For Putin, a Nordic Nightmare Is Springing to Life

For years, President Vladimir V. Putin has viewed NATO expansion as an existential threat that could expose Russia to Western missiles on its doorstep. Now, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine appears to be bringing back the Russian leader’s nightmare, as NATO is on track to begin its biggest potential expansion in nearly two decades.

After a postwar orientation in de-alignment and neutrality, Sweden and Finland are now actively exploring joining a military alliance formed during the Cold War, with officials from both countries. will meet with NATO partners on Saturday.

Russia struck immediately, Stop exporting electricity to Finland and promised an unspecified “military-technical” response after warning that the move would pose a clear threat to its own national security.

Some analysts fear that Russia is laying the groundwork to threaten to deploy nuclear weapons near its border with Finland. But officials in both Sweden and Finland downplayed that threat, noting that with Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave just 200 miles away, Moscow already has nuclear-capable missiles within range. easy.

Sweden and Finland’s acceptance to join NATO, a process that could take up to a year to complete, would bring the Western military alliance right up to Russia’s 810-mile border with Finland and would mark a another profound change to Europe’s strategic landscape. by Russia’s war in Ukraine. At the same time, the Pentagon is rotate new troops into Europe to fortify the alliance’s eastern flank, signaling that temporary troop buildups were likely to become permanent.

As Western powers vexed by what Ukraine’s defense minister called a “new, long-term phase” in the war, developments on the ground gave rise to the idea that Ukraine was still fighting steadfastly. strengthen with Russia in the east and report that they are gaining ground.

In recent days, Ukrainian forces have begun to consolidate control over the major city of Kharkiv after months of heavy Russian attacks and shelling. In what appears to be a re-enactment of Russia’s withdrawal from Kyiv, Ukrainian officials say, their ravated battalions are retreating to protect vital supply lines to the east and bolster units. are struggling elsewhere in the Donbas in the east of the country, Ukrainian officials said.

The head of Kharkiv’s regional military junta said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had begun a counter-offensive against Russian forces around the northeastern city of Izium, which Russia captured last month and hoped hopes to use it as a base to advance south into other major cities.

Amid tensions over US foreign policy, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, made a surprise visit on Saturday to Ukraine to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. The accompanying delegation of American lawmakers is just the latest to arrive in the country as the United States deepens its commitment to Kyiv’s fight against Russian aggression.

The US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, is expected to travel to Germany on Saturday, to meet with his NATO counterparts before discussions with Sweden and Finland.

In a phone call on Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he had told Russian President Putin that his country was looking to join NATO because Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine had changed “about basic” Finland’s security environment.

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

“By joining NATO, Finland strengthens its own security and assumes its responsibilities,” the Finnish president said in a statement, adding that Finland wanted to “address real questions.” economics that arose from being Russia’s neighbor precisely and professionally. ”

There was initial alarm when Turkey, a longtime NATO member, signaled this week that it might seek to prevent the Nordic countries from joining the alliance. But on Saturday, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey denied any potential challenge, saying that Turkey was just trying to make sure that all alliance members’ security concerns were noticed.

NATO’s potential growth has added to a list of obstacles for Putin. Russia’s 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 Ukraine has now won the battle for Kharkiv.

Having failed in its initial campaign to capture the Ukrainian capital and overthrow 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 director of military intelligence, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, said the coming months would be decisive.

“The breaking point will be in the second part of August,” he said. “Most of the active combat operations will end by the end of the year.”

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

Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, warned of “extremely difficult weeks” ahead. “No one can say for sure how many of them there will be,” he said in a statement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the fight to regain control of the Russian-occupied territories would be long and difficult, but he vowed that they would not be abandoned.

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

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

War has Wheat production is interrupted in Ukraine and Russia, both major suppliers, while fighting and naval blockades in the Black Sea have disrupted grain shipments. And poor harvest in Chinatogether with a heat wave in india and droughts in other countries, have continued to plague global supplies.

But India, the world’s second-biggest wheat producer, said it was banning exports with few exceptions, a move that could worsen worldwide shortages due to the war. in Ukraine and aggravated dire forecast because of global hunger.

According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, India has about 10% of the world’s grain reserves, a large surplus because it subsidizes farmers heavily. For the past several months, the country has been seen as a country that can help make up for the global supply shortfall.

“Russia’s war of aggression has created one of the most severe food and energy crises in recent history,” said Group 7. ”

Report contributed by Carlotta Gall from Kharkiv, Ukraine; Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; Steven Erlanger from Tallinn, Estonia; Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Cassandra Vinograd from London; Emily Cochrane from Washington; and Sameer Yasir from New Delhi.

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