(Bloomberg) --

Ukraine’s president says Kyiv’s forces are steadily pushing Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the nation’s second largest city. India prohibited most wheat exports that the world was counting on to alleviate supply constraints sparked by the war in Ukraine.

Sweden has received no indication that Turkey would oppose it joining NATO, and will raise the issue at a meeting this weekend in Germany, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said. Earlier Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed concern about Sweden and Finland potentially becoming members of the military alliance. NATO foreign ministers are set to meet on Saturday, when the issue of enlargement is likely to dominate. 

The US and Russian defense chiefs had their first call since the invasion of Ukraine began. A US defense official said the call lasted about an hour and the tone was professional. 

(See RSAN on the Bloomberg Terminal for the Russian Sanctions Dashboard.)

Key Developments

  • Adeyemo Warns Foreign Banks on Helping Russia Evade Sanctions
  • NATO Expansion Could Finally Shore Up Alliance’s Weakest Flank
  • India Bans Wheat Exports in Growing Wave of Food Protectionism
  • EU Plans Joint Investment Tools to Boost Defense Spending
  • Detained WNBA Star Griner Spoke With US Diplomats at Hearing
  • A Visual Guide to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

All times CET:

NATO Expansion Could Shore Up Alliances Weak Flank (6 a.m.) 

While much of the focus of deteriorating east-west relations has been on Germany’s new military plans, the expected accession of Finland and Sweden to the 30-member transatlantic alliance is part of the biggest shift in European foreign policy to emerge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

After waging war in part to stop NATO’s expansion, Putin is now confronted with the opposite.  

Zelenskiy Says Gradually Pushing Russia From Kharkiv Region (8:15 a.m.)  

Ukraine has retaken a total of over 1,015 villages and towns, including six in the previous 24 hours, as its army is gradually pushes Russian soldiers out of the Kharkiv region, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Friday in his night video address. He urged businesses to re-open in safe territories to add jobs. 

Talks on the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian wounded soldiers from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant are “very complex,” Zelenskiy said, adding that Kyiv has involved all possible influential intermediaries in the effort. 

Azovstal’s holdouts have criticized the government in Kyiv for failing to defend southern Ukraine, where Russia made much faster progress, and said it had abandoned Mariupol’s garrison. Russia continues airstrikes in the area.

Read more: Mariupol Steel Plant’s ‘Dead Men’ Defenders Call for Rescue Plan

Ukraine Appears to Have Won Battle for Kharkiv, U.S. Group Says (6 a.m.)  

Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” according to the Institute for the Study of War.

Russia has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around Kharkiv in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements, the U.S.-based defence think tank said in a daily bulletin. 

There’s evidence that “Moscow is focused on conducting an orderly withdrawal and prioritizing getting Russians back home before allowing proxy forces to enter Russia, rather than trying to hold its positions near the city,” ISW said. 

India Stops Most Wheat Exports (5 a.m.)

India prohibited most wheat exports that the world was counting on to alleviate supply constraints sparked by the war in Ukraine, which has largely halted Kyiv’s ability to ship. 

Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that a record-shattering heat wave has damaged wheat yields across the South Asian nation, prompting the government to consider export restrictions.

Exports will still be allowed to countries that require wheat for food security needs and will be based on the requests of their governments, India said. 

US, Southeast Asian Nations Stop Short of Russia Condemnation (3:35 a.m.)

A summit with Southeast Asian leaders organized and hosted by Biden concluded with a group statement that omitted any condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They called for the “immediate cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine and the countries said they “reaffirm our respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.”

But the statement did not use the words “Russia,” “war” or “invasion.” The Southeast Asian region includes nations that are wary of directly criticizing Russia. Indonesia, which will host the Group of 20 summit later this year, has refused to exclude Putin from the gathering and is instead extending invitations to both the Russian leader and Zelenskiy. Much of the summit was conducted behind closed doors, so it wasn’t clear to what extent the Ukraine portion of the joint statement was debated.

Adeyemo Warns Banks on Russia and Sanctions (2:40 a.m.)

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Wally Adeyemo warned representatives from several foreign banks Friday about risks to their institutions should they assist Russia in evading sanctions imposed by the US and its allies after the invasion of Ukraine.

Adeyemo met with representatives from several foreign financial institutions and “conveyed the risks of facilitating sanctions evasions,” including the risk of falling under US sanctions if the banks provided material support to a person or entity that the US has already penalized, according to a Treasury Department press release about the meeting.

Biden Cites NATO’s Open Door in Call to Leaders (7:19 p.m.)

Biden told the leaders of Sweden and Finland that he supports their right to decide whether to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and underscored his support for the alliance’s open door policy, the White House said in a statement.

The White House stopped short of saying that Biden urged the countries to join the military alliance. In their Friday morning phone conversation, the leaders also discussed continuing support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, according to the statement.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “we are working to clarify Turkey’s position” toward expanding NATO to include Sweden and Finland. She said “there is broad support from NATO member countries” for the idea.

Artillery Battle for the Donbas Fully Joined, U.S. Says (7:12 p.m.)

The artillery battle for Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region is fully under way, a U.S. defense official told reporters, estimating that Ukraine has managed to push back planned Russian advances by at least two weeks.

All but one of the 90 M777 howitzers the U.S. has given Ukraine are now in the country and most are engaged in battle, the official said.

US-Russian Defense Chiefs Talk After Long Wait (5:59 p.m.)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, for first time since Feb. 18, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Pentagon officials have complained that requests for a conversation have gone unanswered. Austin “urged an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communications,” according to Kirby.

Sweden Says No Previous Sign of Concern from Turkey on NATO (4:42 p.m.)

“The Turkish government hasn’t conveyed any message of this sort directly to us, and it hasn’t done so in the North Atlantic Council,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in emailed comments. She said she’d address the issue at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers that starts Saturday.

Nations Seek to Stop Russia Profiting Off Stolen Ukraine Grain (4:36 p.m.)

The aim would be to prevent Russia selling it in international markets or gaining goodwill through international aid donations, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure Russia cannot shop or ship this stolen grain.” Vilsack said by phone after G-7 agriculture ministers met. The US and EU will “keep an eye” on Russian grain sales to see if they are disproportionate for the time of year or Russia makes “a rather generous contribution” to a developing nation, Vilsack said. 

Russian Soldier Accused of War Crimes on Trial in Kyiv (3:01 p.m.)

The first war crimes trial since Russia’s invasion opened on Friday, with a soldier accusing of killing a Ukrainian civilian appearing in a packed courtroom in Kyiv, the Associated Press reported.

Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, allegedly shot a man in the head in a northeastern village five days into the conflict. In a video posted by the Security Service of Ukraine, Shyshimarin said he was “ordered to shoot” the 62-year-old. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted, the AP said.  

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