Turkey has agreed to withdraw its objection to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, a breakthrough that strengthens the alliance amid Europe’s worst security crisis in decades after the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia.
“We now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a summit in Madrid on Tuesday, hailing the “historic decision”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had expressed his opposition to the membership of the two Nordic countries, insisting that they change their position on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.
Joining NATO requires a unanimous vote of member states, and after weeks of negotiations, it appears to have been achieved. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said on Tuesday that the leaders of the three countries had signed a joint agreement to break the deadlock.
Although relatively sparsely populated (less than 11 million people), Sweden and Finland have powerful and modern armed forces and have pledged to increase their defense budgets after the Russian invasion, which also prompted their demand for NATO membership after decades of non-alignment.
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►President Joe Biden opened his three-day visit to a Tuesday NATO summit in Madrid pledging to boost the US military presence in Europe, saying the number of navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain would be increased from four to six. Biden said more such announcements would come during the meetings.
►Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the European Union had reduced its dependence on Russian gas from 40% to 25% and continued to invest in renewable energy.
►Ukraine will start trading electricity with European countries this week via the European Network of Electricity Transmission System Operators. Ukraine was previously part of the integrated power system which also includes Russia and Belarus.
►A Russian court rejected a call from jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
►16 Ukrainian soldiers, including two officers, were freed in a prisoner exchange. Five were injured, Ukrainian authorities said. The number of Russians freed was not immediately revealed.
Ukraine fights to keep the last city it controls in Luhansk
Ukrainian forces are consolidating on higher ground in Lyschansak, the last major city in the Luhansk region not controlled by Russia, and continue to disrupt Russian command and control with strikes far behind enemy lines, it said on Tuesday. the UK Ministry of Defense in an assessment.
Over the past few days, Russia has launched “unusually intense” strikes across Ukraine using long-range missiles, the ministry said. On Monday, a missile strike that hit a shopping center in central Ukraine killed at least 18 people and injured dozens more.
“These weapons were designed to strike at targets of strategic importance, but Russia continues to use them in large numbers,” the assessment said. Moscow also deployed the basic elements of six armies, but achieved only tactical success in the city of Sieverodonetsk.
“Russia’s armed forces are increasingly exhausted,” the assessment said. “They are currently accepting a degraded level of combat effectiveness, which is probably unsustainable in the long term.”
Russian ‘Totally Crazy Terrorists’ Accused of Killing Missile at Mall
The deadly Russian missile attack on a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine was one of the “most provocative acts of terrorism in European history”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. Zelenskyy’s spokesman, Kirill Timoshenko, said at least 20 people died in Monday’s blast, while local officials in the central city of Kremenchuk said at least 18 were killed . At least 40 people were missing as rescuers searched the rubble.
“Only totally insane terrorists who should have no place on Earth can launch missiles at such a target,” Zelenskyy said.
Tymoshenko said at least 59 people were injured, 25 of them requiring hospitalization.
The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss the attack. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said warplanes fired missiles at a nearby depot containing Western weapons that caught fire. Ukrainian officials deny the depot held weapons and say the mall itself was hit by the missile.
Macron: “Russia cannot and must not win”
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has suggested a middle ground approach to ending the war in Ukraine that would not embarrass Russia, hardened his stance after Monday’s missile strike at a crowded shopping mall left at least 18 dead and 59 injured.
Calling Monday’s attack in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk a “new war crime,” Macron pledged the West’s continued support for Kyiv, saying on Tuesday: “Russia cannot and must not win”.
The airstrike on a shopping mall with more than 1,000 people took place as leaders of the Group of Seven nations were meeting in Germany, and it has revived images of the bombing of a theater in Mariupol which killed around 600 people, horrifying much of the world. The latest attack on civilians was part of an intense barrage of Russian fire across Ukraine, including in the capital of Kyiv, and has drawn new attention to the war even as it drags on.
Mayor of Kyiv to NATO countries: You’re next if Russia isn’t stopped
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko not only appealed to Western allies to provide his country “everything it takes” to repel the Russian invasion, but also a warning that some of their own countries could be targeted by the Kremlin unless he is arrested.
“Wake up, guys. It is happening now. You are going to be next. It’ll be knocking on your door in the blink of an eye,” Klitschko said in Madrid, where NATO leaders are meeting.
Attending the summit with his brother Wladimir, like him a former heavyweight boxing champion, Klitschko rejected the idea of conceding all Ukrainian territory to Russia to end the war.
“Bully the bully is the only way to stop it,” said Vitali Klitschko. “And in this case, Russia is the bully.”
President Joe Biden’s family not welcome in Russia
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it added 25 people to the list of Americans banned from entering Russia “in response to the escalating US sanctions against Russian political and public figures.” Included are first lady Jill Biden and the couple’s daughter Ashley. The president was on a previous list. The latest list also includes four senators whom the ministry accuses of “training the Russophobic course” in Congress. They are Republicans Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
“It just shows you that the Russian capacity for these kinds of cynical moves is basically bottomless,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. “So it probably shouldn’t surprise any of us that they’re doing something like this.”
The United States and other countries hit many Russian oligarchs with sanctions that led to the seizure of massive yachts and other property.
Ukraine: Russians kidnap Kherson mayor
Kherson Mayor Ihor Kolykhaiev has been kidnapped by Russian forces occupying the southern city of nearly 300,000 people, a city councilor said. Halyna Liashevska said the mayor stayed in the city after the Russians arrived out of a sense of duty to his constituents. Russian forces have routinely abducted pro-Ukrainian activists and other public figures in towns they invade. Kolykhaiev was escorted out of his office in handcuffs, Liashevska said.
Control of the region gives Russia a crucial ‘land bridge’ linking its mainland to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. Separatists have called for a referendum to let Ukraine become a part of Russia.
Contribute: The Associated Press