The German government will not object if Poland decides to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Germany's top diplomat said Sunday (January 22, 2023), indicating movement on supplying weapons that Kyiv has described as essential to its ability to fend off an intensified Russian offensive. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI that Poland has not formally asked for Berlin's approval to share some of its German-made Leopards but added “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way.” German officials “know how important these tanks are" and “this is why we are discussing this now with our partners,” Baerbock said in interview clips posted by LCI. Ukraine’s supporters pledged billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine during a meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday. International defense leaders discussed Ukraine's urgent request for the Leopard 2 tanks, and the failure to work out an agreement overshadowed the new commitments. Read more: Russia claims progress in eastern Ukraine; Kyiv craves tanks Germany is one of the main donors of weapons to Ukraine, and it ordered a review of its Leopard 2 stocks in preparation for a possible green light. Nonetheless, the government in Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its military aid to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture. Germany’s tentativeness has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on NATO’s eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia’s renewed aggression. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that if the fellow NATO and European Unio member did not consent to transferring Leopard tanks to Ukraine, his country was prepared to build a “smaller coalition” of countries that would send theirs anyway. “Almost a year had passed since the outbreak of war,” Morawiecki said in an interview with Polish state news agency PAP published Sunday. “Evidence of the Russian army’s war crimes can be seen on television and on YouTube. What more does Germany need to open its eyes and start to act in line with the potential of the German state?” Read more: Deadly missile strike adds to Ukraine war fears in Poland Previously, some officials in Poland indicated that Finland and Denmark also were ready to send Leopards to Ukraine. Earlier Sunday, the speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, said governments that give more powerful weapons to Ukraine risked causing a “global tragedy that would destroy their countries.” “Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe,” Volodin said. “If Washington and NATO supply weapons that would be used for striking peaceful cities and making attempts to seize our territory as they threaten to do, it would trigger a retaliation with more powerful weapons.” French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said Sunday that he had asked his defense minister to “work on” the idea of sending some of France's Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine. Read More: The AP Interview: Envoy says Taiwan learns from Ukraine war Macron spoke during a news conference in Paris with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as France and Germany commemorated the 60th anniversary of their post-World War II friendship treaty. In a joint declaration, the two countries committed to their “unwavering support” for Ukraine. France will make its tank decision based on three criteria, Macron said: that sharing the equipment does not lead to an escalation of the conflict, that it would provide efficient and workable help when training time is taken into account, and that it wouldn’t weaken France’s own military. Scholz did not respond when asked about the Leopard 2 tanks Sunday, but stressed that his country already has made sizable military contributions to Ukraine. “The U.S. is doing a lot, Germany is doing a lot, too," he said. "We have constantly expanded our deliveries with very effective weapons that are already available today. And we have always coordinated all these decisions closely with our important allies and friends.” Read More: German caution on Ukraine arms rooted in political culture In Washington, two leading lawmakers urged the U.S. on Sunday to send some of its Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the interests of overcoming Germany’s reluctance to share its own, more suitable tanks. “If we announced we were giving an Abrams tank, just one, that would unleash” the flow of tanks from Germany, Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC’s “This Week on Sunday.” “What I hear is that Germany’s waiting on us to take the lead.” Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also spoke up for the U.S. sending Abrams. “If it requires our sending some Abrams tanks in order to unlock getting the Leopard tanks from Germany, from Poland, from other allies, I would support that,” Coons said. Read More: Defense leaders meet amid dissent over tanks for Ukraine Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said Friday's U.S.-led meeting at the air base in Germany “left no doubt that our enemies will try to exhaust or better destroy us,” adding that “they have enough weapons” to achieve the purpose. Medvedev, a former Russian president, warned that “in case of a protracted conflict,” Russia could seek to form a military alliance with "the nations that are fed up with the Americans and a pack of their castrated dogs." Ukraine has argued it needs more weapons as it anticipates Russia's forces launching a new offensive in the spring. Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, warned that Russia may try to intensify its attacks in the south and in the east and to cut supply channels of Western weapons, while conquering Kyiv “remains the main dream” in President Vladimir Putin’s "fantasies,” he said. Read More: Kyiv helicopter crash kills 18, including Ukraine’s interior minister, his two children In a column published by online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. he described the Kremlin’s goal in the conflict as a “total and absolute genocide, a total war of destruction" Among those calling for more arms for Ukraine was the former British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Sunday. Johnson, who was pictured in the Kyiv region town of Borodyanka, said he traveled to Ukraine at the invitation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job. The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the whole world,” Johnson said in a statement. The last week was especially tragic for Ukraine even by the standards of a brutal war that has gone on for nearly a year, killing tens of thousands of people, uprooting millions more and creating vast destruction of Ukrainian cities. Read More: Netherlands says it will send Patriot assistance to Ukraine A barrage of Russian missiles struck an apartment complex in the southeastern city of Dnipro on Jan. 14, killing at least 45 civilians. On Wednesday, a government helicopter crashed into a building housing a kindergarten in a suburb of Kyiv. Ukraine's interior minister, other officials and a child on the ground were among the 14 people killed. Zelenskyy vowed Sunday that Ukraine would ultimately prevail in the war. “We are united because we are strong. We are strong because we are united," the Ukrainian leader said in a video address as he marked Ukraine Unity Day, which commemorates when east and west Ukraine were united in 1919. Read More: Ukraine strike deaths hit 40; Russia seen preparing long war
Biden administration officials are toughening their language toward NATO ally Turkey as they try to talk Turkish President Recep Erdogan out of launching a bloody and destabilizing ground offensive against American-allied Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria. Since Nov. 20, after six people died in an Istanbul bombing a week before that Turkey blamed, without evidence, on the U.S. and its Kurdish allies in Syria, Turkey has launched cross-border airstrikes, rockets and shells into U.S.- and Kurdish-patrolled areas of Syria, leaving Kurdish funeral corteges burying scores of dead. Some criticized the initial muted U.S. response to the near-daily Turkish bombardment — a broad call for “de-escalation” — as a U.S. green light for more. With Erdogan not backing down on his threat to escalate, the U.S. began speaking more forcefully. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday to express “strong opposition” to Turkey launching a new military operation in northern Syria. And National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Friday made one of the administration's first specific mentions of the impact of the Turkish strikes on the Kurdish militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, that works with the United States against Islamic State militants bottled up in northern Syria. How successfully the United States manages Erdogan’s threat to send troops in against America's Kurdish partners over coming weeks will affect global security concerns far from that isolated corner of Syria. Read more: Biden, Macron vow unity against Russia, discuss trade row That's especially true for the Ukraine conflict. The Biden administration is eager for Erdogan's cooperation with other NATO partners in countering Russia, particularly when it comes to persuading Turkey to drop its objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. But giving Turkey free rein in attacks on the Syrian Kurds in hopes of securing Erdogan's cooperation within NATO would have big security implications of its own. U.S. forces on Friday stopped joint military patrols with the Kurdish forces in northern Syria to counter Islamic State extremists, as the Kurds concentrate on defending themselves from the Turkish air and artillery attacks and a possible ground invasion. Since 2015, the Syrian Kurdish forces have worked with the few hundred forces the U.S. has on the ground there, winning back territory from the Islamic State and then detaining thousands of Islamic State fighters and their families and battling remnant Islamic State fighters. On Saturday, the U.S. and Kurds resumed limited patrols at one of the detention camps. “ISIS is the forgotten story for the world and the United States, because of the focus on Ukraine,” said Omer Taspinar, an expert on Turkey and European security at the Brookings Institution and the National War College. ISIS is one widely used acronym for the Islamic State. “Tragically, what would revive Western support for the Kurds ... would be another ISIS terrorist attack, God forbid, in Europe or in the United States that will remind people that we actually have not defeated ISIS,” Taspinar said. Turkey says the Syrian Kurds are allied to a nearly four-decade PKK Kurdish insurgency in southeast Turkey that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people on both sides. The United States' Syrian Kurdish allies deny any attacks in Turkey. U.S. Central Command, and many in Congress, praise the Syrian Kurds as brave comrades in arms. In July, Central Command angered Turkey by tweeting condolences for a Syrian Kurdish deputy commander and two other female fighters killed by a drone strike blamed on Turkey. In 2019, a public outcry by his fellow Republicans and many others killed a plan by President Donald Trump, which he announced after a call with Erdogan, to clear U.S. troops out of the way of an expected Turkish attack on the Kurdish allies in Syria. Read more: Biden strengthening US policy to stem sexual violence in war zones, including in Ukraine Then-presidential contender Joe Biden was among those expressing outrage. “The Kurds were integral in helping us defeat ISIS — and too many lost their lives. Now, President Trump has abandoned them. It’s shameful,” Biden tweeted at the time. The measured U.S. response now — even after some Turkish strikes hit near sites that host U.S. forces — reflects the significant strategic role that Turkey, as a NATO member, plays in the alliance's efforts to counter Russia in Europe. The State Department and USAID did not immediately answer questions about whether the Turkish strikes had hindered aid workers and operations that partner with the United States. Turkey, with strong ties to both Russia and the United States, has contributed to its NATO allies' efforts against Russia in key ways during the Ukraine conflict. That includes supplying armed drones to Ukraine, and helping mediate between Russia and the United States and others. But Turkey is also seeking to exert leverage within the alliance by blocking Finland and Sweden from joining NATO. Turkey is demanding that Sweden surrender Kurdish exiles that it says are affiliated with the PKK Kurdish insurgents. Turkey’s state-run news agency reported that Sweden extradited a member of the PKK and he was arrested Saturday upon arrival in Istanbul. Turkey is one of only two of the 30 NATO members not to have signed off yet on the Nordic countries' NATO memberships. Hungary, the other, is expected to do so. At a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania, this past week, NATO diplomats refrained from publicly confronting Turkey, avoiding giving offense that might further set back the cause of Finland's and Sweden's NATO membership. Turkey's foreign minister made clear to his European counterparts that Turkey had yet to be appeased, when it came to Finland or Sweden hosting Kurdish exiles there. “We reminded that in the end, it’s the Turkish people and the Turkish parliament that need to be convinced,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on the sidelines. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to talk Thursday with Finland's and Sweden's foreign ministers on dealing with Turkey's objections to their NATO accession. Experts say the Biden administration has plenty of leverage to wield privately in urging Erdogan to relent in the threatened escalated attack on Syrian Kurds. That includes U.S. F-16 fighter sales that Turkey wants but have been opposed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez and others in Congress. There's a third big security risk in the U.S. handling of Turkey's invasion threat, along with the possible impact on the Ukraine conflict and on efforts to contain the Islamic State. That's the risk to Kurds, a stateless people and frequent U.S. ally often abandoned by the U.S. and the West in past conflicts over the past century. If the U.S. stands by while Turkey escalates attacks on the Syrian Kurds who were instrumental in quelling the Islamic State, “especially in the aftermath of Afghanistan, what message are we sending to the Middle East?" asked Henri J. Barkey, an expert on Kurds and Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations and at Lehigh University. “And to all allies in general?" Barkey asked. An ethnic group of millions at the intersection of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, Kurds lost out on a state of their own as the U.S. and other powers carved up the remnants of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after World War I. Saddam Hussein and other regional leaders used poison gas, airstrikes and other tools of mass slaughter over the decades to suppress the Kurds. As under U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1991 after the Gulf War, the United States at times encouraged popular uprisings but stood by as Kurds died in the resulting massacres. On Nov. 28, hundreds of Syrian Kurds gathered for the victims of one of the Turkish airstrikes — five guards killed securing the al-Hol camp, which holds thousands of family members of Islamic State fighters. Relatives of one of the Kurdish guards, Saifuddin Mohammed, placed his photo on his grave. “Of course, we are proud,” said his brother, Abbas Mohammed. “He defended his land and his honor against the Turkish invading forces.”
NATO is determined to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia for “as long as it takes” and will help the war-wracked country transform its armed forces into a modern army up to Western standards, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed on Friday. Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Romania next week, Stoltenberg urged countries that want to, either individually or in groups, to keep providing air defense systems and other weapons to Ukraine. NATO as an organization does not supply weapons. “NATO will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will not back down,” the former Norwegian prime minister said. “Allies are providing unprecedented military support, and I expect foreign ministers will also agree to step up non-lethal support.” Stoltenberg said that members of the 30-nation security organization have been delivering fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jamming devices, but that more will be needed as winter closes in, particularly as Russia attacks Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Read more: Poland, NATO say missile strike wasn't a Russian attack “At our meeting in Bucharest, I will call for more,” he said. “Over the longer term we will help Ukraine transition from Soviet era equipment to modern NATO standards, doctrine and training.” Stoltenberg said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba would join the ministers to discuss his country’s most pressing needs but also what kind of long-term support that NATO can provide. NATO’s top civilian official said the support will help Ukraine move toward joining the alliance one day. The Nov 29-30 meeting in Bucharest is being held almost 15 years after NATO promised that Ukraine and Georgia would one day become members of the organization, a pledge that deeply angered Russia. Also attending the meeting will be the foreign ministers of Bosnia, Georgia and Moldova – three partners that NATO says are coming under increasing Russian pressure. Stoltenberg said the meeting would see NATO “take further steps to help them protect their independence, and strengthen their ability to defend themselves.” Read more: Deadly missile strike adds to Ukraine war fears in Poland Since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion 10 months ago, NATO has bolstered the defenses of allies neighboring Ukraine and Russia but has carefully sought to avoid being dragged into a wider war with a major nuclear power. But Stoltenberg put no pressure on Ukraine to enter peace talks with Russia, and indeed NATO and European diplomats have said that Putin does not appear willing to come to the table. “Most wars end with negotiations,” he said. “But what happens at the negotiating table depends on what happens on the battlefield. Therefore, the best way to increase the chances for a peaceful solution is to support Ukraine.”
NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance both said Wednesday there is “no indication” that a missile that came down in Polish farmland, killing two people, was an intentional attack, and that air defenses in neighboring Ukraine likely launched the Soviet-era projectile to fend off a Russian assault that savaged its power grid. “Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory," said Polish President Andrzej Duda. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting of the 30-nation military alliance in Brussels, echoed the preliminary Polish findings, saying: “We have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack.” Read more: Russian missiles cross into Poland during strike on Ukraine, killing 2 The initial assessments of Tuesday's deadly missile landing appeared to dial back the likelihood that the incident would trigger another major escalation in the nearly 9-month Russian invasion of Ukraine. If Russia had deliberately targeted Poland, it could have risked drawing NATO into the conflict. Still, Stoltenberg and others laid overall but not specific blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility,” Stoltenberg said. Before the Polish and NATO assessments, U.S. President Joe Biden had said it was “unlikely” that Russia fired the missile but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.” Three U.S. officials said preliminary assessments suggested it was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. That assessment and Biden’s comments at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia contradicted information earlier Tuesday from a senior U.S. intelligence official who told The Associated Press that Russian missiles crossed into Poland. Former Soviet-bloc country Ukraine maintains stocks of Soviet- and Russian-made weaponry, including air-defense missiles, and has also seized many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin’s invasion forces. Ukrainian air defenses worked furiously against the Russian assault Tuesday on power generation and transmission facilities, including in Ukraine’s western region that borders Poland. Ukraine’s military said 77 of the more than 90 missiles fired were brought down, along with 11 drones. The Kremlin on Wednesday denounced Poland’s and other countries’ initial response to the missile landing and, in rare praise for a U.S. leader, hailed Biden's "restrained, much more professional reaction.” “We have witnessed another hysterical, frenzied, Russophobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. He added that “immediately, all experts realized that it could not have been a missile linked to the Russian armed forces." Still, Ukraine was under countrywide Russian bombardment Tuesday by barrages of cruise missiles and exploding drones, which clouded the initial picture of what exactly happened in Poland and why. In Europe, NATO members Germany and the U.K. laced their calls for a through investigation of the missile landing with criticism of Moscow. “This wouldn’t have happened without the Russian war against Ukraine, without the missiles that are now being fired at Ukrainian infrastructure intensively and on a large scale,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This is the cruel and unrelenting reality of Putin’s war.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it “a very significant escalation." On the other end of the spectrum, China was among those calling for calm and restraint. Read more: Biden calls ‘emergency’ meeting after missile hits Poland Damage from the aerial assault in Ukraine was extensive and swaths of the country were plunged into darkness. Zelenskyy said about 10 million people lost power but tweeted overnight that 8 million were subsequently reconnected, with repair crews laboring through the night. Previous Russian strikes had already destroyed an estimated 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure. The missile landed in the Polish farming village of Przewodow near the border with Ukraine. The Russian bombardment also affected neighboring Moldova. It reported massive power outages after the strikes in Ukraine disconnected a power line to the small nation. Tuesday's assaults killed one person in a residential building in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. It followed days of euphoria in Ukraine sparked by one of its biggest military successes — the retaking last week of the southern city of Kherson. With its battlefield losses mounting, Russia has increasingly resorted to targeting Ukraine’s power grid, seemingly hoping to turn the approach of winter into a weapon by leaving people in the cold and dark.
Former CIA director and retired four-star army general David Petraeus warned on Sunday that if Russian President Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, US and its allies would destroy Russia’s troops and equipment as well as sink its Black Sea fleet. Petreaus said that he had not discussed the anticipated US response to a nuclear escalation from Russia with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, even though administration officials claim that this response has been frequently expressed to Moscow, The Guardian reports. “Just to give you a hypothetical, we would respond by leading a Nato – a collective – effort that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea,” Petreaus told ABC News. Read: Ukraine says Russia smuggling its grain; Moscow says allegation “baseless” The development comes days after Putin made comments that many regarded as a threat to escalate tensions between Russia and the west into a full-scale war. When asked if the use of nuclear weapons by Russia in the Ukraine would include the United States and NATO in the conflict, Petreaus responded that such an event would not fall under the provisions of Article 5 of the alliance, which calls for a collective defence. Despite the fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Petreaus claimed that a “US and NATO response” would be appropriate, the Guardian report says. Petreaus claimed that Putin was “desperate” as a result of rising pressure after Ukrainian successes in the country’s east under the annexation declaration issued last week and mounting internal opposition to mobilisation efforts. Read: Impact of Russia-Ukraine War on Asia’s climate goals The ex-CIA director emphasised that things might still grow worse for Putin and Russia. And nothing will alter this, not even the tactical use of nuclear bombs in Ukraine, he said. “You have to take the threat seriously,” he, however, noted.
NATO faced rebukes from Moscow and Beijing on Thursday after it declared Russia a “direct threat” and said China posed “serious challenges ” to global stability. The Western military alliance was wrapping up a summit in Madrid, where it issued a stark warning that the world has been plunged into a dangerous phase of big-power competition and myriad threats, from cyberattacks to climate change. NATO leaders also formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, after overcoming opposition from Turkey. If the Nordic nations’ accession is approved by the 30 member nations, it will give NATO a new 800-mile (1,300 kilometer) border with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he would respond in kind if the Nordic pair allowed NATO troops and military infrastructure onto their territory. He said Russia would have to “create the same threats for the territory from which threats against us are created.” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Putin’s threats were “nothing new.” “Of course, we have to expect some kind of surprises from Putin, but I doubt that he is attacking Sweden or Finland directly,” Kallas said as she arrived at the summit’s conference center venue. “We will see cyberattacks definitely. We will see hybrid attacks, information war is going on. But not the conventional war.” China accused the alliance of “maliciously attacking and smearing” the country. Its mission to the European Union said NATO “claims that other countries pose challenges, but it is NATO that is creating problems around the world.” NATO leaders turned their gaze south for a final summit session Thursday focused on Africa’s Sahel region and the Middle East, where political instability — aggravated by climate change and food insecurity sparked by the war in Ukraine — is driving large numbers of migrants toward Europe. “It is in our interest to continue working with our close partners in the south to fight shared challenges together,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. Also Read: Macron says Russia can’t win in Ukraine after strike on mall But it was Russia that dominated the summit. Stoltenberg said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine had brought “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.” The invasion shattered Europe’s peace, and in response NATO has poured troops and weapons into Eastern Europe on a scale unseen in decades. Member nations have given Ukraine billions in military and civilian aid to strengthen its resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the summit by video link, asked for more. He urged NATO to send modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned the leaders they either had to provide Kyiv with the help it needed or “face a delayed war between Russia and yourself.” “The question is, who’s next? Moldova? Or the Baltics? Or Poland? The answer is: all of them,” he said. At the summit, NATO leaders agreed to dramatically scale up military force along the alliance’s eastern flank, where countries from Romania to the Baltic states worry about Russia’s future plans. They announced plans to increase almost eightfold the size of the alliance’s rapid reaction force, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops, by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations but dedicated to specific countries in the east, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition. U.S. President Joe Biden, whose country provides the bulk of NATO’s firepower, announced a hefty boost in America’s military presence in Europe, including a permanent U.S. base in Poland, two more Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and two more F35 squadrons in the U.K. The expansion will keep 100,000 troops in Europe for the foreseeable future, up from 80,000 before the war in Ukraine began. Biden said Putin had believed NATO members would splinter after he invaded Ukraine, but the Russian leader got the opposite response. “You’re gonna get the NATO-ization of Europe,” Biden said. “And that’s exactly what he didn’t want, but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe.” Still, strains among NATO allies have emerged as the cost of energy and other essential goods has skyrocketed, partly because of the war and tough Western sanctions on Russia. There also are tensions over how the war will end and what, if any, concessions Ukraine should make. Money remains a sensitive issue — just nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense. Britain, one of the nine, announced a further 1 billion pounds ($1.21 billion) in military support to Ukraine on Thursday, At what Stoltenberg called a “transformative” summit, the leaders published NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals. The last such document, in 2010, called Russia a “strategic partner.” Now, NATO is accusing Russia of using “coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation” to extend its reach. The 2010 document made no mention of China, but the new one addressed Bejing’s growing economic and military reach. “China is not our adversary, but we must be clear-eyed about the serious challenges it represents,” Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. NATO said that China “strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains” and warned of its close ties with Moscow. The alliance said, however, that it remained “open to constructive engagement” with Beijing. China shot back that NATO was a source of instability and vowed to defend its interests. “Since NATO positions China as a ‘systemic challenge,’ we have to pay close attention and respond in a coordinated way. When it comes to acts that undermine China’s interests, we will make firm and strong responses,” its statement said.
Finland declared Sunday that it wants to join NATO, as a senior official with the western military alliance expressed hope that — with Russia's military advance appearing to falter — Ukraine can win the war. President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement that Finland would seek membership of NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The previously neutral Nordic country shares a long border with Russia. “This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said. The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week. Also read: Why Finland, Sweden joining NATO will be big deal The announcement came as top diplomats from the 30 NATO member states met in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia. “The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters early Sunday. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war,” he said. Geoana, who was chairing the meeting while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recovers from a COVID-19 infection, said Ukraine's supporters were “united, we are strong, will continue to help Ukraine in winning this war.” Sweden has also already taken steps toward joining the alliance, while Georgia's bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if its neighbor becomes part of NATO. “Finland and Sweden are already the closest partners of NATO,” Geoana said, adding that he expected allies to view their applications positively. Nordic NATO member Norway said it strongly welcomed Finland’s decision to seek membership. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt described Helsinki’s move as “a turning point” for the Nordic region's defense and security policies. “Finnish membership in NATO will be good for Finland, good for the Nordic region, and good for NATO. Finland has Norway’s full support," Huitfeldt said in comments emailed to The Associated Press. Huitfeldt said the Norwegian government would facilitate “a swift consent to ratification by the Norwegian Parliament” for Finland's accession into NATO. “We are now seeing unprecedented unity in NATO. With the Finnish membership, we will further strengthen the Nordic flank of the military alliance,” Huitfeldt said. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country and others made clear during a dinner late Saturday that they would be willing to fast-track the national ratification process for both Finland and Sweden. Also read: Finland's leaders advocate NATO membership 'without delay' “If these two countries are deciding to join, they can join very quickly,” she said. Denmark's foreign minister dismissed suggestions that objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin could hinder the alliance from letting in new members. “Each and every European country has a fundamental right to choose their own security arrangement," Jeppe Kofod told reporters. “We see now a world where the enemy of democracy number one is Putin and the thinking that he represents,” he said, adding that NATO would also stand with other countries, such as Georgia, which he said were being “instrumentalized” by Russia. On the sidelines of the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met earlier Sunday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukraine’s grain to international markets. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken “underscored the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war.” Britain's top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues beyond Europe during their meeting Sunday — a reference to growing unease among democratic nations about the rise of China. "As well as protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we also need to watch out for Indo-Pacific security,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said. The meeting follows a gathering of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies on Germany's Baltic Sea coast this week. Officials there expressed strong support for Ukraine and warned that Russia's blockade of grain exports from Ukrainian ports risks stoking a global food crisis.
It’s likely to be the quickest NATO enlargement ever and one that would redraw Europe’s security map. Finnish leaders announced Thursday their belief that Finland should join the world’s biggest military organization because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Sweden could soon follow suit. Should they apply for membership, the move would have far-reaching ramifications for Northern Europe and trans-Atlantic security. No doubt, it will also anger their large neighbor Russia, which blames, at least in part, its war in Ukraine on NATO’s continued expansion closer to its borders. It’s unclear how Russian President Vladimir Putin might retaliate. The Kremlin said Thursday that it certainly won’t improve European security. The following is a brief look at what Finland and Sweden’s membership in the 30-country NATO alliance could mean, with the Nordic partners expected to announce their intention to join within days. Not neutral like Switzerland, Finland and Sweden traditionally think of themselves as militarily “nonaligned.” But Russia’s war in Ukraine and Putin’s apparent desire to establish a Moscow-centered “sphere of influence” has shaken their security notions to the core. Just days after he ordered the Feb. 24 invasion, public opinion shifted dramatically. Also Read: Finland's leaders advocate NATO membership 'without delay' Support in Finland for NATO membership has hovered around 20-30% for years. It now stands at over 70%. The two are NATO’s closest partners but maintaining good ties with Russia has been an important part of their foreign policy, particularly for Finland. Now they hope for security support from NATO states — primarily the United States — in case Moscow retaliates. Britain pledged on Wednesday to come to their aid. NATO membership for the two, joining regional neighbors Denmark, Norway and Iceland, would formalize their joint security and defense work in ways that their Nordic Defense Cooperation pact hasn’t. NORDEFCO, as it’s known, focuses on cooperation. Working within NATO means putting forces under joint command. Accession would tighten the strategic Nordic grip on the Baltic Sea — Russia’s maritime point of access to the city of St. Petersburg and its Kaliningrad exclave. Finland and Sweden also join them, along with Iceland, at the heart of the triangle formed with the North Atlantic and maritime areas in the Arctic, to where Russia projects its military might from the northern Kola Peninsula. Integrated NATO military planning will become a lot simpler, making the region easier to defend. Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They contribute to the alliance’s operations and air policing. Most importantly, they already meet NATO’s membership criteria, on functioning democracies, good neighborly relations, clear borders and armed forces that are in lock-step with the allies. After the invasion, they formally boosted information exchanges with NATO and sit in on every meeting on war issues. Both are modernizing their armed forces and investing in new equipment. Finland is purchasing dozens of high-end F-35 warplanes. Sweden has top quality fighter jets, the Gripen.
Russia cut off natural gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, using its most essential export in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine. The move, condemned by European leaders as “blackmail,” marked a dramatic escalation in the economic war of sanctions and countersanctions that has unfolded in parallel to the fighting on the battlefield. The tactic, coming a day after the U.S. and other Western allies vowed to rush more and heavier weapons to Ukraine, could eventually force targeted nations to ration gas and could deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of badly needed income to fund its war effort. Poland has been a major gateway for the delivery of weapons to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending the country tanks. Just hours before Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom acted, Poland announced a new set of sanctions against the company and other Russian businesses and oligarchs. Bulgaria, under a new liberal government that took office last fall, has cut many of its old ties to Moscow and likewise supported punitive measures against the Kremlin. It has also hosted Western fighter jets at a new NATO outpost on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. The gas cuts do not immediately put the two countries in any dire trouble. Poland, especially, has been working for many years to line up other suppliers, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less essential for households. Also, Russian gas deliveries to both Poland and Bulgaria were expected to end later this year anyway. Still, the cutoff and the Kremlin warning that other countries could be next sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union. Germany, the largest economy on the continent, and Italy are among Europe’s biggest consumers of Russian natural gas, though they, too, have been taking steps to reduce their dependence on Moscow. “It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division amongst member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.” Gazprom said it shut off the two countries because they refused to pay in rubles, as President Vladimir Putin has demanded of “unfriendly” nations. The Kremlin said other countries may be cut off if they don’t agree to the payment arrangement. Most European countries have publicly balked at Russia’s demand for rubles, but it is not clear how many have actually faced the moment of decision so far. Greece’s next scheduled payment to Gazprom is due on May 25, for example, and the government must decide then whether to comply. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told his country’s parliament that he believes Poland’s support for Ukraine — and the new sanctions imposed by Warsaw on Tuesday — were the real reasons behind the gas cutoff. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov called the suspension blackmail, adding: “We will not succumb to such a racket.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia views gas as a weapon for political blackmail and “sees a united Europe as a target.” On the battlefield, fighting continued in the country’s east along a largely static front line some 300 miles (480 kilometers) long. Also read: Poland, Bulgaria say Russia suspending natural gas supplies Russia claimed its missiles hit a batch of weapons that the U.S. and European nations had delivered to Ukraine. One person was killed and at least two were injured when rockets hit a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv. Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, said Russia has made slow progress in the eastern Donbas region, with “minor gains,” including the capture of villages and small towns south of Izyum and on the outskirts of Rubizhne. Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region, conceded that Russia has made minor progress in its advance on Rubizhne through its nearly constant bombardment, but that Ukrainian troops are fighting back and retreating only when there is nothing left to defend. “There is no point in staying on territory that has been fired on so often that every meter is well known,” he said. The Western officials said some Russian troops have been shifted from the gutted southern port city of Mariupol to other parts of the Donbas. But some remain in Mariupol to fight Ukrainian forces holed up at the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold in the city. About 1,000 civilians were said to be taking shelter there with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders. “The situation is very difficult. There are huge problems with water, food,” Serhii Volynskyi, commander of the marine unit inside the plant, said in a Facebook video message. He said hundreds of fighters and civilians were wounded and in need of medical help, and those inside included children, older people and disabled people. Also read:US urges more arms for Ukraine amid fears of expanding war In the Black Sea port city of Kherson, which Russian forces have occupied since early in the war, a series of explosions boomed late Wednesday near the television tower and at least temporarily knocked Russian channels off the air, Ukrainian and Russian news organizations reported. Just across the border in Russia, an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region burned after several explosions were heard, the governor said. Blasts were also reported in Russia’s Kursk region near the border, and authorities in Russia’s Voronezh region said an air defense system shot down a drone. Earlier this week, an oil storage facility in the Russian city of Bryansk was engulfed by fire. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak hinted at the country’s involvement in the fires, saying in a Telegram post that “karma (is) a harsh thing.”
French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term Sunday, triggering relief among allies that the nuclear-armed power won’t abruptly shift course in the midst of the war in Ukraine from European Union and NATO efforts to punish and contain Russia’s military expansionism. The second five-year term for the 44-year-old centrist spared France and Europe from the seismic upheaval of having firebrand populist Marine Le Pen at the helm, Macron’s presidential runoff challenger who quickly conceded defeat but still scored her best-ever electoral showing. Acknowledging that “numerous” voters cast ballots for him simply to keep out the fiercely nationalist far-right Le Pen, Macron pledged to reunite the country that is “filled with so many doubts, so many divisions” and work to assuage the anger of French voters that fed Le Pen’s campaign. “No one will be left by the side of the road,” Macron said in a victory speech against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and a projection of the blue-white-and-red tricolor French flag. He was cheered by several hundred supporters who happily waved French and EU flags. “We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France must make its voice heard,” Macron said. During her campaign, Le Pen pledged to dilute French ties with the 27-nation EU, NATO and Germany, moves that would have shaken Europe’s security architecture as the continent deals with its worst conflict since World War II. Le Pen also spoke against EU sanctions on Russian energy supplies and faced scrutiny during the campaign over her previous friendliness with the Kremlin. A chorus of European leaders hailed Macron’s victory, since France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons to Ukraine. “Democracy wins, Europe wins,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. “Together we will make France and Europe advance,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Also Read: In France, it's Macron vs. Le Pen, again, for presidency Italian Premier Mario Draghi called Macron’s victory “splendid news for all of Europe” and a boost to the EU “being a protagonist in the greatest challenges of our times, starting with the war in Ukraine.” Macron won with 58.5% of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5% — significantly closer than when they first faced off in 2017. Macron is the first French president in 20 years to win reelection, since incumbent Jacques Chirac trounced Le Pen’s father in 2002. Le Pen called her result “a shining victory,” saying that “in this defeat, I can’t help but feel a form of hope.” Breaking through the threshold of 40% of the vote is unprecedented for the French far-right. Le Pen was beaten 66% to 34% by Macron in 2017 and her father got less than 20% against Chirac. She and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of 10 candidates eliminated in the first round on April 10, both quickly pitched forward Sunday night to France’s legislative election in June, urging voters to give them a parliamentary majority to hamstring Macron. Le Pen’s score this time rewarded her years-long efforts to make her far-right politics more palatable to voters. Campaigning hard on cost-of-living issues, she made deep inroads among blue-collar voters in disaffected rural communities and in former industrial centers. Le Pen voter Jean-Marie Cornic, 78, said he cast his ballot for her because he wanted a president who would prioritize “our daily lives — salaries, taxes, pensions.” The drop in support for Macron compared to five years ago points to a tough battle ahead for the president to rally people behind him in his second term. Many French voters found the 2022 presidential rematch less compelling than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown factor. Also Read: Macron keeps an open line to Putin as war in Ukraine rages Leftist voters — unable to identify with either the centrist president or Le Pen — agonized with Sunday’s choice. Some trooped reluctantly to polling stations solely to stop Le Pen, casting joyless votes for Macron. “It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transport logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in round one. It was an impossible choice for retiree Jean-Pierre Roux. Having also voted communist in round one, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, repelled both by Le Pen’s politics and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance. “I am not against his ideas but I cannot stand the person,” Roux said. In contrast, Marian Arbre, voting in Paris, cast his ballot for Macron “to avoid a government that finds itself with fascists, racists.” “There’s a real risk,” the 29-year-old fretted. Macron went into the vote as the firm favorite but faced a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic battered Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies. In celebrating victory, Macron acknowledged a debt to voters who helped get him over the line, “not to support the ideas I hold, but to block those of the extreme right.” “I want to thank them and tell them that I am aware that their vote obliges me for the years to come,” he said. “I am the custodian of their sense of duty, of their attachment to the Republic.”