NATO foreign ministers will meet on Saturday, as the issue of the alliance's expansion is likely to dominate the meeting after Finland and Sweden expressed their efforts to join the world's most powerful military alliance, while Russia warned of the consequences of the move.

While the Group of Seven showed its unity in supporting Ukraine "until victory" while accusing the Russian army of committing more war crimes.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, for an "immediate" ceasefire in Ukraine, in their first phone call since the war began.

While Russia reiterated Friday its assertions before the UN Security Council that the United States is implementing a secret biological weapons program in Ukraine, Washington criticized what it described as the "absurd meetings of the Council" called for by Moscow.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, which threatens to block accession, which requires the unanimity of the alliance countries.

But US President Joe Biden expressed his support for the right of Sweden and Finland to decide whether to join NATO, and stressed his support for the policy of openness pursued by the alliance, according to Bloomberg News Agency on Friday, citing a White House statement.

The developments in the NATO expansion file came after the Finnish President and Prime Minister announced the day before yesterday, Thursday, that they supported joining the alliance “without delay”, at a time when Sweden expressed a similar desire after Russia’s war on Ukraine caused a rapid shift in public opinion in the two countries.

Russia rejects the accession of Finland and Sweden - which have adhered to a policy of neutrality since the Cold War - to NATO, and considers it a threat to it.

group of seven

The meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Seven countries (Germany, France, Italy, Canada, the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom) continues today, Saturday, in the presence of their Ukrainian counterparts, Dmytro Kuleba and Moldovan, Nico Popescu.

The group demonstrated its unity on Friday in supporting Ukraine "until victory" while continuing to accuse Russian forces of committing more war crimes since the offensive began more than two months ago, a charge Moscow denies.

The Ukrainian Foreign Minister renewed his request from the Group of Seven to supply his country with qualitative weapons that would break Russia's military superiority (Getty Images)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during the meeting, "We are not at war with Russia. It is Russia that is waging war on Ukraine. There is an aggressor and an aggressor, and we support the aggressor."

On the occasion of this meeting, the European Union announced that it would provide Ukraine with additional military assistance of 500 million euros, bringing its funding for the Ukrainian military effort "to two billion euros in total."

For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during his visit to Tajikistan that the European Union has turned into an "aggressive and belligerent party."

accusations thrown

The Security Council session on Friday witnessed an exchange of accusations between Moscow and Washington, which reflects the continuing divergence of positions between the two countries regarding the war in Ukraine.

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said that although the United Nations reiterated Friday that it was not aware of suspicious biological activity in Ukraine, there are "dangerous" US programs in the country that pose a "threat to Russia and the countries of the region."

Russia's delegate repeated Washington's accusation of suspicious biological activity in Ukraine (Reuters)

Richard Mills, the deputy US ambassador to the United Nations, spared no effort to denounce the Russian accusations during the council session, which was convened at Moscow's request, denouncing a "farce debate", "disinformation and conspiracy theories about Ukraine" and "the absurd meetings."

Mills added that those "endless assertions about the chemical and biological weapons programs in Ukraine are false and absurd."

Like France, the United States wondered whether Russia's insistence on holding meetings on this topic (the third since the invasion began on February 24) constitutes a prelude to its use of a biological weapon in Ukraine.

first contact

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday called on his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, for an "immediate" ceasefire in Ukraine, in their first phone call since the war began, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that Austin "urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and stressed the importance of keeping channels of communication" open.

He added that the two ministers held consultations "for the first time since February 18" last, a few days before the start of the conflict in Ukraine, without giving further information on the content of the talks.

"The call in and of itself did not address any serious problem and did not lead to direct changes in what the Russians were doing or saying," a senior US defense official told reporters.

In a very brief statement, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that the contact was made "at the initiative of the American side," explaining that the two ministers "discussed current issues related to international security, including the situation in Ukraine."

British sanctions

Britain imposed a new package of sanctions on Friday targeting figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom it accuses of financing his "luxury" lifestyle, in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Among the 12 people targeted by the sanctions are his ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya and former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, whom the British government in a statement referred to as "allegations of having a close personal relationship with Putin."

Britain has been part of an international effort to impose sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes, travel bans and other economic sanctions, since Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine on February 24.

"We are exposing and targeting the hidden network that underpins Putin's luxury lifestyle and tighten the noose around his inner circle," British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

"We will continue to apply sanctions to anyone who aids and is complicit in Putin's aggression," she added.