Poland Puts Military On Alert After Reported Russia Strike

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

 

Poland put its military on heightened readiness Tuesday after Russian missiles reportedly landed inside the NATO member’s borders in a potentially major escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of firing the missiles into Poland, but there was no immediate confirmation from either Warsaw or Washington, and Moscow dismissed the reported strikes as a “provocation” intended to escalate tensions.

The possible strikes, which allegedly killed two people, drew widespread condemnation, with European Union chief Charles Michel saying he was “shocked” and French President Emmanuel Macron calling for talks at the G20 summit underway in Indonesia.

Warsaw put its military on heightened alert after an emergency national security council meeting.

“There has been a decision to raise the state of readiness of some combat units and other uniformed services,” spokesman Piotr Muller told reporters after the meeting in Warsaw.

The US State Department said Washington “will determine what happened and what appropriate next steps would be.”

Poland is protected by NATO’s commitment to collective defence — enshrined in Article 5 of its founding treaty — but even if a cross-border strike is confirmed, the alliance’s response would likely be heavily influenced by whether it was accidental or intentional.

“Today Russian missiles hit Poland, the territory of an allied country. People died”, Zelensky said in an address to the nation, describing the alleged strikes as “a very significant escalation.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted to call for NATO members to convene an “immediate” summit.

Hungary, also a NATO member which borders Ukraine, convened its national defence council in response to the reports, a spokesman for Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

The reports came after Russian missile strikes hit cities across Ukraine Tuesday — including Lviv near the border with Poland — which Kyiv said cut power to seven million homes.

Zelensky said Russia had fired 85 missiles at energy facilities across the country, condemning the strikes as an “act of genocide” and a “cynical slap in the face” of the G20 as world leaders gathered for a summit expected to tackle the war in Ukraine.

Moldova, which also borders Ukraine, reported power cuts because of the missiles fired at its neighbour and called on Moscow to “stop the destruction now”.

‘Now is the time’

On Monday, Zelensky made a surprise visit to Kherson, announcing that Ukraine’s recapture of the key southern city marked “the beginning of the end of the war”.

He told the G20 summit in Bali on Tuesday that “now is the time” to end the war, while Washington said the Russian strikes in Ukraine would “deepen the concerns among the G20 about the destabilising impact of Putin’s war”.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia was again trying to destroy Ukrainian critical infrastructure.

Since September, Ukraine forces have been pushing deeper into the south. Russia announced last week a full withdrawal from the regional capital of the southern Kherson region, allowing Ukraine’s forces to re-enter the city.

Tuesday’s missile strikes came after Russia-appointed officials in Nova Kakhovka said they were leaving the important southern city, blaming artillery fire from Kyiv’s forces.

They also claimed “thousands of residents” had followed their recommendation to leave to “save themselves”, saying Kyiv’s forces would seek “revenge on collaborators”.

Key dam at risk

Nova Kakhovka sits on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, now a natural dividing line between Ukraine’s forces that retook Kherson city on the west side and Russia’s forces on the opposing bank.

It is also home to the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam which was captured in the beginning of the invasion because of its strategic importance supplying the Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula.

The Russian-controlled dam is a particular focus now after Zelensky accused Russian troops of planning to blow it up to trigger a devastating flood.

Any defects at the dam would cause water supply problems for Crimea, which has been under Russian control since 2014 and which Ukraine hopes to recapture.

Russian forces said last week that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the dam.

The Russian-appointed head of the occupied part of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said Tuesday the dam was no longer operating.

“The situation is more dangerous — not with electricity generation — but with the dam itself, which, in the event of an explosion, would flood a fairly large area,” he said on state-run television channel Rossiya-24, according to Russian agencies.

The loss of Kherson was the latest in a string of setbacks for the Kremlin, which invaded Ukraine on February 24 hoping for a lightning takeover that would topple the government in days.

AFP

NATO Membership: Swedish PM Tries To Win Turkey Over

A handout photograph taken and released on October 25, 2021 by the Turkish Presidential Press Service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. Murat KULA / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
A handout photograph taken and released on October 25, 2021 by the Turkish Presidential Press Service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan giving a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. Murat KULA / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was due to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday in a top-level bid to persuade Turkey to drop its opposition to Sweden joining NATO.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden and Finland abandoned their long-standing policy of military non-alignment and in May applied to join the transatlantic alliance.

But Turkey has stalled ratification of their bids — which require unanimous approval from NATO’s 30 members — accusing the Nordic nations, and especially Sweden, of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish militants that Ankara says are “terrorists”.

Erdogan — who is seeking re-election next year — is in a position of strength, after persuading Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to stop blockading Ukraine’s grain exports.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sought last week to strengthen the new applicants’ hand by personally travelling to Ankara to argue their case.

“It’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO. Their accession will make our alliance stronger and our people safer,” he said.

Stoltenberg stressed that Sweden and Finland had agreed in June to concessions, including addressing Turkey’s request for “terror suspects” to be deported or extradited.

“Finland and Sweden have delivered on their agreement to Turkey,” Stoltenberg said, adding that bringing them into the NATO fold was important “to send a clear message to Russia”.

– Kurds and war on IS –

Erdogan has welcomed the progress made in talks since Sweden’s new right-wing government took office in October.

But he repeated on Friday — for the third time in a month — that his parliament would not formally approve the Nordic NATO bids until the two countries took the necessary “steps”.

Turkey accuses Sweden in particular of leniency towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The PKK, which has for years staged an insurgency against the Turkish state, is designated a terrorist organisation by Ankara and most of its Western allies.

But the YPG has been a key player in the US-led military alliance combatting the Islamic State group in Syria.

While Sweden has in the past expressed support for the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Kristersson’s government appears to be distancing itself.

“There is too close a link between these organisations and the PKK, which is a terrorist organisation listed by the EU,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Saturday.

– Cashing the NATO enlargement card –

Despite the change in stance in Stockholm, some analysts believe Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023 could delay the Nordic NATO bids.

“The Turkish side will ratify their membership when it feels it is the best moment to cash that card,” predicted Ilke Toygur, professor of European geopolitics at the University Carlos III in Madrid.

“I assume pressure will rise in the meantime (but) I sense that many countries in NATO already assume that enlargement will be next year, maybe even in the second half of next year,” she told AFP.

“It is widely assumed that Turkey is also trying to negotiate for other things.

“It could be the F16s. It could be about its overall relationship with Russia.”

Leading US senators have threatened to block the sale to Ankara of US F16 fighter jets unless Turkey ends a dispute with Greece over maritime borders and natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey, which seeks to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, has refrained from joining Western sanctions on Moscow and acquired a Russian missile defence system while also supplying Kyiv with combat drones.

“It remains to be seen if Erdogan think he’s got enough signs of goodwill from Sweden and it’s therefore in his political and military interest to declare victory, or if he thinks sticking to the current line will serve his re-election campaign,” said a European diplomatic source.

The source nevertheless said there was still a “reasonable chance” that the Turkish parliament would ratify the Nordic NATO bids before the June 2023 election.

AFP

NATO Warns Russia Against ‘Dirty Bomb’ Pretext

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference ahead of a NATO Defence ministers’ meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on June 15, 2022. (Photo by Valeria Mongelli / AFP)

 

Russia must not escalate the conflict in Ukraine with false claims that Kyiv is planning to unleash a so-called “dirty bomb”, the head of NATO warned Monday.

Jens Stoltenberg weighed in following Moscow’s repeated allegations that Ukraine could deploy such a weapon, sparking fears Russia could use one and blame Kyiv.

The head of the US-led military alliance said he had spoken with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace “about Russia’s false claim that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.”

“NATO Allies reject this allegation. Russia must not use it as a pretext for escalation. We remain steadfast in our support for Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter.

Moscow has alleged that Ukraine is close to developing a dirty bomb, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted the threat is real.

“This is not empty information… there are serious suspicions that such things may be planned”, Lavrov said, adding: “We have a keen interest in preventing such a terrible provocation.”

But State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington is worried that Russia’s claims could be a cover.

“We have seen a pattern in this conflict and the lead-up to this war where the Russians have engaged in mirror imaging — the Russians have accused the Ukrainians, the Russians have accused other countries of what itself was planning. That is our concern”, Price said.

The head of the Russian army Valery Gerasimov repeated Moscow’s claims in a telephone call with his US counterpart on Monday, the defence ministry said.

The call was the latest in a string of conversations between Russian defence officials and counterparts from NATO countries, during which Moscow said, without providing evidence, that Kyiv was planning to deploy a dirty bomb.

In a statement on Monday, Russian Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov said: “According to the information we have, two organisations in Ukraine have specific instructions to create a so-called ‘dirty bomb’. This work is in its final stage”.

At its most basic, a dirty bomb is a conventional weapon laced with radioactive, biological or chemical materials that are disseminated in an explosion.

Moscow’s claims follow weeks of military defeats for Russia in southern and eastern Ukraine, with observers and Kyiv saying the Kremlin is becoming increasingly desperate.

In Kyiv’s latest announcement of territorial gains, the Ukrainian military claims to have pushed Russian forces from several villages in the northeast of the country.

Inspection mission

“Due to successful actions, our troops pushed the enemy out of the settlements of Karmazynivka, Myasozharivka and Nevske in the Lugansk region and Novosadove in Donetsk region,” the Ukrainian military said in a statement.

Both Kyiv and its allies have fiercely rejected the dirty bomb claims, which follow thinly veiled threats from Moscow of potential nuclear escalation.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the head of the United Nations nuclear agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, accepted his request to “urgently send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine, which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a dirty bomb.”

The IAEA confirmed in a statement that it would visit two Ukrainian facilities “in the coming days.”

Britain, the United States and France also issued a joint statement dismissing the Russian claims.

“Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” the statement said.

With the help of Western-supplied heavy weapons, Ukraine has managed to claw back swathes of its territory from Russia in the east and south, while its power grid has been pummelled ahead of winter.

As momentum has swung toward Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has faced fissures in domestic support for his campaign, as a messy troop draft and battlefield losses challenged the prospect of a quick conclusion.

The Kremlin meanwhile said on Monday that France and Germany were showing “no desire” to participate in mediation on the conflict and praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offer to organise talks.

Turkey helped broker the deal that allowed grain exports to resume under the UN’s aegis in July, and played a role in a prisoner swap in September, one of the largest exchanges.

AFP

US Ratifies Finland, Sweden Accession To NATO

In this file photo taken on May 19, 2022 US President Joe Biden, flanked by Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö, speaks in the Rose Garden following a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

 

The US Senate ratified the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO Wednesday, strongly backing the expansion of the transatlantic alliance in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Senate voted 95 to 1 in favor of the two Nordic countries’ accession, making the United States the 23rd of the 30 NATO countries to formally endorse it so far, after Italy approved it earlier Wednesday and France on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden hailed the Senate’s quick ratification process — the fastest since 1981.

“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement.

The sole opponent was Republican Josh Hawley, who agreed that the United States should focus on protecting its homeland, but that Washington should concentrate on the challenge from China rather than Europe.

One senator, Republican Rand Paul, voted “present” rather than endorsing or opposing the motion.

READ ALSO27 Chinese Warplanes Enter Taiwan’s Air Defence Zone: Taipei

Senate leader Chuck Schumer said it was a signal of Western unity after Moscow launched a war on Ukraine on February 24.

“This is important substantively and as a signal to Russia: they cannot intimidate America or Europe,” Schumer said.

“Putin has tried to use his war in Ukraine to divide the West. Instead, today’s vote shows our alliance is stronger than ever,” he said.

All 30 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must agree if Finland and Sweden, officially non-aligned but longtime adjunct partners of the alliance, are admitted.

According to a NATO list, seven member countries have yet to formally agree to the new double-entry: the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey.

Only Turkey has raised a challenge, demanding certain concessions from Finland and Sweden to back their memberships.

Ankara has demanded the extradition of dozens of government opponents it labels “terrorists” from both countries in exchange for its support.

Turkey said on July 21 that a special committee would meet Finnish and Swedish officials in August to assess if the two nations are complying with its conditions.

AFP

US, NATO ‘Main Threats’ To National Security – Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session involving the leaders of several invited states during the 14th BRICS summit - in virtual format via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP

 

The United States’ quest to dominate the oceans and NATO’s expansion are the biggest threats facing Russia, according to a new Russian naval doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

The 55-page document said the “main challenges and threats” to national security and development were Washington’s “strategic objective to dominate the world’s oceans” and NATO military infrastructure moving towards Russia’s borders.

READ ALSO: Ukraine War: First Grain Cargo Could Leave Port On Monday, Says Turkey

“Russia’s independent internal and external policy faces counter-measures from the United States and its allies, who aim to preserve their dominance in the world, including its oceans,” said the doctrine, signed on Russian Navy Day.

Moscow views the Western military alliance — the Soviet Union’s enemy during the Cold War — as an existential threat, using Ukraine’s membership hopes to justify its offensive on February 24.

The doctrine said Moscow will seek to strengthen its leading position in exploring the Arctic and its mineral resources and maintain “strategic stability” thereby bolstering the potential of the northern and Pacific fleets.

It also mentioned Russia’s desire to develop a “safe and competitive” sea route from Europe to Asia, known as the Northeast Passage, via the country’s Arctic coastline and ensure it worked throughout the year.

“Today’s Russia cannot exist without a strong fleet… and will defend its interests in the world’s oceans firmly and with a resolution,” the doctrine added.

Russia Quits Snake Island, Weakening Blockade Of Ukraine Ports

This handout image courtesy of Maxar Technologies released on June 30, 2022 shows an overview of Snake Island, Ukraine on June 17, 2022. Photo by various sources / AFP
This handout image courtesy of Maxar Technologies released on June 30, 2022 shows an overview of Snake Island, Ukraine on June 17, 2022. Photo by various sources / AFP

 

Russian troops have abandoned their positions on a captured Ukrainian island, a major setback to their invasion effort that weakens their blockade of Ukraine’s ports, defence officials said on Thursday.

The news from the Black Sea came as NATO leaders wrapped up their summit in Madrid, with US President Joe Biden announcing $800 million in new weapons to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.

“We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance are going to stick with Ukraine, as long as it takes to make sure they are not defeated by Russia,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, compared the new diplomatic low to the return of the Cold War, telling reporters: “As far as an Iron Curtain is concerned, essentially it is already descending… The process has begun.”

READ ALSO: If Putin Was A Woman, There Would Be No Ukraine War – Boris Johnson

But there may be a possible opening: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said, after meeting Putin in Moscow, that he had given the Russian leader a message from their Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, when the rocky outcrop’s defenders told a Russian warship that called on them to surrender to “go f*ck yourself”, an incident that spurred a defiant meme.

It was also a strategic target, sitting aside shipping lanes near Ukraine’s port of Odessa. Russia had attempted to install missile and air defence batteries while under fire from drones.

Now, however, Ukraine has begun to receive longer range missiles and artillery, and the Russian position on Snake Island seems to have become untenable.

‘Strategically important’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the Russian president that any eventual peace deal would be on Ukraine’s terms.

“In the end, it will prove impossible for Putin to hold down a country that will not accept his rule,” he said.

“We’ve seen what Ukraine can do to drive the Russians back. We’ve seen what they did around Kyiv and Kharkiv, now on Snake Island.”

The Russian defence ministry statement described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organise protected grain exports from Ukraine.

But Kyiv claimed it as a win.

“They always downplay their defeats this way,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

“I thank the defenders of Odessa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Ukraine military’s commander-in-chief, said on Telegram.

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine’s ports seized, razed or blockaded — threatening grain importers in Africa with famine.

Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

‘Direct threat’

On Thursday, a ship carrying 7,000 tonnes of grain sailed from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk, said the regional leader appointed by the Russian occupation forces.

Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Moscow administration, said Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey, adding that the port had been de-mined.

Separately, the Russian defence ministry said its forces are holding more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war who have been captured since the February 24 invasion.

The conflict in Ukraine has dominated the NATO summit in Madrid, where the leaders said Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

This came as NATO officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, and Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and planes to Europe.

Biden said the US move was exactly what Putin “didn’t want” — and Moscow, facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons, reacted with predictable fury.

Putin on Wednesday accused the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy”, telling journalists in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat that Ukraine and its people are “a means” for NATO to “defend their own interests.”

“The NATO countries’ leaders wish to… assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions,” Putin added.

‘As long as it takes’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed Putin’s comments as “ridiculous” and said the Russian leader “has made imperialism the goal of his politics”.

NATO leaders have funnelled billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine and faced a renewed appeal from Zelensky for more long-range artillery.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the summit, as he announced a new strategic overview that focuses on the Moscow threat.

The document, updated for the first time since 2010, warned the alliance “cannot discount the possibility” of an attack on its members.

Russian missiles continued to rain down on cities across Ukraine.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, rescuers found the bodies of seven slain civilians in the rubble of a destroyed building, emergency services said.

The city of Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region — the current focus of Russia’s offensive — is also facing sustained bombardment.

The situation in Lysychansk — the last major city the Russians need to take over in the Lugansk region — was “extremely difficult” with relentless shelling making it impossible to evacuate civilians, regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said.

“There is a lot of shelling… The Russian army is approaching from different directions,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.

Russia’s forces remain at the outskirts of the city where there is currently no street fighting, he said.

Gaiday dismissed claims by pro-Russian separatists fighting alongside Moscow’s forces who claim to control half of the city situated across the river from neighbouring Severodonetsk, which was captured by the Russian army last week.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine said on Thursday 16 million people in Ukraine were in need of humanitarian aid.

‘Offensive’ remarks

Also on Thursday, Russia summoned Britain’s ambassador to Moscow to protest at Johnson’s “offensive” remarks about Putin.

Johnson had said on Tuesday that Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman and said the military operation was “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”.

The Russian foreign ministry said: “In polite society, it is customary to apologise for remarks of this kind.”

 

AFP

Russia Demands Ukraine Surrender As NATO Readies For Finland, Sweden Membership

A photograph taken on June 28, 2022 shows the ruins of a school building, partially destroyed by two rockets in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP
A photograph taken on June 28, 2022 shows the ruins of a school building, partially destroyed by two rockets in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Western allies vowed on Tuesday to boost NATO’s defences and to back Ukraine to the end as Moscow demanded Kyiv’s surrender.

As NATO leaders gathered in Madrid for a summit, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be formally invited to join NATO after Turkey lifted its block on their bids.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had stubbornly refused to approve their applications — lodged in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine — despite calls from his NATO allies to clear their path to membership.

But he abandoned his opposition following crunch talks on Tuesday with the leaders of the two Nordic countries in Madrid.

READ ALSO: Russia Adds 43 Canadians To Blacklist, Canada Hits Back

Erdogan’s office said late on Tuesday it had agreed to back their applications, saying Ankara had “got what it wanted”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the agreement between Finland, Sweden and Turkey, saying their membership would make the defence alliance “stronger and safer”.

Meanwhile, a senior US official said their membership would be a “powerful shot in the arm” for NATO unity.

NATO’s expansion came as Russian missiles continued to pound Ukrainian cities.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters arriving with President Joe Biden that Washington will announce “historic” new long-term military deployments in Europe.

The reinforcements will join NATO’s eastern flank, Russia’s nervous neighbours like the Baltic states, and reflect a long-term change “in the strategic reality” elsewhere in Europe.

Ahead of the summit, Stoltenberg said the allies would boost their high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000.

New sanctions

Before travelling to Madrid, Biden and other leaders of the G7 powers — the world’s richest democracies — had held a summit in the German Alps.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz boasted afterwards that his country, a laggard in defence spending, would build “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Russia’s invasion, he said, had convinced Berlin “that we should spend more… an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years”.

NATO member Bulgaria announced it would expel 70 staff from Russia’s diplomatic mission accused of working against its interests.

At the G7 summit, the leaders agreed to impose new sanctions targeting Moscow’s defence industry, raising tariffs and banning gold imports from the country.

The US Treasury said the measures “strike at the heart of Russia’s ability to develop and deploy weapons and technology used for Vladimir Putin’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine,”

The new set of sanctions target Rostec, Russia’s largest defence conglomerate, as well as military units and officers implicated in human rights abuses in Ukraine, the Treasury said.

Putin’s Kremlin was not fazed by the sanctions, warning that Ukraine’s forces’ only option was to lay down their arms.

“The Ukrainian side can stop everything before the end of today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“An order for the nationalist units to lay down their arms is necessary,” he said, adding Kyiv had to fulfil a list of Moscow’s demands.

‘Everything burned’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the United Nations to visit the site of a missile strike on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk, as he addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“I suggest the United Nations send either a special representative, or the secretary-general of the United Nations, or a plenipotentiary commission to the site of this terrorist act… so the UN could independently find out information and see that this indeed was a Russian missile strike,” Zelensky said of the attack on Monday that killed at least 18 people.

“Everything burned, really everything, like a spark to a touchpaper. I heard people screaming. It was horror,” witness Polina Puchintseva told AFP.

All that was left of the mall was charred debris, chunks of blackened walls and lettering from a smashed store front.

Russia claims its missile salvo was aimed at an arms depot — but none of the civilians who talked to AFP knew of any weapons store in the neighbourhood.

And, outside Russia, the latest carnage sparked only Ukrainian fury and western solidarity.

“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” the G7 leaders said in a statement, condemning the “abominable attack”.

Zelensky declared on his social media channels: “Only total insane terrorists, who should have no place on Earth, can strike missiles at civilian objects.

“Russia must be recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism. The world can and therefore must stop Russian terror,” he added.

The G7 leaders did not go so far as to brand Putin a terrorist — but they vowed that Russia, already under tough sanctions, would face more economic pain.

“The G7 stands united in its support for Ukraine,” Scholz told reporters.

“We will continue to keep up and drive up the economic and political costs of this war for President Putin and his regime.”

Oil price cap?

The G7 had announced several new measures to put the squeeze on Putin, including a plan to work towards a price cap on Russian oil.

The group also agreed to impose an import ban on Russian gold. At the same time, the G7 powers heaped financial support on Ukraine, with aid now reaching $29.5 billion.

Meanwhile, with fierce artillery duels continuing in the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian officials said the central city of Dnipro and several other sites had been hit by more Russian missiles.

Pro-Moscow forces detained Igor Kolykhayev, the elected mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.

Russian media said the “nationalist” was an opponent of Moscow’s supposed efforts to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, but Kolykhayev’s aides said he had been “kidnapped” by the city’s illegitimate occupiers.

The UN said 6.2 million people are now estimated to have been displaced within Ukraine, in addition to 5.26 million who have fled abroad.

“Ukraine now faces a brutality which we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Stoltenberg said as leaders began to gather in Madrid.

 

AFP

US Says NATO Commitment To Lithuania ‘Ironclad’ After Russia Threat

US President Joe Biden speaks about supporting Ukrainians defending their country against Russia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2022.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

The United States said Tuesday it stood firmly behind Lithuania and NATO commitments to defend it after Russia warned its neighbor over restrictions on rail transit.

“We stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article Five — the premise that an attack on one would constitute an attack on all — that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad,” he said.

READ ALSO: Russia Warns Lithuania, Pushes Into Ukraine’s Donbas

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic both in NATO and the European Union, has been among the most outspoken nations in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuania said that it would restrict the rail transit of goods sanctioned by the EU into Kaliningrad, an isolated Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

Russia warned that it would “certainly respond” to the “hostile actions.”

Price said that the United States welcomed the “unprecedented economic measures” taken by Lithuania and other nations against Russia over its invasion.

Asked about Russia’s statements, Price said, “We aren’t going to speculate on Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster and don’t even want to give it additional airtime.”

AFP

Zelensky Vows To Retake South, NATO Warns Of Long War

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark's and Spain's Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech during a press conference with Denmark’s and Spain’s Prime Ministers in Kyiv on April 21, 2022. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Sunday that his forces “will not give away the south to anyone” after his first visit to the southern frontline, as NATO’s chief warned the war in Ukraine could last “for years”.

Making a rare trip outside Kyiv, where he is based for security reasons, Zelensky travelled to the hold-out Black Sea city of Mykolaiv and visited troops nearby and in the neighbouring Odessa region for the first time since the Russian invasion.

“We will not give away the south to anyone, we will return everything that’s ours and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe,” he said in a video posted on Telegram as he made his way back to Kyiv.

He said he talked with troops and police during his visit.

“Their mood is confident, and looking into their eyes it is obvious that they all do not doubt our victory,” he said.

While Zelensky remained defiant, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that “we must be prepared for this to last for years.”

Speaking to German daily newspaper Bild, Stoltenberg said “We must not weaken in our support of Ukraine, even if the costs are high — not only in terms of military support but also because of rising energy and food prices.”

Russian forces have directed their firepower at the east and south of Ukraine in recent weeks since failing in their bid to take the capital Kyiv after the lightning February 24 invasion.

“The losses are significant. Many houses were destroyed, civilian logistics were disrupted, there are many social issues,” Zelensky said.

“I have commissioned to make assistance to people who have lost loved ones more systemic. We will definitely restore everything that was destroyed. Russia does not have as many missiles as our people have the desire to live.”

Mykolaiv is a key target for Russia as it lies on the way to the strategic Black Sea port of Odessa.

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Zelensky surveyed the city’s badly damaged regional administration building and met officials in what appeared to be a basement where he handed out awards to soldiers, in a video released by his office.

Soldiers in Mykolaiv meanwhile were trying to keep their pre-war routines alive, with one saying he would not give up his vegan diet on the frontlines.

Oleksandr Zhuhan said he had received a package from a network of volunteers to keep up his plant-based diet.

“There was pate and vegan sausages, hummus, soya milk… and all this for free,” the 37-year-old drama teacher said happily.

– ‘Hero’ –

Back in Kyiv, with shockwaves from the war continuing to reverberate around the world, thousands gathered to pay tribute to one young man — Roman Ratushny, a leading figure in Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan movement, who was killed fighting Russians in the country’s east earlier this month aged just 24.

In front of the coffin draped in a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag at the foot of a monument that overlooks the sprawling Independence Square in the capital, people of all ages saluted his memory.

“I think it is important to be here because he is a hero of Ukraine and we must remember him,” Dmytro Ostrovsky, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP.

The loss put a human face on the shared grief of Ukrainians, as the bloodshed continues.

The worst of the fighting continues to be in the eastern industrial Donbas region, with battles raging in villages outside the city of Severodonetsk, which Russia has been trying to seize for weeks.

“There’s an expression: prepare for the worst and the best will come by itself,” the governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, told AFP in an interview from the Ukrainian-controlled city of Lysychansk across the river from Severodonetsk.

“Of course, we need to prepare.”

Wearing a flak jacket and carrying gun cartridges and a tourniquet, he said Russian forces “are just shelling our troop positions 24 hours a day.”

Earlier, Gaiday said on Telegram that there was “more destruction” at the besieged Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering.

He also said Lysychansk was being “heavily shelled”.

There are signs of preparations for street fighting in the city: soldiers digging in, putting up barbed wire and police placing burnt-out vehicles sideways across roads to slow traffic, as residents were preparing to be evacuated.

“We’re abandoning everything and going. No one can survive such a strike,” said history teacher Alla Bor, waiting with her son-in-law Volodymyr and 14-year-old grandson.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian officials in the eastern, separatist-held city of Donetsk said five civilians were killed and 12 injured by Ukrainian bombardment.

In Lysychansk, the governor Gaiday said watching his home city, Severodonetsk, be shelled and people he knew dying was “painful.”

“I’m a human being but I bury this deep inside me,” he said, adding that his task is to “help people as much as possible”.

AFP

Ukraine Ex-President Says He Was Blocked From Leaving The Country

In this file photo, ex-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivers his speech from Parliament tribune during an emergency session in Kyiv on November 26, 2018, ahead of a parliamentary vote at the request of the Ukrainian President to impose martial law in the country. Genya SAVILOV / AFP

 

The former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Saturday he was barred from leaving the country, accusing the government of breaking a so-called political ceasefire in place since Russia invaded. 

Poroshenko, in power from 2014 to 2019, has made frequent public appearances since the war started, appearing on international television to offer commentary.

His European Solidarity party is the second biggest party in Ukraine’s parliament after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling party.

After Russia invaded, Ukraine’s parliament banned several pro-Russian parties and allowed others to still operate under a so-called political ceasefire — a tacit understanding that all parties would put aside domestic political disagreements to unite against the war.

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But on Saturday, Poroshenko’s office said he “was refused to cross the border of Ukraine,” accusing the government of violating the agreement.

“There is a risk that by this decision, the authorities have broken the ‘political ceasefire’ in place during the war… which one of the pillars of national unity in the face of to Russian aggression,” his office said.

Poroshenko was due to travel to a NATO parliamentary assembly meeting in Lithuania as part of the Ukrainian delegation and had received official permission to travel.

He was due to meet in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and a group of European parliamentarians.

He was then to travel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a summit bringing together European political parties.

AFP

Russia Stops Gas Supplies To Finland Amid NATO Membership Bid

A photo taken on May 12, 2022 shows pipes at the Gasum plant in Raikkola, Imatra, Finland. Inset, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photos: AFP

 

Russia on Saturday stopped providing natural gas to neighbouring Finland, which has angered Moscow by applying for NATO membership after the Nordic country refused to pay supplier Gazprom in rubles.

Following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has asked clients from “unfriendly countries” — including EU member states — to pay for gas in rubles, a way to sidestep Western financial sanctions against its central bank.

Gazprom said in a statement Saturday that it had “completely stopped gas deliveries” as it had not received ruble payments from Finland’s state-owned energy company Gasum “by the end of the working day on May 20”.

Gazprom said it had supplied 1.49 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Finland in 2021, equal to about two-thirds of the country’s gas consumption.

However, natural gas accounts for around eight per cent of Finland’s energy.

Gasum said it would make up for the shortfall from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline, which links Finland to Estonia, and assured that filling stations would run normally.

“Natural gas supplies to Finland under Gasum’s supply contract have been cut off,” the company said in a statement.

In April, Gazprom Export demanded that future payments in the supply contract be made in rubles instead of euros.

Gasum rejected the demand and announced on Tuesday it was taking the issue to arbitration.

Gazprom Export said it would defend its interests in court by any “means available”.

Gasum said it would be able to secure gas from other sources and that gas filling stations in the network area would continue “normal operation”.

Rift over NATO bid

In efforts to mitigate the risks of relying on Russian energy exports, the Finnish government on Friday also announced it had signed a 10-year lease agreement for an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal ship with US-based Excelerate Energy.

On Sunday, Russia suspended electricity supplies to Finland overnight after its energy firm RAO Nordic claimed payment arrears, although the shortfall was quickly replaced.

Finland, along with neighbouring Sweden, this week broke its historical military non-alignment and applied for NATO membership, after public and political support for the western alliance soared following the invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow has warned Finland that any NATO membership application would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences”.

Both Finland and Sweden are seemingly on the fast track to joining the military alliance, with US President Joe Biden offering “full, total, complete backing” to their bids.

But all 30 existing NATO members must agree on any new entrants, and Turkey has condemned the Nordic neighbours’ alleged toleration of Kurdish militants and has so far voiced opposition to letting them in.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said the Kremlin would respond to any NATO expansion by creating more military bases in western Russia.

Saturday’s halt to gas shipments follows Moscow cutting off Poland and Bulgaria last month in a move the European Union described as “blackmail”.

AFP

Finland, Sweden Hand In Applications To Join NATO

Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto (R) and Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on May 15, 2022. (Photo by Alessandro RAMPAZZO / AFP)

 

Finland and Sweden on Wednesday handed in their bids to join NATO, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine up-ended decades of military non-alignment. 

The applications were warmly received by most allies. But Turkey raised objections, and ambassadors meeting in Brussels failed to reach consensus on starting formal membership negotiations.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had promised the process would be “swift and smooth”, but Turkey will have to be mollified before the ratification can take place.

“The applications you have made today are an historic step. Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO,” Stoltenberg said, after receiving the bids from the Finnish and Swedish ambassadors.

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The membership push could represent the most significant expansion of NATO in decades. It would double the US-led organisation’s presence along Russia’s borders, and President Vladimir Putin has warned it may trigger a response from Moscow.

But resistance raised by NATO member Turkey threatens to block them, with Ankara accusing the Nordic countries of acting as safe havens for opposition Kurdish groups.

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We asked them to extradite 30 terrorists but they refused to do so.

“You will not send back the terrorists to us, and then ask our support for your NATO membership?”

Officials in Brussels confirmed that a meeting on Wednesday of the North Atlantic Council — ambassadors from the NATO member states — broke up without an agreement to pass to the next stage of membership talks.

“Allies will now consider the next steps on their path to NATO,” a NATO official said.

Earlier, Stoltenberg had said: “The security interests of all allies have to be taken into account and we are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions.

“All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize.”

Helsinki, Stockholm and the other allied Western capitals remain optimistic they can overcome Turkey’s objections.

Several NATO allies, most notably Britain, have offered security assurances to Finland and Sweden during the application period before they are covered by alliance’s mutual defence pact.

“Over the past few days we have seen numerous statements by allies committing to Finland and Sweden’s security,” Stoltenberg said.

“NATO is already vigilant in the Baltic Sea region and NATO and allies forces will continue to adapt as necessary.”

AFP