Turkey's Erdogan puts up a veto, while Orban's Hungary plays it coy. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin throws a curveball.
Following Finland’s and Sweden’s historic decisions to apply for NATO membership, major questions are emerging as to how quickly — if at all — they will become actual members of the military alliance.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a longstanding NATO member, surprised some observers by coming out strongly against Nordic countries joining.
"Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations. How can we trust them?" Erdogan said on Monday. Turkey has accused Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, of harboring extremist Kurdish groups as well as supporters of U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, a longstanding Erdogan nemesis whom Turkey blames for the 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan added that delegations from Sweden and Finland “shouldn’t bother” traveling to Ankara to try and persuade the Turkish authorities.
Approval by all NATO member states is necessary for Finland and Sweden to join. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared confident on Sunday, saying that Turkey wants its concerns addressed and won’t keep the Nordic states out.
Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia and Sweden, had for decades avoided NATO membership in order to not provoke Moscow. That all changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Senem Aydin-Düzgit, a professor of international relations at Turkey's Sabanci University, told German daily Die Welt that Turkey is using NATO for its internal affairs, but should be aware that it is playing with fire. “Russia is also a threat to Turkey's security. Imagine Moscow winning the war,” she said. “Turkey would be surrounded by Russian forces in the Black Sea to the north and Syria to the south. The prospects are not good.”
Then there is Hungary, which joined NATO in 1999, and is currently led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has already undermined European unanimity on policy toward Russia. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, while saying he supported Finland and Sweden’s bid, also added that “Turkey's views must be taken into account."
Zsuzsanna Szelenyi from the Central European University in Budapest and a former member of the ruling Fidesz party told Die Welt, that "Orbán's pro-Russian policy is a bargaining chip for him."
And yet another curveball (in the opposite direction?) was tossed late Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. After other top Russian officials had warned against Sweden and Finland joining NATO, the top man in the Kremlin appeared unfazed by the news, saying the expansion will not pose a direct threat to Russia, reports Russian news agency TASS.
“As for the expansion [of NATO], including at the expense of new members of the alliance — Finland, Sweden — Russia has no problems with these states,” he said. He did warn retaliation if other NATO countries sent weapons to the Nordic countries.
It is expected to take several months before formal approval of NATO membership, and there will no doubt be plenty more curveballs, bargaining chips and playing with fire.
Putin Claims Mariupol Victory As Evacuation From Azovstal Steel Plant Begins
Rome-based La Repubblica front page "Azovstal last act"
Russia has taken full control of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, effectively marking the fall of the strategic southern port city for Ukraine. Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians had been trapped in dire conditions in the complex since early March, with troops loyal to Kyiv refusing to surrender or abandon the last piece of territory under their control.
The strategically important steel plant has a vast maze of underground tunnels designed to survive a nuclear attack. Russia said a deal had been reached to allow the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.
The siege of Mariupol lasted 82 days. While Ukraine avoided using the word surrender, the Russian Ministry of Defense declared it just that. In a recorded statement,Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said: “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It's our principle.”
Taking control of the steel plant and the last Ukrainian holdout is important for Putin. It denies Kyiv access to an important sea port, as well as giving Russia a much-need symbolic victory in its faltering war effort.
Is Russia Running Out Of Troops?
Destroyed Russian tank
If Russia continues to struggle to gain ground in the Donbas region, it may simply be a matter of men. The Institute for the Study of War reports that “Russian forces have likely run out of combat-ready reservists, forcing the Russian military command to amalgamate soldiers from many different elements, including private military companies and proxy militias, into ostensibly regular army units and naval infantry.”
This returns to a question asked here in the past weeks: Will the Kremlin announce a mass mobilization and military draft? And if he does, will that turn public opinion against the war?
Poet: Putin Doesn’t Own The Russian Language
Cover of SHO magazine
"Russia has no monopoly on the Russian language. Giving our Ukrainian Russian to Putin is like giving our German to Hitler. Personally, I'm not going to give my language to anyone.”
Ukrainian-born, Russian-speaking poet Aleksandr Kabanov has stayed in Kyiv for the past two and a half months and has no intention of leaving, he told the exiled newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
The bilingual Russian-Ukrainian magazine "SHO", which Kabanov published for 17 years, his life's work, is closed. And not because of the Russian language. "Due to the war and the huge financial losses of our investor," he explained, adding a quick: "Putin, damn you!"
SHO was indeed one of the best literary magazines in Europe. If one of the reasons Putin gave to wage the war was to protect the Russian language in Ukraine, it achieved the opposite result.
U.S. Senators Drafting Bill To Expand War Crimes Bill After Russian AtrocitiesFile:US Congress 02.jpg - Wikimedia Commonscommons.wikimedia.org
A draft bill that gives U.S. courts the power to prosecute people for atrocities committed abroad, even if they’re not a U.S. citizen, has received bipartisan support. The law expands on a 1996 war crimes law and comes in response to Russians targeting Ukrainian civilians and the discovery of mass graves in parts of Ukraine. The bill is intended to enable the prosecution of people who have committed war crimes then later come to the United States.
Vladimir Putin, The Hands-On War Commander
Russian President Vladimir Putin
As the Ukraine invasion heads toward its third month, President Vladimir Putin has been working closely with Ben Valery Gerasimov, the commander of the Russian armed forces, to help navigate the military forces in Ukraine.
Western military sources told The Guardian newspaper that Putin has become quite personally involved in the military decisions in the Ukraine war: “at the level of a colonel or brigadier.”
This comes at a time where Russian forces have lost momentum in the Donbass area and have failed to bring down the Ukrainian forces. Last week, the Kremlin’s army failed to cross the Siverskyi Donets river which led to the loss of more than 70 Russian vehicles. This defeat brought about speculations from Russian bloggers commenting on the “incompetence of the Russian miliatary”.
Hunger As Weapon And Trade Policy? Russia And India Face Accusations
Woman harvesting wheat Indiacommons.wikimedia.org
During a G7 meeting with agriculture ministers, German politician Cem Özdemir, accused Russia of using hunger as a weapon. Berlin-based daily Die Welt reports that Özdemir also asked India to reconsider the newly announced export ban on wheat, due to the price of wheat reaching an all-time high.
Agricultural and other exports from Ukraine are being blocked by Russia. Grain is trapped within Ukraine and is slowly being exported by train, but Ukrainian farmers are also blaming Russians for stealing wheat and reselling it out of Russia.
In India, the ban, which is meant to secure the country’s supply, is seen as controversial due to the fact that the Indian government is increasing the price for its own farmers, who may no longer be able to export.
Kyiv Underground: Dakh Daughters Takes War Material On World Tour
The Kyiv-based musical and theater group Dakh Daughters have become underground icons in the Ukrainian art scene over the past decade, with a notable international following. Now the Russian invasion is pushing their art further, and wider.
The group is currently preparing two shows, reports Quebec daily Le Devoir. The first one is called “Ukraine on Fire,” will be held in Quebec, and will include pieces from previous albums as well as new pieces driven by their reaction and emotions around the war.
The second Dakh Daughters show will be held at a theater in Paris and through its artistic endeavor, will bring to light the horrors of war.
“It is important for us to tell this war through art,” says Natalka, one of the group’s members. “For the moment, we will live this experience with the European public, but we hope to be able to present this show in Ukraine soon.”
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