War in Ukraine: Finland makes big move towards NATO, tensions with Russia rise

Russia on Thursday threatened Finland with a “military-technical” response after its leaders announced their desire to join NATO “immediately” amid the war in Ukraine, amid rising tensions elsewhere in Europe over gas supplies, which ended for the second time Consecutive times were interrupted day.

The President and Prime Minister of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin said they were in favor of “immediate” NATO accession on Thursday, a prelude to a formal candidacy on Sunday from this Nordic country, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia and for a long time was forced into an enforced neutrality towards Moscow.

If membership is achieved, Russia will be “obliged to take reciprocal military-technical and other measures to end threats to its national security,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, calling on Helsinki “to assume its responsibilities.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had previously estimated that Moscow’s response would depend on “the advance of military infrastructure” towards Russia’s borders.

On the western side, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have pledged their support to Finland, as have key members of the US Senate. If she applies, “she will be warmly welcomed into NATO and the accession process will run smoothly and quickly,” said Stoltenberg.

Concerned about Moscow’s reaction to its likely bids for NATO membership, Helsinki and Stockholm, which is also considering doing so, signed mutual protection statements with the UK on Wednesday.

energetic tensions

Tensions also increased over energy issues.

Germany, one of the main European buyers of Russian gas, has seen its supplies through Ukraine drop by almost 40% in two days, according to operators. Federal Energy Minister Robert Habeck has also accused Russia of using energy “as a weapon”.

This topic should be on the agenda of the visit of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba to Germany, where he will take part in a meeting with his G7 colleagues on Friday and Saturday. “Europe must cut off Russia’s energy oxygen” and “break its dependency on Russian gas,” he said on Thursday.

The 27 EU countries have been trying to reduce their dependence on Russian hydrocarbons since the beginning of the conflict, but have so far been unable to agree on a phased embargo on Russian oil.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Kouleba had once again called for his country to join the EU. “We often hear that Ukraine belongs to the European family. Now it’s important [lui] reserve this place,” he told German television.

Kyiv applied for EU membership on February 28, but some of the 27 member countries are skeptical, including about being granted mere candidate status, a matter on which a decision is expected in June.

In addition to the G7, the foreign ministers of the NATO member states will also meet on Friday and Saturday to discuss their military support for Ukraine – and possibly also for Moldova.

US intelligence chief Avril Haines said on Tuesday that Vladimir Putin does not want to limit himself to the Donbass and southern Ukraine, but wants to expand his influence southwest to Transnistria, Moldova’s pro-Russian separatist region.

Fight in Donbass and return to Kyiv

Fighting on the ground continues in the east and south of the country. The Russian army is continuing its offensive in the Donbass, where progress is slow, and, according to the Ukrainian presidency, is trying in particular to bring the towns of Roubijné and Severodonetsk “total control”.

Locals who refused to evacuate the area often sympathize with 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.

At least three people were killed and 12 injured in Russian airstrikes near Chernihiv in north-eastern Ukraine on Wednesday night, local officials said.

At the Kiev railway station, the return of Ukrainians who have gone abroad has multiplied since May 9, when Ukraine feared military action by Russia on the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

When a train from Poland pulls into the station, there are shouts of joy. “We get used to the war, to the threat. The fears we had two months ago are different than today,” explains Dana Pervalska, 27, and greets her cousin on the quay.

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