USA TODAY International Edition

Russians might annex occupied Ukrainian city

- Contributi­ng: John Bacon, Tom Vanden Brook, Kim Hjelmgaard, Celina Tebor, Deirdre Shesgreen and Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Russian- appointed authoritie­s in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson announced plans Wednesday to seek annexation by Russia – and the Ukraine response was that those authoritie­s might as well ask to join “Mars or Jupiter.”

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian regional military- civilian administra­tion, also said that by the end of May, a bank for converting money to Russian rubles will start operating in the region and ultimately will be integrated into the Bank of Russia. He said there were no plans to create a separate republic such as those sought in the eastern Donbas region.

“There will be no referendum­s,” Stemousov said of the annexation. “It will be a decree based on an appeal from the Kherson regional leadership to the Russian president.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that a request would be closely evaluated by experts to make sure its legal basis is “absolutely clear.”

Kherson, a Black Sea port city of almost 300,000, is one of few major Ukrainian cities to fall under Russian control.

Ukraine presidenti­al adviser Mykhailo Podoliak dismissed the annexation plan.

“The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter,” he tweeted. “The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what games with words they play.”

Finnish leaders expected to back joining NATO

Finland's president and prime minister are likely to officially announce their support for joining NATO on Thursday, the country's minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppuraine­n, said Wednesday. That will be followed by a debate in Finland's parliament early next week and a vote that is almost sure to be “strongly in favor of membership,” Tuppuraine­n told USA TODAY while in Washington attending a high- level security conference.

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

Noting that Finland shares a 830mile border with Russia, she said she hopes her country's applicatio­n will be approved swiftly if submitted. NATO members adhere to a collective defense that views an attack on one as an attack on all. That security guarantee would not apply while Finland's bid is under considerat­ion.

Tuppuraine­n said her country is acutely aware of the threats Russian officials have made against Finland if it goes ahead with the NATO bid.

“We know our neighbor. ... We've seen what Putin is capable of,” she said.

Russian soldier will be first to stand trial in war crimes

A 21- year- old Russian soldier alleged to have killed an unarmed civilian who was riding a bike in a village in the Sumy region of northeaste­rn Ukraine on Feb. 28 will become the first person to stand trial for war crimes since the start of the war, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktov­a announced Wednesday.

Vadim Shishimari­n, a prisoner of war, is accused of firing a Kalashniko­v machine gun through the open window of a car at a 62- year- old resident in the village of Chupakhivk­a. If found guilty of premeditat­ed murder, Shishimari­n could face life in prison. A trial date is expected to be announced this week, Venediktov­a's office told USA TODAY. Ukrainian authoritie­s unveiled their first war crimes charges last month connected to alleged incidents in Bucha, a Kyiv suburb, in March.

In other developmen­ts:

•United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he does not see the possibilit­y of an immediate peace deal in Ukraine. Guterres, speaking after a meeting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, suggested countries concentrat­e diplomatic efforts on providing humanitari­an aid.

•Czech President Milos Zeman has approved a request of the first 103 Czechs to join Ukraine's armed forces. Czech citizens are banned from service in foreign armies, but about 400 Czechs have applied for an exemption. The other requests are still being processed, the government said.

•The Senate will take up a Housepasse­d package of about $ 40 billion in urgently needed aid for Ukraine, $ 7 billion more than President Joe Biden sought from Congress.

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