Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Finnish leader backs NATO bid, Putin refuses to waver in eastern Ukraine

When the Finnish leader announced his support for joining NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed his determination to maintain Moscow’s influence in eastern Ukraine as Russian troops mount an onslaught of the region.

Putin expressed support for Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of a pro-Russian separatist group calling itself the Luhansk People’s Republic in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, in a message released by the Kremlin on Thursday.

“I am confident that through our joint efforts we will defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Luhansk Republic,” Putin said in the 12th week of his war against Ukraine.

The Russian leader’s message was backed up by massive Russian airstrikes and shelling along the 300-mile-long eastern front, including at a steel mill, where the last area of ​​Ukrainian military resistance remains in the strategic southeastern port city of Mariupol.

Finland’s president and prime minister dramatically announced their support for joining NATO, paving the way for an expanded U.S.-led military alliance, which Putin blamed in part on his decision to invade Ukraine.

Finland is a historically neutral country with an 830-mile land border with Russia, and Sweden is expected to join the 30-member security pact soon.

“Joining NATO will strengthen Finland’s security,” President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement on Thursday. “As a NATO member, Finland will strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply to join NATO immediately.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö gestures during a news conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Helsinki on Wednesday.

(Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

The two Nordic countries joining NATO would underscore Putin’s gross miscalculation of the world’s response to his invasion of Ukraine, which failed to achieve its original military goals, prompted Europe to begin weaning itself off Russia’s most valuable export – fossil fuels – and forced The non-aligned countries take sides.

“It’s monumental,” said Aglaya Snetkov, a Russia expert and lecturer in international politics at UCL. “It reversed decades of foreign policy.

“Putin’s initial plans to draw a line between Russia and NATO and reverse the latter’s expansion backfired,” she added. “This is exactly what Russia doesn’t want: NATO expansion.”

The Kremlin responded that Putin had begun to strengthen Russia’s defenses on its western flank. But Snetkov said Moscow could struggle to make a significant response if Finland and Sweden join NATO, given the large deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine.

“It’s stuck in Ukraine and has withdrawn troops from other borders,” Snetkov said. “Seriously, what can it do? If it doesn’t respond, which I think is likely, it’s another sign of Russia’s weakness, and it’s full of empty threats.”

More than a dozen Russian armored vehicles were destroyed on the Siversky Donets River near the village of Bilohorivka in Luhansk, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, which posted pictures on Facebook of the charred tanks and the remains of two pontoon bridges. The photos could not be independently verified.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the village was the target of a weekend Russian attack on a converted school shelter that killed about 60 civilians.

Ukraine’s military said on Thursday morning that it had repelled nine Russian attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk in the past 24 hours, while acknowledging that Russia’s progress in the region had been “partially successful”.

Russian airstrikes continued on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where the city’s last defenders have been trapped for weeks. The dire situation prompted Kyiv to offer to release Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe evacuation of wounded soldiers trapped inside the factory.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday’s talks were underway, but none of the options discussed so far were “ideal”.

A Ukrainian soldier is treated at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Tuesday.

(Dmytro ‘Orest’ Kozatskyi / Azov Special Forces Regiment)

The Defenders, members of the Azov regiment, refused to surrender despite being heavily bombed and quickly depleting sources of food, water and medicine.

Only a fraction of Mariupol’s 400,000 residents are believed to remain in the shattered city, which Mayor Vadym Boychenko has described as a “medieval ghetto” “. The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that many of the city’s evacuees had fled to the town of Zaporozhye, about 120 miles northwest, which was hit by Russian artillery shells and grenades.

According to the Associated Press, citing local media reports, air strikes in northern Chernihiv overnight killed three people and wounded 12 others.

Russia’s determination to continue its war on Ukraine has spooked other neighbors, including Finland, a country of 5.5 million that has so far stayed out of NATO in order not to anger Moscow. Putin has long viewed the expansion of NATO, especially the former Eastern European bloc countries that joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, such as Poland, Lithuania and Romania, as an existential threat to Russia.

Finland’s attitude toward NATO changed after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. Polls show that 76 percent of the population now supports joining the defense treaty, a dramatic change from the country’s centennial in late 2017, when only 19 percent favored joining.

“Finnish people look at Ukraine and say, ‘Russia can do this to Finland’,” said Charlie Salonius-Pasternak, a security expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “At the same time, people realize that The way Russia talks about the use of nuclear weapons is something that Finland cannot solve. Finland has no deterrent against nuclear weapons. The only way is to join NATO [members]. “

Germany has also shifted its security calculus, pledging to increase military spending by $100 billion to meet NATO goals it has failed to achieve for years.

But European officials need more than US support to bring Moscow to its knees, which is one reason why European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Thursday. On Wednesday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin visited her.

Von der Leyen and Kishida called on China – which firmly refuses to criticize Russia over Ukraine – to do more to influence the Kremlin to end the war.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not only a European affair, but it has shaken the core of the international order, including Asia. It will not be tolerated,” said Kishida, whose government has joined Western sanctions against Russia.

Kim reported from Lviv and Pearson from Singapore.

US News.

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