For Putin, a Nordic nightmare is coming to life

For years, President Vladimir V. Putin has viewed NATO expansion as an existential threat that would leave Russia confined with Western missiles on its doorstep. Now, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine appears to give birth to the Russian leader’s nightmare, with NATO on the verge of starting its largest potential expansion in nearly two decades.

Having navigated the postwar era in conditions of non-alignment and neutrality, Sweden and Finland are now actively exploring the rise to the military alliance forged during the Cold War, with officials from both countries meeting with their counterparts on Saturday. of NATO.

Russia immediately rushed, owns electricity exports to Finland and promising an unspecified “military-technical” response after warning that the move would pose a clear threat to their national security.

Some analysts were concerned that Russia was laying the groundwork to threaten the deployment of nuclear weapons near the Finnish border. But officials in both Sweden and Finland have downplayed this threat, noting that with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad just 200 miles away, Moscow already has nuclear missiles on hand.

The acceptance of Sweden and Finland into NATO, a process that could take up to a year to finalize, would bring the Western military alliance directly to the 810-mile Russian border with Finland and mark another profound change in landscape. European strategy carried out by Russia was in Ukraine. At the same time, the Pentagon is rotation of new troops in Europe to strengthen the alliance’s eastern flank, signaling that the temporary build-up of troops is likely to become permanent.

As Western powers bowed to what the Ukrainian defense minister called a “new, long phase” in the war, developments on the ground confirmed the notion that Ukraine was still stubbornly fighting Russia in the east and reported that was gaining ground.

In recent days, Ukrainian forces have begun to consolidate control over the large city of Kharkiv after months of Russian attacks and heavy bombing. In an apparent rerun of Russia’s retreat from Kiev, its battered battalions are retreating to protect critical supply lines to the east and to bolster troubled units elsewhere in Donbas in the country’s east, Ukrainian officials said.

The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces have begun a counter-offensive against Russian forces around the northeastern city of Izium, which Russia captured last month and hoped to use as a base for a trip. south to other major cities.

On Saturday, in a corridor of US diplomacy, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the minority, paid a surprise visit to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. The accompanying delegation of American lawmakers was just the latest to travel to the country as the United States strengthens its commitment to Kiev’s fight against the Russian invasion.

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was due to travel to Germany on Saturday to meet with NATO counterparts ahead of discussions with Sweden and Finland.

In a phone call on Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he told Russian President Vladimir V. Putin that his country is trying to join NATO because Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has “basically ”Altered the security environment of Finland.

Putin warned the Finnish leader that it was a “mistake” to abandon Finland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality, the Kremlin said in a statement.

“By joining NATO, Finland strengthens its security and assumes its responsibilities,” the Finnish president said in a statement, adding that Finland wants to “take care of the practical issues of being a neighbor of Russia in a fair way. and professional. “

There was an initial alarm when Turkey, a longtime NATO member, signaled this week that it might try to block Nordic membership of the alliance. But Saturday a spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan He dismissed any potential challenge, saying Turkey was simply trying to ensure that the security concerns of all members of the alliance were heard.

NATO’s growth potential has added to a growing list of setbacks for Putin. The Russian military offensive in eastern Ukraine remains stalled and The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said in its latest assessment that the Ukrainians had now won the battle for Kharkiv.

Having failed in its initial campaign to take over the Ukrainian capital and oust the government, the Kremlin cannot afford to accept another defeat in the east.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Saturday, the country’s chief of military intelligence, General Kyrylo Budanov, said the months ahead will be decisive.

“The breaking point will be in the second half of August,” he said. “Most of the active combat actions will be finished by the end of this year.”

But as Moscow’s forces around Kharkiv are pushed back towards the Russian border, they are expected to fight hard to keep critical supply routes through the region open. Russia also controls a large swath of territory in southeastern Ukraine, where it is increasingly strengthening its position. The military campaign, analysts say, will continue to turn into a protracted slog characterized by heavy casualties on both sides and devastating long-range bombings.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov warned that “extremely difficult weeks” await us. “Nobody can say for sure how many there will be” he said in a note.

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the struggle to regain control of the territories occupied by Russia would be long and tough, but promised that they would not be abandoned.

“The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region shows that we will not leave anyone to the enemy,” he said.

The impact of the fighting on the battlefield continues to spread around the world.

“Russia’s war of aggression has spawned one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, which now threatens the most vulnerable people around the world,” said leaders of the world’s richest democracies, the Group of 7, on Saturday. .

War has wheat production stopped in Ukraine and Russia, both main suppliers, while fighting and blockades in the Black Sea have disrupted the transport of grain. Other poor harvests in Chinatogether with a heatwaves in India and droughts in other countries have further trapped global supply.

But India, the world’s second largest producer of wheat, says it bans exports with a few exceptions, a move that could exacerbate a world shortage exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and deepen a already terrible prediction for hunger all over the world.

India has about 10 percent of the world’s grain reserves, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a large surplus from its heavy subsidies to its farmers. It has been seen for months as a country that could help make up for the global supply shortage.

The ban on grain exports, announced in a Ministry of Commerce I notify dated Friday, it appeared to be a turnaround from previous statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who told President Biden in April that the country was ready to supply the world from its reserves. He also urged domestic grain producers to seize the opportunity, saying Indian officials and financial institutions should support exporters.

The Commerce Ministry notice on Friday said grain exports were immediately banned, with some exceptions, because a sudden rise in the price of the crop had threatened India’s food security. The export ban is a further blow to international organizations working to counter the growing threat of widespread hunger.

The report was provided by Carlotta Gallo from Kharkov, Ukraine; Marco Santora from Krakow, Poland; Steven Erlanger from Tallinn, Estonia; Matthew Mpoke Bigg Other Cassandra Vinograd from London; Emily Cochrane from Washington; Other Sameer Yasir from New Delhi.