Finland Seeks To Reassure Russia About NATO Bid

 This file photo taken on July 27, 2017 shows Finland's President Sauli Niinisto (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands after a press conference in Punkaharju hotel in Savonlinna, Finland. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
This file photo taken on July 27, 2017 shows Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands after a press conference in Punkaharju hotel in Savonlinna, Finland. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

 

Finland on Saturday sought to allay Moscow’s fears about its bid to join NATO, as fierce fighting raged in Ukraine’s east, slowing a Russian advance.

Wives and parents of Ukrainian fighters trapped in the bowels of a besieged steel plant in the country’s south meanwhile made a desperate appeal to China to help secure their release.

And the wealthy countries of the G7 vowed to further turn the screw on the Kremlin with fresh sanctions, pledging never to recognise the borders it is attempting to redraw through destructive force.

One of Europe’s fiercest conflicts since World War II has seen more than six million people flee for their lives, and according to Kyiv has caused an estimated $90 billion in damage to civilian infrastructure.

READ ALSO: Russia Suspends Electricity To Finland

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin urged his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu to move immediately to implement a ceasefire, in their first talks since before the conflict began on February 24.

But one senior Ukrainian general predicted a turning point in the months ahead, and said the fighting could be over by the end of the year.

In Turin, Italy, a world away from the fighting, a wave of popular support has made Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra the bookmakers’ favourite to triumph at the world’s biggest live music event — the Eurovision Song Contest.

But even there the war has cast a shadow.

“We have one band member who joined the territorial defence of Kyiv on the third day of the war,” said lead singer Oleh Psiuk.

“We are very worried about him, and we hope to see him safe once we are back.”

Phone call

Finland and Sweden are poised to jettison decades of military non-alignment to join NATO as a defence against feared further aggression from Russia.

Moscow has warned Finland, with whom it shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border, that it would take “reciprocal steps”.

Finland’s grid operator said Russia halted electricity supplies overnight, though Finnish officials said power supplied by Sweden had made up for the losses.

Ahead of talks with NATO members in Berlin, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said he was “confident that in the end we will find a solution and Finland (and) Sweden will become members of NATO”.

Earlier, in a phone call initiated by Helsinki, President Sauli Niinisto had a “direct and straightforward” conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Niinisto’s office said.

Putin, however, told him that Finland joining NATO would be a “mistake”, insisting that Russia posed “no threat to Finland’s security”, the Kremlin said.

Finland’s bid to join NATO is expected to be announced this weekend.

Turkey unhappy

Finland and Sweden will first have to win over NATO member Turkey on the sidelines of the informal gathering of the alliance’s foreign ministers in Berlin.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said he opposed their membership bids and accused both countries of harbouring “terrorist organisations”.

Both Nordic countries have sizable Kurdish populations. Ankara has regularly accused Stockholm in particular of harbouring members of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organisation in the UK, European Union and the United States.

It has also been angered by Sweden’s assertion that the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 constituted genocide.

But Turkey on Saturday expressed readiness at least to discuss Finnish and Swedish membership.

“A big majority of the Turkish people are against the membership of those countries who are supporting PKK terrorist organisation,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said upon arrival for the Berlin talks.

He added, however, that “these are the issues that we need to talk, of course, with our NATO allies as well as these countries.”

Kharkiv withdrawal

In Ukraine, the government and military said Ukrainian forces were holding back a Russian assault in the strategic eastern Donbas region, stifling Moscow’s attempt to annex the south and east.

Since late March, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to eastern Ukraine after failing to take the capital Kyiv.

The governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Sergiy Gaiday, said Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian attempts to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk.

Defence and military intelligence officials in London and Washington both said Russian forces had sustained heavy losses as they attempted the river crossing and had failed to make significant progress.

The Ukrainian general staff said troops had managed to push Russian forces out of Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv in the northeast — a priority target for Moscow.

“The enemy’s main efforts are focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its units from the city of Kharkiv,” a spokesman said.

Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov meanwhile said in a video on Telegram that Ukrainian forces were counterattacking in the direction of the northeastern city of Izyum.

Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, said the months ahead could prove decisive.

“The breaking point will be in the second part of August,” he told Britain’s Sky News television.

“Most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year.”

Appeal to China

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday met Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican minority in the US Senate, and a delegation of US senators in Kyiv.

A Democratic contingent led by House speaker Nancy Pelosi had visited Kyiv earlier.

On Friday, Zelensky said his troops would fight to recapture all occupied territory, and those under siege, including in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

There, the last defenders of the city are holed up in a warren of underground tunnels and bunkers at the vast Azovstal steelworks under heavy bombardment.

The United Nations and Red Cross helped to evacuate women, children and the elderly from the plant whey there were sheltering earlier this month.

But local officials said around 600 fighters from Ukraine’s Azov regiment were wounded and needed to be brought out for medical treatment.

In Kyiv, five wives and a father of fighters trapped at the plant appealed directly to China’s President Xi Jinping to step in.

“China has a big influence on Russia and on Putin personally. We ask for him to intervene,” said one man, Stavr Vychniak.

Turkey Opposes NATO Membership For Finland, Sweden

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
FILE: 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

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey did not have a “positive opinion” on Finland and Sweden joining NATO, throwing up a potential obstacle for the nations’ membership bid. 

The leader of NATO-member Turkey spoke ahead of expected confirmations from the Nordic nations on Sunday that they will apply to join the Western military alliance.

Erdogan accused both countries of harbouring “terrorist organisations” in his unfavourable assessment of the membership bids.

READ ALSO: Finland Will Join NATO ‘Without Delay’ – President, PM

“We do not have a positive opinion,” Erdogan told journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul.

“Scandinavian countries are like a guesthouse for terror organisations,” he said.

Turkey has long accused Nordic countries, especially Sweden which has a strong Turkish immigrant community, of harbouring extremist Kurdish groups as well as supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher wanted over a failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan cited a “mistake” made by Turkey’s former rulers who okayed Greece’s NATO membership in 1952.

“We, as Turkey, do not want to make a second mistake on this issue,” he said.

Unanimous approval needed

Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has swung political and public opinion in Finland and Sweden in favour of membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

Both countries have long cooperated with NATO and are expected to be able to join the alliance quickly.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said they would be welcomed “with open arms”.

Turkey’s response is the first dissenting voice against the two Nordic countries’ NATO prospects.

Sweden’s and Finland’s foreign ministers responded on Friday by saying they were hoping to meet their Turkish counterpart in Berlin at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Saturday.

“We will then have the opportunity to discuss a potential Swedish NATO application,” Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde said in a statement to AFP, also noting the “Turkish government had not delivered this type of message directly to us”.

Speaking at a Helsinki press conference, Finland’s Pekka Haavisto also said he hoped to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during the weekend to “continue our discussion.”

Stockholm and Helsinki have cranked up their international contacts to seek support for their potential bids.

Once a country has decided to apply for NATO membership, the alliance’s 30 members must agree unanimously to extend a formal invitation, which is followed by membership negotiations.

The final approval could then take place at a NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June. The 30 member states would then have to ratify the decision.

Turkey, which enjoys good relations with Kyiv and Moscow, has been keen to play a mediating role to end the conflict and has offered to host a leaders’ summit.

Ankara has supplied Ukraine with combat drones but has shied away from slapping sanctions on Russia alongside Western allies.

‘Hungary of the EU’

Erdogan’s comments may also raise tensions with France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has said NATO was undergoing “brain death” partly due to Turkey’s behaviour.

Macron has made clear he supports Finland’s bid as does the United States.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday Washington was “working to clarify Turkey’s position”, adding there was “broad support” for the two countries’ joining the alliance.

The Finnish president spoke with Erdogan in April as part of consultations for its NATO bid.

“I thanked President Erdogan for his efforts for peace in Ukraine. Turkey supports Finland’s objectives,” he tweeted at the time.

Turkey’s position on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership risks making it look like the “Hungary of the EU”, said Washington Institute fellow Soner Cagaptay.

Pro-Russia Hungary often breaks from its EU colleagues on a broad range of issues, including rule of law and human rights.

Cagaptay said Ankara should have negotiated its terror-related concerns behind closed doors with the two countries.

“The fact that this is done publicly is going to hurt Ankara’s image significantly,” he said.

But Erdogan is “a clever tactician”, said Elisabeth Braw, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“He knows that this is an opportunity for Turkey to get something from NATO member states… F-35s, for example,” she said, referring to US defence giant Lockheed Martin’s jets.

AFP

Finland Will Join NATO ‘Without Delay’ – President, PM

In this file photo, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin arrives at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on March 11, 2022, for the EU leaders’ summit to discuss the fallout of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

 

Finland’s president and the prime minister said on Thursday they were in favour of joining NATO and a formal decision would be taken this weekend, after Russia’s war in Ukraine sparked a swift u-turn in opinion.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement.

Niinisto has often served as a mediator between Russia and the West.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” the statement said.

A special committee will announce Finland’s formal decision on a membership bid on Sunday, the statement added.

READ ALSOUN To Hold Another Meeting On Ukraine

The two leaders had been widely expected to come out in favour of joining the Western military alliance.

“Joining NATO would not be against anyone,” Niinisto told reporters on Wednesday, amid Russian warnings of consequences if Helsinki were to seek membership.

His response to Russia would be: “You caused this. Look in the mirror,” he said.

As recently as January, amid tensions between the West and Russia, Marin said a bid would be “very unlikely” during her current mandate, which ends in April 2023.

But after its powerful eastern neighbour invaded Ukraine on February 24, Finland’s political and public opinion swung dramatically in favour of membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

A poll published on Monday by public broadcaster Yle showed that a record 76 percent of Finns now support joining the alliance, up from the steady 20-30 percent registered in recent years.

Finland shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia and has been militarily non-aligned for decades.

In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union.

Finns put up a fierce fight during the Winter War but were ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert from the University of Helsinki, told AFP before the announcement that Niinisto, who had refrained from revealing his stance on membership, had nonetheless dropped hints that he was leaning toward supporting a bid.

“The president no longer talks about the EU defence option or the role of Finland as the mediator between the East and the West,” she said.

Next Steps 

On Wednesday, the Finnish parliament’s defence committee also concluded that membership of NATO would be the “best option” for Finland’s security, as the Russian invasion had eroded the security situation in Europe.

A large majority in Finland’s parliament backs membership.

“It is 100-percent certain that Finland will apply and quite likely that it will be a member by the end of the year,” researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs told AFP before Thursday’s announcement.

Neighbouring Sweden is also contemplating joining the military alliance and the two countries are widely expected to present a joint bid.

For Finland, the next step is for the President and Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy — a body made up of the president, prime minister and up to six other cabinet ministers — to meet on Sunday.

The committee will make the formal decision for Finland to submit an application, with the proposal then presented to parliament.

After an official bid is submitted to the alliance, lawmakers in all 30 NATO member states would need to ratify its application, a process that can take months.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday he believed Finland could be a full NATO member “at the earliest” on October 1.

“The NATO secretary general has said that this process will take between four and 12 months. My own impression is that it might be closer to four months than 12 months,” Haavisto said.

AFP

Russia Urges US, NATO To Halt Kyiv Arms Supply

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President following their talks in Moscow on March 24, 2022. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a press conference in Moscow on March 24, 2022. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP

 

Russia’s foreign minister urged the US and NATO to stop supplying Kyiv with arms if they are “really interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis”, Chinese state media reported Saturday.

Months into an invasion that failed in its short-term aim of capturing Kyiv, Moscow is now intensifying operations in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

But Sergei Lavrov told China’s official Xinhua news agency that the “special military operation… is proceeding strictly according to plan”.

China has avoided condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and defends its firm friendship with Moscow, with state media often echoing the Russian line on the war.

READ ALSO: Five Rescued From China Building Collapse

“If the US and NATO are really interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis, then first of all, they should wake up and stop supplying the Kyiv regime with arms and ammunition,” Lavrov said.

The Kremlin had previously called Western arms deliveries to Ukraine a threat to European security.

In his interview with Xinhua published Saturday, Lavrov said that Russia can “retool” its economy to guard against potential “unlawful hostilities”.

He added that the sanctions-hit country will focus on moving away from the US dollar and lean less on imports while boosting its tech independence, Xinhua reported.

Moscow has pursued a “de-dollarisation” policy for several years, calling on partners such as China and India to conduct payments in other currencies.

Since the invasion, Western nations have imposed sanctions that largely cut Russia’s financial sector off from the global economy.

Ukrainian prosecutors say they have pinpointed more than 8,000 war crimes and are investigating 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha, where dozens of bodies in civilian clothes were found following Moscow’s retreat.

Poland Detains Two Men For Spying For Russia

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe.

 

Poland’s special services said Wednesday that they have detained a Russian and a Belarusian on suspicion of spying for Russia.

“The suspects were detained by military police… They were both charged,” a spokesman for the services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said in a statement.

“The Russian and the Belarusian, acting on behalf of Russia’s intelligence services and against Poland, conducted reconnaissance operations on the functioning of the Polish armed forces, including the army’s deployment in the Polish-Belarus border zone,” he said.

READ ALSORussia Cuts Gas Supplies To Poland, Bulgaria Over Ukraine

The men were detained last week.

Earlier this month, Poland also detained a Russian suspected of gathering intelligence on Polish and NATO troops, as well as two Belarusian citizens accused of espionage.

In March, the EU member expelled 45 Russian diplomats for espionage.

AFP

Russia Would Deploy Nuclear Weapons If Finland, Sweden Join Nato: Medvedev

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 31, 2022. Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP
FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 31, 2022. Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned Thursday that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons close to the Baltic States and Scandinavia if Finland or Sweden decide to join NATO.

Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council and president from 2008 to 2012, wrote on Telegram that if the countries joined, this would more than double Russia’s land border with NATO members.

“Naturally, we will have to reinforce these borders,” he said.

“In this case, it would not be possible to talk any more about the Baltic non-nuclear status. The balance has to be restored,” he said, indicating that Russia would be entitled to deploy nuclear weapons in the region.

READ ALSO: Biden Gives ‘Crime Scene’ Ukraine $800m To Hold Off Russia

The former president said Russia would “seriously reinforce its group of ground forces and air defences and deploy significant naval forces in the Gulf of Finland.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the comments by journalists, said that “this has been talked about many times” and President Vladimir Putin has issued an order on “reinforcing our western flank” due to NATO’s growing military potential.

Asked if this reinforcement would include nuclear weapons, Peskov said: “I can’t say… There will be a whole list of measures, necessary steps. This will be covered at a separate meeting by the president.”

Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine have sparked a dramatic U-turn in public and political opinion in both Finland and Sweden over long-held policies of military non-alignment.

Finland said this week it will decide whether to apply for NATO membership within weeks and Sweden is also discussing membership.

AFP

Finland Gears Up For Decision On Whether To Join NATO

Finland flag

 

Finland is preparing for a potentially historic decision “before midsummer” on whether to apply to join NATO as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

The Nordic nation of 5.5 million has traditionally been militarily non-aligned, in part to avoid provoking its eastern neighbour, with which it shares a 1,300 kilometre (830 mile) border.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 saw public support for joining NATO double from 30 to 60 percent, according to a series of polls.

“Never underestimate the capacity of Finns to take rapid decisions when the world changes,” former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb told AFP.

Himself a long-time NATO advocate, Stubb now believes Finland making a membership application is “a foregone conclusion” as Finns re-evaluate their relationship with their neighbour.

Next week a government-commissioned national security review will be delivered to parliament, the Eduskunta, to help Finnish MPs make up their own minds before it is put to a vote.

“We will have very careful discussions but not taking any more time than we have to,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin told a news conference on Friday.

“I think we will end the discussion before midsummer,” she added.

“My guess is that the application will be filed sometime during the month of May” in time for the June NATO summit in Madrid, Stubb said.

Change of heart 

Finland declared independence in 1917 after 150 years of Russian rule, only for its vastly outnumbered army to fight off an attempted Soviet invasion during the Second World War inflicting heavy losses on the Red Army.

Hostilities ended in a peace deal that saw Finland ceding several border areas to the Soviet Union.

Finnish leaders agreed to remain neutral during the Cold War in exchange for guarantees from Moscow that it would not invade.

The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.

Finland has remained outside the transatlantic military alliance, and despite some cuts after the Cold War it has focused on maintaining well-funded defence and preparedness capabilities.

“We’re able to mobilise 280,000 to 300,000 men and women within a matter of days,” Stubb said, adding that 900,000 reserves could also be called up.

Last week Finland’s government agreed a 40-percent hike in defence spending by 2026, to further strengthen the country’s position.

“We have walked a long way when it comes to our security policies, and they have worked so far,” said Centre Party MP Joonas Kontta.

Like the majority of his parliamentary colleagues, the 32-year-old used to think that NATO membership was “something that we don’t need at the moment”.

But Russia’s invasion “changed something in Europe in a way that can’t be changed back”, he told AFP, and Kontta recently announced that he now believes it is time to seek to join the alliance.

A number of MPs have also recently announced similar changes of heart regarding Finland’s “NATO question” — although many more are keeping their positions to themselves awaiting more detailed discussions.

Anti-NATO minority

Only six of Finland’s 200 MPs in a recent poll by public broadcaster Yle openly voiced anti-NATO views, including Markus Mustajarvi from the Left Alliance party

Finland and Sweden’s non-alignment “has brought stability to the whole of Northern Europe”, the Lapland MP told AFP.

Mustajarvi questions whether NATO’s Article 5 commitment to mutual defence would provide genuine protection in case of an attack.

Instead he cites Finland’s own defence capabilities which are “so strong that they would force Russia to think what price it would pay for attacking”.

Despite receiving “all sorts of feedback” from the public and his fellow MPs over his stance, Mustajarvi insists he has “thought this through to the end and so far I don’t see a reason to change my position”.

Grey zone 

Since Russia’s attack, Finland’s leadership has undertaken an intensive series of talks to canvass opinion from other NATO states about a possible membership bid.

Along with neighbouring Sweden, Finland has received public assurances from secretary general Jens Stoltenberg that the alliance’s door remains open, as well as expressions of support from numerous members including the US, UK, Germany, France and Turkey.

But attempting to join NATO would likely be seen as a provocation by the Kremlin, for whom the expansion of the US-led alliance on its borders has been a prime security grievance.

Finland’s president Sauli Niinisto has warned that Russia’s response could be “on the brash side”, including airspace, territorial violations and hybrid attacks.

The Kremlin has pledged to “rebalance the situation” in the event of Finland joining NATO.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has acknowledged that Russia could seek to destabilise a membership bid during the “grey zone” between an application and its ratification by all 30 NATO states, which could take four months to a year.

“Finland has always tried to stay away from the grey zone,” Stubb said, but he believes that Finland has the resilience to withstand potential Russian aggression or hybrid attacks.

AFP

Ukraine Calls For ‘Weapons, Weapons, Weapons’ At NATO Talks

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks to the press with NATO Secretary General as they arrive for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters, in Brussels, on April 7, 2022. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks to the press with NATO Secretary General as they arrive for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters, in Brussels, on April 7, 2022. François WALSCHAERTS / AFP

 

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday called on NATO members to provide Kyiv with all the heavy weaponry it needs to fight Russia’s invading forces. 

“My agenda is very simple. It has only three items on it. Its weapons, weapons, and weapons,” Kuleba told journalists ahead of a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

“I call on all allies to put aside their hesitations, their reluctance, to provide Ukraine with everything it needs,” he said.

Ukraine is pushing the West to increase its arms supplies with heavier weaponry, including air defence systems, artillery, armoured vehicles and jets, as Moscow refocuses its offensive on the east of the country.

READ ALSO: US Sanctions Putin’s Daughters, Russia’s Biggest Banks

Kuleba said economic powerhouse Germany “can do more” as he criticised allies that remain reluctant to send so-called “offensive” arms.

“This distinction between defensive and offensive doesn’t make any sense when it comes to the situation in my country,” Kuleba said.

“Those countries who are saying we will provide Ukraine with defensive weapons, but we are not in a position to provide them with offensive weapons — they are hypocritical, this is simply unfair, unjustified approach.”

NATO has refused to send troops to intervene in the fighting in non-member Ukraine, but has been sending crucial weaponry including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

“I think the deal that Ukraine is offering is fair. You give us weapons, we sacrifice our lives, and the war is contained in Ukraine,” Kuleba said.

‘Defensive war’

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he was certain that allies would “address the need for more air defence systems, anti-tank weapons, lighter, but also heavier weapons and many different types of support to Ukraine”.

“Ukraine is fighting the defensive war. So this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons doesn’t actually have any real meaning,” Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief said earlier that allies need to take advantage of a window of several weeks to supply weaponry now as Moscow repositions and rearms its forces for another major offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters Berlin was “looking closely with our partners how we can support Ukraine in the future, more intensively and more coordinated because they have a right of self-defence.”

NATO allies do appear to be heeding the call to step up the weapons being sent to Ukraine.

According to Czech media reports, Prague has sent Soviet-made T72 tanks and armoured vehicles to Ukraine , the first country to do so.

Czech officials have refused to confirm the move.

Alongside arms deliveries to Ukraine, the West has imposed a barrage of sanctions on Moscow aimed at battering Russia’s economy.

Kuleba welcomed a fresh wave of sanctions announced by the US, Britain and EU in the wake of revelations of killings in the town of Bucha, but insisted Europe especially must go further.

“We will continue to insist on full oil and gas embargo for Russia,” Kuleba said.

“I hope we will never face a situation again, when to step up the sanctions pressure we need atrocities like Bucha to be revealed.”

The EU is currently finalising its fifth round of sanctions, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian coal.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he thought measures against Russian oil would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday.

“Sooner or later, I hope sooner, it will happen,” he said.

Foreign ministers from the G7 group of most industrialised nations were to also meet at NATO headquarters on Thursday to coordinate the Western sanctions.

AFP

NATO Will ‘Respond’ If Russia Uses Chemical Weapons In Ukraine – Biden

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin
A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin

 

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that NATO would “respond” if Russian President Vladimir Putin used a chemical weapon in his war on Ukraine.

“We will respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” Biden said after a NATO summit in Brussels.

Kicking off a day of intense diplomacy, US President Joe Biden made clear that the Western alliance was listening.

READ ALSOAgain, UN Calls On Russia To Immediately End War In Ukraine

“NATO has never been more united,” Biden said.

Biden noted that under his presidency the United States has pledged $2 billion in weapons to Ukraine. He announced a new commitment to “more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance,” as well as promising to welcome 100,000 of the nearly 3.7 million refugees fleeing the country.

After the United States announced new sanctions, including targeting Russian politicians, Biden said the West was in it for the long haul, intent on “increasing the pain” on Moscow.

Biden intensified the effort to ostracize Putin’s Russia with a call to exclude Moscow from the G20.

“That was raised today,” Biden told reporters, adding that if the group of 20 countries does not agree, then he would press for Ukraine to be allowed to join.

In his address, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia was using phosphorus bombs, which cause severe burns, conducting indiscriminate shelling of civilians, and could resort to “full-scale use” of chemical weapons.

Ukraine has already lived through “a month of heroic resistance. A month of the darkest suffering,” he said. “To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions.”

AFP

Zelensky Asks NATO For Weapons, West Adds Pressure On Russia

This handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on March 12, 202,2 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in capital Kyiv. Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP
This handout video grab taken and released by the Ukraine Presidency press service on March 12, 202,2 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in capital Kyiv. Handout / UKRAINE PRESIDENCY / AFP

 

President Volodymyr Zelensky pressed a NATO summit Thursday to flood weapons into Ukraine and Western allies responded with new sanctions against Russia, promises of military aid, and discussion of expelling Moscow from the international G20 body.

As battles raged across Ukraine, with television footage showing a large Russian warship ablaze at dockside near the southern city of Mariupol, Zelensky addressed the emergency NATO summit and a G7 leaders’ meeting by video link.

He said the West should provide “all the weapons we need” to “prevent the deaths of Ukrainians from Russian strikes, from Russian occupation.”

Kicking off a day of intense diplomacy, US President Joe Biden made clear that the Western alliance was listening.

READ ALSO: Again, UN Calls On Russia To Immediately End War In Ukraine

“NATO has never been more united,” Biden said.

And after Zelensky said there was a “real” chance of Russian President Vladimir Putin resorting to chemical warfare, Biden told reporters “we will respond if he uses it.”

Biden noted that under his presidency the United States has pledged $2 billion in weapons to Ukraine. He announced a new commitment to “more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance,” as well as promising to welcome 100,000 of the nearly 3.7 million refugees fleeing the country.

After the United States announced new sanctions, including targeting Russian politicians, Biden said the West was in it for the long haul, intent on “increasing the pain” on Moscow.

Biden intensified the effort to ostracize Putin’s Russia with a call to exclude Moscow from the G20.

“That was raised today,” Biden told reporters, adding that if the group of 20 countries does not agree, then he would press for Ukraine to be allowed to join.

In his address, Zelensky said that Russia was using phosphorus bombs, which cause severe burns, conducting indiscriminate shelling of civilians, and could resort to “full-scale use” of chemical weapons.

Ukraine has already lived through “a month of heroic resistance. A month of the darkest suffering,” he said. “To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions.”

‘Barbarism’ 

On the ground, long-range Russian strikes on the eastern city of Kharkiv killed at least six civilians and wounded more than a dozen, Ukrainian authorities said.

At least four people including two children were killed in strikes elsewhere in the east, Lugansk governor Sergiy Gayday said, accusing Russian forces of using phosphorus on the village of Rubizhne.

Britain’s ITV network showed footage of the incendiary weapons dropping in a white haze overnight on the commuter town of Irpin near Kyiv.

The scale of civilian suffering was underscored when the UN said more than half of the country’s children have been driven from their homes by Russian bombardment.

“Vladimir Putin has already crossed the red line into barbarism,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in Brussels.

Ukrainian forces claimed to be pushing Russian troops back in some areas around Kyiv. They also claimed success in attacking one of the navy vessels used to bring Russian forces in from the Black Sea.

Video footage showed a ship in a ball of fire and smoke, with other vessels that had been nearby heading away from the inferno.

NATO Reinforces Eastern Flank

Zelensky wants NATO to help Ukraine go on the offensive with more advanced fighter jets, missile defense systems, tanks, armored vehicles, and anti-ship missiles.

NATO members have supplied a steady stream of weapons including anti-tank rockets, which have helped to stall Russia’s advance. But these are seen as essentially defensive.

The United States has so far ruled out sending airplanes or other large weapons systems to Ukraine. Biden says he does not want to cross a line into what he says could become “World War 3” pitting nuclear-armed Russia against NATO.

However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced new deployments to eastern flank members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, as well as bolstering chemical and nuclear defenses in case Russia expands its attack beyond Ukraine.

Biden said that NATO unity showed “Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended.”

 ‘Grim Milestone’ 

Zelensky’s appeal to NATO came one month to the day after Russian tanks rolled over the border, acting on Putin’s plan to force pro-Western Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit.

Since then, thousands of civilians, as well as thousands of soldiers from the two sides, are believed to have been killed. More than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

And the month of war has displaced 4.3 million children -– more than half of Ukraine’s estimated child population of 7.5 million.

“This is a grim milestone that could have lasting consequences for generations to come,” Unicef chief Catherine Russell said.

UN figures show that nearly 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled abroad, and more are now displaced inside Ukraine after harrowing journeys out of cities like Mariupol.

In the besieged southern port, Zelensky says nearly 100,000 people are trapped without food, water or power and enduring fierce shelling by Russian forces.

The city is a treasured prize for Russia as it would enable a land-bridge between Russian-annexed Crimea and regions already controled by Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine.

Intense fighting has made the city all but inaccessible.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord leader of Russia’s Chechnya region, claimed on Thursday that his forces had taken control of city hall there.

Meanwhile, in Zhytomyr, a garrison town west of Kyiv, a Russian strike flattened the school where Vasiliy Kravchuk’s six-year-old son was meant to start next year.

“Every day it’s 20, 30 times we go to the basement (to shelter). It’s difficult because my wife is pregnant, I have a little son,” sobbed the 37-year-old, who before the war worked in tourism.

 Tarnishing Russian Gold 

While the Moscow Stock Exchange partially reopened for the first time since the invasion, the G7 summit in Brussels vowed new action to destabilize Russia’s tottering economy.

The group of advanced economies and the EU pledged to block transactions involving the Russian central bank’s gold reserves, to hamper any Moscow bid to circumvent Western sanctions.

Russia’s isolation on the world stage was underscored by a second non-binding UN General Assembly resolution demanding an immediate halt to the war, which was approved by 140 countries, with 38 abstaining and five voting against.

AFP

NATO Invites Zelensky To Address Summit Via Videolink

This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian presidential press-service on March 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. STR / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian presidential press-service on March 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Ukrainian people during a broadcast speech. STR / UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to address a special NATO summit Thursday discussing the Russian invasion of his country, an official said.

“President Zelensky is invited to address the NATO summit via video link,” the NATO official said Tuesday.

“This will be an opportunity for allied leaders to hear directly from President Zelensky about the dire situation facing the people of Ukraine because of Russia’s aggression,” the official added.

READ ALSO: We Would Only Use Nuclear Weapons If Faced With ‘Existential Threat’ – Russia

Zelensky’s spokesman Serhiy Nykyforov confirmed that the Ukraine leader would be taking part in the summit and addressing it.

Zelensky will seek help in ending the Russian invasion, Interfax-Ukraine quoted the spokesman as saying.

“This could be in several forms. Close airspace, provide Ukraine with powerful air defence systems and aviation,” he said.

The NATO official said members would examine with Kyiv how the “allies can reinforce their support for Ukraine”.

The summit coincides with a G7 summit and a European Union summit which will also be held in Brussels.

Kosovo Asks Biden To Support NATO Bid

Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks during a joint press conference with Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock following their meeting in Pristina on March 10, 2022. Baerbock is on a two-day official visit to Kosovo. Armend NIMANI / AFP
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks during a joint press conference with Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock following their meeting in Pristina on March 10, 2022. Baerbock is on a two-day official visit to Kosovo. Armend NIMANI / AFP

 

Fearing threats to sovereignty after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Serbia’s breakaway region of Kosovo appealed to US President Joe Biden to support their NATO membership. 

In a letter addressed to Biden seen by AFP Thursday, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani warned against Moscow’s efforts to “destabilise” the Balkans.

“Kosovo’s membership in NATO has become imperative”, Osmani wrote.

“We express our hope and expectation that the United States will use its leadership and influence to actively support and advance the complex NATO membership process for Kosovo.”

READ ALSO: Ukraine Urges EU Lawmakers To Recognise Putin As ‘War Criminal’

The letter was sent to the White House last week.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti already pressed a case for EU and NATO membership, telling AFP that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant that both organisations needed to make it easier — and faster — for candidates to join.

“As they will target new conflicts, the Western Balkans in general and Kosovo in particular are at risk,” Kurti warned.

Moscow has been a fierce opponent of Kosovo since the war in the 1990s when Russia’s longtime ally Serbia saw its security forces pushed out of the territory with the crucial help of NATO air strikes.

Ethnic-majority Albanian Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that several countries, including Russia and Ukraine, have refused to recognise.

Russia wields veto power at the United Nations that has helped block formal recognition of Kosovo.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Kosovo launched its own targeted sanctions against Moscow.

It has also pledged to welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees and allocate a special fund to assist the Ukrainian people.

AFP