For years, President Vladimir V. Putin has seen NATO enlargement as an existential threat that would leave Russia surrounded by Western missiles on its doorstep. Now, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine seems to be bringing to life the nightmare of Russian leaders, with NATO on the verge of starting its largest possible expansion in nearly two decades.
After navigating the post-war era in disengagement and neutrality, Sweden and Finland are now actively exploring the rise of the Cold War-created military alliance, with officials from both countries meeting with their NATO counterparts. Saturday.
Russia attacked immediately, halting electricity exports to Finland and promising an indefinite military-technical response after warning that the move would pose a clear threat to its national security.
Some analysts were concerned that Russia was laying the groundwork for threatening to deploy nuclear weapons near the border with Finland. But officials in both Sweden and Finland have dismissed the threat, noting that with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad just 200 miles away, Moscow already has light-range nuclear-capable missiles.
An accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, a process that could take up to a year to finalize, would bring the Western military alliance right to the 810-mile-long Russian border with Finland and mark another change. deep in the strategic landscape of Europe. from the Russian war in Ukraine. At the same time, the Pentagon is rolling out new troops in Europe to strengthen the east wing of alliances, signaling that temporary troop mobilization is likely to become permanent.
As Western powers bowed to what the Ukrainian defense minister called a new, long phase of the war, developments on the ground gave rise to the idea that Ukraine was still fiercely fighting Russia in the east and reporting that it was gaining ground.
In recent days, Ukrainian forces have begun to consolidate control of the main city of Kharkiv, after months of Russian attacks and heavy shelling. In a seeming repeat of the Russian withdrawal from Kiev, its battered battalions are withdrawing to defend critical supply lines to the east and reinforce units in difficulty elsewhere in the Donbas in eastern countries, Ukrainian officials said.
The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had launched a counter-offensive against Russian forces around the northeastern city of Izium, which Russia occupied last month and had hoped to use as a base for a trip south to the cities of other large.
In a storm of U.S. diplomacy, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, paid a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky. The accompanying delegation of US lawmakers was only the last to travel to the country as the United States deepens its commitment to Kiev’s fight against Russian occupation.
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was scheduled to travel to Germany on Saturday to meet with NATO counterparts ahead of talks with Sweden and Finland.
In a phone call Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he had told Russian President Vladimir V. Putin that his country was seeking to join NATO because Moscow’s occupation of Ukraine had radically changed the Finnish security environment.
Mr Putin warned the Finnish leader that it was a mistake to abandon Finland’s long policy of military neutrality, the Kremlin said in a statement.
By joining NATO, Finland strengthens its security and assumes its responsibility, the Finnish president said in a statement, adding that Finland wants to take care of practical issues arising from being a neighbor with Russia in a correct and professional manner.
There was initial alarm after Turkey, a longtime NATO member, signaled this week that it might seek to block Nordic countries joining the alliance. But on Saturday, a spokesman for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dropped any possible challenge, saying Turkey was simply trying to ensure that all security concerns of alliance members were taken into account.
The potential rise of NATO was added to the growing list of obstacles for Mr. Putin. Russia’s military offensive in eastern Ukraine remains blocked, and the Institute for War Studies, a Washington-based institute, said in its latest assessment that the Ukrainians had now won the battle for Kharkiv.
After failing in its initial campaign to take the Ukrainian capital and overthrow the government, the Kremlin can not afford to accept another loss to the east.
In an interview with British Sky News on Saturday, the country’s military intelligence chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, said the coming months would be crucial.
The breaking point will be in the second half of August, he said. Most active combat actions will be completed by the end of this year.
But as Moscow forces around Kharkiv turn towards the Russian border, they are expected to fight hard to keep open the critical supply routes passing through the region. Russia also controls a vast area of land throughout southeastern Ukraine, where it is increasingly strengthening its position. The military campaign, analysts say, will continue to escalate into a protracted creep characterized by heavy casualties on both sides and devastating long-range bombings.
The Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, warned of extremely difficult weeks ahead. No one can say for sure how many of them there will be, he said in a statement.
President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the struggle to regain control of the Russian-occupied territories would be long and difficult, but vowed that they would not be abandoned.
The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy, he said.
The impact of the clashes on the battlefield continues to fluctuate around the world.
The war has disrupted wheat production in Ukraine and Russia, both major suppliers, while fighting and naval blockades in the Black Sea have disrupted grain shipments. And poor harvests in China, along with a heat wave in India and drought in other countries, have further hampered global supply.
But India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, says it is halting exports with a few exceptions, a move that could complicate a worldwide shortage exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and deepen an already dire forecast for famine in it. all over the globe.
India has about 10 percent of the world’s wheat reserves, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, a huge surplus resulting from large subsidies to its farmers. It has been seen for months as a country that can help compensate for global supply shortages.
Russia’s war on aggression has generated one of the worst food and energy crises in recent history, the leaders of the world’s richest group, the Group of 7, said in a statement on Saturday, adding that the problem now threatens them the most. vulnerable worldwide. globit.
Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Kharkiv, Ukraine; Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; Steven Erlanger from Tallinn, Estonia; Matthew Mpoke Bigg AND Cassandra Vineyard from London; Emily Cochrane from Washington; AND Samer Jasir from New Delhi.
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