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Plus: Finland wants into NATO, new Slovak mineral, Sberbank meltdown, and more.

The Big Story: Ukraine Announces War Crimes Trial for Captured Russian Soldier

What happenedUkraine has announced plans for a war crimes trial of a captured Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian, NPR reports. In a separate case, video from mid-March has emerged of Russian soldiers in Kyiv shooting two civilians in the back, killing them, before the soldiers looted the office of a car dealership, CNN reports.

More context: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has moved Finland to officially endorse joining NATO “without delay,” Politico reports. The Finnish president and the prime minister made the historic announcement in a joint statement today, which came one day after Britain signed a deal with Finland and Sweden to offer military support in case of an attack, Euronews reports. The Kremlin said Finland’s move was a threat and warned of “retaliatory steps,” Reuters reports.

Worth noting: Wives of two of the Ukrainian soldiers holding out at Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks – under constant attack by Russian troops – have met with Pope Francis to ask him to intervene on behalf of the fighters, The Moscow Times reports. Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the Pussy Riot performance group who runs an independent news outlet, accompanied the women and helped publicize the meeting. 

News from the Regions

Central Europe and the Baltics

  • A day after police in Latvia had to disperse a pro-Russia demonstration in Riga’s Victory Park, the vice-mayor has called for the immediate demolition of the Soviet monument there, Baltic News Network reports. Edvards Smiltens called for a special law to be passed to allow the quick removal of the memorial to the Soviet victory in World War II, which many Latvians regard as a symbol of the Soviet occupation in 1944.
  • Scientists have discovered a new mineral in Slovakiaaccording to The Slovak Spectator. The mineral, argentopolybasite, was approved for classification by the International Mineralogical Association in April. There has been a recent boom in such discoveries; out of the 25 minerals discovered in the country, five were from the last five years.

Southeastern Europe

  • Kosovo has applied to be a member of the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, officials announced today, according to Exit News. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic immediately condemned the news, claiming that Kosovo’s move violated a number of agreements. Vucic also reinstated that Serbia will never recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo. Russia quit the body in March when it became clear the other members would vote to expel it over the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Critics are warning of a political purge of the media in Slovenia after the host of a popular current affairs program was removed, The Slovenian Times reports. Marcel Stefancic’s contract was not renewed for the Studio City public television program, which conservatives have long accused of having a liberal bias. The ouster came after a change in station management; civil society activists and the center-left opposition accuse the new managers of pursuing a pro-government agenda.

Eastern Europe and Russia

  • Russia’s Sberbank, a massive state-run financial institution, is in deep trouble due to loans for the purchase of commercial real estate that has plummeted in value, bne Intellinews reports. The bank could seize the properties, which include shopping centers, offices, hotels, and warehouses, but “the real estate is worth less than the debt,” a real estate banker in Moscow said. Sberbank could also call in the loans, the report says, but that might trigger a general sell-off of property, depressing real estate prices even further. The head of Sberbank is President Vladimir Putin’s former economy minister, Herman Gref.   

Central Asia

  • Tajikistan’s government is coercing university students into joining the army, RFE/RL reports. Students are being threatened with expulsion if they refuse to sign up during the current military call-up, according to students and officials. In the southern province of Khatlon, the local government ordered the region’s six main universities to sign up about 900 new recruits, according to an unnamed local official. Students often avoid the biannual enlistment drives by leaving the country for work abroad, the article notes. 

The Caucasus

  • A series of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments has exposed “a deep systemic issue of police violence in Georgia,” according to the European Human Rights Advocacy Center associated with the law school of Middlesex University in the UK. A case decided in late April provides just the latest example, the organization says. After Paata Kvirikashvili was pulled over by police for an alleged traffic violation and he objected to the fine, the officers physically assaulted him, leading to Kvirikashvili hitting his head on the ground and sustaining injuries in the 2014 incident.