Ukraine: Finland takes big step towards NATO, new gas disruptions

Kyiv | Finland took a big step toward NATO membership on Thursday, Moscow denounced a “threat” to Russia, while Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine blamed fresh disruptions, witnessing geopolitical upheaval and energies wrought by two-and-a-half months of conflict.

• Also read: [EN DIRECT] 78th day of the war in Ukraine: here are all the latest developments

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• Also read: Russian gas transit via Ukraine fell by almost a third on Thursday

Finnish Presidents and Prime Ministers Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin said they were in favor of NATO joining “immediately” on Thursday, a prelude to a formal candidacy by this Nordic country, which shares 1,300 km of border with Russia, on Sunday and was announced by Moscow has long been forced into a kind of forced neutrality.

The Kremlin was quick to criticize this decision: Finnish NATO membership would “definitely” pose a threat to Russia, said its spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Dmitry Peskov

For his part, the Alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, assured that “if Finland should decide to apply, it would be warmly welcomed into NATO and the accession process would be smooth and swift”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also congratulated the Finnish President during a phone call, he said in a tweet.

This announcement from Helsinki – which should be followed by a similar decision from Sweden in the coming days – shows how much the offensive against Ukraine launched by Vladimir Putin on February 24 has influenced Finnish opinion. According to a survey published on Monday, 76% of Finland’s 5.5 million people now support membership, three times more than before the war.

Concerned about Moscow’s reaction to these likely bids to join the Atlantic Alliance, Stockholm and Helsinki signed mutual protection statements with the UK on Wednesday during a visit by Boris Johnson to the two countries.

Further decline in gas supplies

Uncertainty over shipments of Russian gas to Europe, which will be transported through Ukraine, also rose after Russian gas giant Gazprom said volumes would fall by almost 30% on Thursday, after an 18% drop the previous day.

Finnish President and Prime Minister Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin.

Both parties blame each other. Kyiv has been saying for two days that it can no longer guarantee supplies through Sokhranivka’s facilities in the Luhansk region due to the presence of Russian forces, and has asked Gazprom to increase volumes through another transit point, Soudja.

But Moscow ensures that the transit can be perfectly done via Sokhranivka, while diverting the river to Soudja is impossible.

On Wednesday, Germany, one of Europe’s top buyers of Russian gas, announced that it had seen a 25% drop in Russian gas volumes shipped through Ukraine. Berlin had pointed out that it had compensated for this decline in particular with increasing volumes from Norway and the Netherlands.

Kouleba at the G7

These gas riots could be on the menu for Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba’s visit to Germany, where he was due to meet his G7 counterparts (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) on Friday and Saturday ).

At the same time, the foreign ministers of the NATO member states will meet on Friday and Saturday to discuss their military support for Ukraine and possibly also for Moldova.

US intelligence chief Avril Haines on Tuesday had indicated that Vladimir Putin had no intention of confining his occupation efforts to the Donbass regions and southern Ukraine — where a local official in the city of Kherson said on Wednesday he wanted that region annexed to Russia apply for.

According to Ms. Haines, he wants to take the conflict to Transnistria, a region of Moldova that split away in 1990.

During his first public speech on Thursday in Berlin, Mr. Kouleba again called for his country’s accession to the European Union.

“We hear very often that Ukraine belongs to the European family and now it is a matter of reserving this place in the EU,” he explained on German television, seeming to realize that he did not “hope for the fastest possible accession”.

Kyiv applied for EU membership on February 28, but some member countries are skeptical, including about granting candidate status to Ukraine, a matter on which a decision is expected in June.

New Russian strikes

Fighting continues on the ground, and no one has spoken of talks for several weeks.

According to local rescue services, at least three people were killed and twelve injured in Russian airstrikes near Chernihiv in north-eastern Ukraine on Wednesday night.

Finnish President and Prime Minister Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin.

Regional governor Viatcheslav Tchaouss said without further detail that “critical infrastructure, including schools,” was affected.

The Russian army continues its offensive in the Donbass, where it is gaining ground, with intense fighting in the Luhansk region. In particular, according to the Ukrainian presidency, they are trying to take “total control” over the locations of Roubijné and Severodonetsk.

Locals who have refused an evacuation often have sympathy for Moscow. “They are giving the Russians our coordinates, that’s for sure,” a soldier who uses the nom de guerre “Zastava” told AFP, who met at the front in Novomykolaivka.

The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod, neighboring Ukraine in south-western Russia, informed him on Wednesday that one person was killed and six injured in bomb attacks from Ukraine.

First War Crimes Trial

At the diplomatic level, the UN Human Rights Council held an extraordinary session on Thursday in Geneva to review allegations of serious human rights violations by Russia in Ukraine, particularly in the Kyiv region, which was occupied by Russian forces in March.

This is the first meeting of this body, which is addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine, since the UN General Assembly suspended Moscow in early April. Moscow announced that it would not take part in the meeting requested by Ukraine.

The text proposed by Kyiv calls on the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine to conduct “an investigation” into the events that took place between late February and March in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, “with a view to holding those responsible accountable.” to pull”.

Russia has been accused by Kyiv and several Western countries of committing war crimes in Ukraine since the start of its February 24 offensive. The investigations by the International Criminal Court and the Ukrainian authorities are ongoing.

According to Ukraine’s Attorney General, a 21-year-old first Russian soldier is set to face trial soon for killing an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian on his bicycle.

The soldier, Vadim Chichimarin, was traveling with four other Russian soldiers after their convoy was attacked on February 28, according to prosecutors. They stole a car in the Sumy region (east) and Chichimarin shot the civilian “so that he wouldn’t denounce them,” according to the press release, which does not give the date of the trial.

The United Nations Security Council is also scheduled to meet on Thursday from 14:00 GMT at the request of France and Mexico to review the situation in Ukraine.

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