Finland and Sweden are set to join NATO as early as this summer, extending the organization’s borders alongside Russia by hundreds of miles, U.S. officials told the British newspaper the Times.
Finland is expected to submit its application for membership in June, with Sweden to follow.
During talks among the organization’s 30 member nations last week, U.S. officials said that NATO membership for the Nordic countries was the “topic of conversation.” Foreign ministers from both Sweden and Finland attended the NATO sessions.
Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, said it had discussed a possible bid for membership with “almost all” of the organization’s 30 delegates.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said two weeks ago that the country would be carrying out a security policy review and that it would be ready at the end of May. “I do not exclude NATO membership in any way,” she said. Stefan Nordstrom, a major in the Swedish Army, told Reuters that it would be “naive” to not recognize that there is a threat from Russia. “The security situation in the whole of Europe has changed, and we have to accept that, and we have to adapt,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland against joining NATO. On March 12, Russia’s foreign ministry warned that “there will be serious military and political consequences” if Finland joins the alliance.
NATO Holds Exercise On Russia’s Border
British, French, and Danish troops who recently arrived to serve in NATO Battlegroup Estonia began joint exercise with Estonian forces this weekend.
The ongoing Bold Dragon exercises, involving the foreign troops and members of Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade, are being held at the Estonian military’s central training area in the north of the Baltic state.
On Saturday and Sunday, the participants practiced both assault and defensive maneuvers, according to a statement by the 1st Infantry Brigade.
Some 2,000 Estonian troops are taking part in the war games, which will culminate in a battalion-level tactical exercise on Wednesday and Thursday, it added.
The Bold Dragon drills also feature aviation, including Belgian F-16s, British Eurofighter jets and Wildcat helicopters as well as Estonian aircraft.
Estonia, which joined NATO in 2004 together with Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania, shares a 300-km border with Russia.
Since the start of the Ukraine conflict, NATO has significantly boosted its contingent in Eastern Europe, with the number of the bloc’s troops in the region – stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea – now reaching some 40,000.
EU Fails To Agree Russian Energy Ban
The EU’s foreign ministers have not agreed on a ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports, Head Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Monday, adding that discussions on the issue will continue. The energy ban was expected to be part of the latest EU sanctions package against Moscow.
While the EU agreed numerous sanctions against Moscow, member states have been at loggerheads over banning Russian energy imports. That is because many EU countries are heavily dependent on Russian energy. Thus, Hungary has placed a veto on a total ban of Russian gas imports, saying it was the only option, as the country is landlocked and wouldn’t be able to directly receive liquefied gas from the U.S.
Ukrainian Truckers, Short Of Fuel, Are Filling Up With Gas In Poland
Ukrainian truckers, short of fuel, are filling up with gas in Poland so it can be siphoned and shared with other trucks when they return home, report said.
A Business Insider report said:
Trucking companies in Ukraine, including those delivering aid to the war-torn east, are struggling to get hold of fuel. It has led at least one company to resort to an unusual method to ensure its supply lines remain open.
Truck drivers working for DFDS, the Danish shipping and logistics giant, have reportedly been instructed to fill their gas tanks in Poland when returning from the EU and drive to Lviv in western Ukraine, where the remaining gas is siphoned off and distributed among trucks destined for central and eastern parts of the country.
Oleksandr Poliukhovych, a manager at DFDS, told The Wall Street Journal that the siphoning system would sustain operations for a few days – but government officials would soon need to take action, by opening the country’s remaining fuel reserves or finding new ways to import diesel.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has acknowledged the fuel shortage and says the country is negotiating with major energy companies over shipments of gas and diesel, per Ukrainian news site Ukrinform.
Before Russia invaded, DFDS’s operations in Ukraine consisted mainly of transporting metal parts, furniture, and textiles, but it soon pivoted to moving medical and humanitarian aid, The Journal reported.
Serhiy Berestenko, a DFDS trucker, told The Journal: “The first problem is you do not know if you will reach your destination. And the second problem is you do not know in what condition you will return.” He said that traveling between Kyiv, in the north, and Dnipro, in the east, now takes around 18 hours, up from seven before the invasion, in part because of the number of military checkpoints.
Refined petroleum imports from Russia and Belarus previously accounted for around 70% of Ukraine’s supply, per OEC data. Since Russia invaded, Ukraine has largely been forced to rely on road and rail for imports. Russia’s navy has targeted Ukrainian fuel depots and refineries and blockaded major seaports, including those in Lviv, Kyiv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv.
Most of Ukraine’s oil came from Azerbaijan through the Port of Odessa, and was refined at a facility in Kremenchuk in the Poltava region, Kristine Petrosyan, an analyst at the International Energy Agency, told The Journal. But Odessa has been hit by air strikes and the Kremenchuk site, which Reuters reported was Ukraine’s only fully-functioning oil refinery, was targeted by Russian missiles in early April. “The facility has been completely destroyed and can no longer function,” Poltava’s governor said, per Reuters.
Importing fuel from several countries bordering Ukraine is largely impractial because vehicles would need to cross the Carpathian Mountains, S&P Global Commodity Insights said.
Serhiy Kuyun, head of fuel consultancy A-95, told S&P Global: “I know of three regional fuel chains that have already stopped selling fuel in the last two days because the cost is higher than the set prices. Even large players are forced to limit sales, because new batches of fuel arrive at the pump, but its cost is already beyond the established price corridor.”
In addition, more than 30 petrol station had been destroyed since Russia invaded, Shmyhal said.
Hungary Is Ready To Pay For Russian Gas In Rubles
Hungary is ready to accept the new ruble-based payment mechanism for Russian gas to secure the country’s energy supplies, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference on Monday.
“As for paying in rubles, we have a solution that does not violate any sanctions but at the same time it secures Hungary’s gas supply,” Szijjarto said, noting that the option to pay bills in another currency rather than euros was included in a bilateral contract between Hungary’s energy group MVM’s subsidiary, CEE Energy, and Russian Gazprom Export, sealed in September last year.
In March, Moscow amended the payment mechanism for its natural gas exports, demanding that buyers from countries that imposed sanctions on Russia over its military operation in Ukraine pay for the commodity in rubles. Moscow explained that buyers will now have to transfer gas payments in their currency of choice to accounts in Russian Gazprombank, which will convert them into rubles so they may reach gas producer Gazprom. The European Commission, however, urged member states with contracts requiring payment in euros or dollars to stick to their original payment schemes.
Szijjarto stressed that Hungary, which relies on Russia for most of its oil and gas needs, opposes this joint approach, and considers the issue a matter which should be decided by each country separately.
Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban said his country will not yield to EU pressure and will not support restrictions on energy supplies from Russia because this is a ‘red line’ for Hungary, which gets 85% of all gas it consumes from Russia.
The War is To Put An End To U.S.-led Global Domination And NATO expansion, Says Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Russia’s war with Ukraine is “meant to put an end” to U.S.-led global domination and the expansion of NATO, according to a report.
“Our special military operation is meant to put an end to the unabashed expansion [of NATO] and the unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage,” Lavrov told the state-owned television news channel Rossiya 24.
Lavrov accused the U.S. of international law violations due to what he said were America’s attempts to impose its own “rules-based international order,” according to the report.
“This domination is built on gross violations of international law and under some rules, which they are now hyping so much and which they make up on a case-by-case basis,” Lavrov said during the interview.
Washington has been seeking supremacy by imposing ad-hoc rules and violating international law, he claimed.
He was referring to America’s attempts to impose its own so-called “rules-based international order,” which have met with strong resistance from Moscow and China.
“Our special military operation is meant to put an end to the unabashed expansion [of NATO] and the unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage,” said Lavrov.
“This domination is built on gross violations of international law and under some rules, which they are now hyping so much and which they make up on a case-by-case basis,” he added.
Russia is among the nations who would not submit to Washington’s will, he added. It will only be part of an international community of equals and will not allow Western nations to ignore its legitimate security concerns, Lavrov said.
Lavrov blasted EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for appearing to encourage more fighting in Ukraine. The top EU diplomat said the conflict “will be won on the battlefield” as he announced more military aid to Kiev last Saturday. Lavrov called the statement “outrageous.”
“When a diplomatic chief says a certain conflict can only be resolved through military action… Well, it must be something personal. He either misspoke or spoke without thinking, making a statement that nobody asked him to make. But it’s an outrageous remark,” Lavrov added.
The EU’s role has shifted during the Ukraine security crisis, the minister believes. Previously it did not act as a military organization “fighting collectively against an invented threat.” Lavrov said the change was the result of pressure put on the bloc’s members by Washington, which has pushed it closer to NATO.
For its part, Russia wants to negotiate peace with Ukraine, Lavrov added.
Putin Intends To Resolve Donbass Conflict
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer walked away from his meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin convinced that sanctions are not weakening the Kremlin’s determination to resolve the Donbass crisis before ending the military offensive in Ukraine.
“He clearly confirmed that the sanctions are tough for Russia but the situation in Donbass, as he said, must be, so to say, resolved, despite the sanctions – even if they are quite tangible,” Nehammer told reporters following the meeting at Putin’s residence outside Moscow, as cited by Tass.
While Nehammer had said he hoped to “build bridges” by traveling to Moscow, he told reporters afterward that “I generally have no optimistic impression that I can report to you from this conversation with President Putin.”
After pulling back its forces from around Kiev, Russia is preparing an offensive in eastern Ukraine “on a massive scale,” Nehammer claimed. Putin sees the war as necessary to defend Russian national security and mistrusts an international community that he considers “one-sided,” the chancellor said.
“I will now inform our European partners about the conversation and discuss further steps,” the chancellor said.
Russia has denied committing war crimes, saying Ukrainian officials had made false allegations to manipulate international public opinion.
The Donbass conflict goes back to the Western-backed overthrow of Ukraine’s elected leadership in 2014. Largely Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk areas opposed the coup and declared their independence from Kiev, leading to seven years of fighting.
Russia officially recognized the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) People’s Republics as sovereign nations in February, two days before launching its military offensive against Ukraine. Putin accused Ukraine of failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements – the German- and French-brokered protocols designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
U.S. and UK Conducting ‘Secret War’ In Ukraine, Says Le Figaro
Elite special forces from the UK and the U.S. have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of hostilities with Russia in late February, a source in the French intelligence community reportedly told a Le Figaro reporter, last week.
The claim was reported by the newspaper’s senior international correspondent Georges Malbrunot on Saturday, the day when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his surprise visit to Kiev. The British leader was reportedly surrounded by guards from the elite SAS force, though this claim was not officially confirmed.
SAS units “have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, as did the American Deltas,” Malbrunot tweeted citing a French intelligence source. He added that according to the source Russia was well aware of the “secret war” waged against its troops by foreign commandos. Le Figaro included his report in their updates on Ukraine.
The UK and the U.S. have been among the most active military supporters of Kiev. Johnson reportedly personally urged his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to keep on fighting against Russia and not settle for peace until better terms are offered.
Western pro-fighting consensus was apparently confirmed last week by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said on Saturday that the “war will be won on the battlefield” as he too was visiting Kiev.
British media earlier reported that dozens of “retired” SAS soldiers had gone or planned to go to Ukraine to contribute their expertise in reconnaissance and anti-tank warfare to Kiev’s cause. Their services were allegedly paid for by “a country in Europe, still to be named, via a private military company” rather than by the British government, according to the UK tabloid the Daily Mirror.
The Russian military reported action against what it described as “mercenaries” fighting for Ukraine on several occasions. One of the recent instances was on Saturday, just as Johnson and Borell were in Kiev.
The Russian defense ministry said Kiev attempted to use a civilian ship in its latest failed attempt to evacuate high-value personnel from the port city of Mariupol, which saw some of the most intensive fighting during the conflict. The individuals intended for evacuation were identified as leaders of the ultranationalist Azov battalion and foreign mercenaries. There are unconfirmed reports that hundreds of foreign nationals could be blocked in Mariupol along with several thousand Azov troops.
The U.S. and the UK have publicly stated they had no plans to involve their troops in the fighting in Ukraine. Both are major suppliers of arms to Kiev and were training soldiers in Ukraine before the Russian offensive. The experts were reported pulled out of the country in the run-up to the hostilities.
Britain’s Defence Ministry banned active service members from traveling to Ukraine in early March, saying that violating the rule could result in prosecution. Kiev called on volunteers abroad to join the ranks of its newly-created “foreign legion” after the Russian attack.
U.S. Is Working Around The Clock To Deliver Weapons To Ukraine, Says U.S. National Security Advisor
The U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that the U.S. is sending Ukraine weapons as fast as possible.
Jake Sullivan on Sunday said the U.S. is shipping off weapons to Ukraine to help Ukrainian soldiers.
“We are doing everything we can as the United States, working around the clock to deliver our own weapons,” Sullivan said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Weapons are arriving every day, including today,” Sullivan said. “And this week, along with Chairman Milley, I spent two hours on the phone with the chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s top aide. And we went through every weapon system that Ukraine is seeking, in priority order.”
“And we have developed plans to deliver those as rapidly as possible,” Sullivan continued. “Some have been delivered, others are in the process of being delivered. And we will continue to work aggressively to get Ukraine what it needs to strengthen its hand on the battlefield, and to strengthen its hand at the bargaining table.”
“But we are not resting until we have given them everything that they need to be able to succeed in their aims,” he added.
“Our policy is unequivocal that we will do whatever we can to help Ukraine succeed,” Sullivan said on “Meet the Press. “And it will be Ukraine. President Zelenskyy and the democratically elected government of Ukraine that determines what that success constitutes. Which means that we need to keep giving them weapons so that they can make progress on the battlefield.”
West Helping Ukraine Prepare Fake Allegations Of War Crimes, Says Russia
A Reuters report said:
Moscow said on Monday that the United States and Britain were helping Ukraine prepare fake claims about the alleged persecution of civilians in Ukraine to feed to international media in an attempt to smear Russia.
Reuters reporters saw dead bodies in the town of Bucha but could not independently verify who was responsible for the killings.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine’s government was being directed by the U.S. to sow false evidence of Russian violence against civilians despite what it cast as Moscow’s “unprecedented measures to save civilians.”
“The United States, which has many years of experience in organizing provocations with human victims, continues its campaign to create and promote false ‘evidence’,” the ministry said.
Russia said British intelligence was helping Ukraine to prepare new fake claims about alleged abuses in northeastern Ukraine. The defence ministry did not provide evidence for its claims of British and U.S. involvement.
“New false staged provocations accusing the armed forces of the Russian Federation of allegedly cruel treatment of the population of Ukraine are being prepared by the Kiev regime under the leadership of British special services on the territory of the Sumy region,” the ministry said.
Russia said Western journalists had been invited to the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine to “conduct the filming of staged plots”. The ministry said Western media would publish such fake news shortly. It did not say which media.
It said that Russian troops had left the alleged scene of some of the abuses, the Ukrainian village of Nyzhnya Syrovatka, on March 20.
“The goal is to further stoke Russophobia against the backdrop of the rapidly developing economic crisis in Europe,” the ministry said.
How The U.S. Plans To Starve Russia’s ‘War Machine’
An earlier Reuters report said:
The U.S. is ramping up sanctions against Russia to deprive Moscow’s “war machine” of money and components needed to sustain its invasion of Ukraine, but curbing a main source of funding, Russian energy exports, will take time, U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told Reuters on Thursday.
The U.S. and its allies have “a lot more that we can and we will do” to punish Moscow if Russia fails to halt its invasion, Adeyemo told Reuters in an interview.
A new investment ban announced on Wednesday by President Joe Biden forbids Americans from investing in Russian firms’ equity and debt and investment funds, cutting off Russia’s defense industry and other sectors from the world’s biggest source of investment capital, Adeyemo said.
“What this means is that Russia will be deprived of the capital it needs to build up its economy, but also to invest in its war machine,” Adeyemo said.
Asked whether it would prohibit companies already in Russia from further funding those operations, he said Treasury was consulting with the private sector.
Kremlin officials, who have described their actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” have insisted that Western sanctions will not have any effect on their goals and will solidify Russian support
Adeyemo said the U.S. and its European allies will target Russian military supply chains to deny access to key components – “things that are important to building their tanks, to supplying missiles and making sure that they have fewer resources” to fight the war in Ukraine but also to project power in the future.
“I think the impact will be immediate in the same way the impact on the economy has been immediate” from prior sanctions, Adeyemo said. Russia’s economy is headed for a 10% contraction this year and inflation is approaching 20%, U.S. officials estimate.
White House Economic Council director Brian Deese said on Wednesday that the Biden administration also would ban transactions with United Aircraft Corp, the maker of Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets — planes that are also flown by U.S. allies including some NATO members.
Adeyemo said Russia’s defense sector since 2014 has set up front companies to acquire critical supplies and materials to build up Moscow’s military. A number of these firms were targeted by sanctions last month.
Financial sanctions have forced Russia to spend more of its hard-currency energy revenues to defend its rouble currency, Adeyemo said, eating into funds available for the war effort.
After losing 45% of its value against the dollar in the first two weeks of the Ukraine invasion, the Russian rouble has risen to just below its pre-war level, thanks to capital controls by Moscow and distortion by the Russian central bank, U.S. officials say.
“What that means is that Russia has less money and the president is forced to make choices between propping up the economy and investing in the war in Ukraine,” he said. Adeyemo said his meetings last week with European allies in London, Brussels, Paris and Berlin helped focused on next steps and helped to accelerate the sanctions announced on Wednesday.
Adeyemo said he was encouraged by “strong statements” from European countries about reducing their dependence on Russian energy but said the continent was in a different position from the United States, the world’s top oil producer.
“Because of our ability to produce energy at home, we were able to ban the Russian import of oil to America rather quickly,” he said. “It is going to take them more time but what they’re doing is they are reducing their dependence over time.”
Russia Destroyed S-300 Missile Systems Given To Ukraine By European State, Claims Russia
A Reuters report said:
Russia said on Monday that it had used cruise missiles to destroy S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems which had been supplied to Ukraine by an unidentified European country.
Russia launched Kalibr cruise missiles on Sunday against four S-300 launchers which were concealed in a hangar on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the defence ministry said.
Russia said 25 Ukrainian troops were hit in the attack.
“High-precision sea-launched Kalibr missiles destroyed the equipment of a S-300 anti-aircraft missile division which had been delivered to the Kyiv regime by a European country,” the ministry said.
Russia did not say which European country had supplied the S-300 systems.
NATO member Slovakia, which had donated such a missile system to Ukraine, said the one it supplied had not been hit.
“Our S-300 was not destroyed,” Slovak government spokesperson Lubica Janikova said.
Russian forces also shot down two Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft near the city of Izium and destroyed two ammunition depots, one of which was near the southern city of Mykolaiv, the Russian defence ministry said.
The Ukrainian military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.