel during the siege.

The toll on the innocent is more public. Mariupol’s Mayor Vadym Boychenko estimated the number of civilians killed at around 21,000, while Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, estimated in April that Russia evacuated 134,000 people from the city, 33,000 of whom were forcibly deported. Russia maintains it removed the civilians as a humanitarian gesture.

Whether the same will be said of the Ukrainian fighters taken away from Mariupol in Russian buses is less clear. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the fighters would be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war, but authorities in Moscow have not confirmed a deal.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian State Duma, said he would push for legislation banning any exchange of fighters belonging to Ukraine’s Azov regiment, a group he likened to “Nazi criminals.”

While Russia cements its position in Ukraine’s south, the prospects for peace are still remote.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said that peace talks were currently “on pause,” while Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said that Kyiv had yet to respond to a draft peace plan submitted nearly a month ago.

Speaking to the New York Times, Medinsky reiterated Russia’s position that it could live with an “Austrian model” (meaning European Union, but not NATO, membership) for Ukraine, but he would not say what territorial boundaries the Kremlin would settle for.

The chances of higher-level interventions seem slim. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov since Feb. 12, the State Department confirmed on Tuesday as spokesman Ned Price said that Russia had given no reason for the U.S. side to believe talks “would be constructive in the current environment.”

Military leaders are at least in contact: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday, the first communication between the two since the invasion began.

So if there is an endgame, what would it look like? FP’s It’s Debatable columnists Emma Ashford and Matthew Kroenig explored the options last Friday. For Kroenig, the end to which the United States and the West should push for is simple: “Ukraine wins, Russia loses.” Ashford is willing to “settle for avoiding World War III.”


What We’re Following Today

Blinken meets Cavusoglu. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in New York as part of the newly launched U.S.-Turkey Strategic Mechanism.

Blinken, who last spoke with Cavusoglu on Monday, is expected to raise the issue of Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, as the two Nordic nations formally submit their applications today.

While Blinken focuses on Turkey, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hosts his Swedish counterpart Peter Hultqvist at the Pentagon.


Keep an Eye On

U.S.-Venezuela relations. The United States is set to ease energy sanctions on Venezuela in a bid to encourage talks between the Nicolás Maduro government and opposition groups and as it seeks to boost global oil production to bring down prices. Anti-Maduro politicians and their U.S. allies oppose the move; as Isadora Zubillaga argued in FP earlier this week, “ignoring Maduro’s dictatorship in the hopes of lowering domestic U.S. energy prices is not only ethically problematic but counterproductive and ineffective.”

The move comes a day after Washington relaxed Trump-era restrictions on Cuba, which included lifting a cap on remittances and improving visa processing services.

North Korea’s coronavirus outbreak. North Korean officials said the country was approaching 1.5 million suspected coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a number that accounts for roughly 6 percent of the population, as World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed said he was “deeply concerned” that the outbreak could get worse.

Ankit Panda, writing in Foreign Policy on Monday, highlighted the challenges Pyongyang now faces with a raging COVID-19 outbreak amid an existing food crisis. As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to visit South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol this weekend, Panda argues that the two men should extend unconditional aid to the North—as long as it’s willing to accept it—to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Spain’s menstrual leave plan. Spain could become the first country in Europe to offer menstrual leave after its left-wing government approved a draft bill offering monthly leave to women experiencing period pain on Tuesday. The bill would also strengthen the country’s abortion laws and provide free period products in public institutions.

If made law, Spain would join Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Zambia as one of the few countries that have adopted the policy.


Odds and Ends

A town in southern Japan is suing a man after he allegedly gambled away more than $350,000 in coronavirus relief funds delivered to him in error.

The man was slated to receive a 100,000-yen ($770) cash payment as part of a program for 463 low-income households in the town of Abu. Instead, all the money came to his account.

The man, who has since gone into hiding, said through his lawyer that the money had been lost on online gambling.

Norihiko Hanada, the town’s mayor, said he is “deeply sorry” for the mistake and that his office “will do our utmost to take back the large amount of public money.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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