Turkey lifts objection to Sweden and Finland in NATO
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 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“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, welcoming the “historic decision”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had opposed membership for the two Nordic countries, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups, which Turkey views as terrorists.
Admission to NATO requires a unanimous vote by member states and appears to have been achieved after weeks of negotiations. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said Tuesday the leaders of the three countries had signed a joint deal to break the impasse.
Although relatively small in population – both under 11 million – Sweden and Finland have strong, modern armed forces and have pledged to increase their defense budgets after the Russian invasion, which also led them to seek NATO membership after decades of non-alignment .
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►President Joe Biden opens his three-day visit to a NATO summit in Madrid on Tuesday by pledging to increase the US military presence in Europe and saying the number of Navy destroyers stationed in Rota, Spain, would increase from four to six. Biden said more such announcements will come during the meetings.
►Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the European Union has reduced its dependence on Russian gas from 40% to 25% and continues to invest in renewable energy.
►Ukraine will start trading electricity with European countries this week on the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity. Ukraine was previously part of the integrated energy system that also includes Russia and Belarus.
►A Russian court has refused an appeal by the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
►16 Ukrainian soldiers, including two officers, were released in a prisoner exchange. Five were injured, Ukrainian authorities said. The number of Russians released was not immediately disclosed.
Ukraine is fighting to keep the last city it controls in Luhansk
Ukrainian forces are consolidating on higher ground in Lyshansak, the last major city in the Luhansk region not controlled by Russia, and continue to disrupt Russian command and control with strikes deep behind enemy lines, the UK Defense Ministry said in an assessment from Tuesday.
In recent days, Russia has been conducting “unusually intense” airstrikes using long-range missiles across Ukraine, the ministry said. At least 18 people were killed and dozens more injured in a rocket attack on a shopping center in central Ukraine on Monday.
“These weapons were developed to engage targets of strategic importance, but Russia continues to use them in large numbers,” the assessment reads. Moscow also fielded the core elements of six armies, but achieved only tactical success in the city of Sieverodonetsk.
“The Russian armed forces are increasingly being hollowed out,” the assessment reads. “They are currently accepting a level of diminished combat effectiveness that is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.”
Russian ‘crazy terrorists’ blamed for deadly missile attack in shopping mall
The deadly Russian missile attack on a crowded shopping mall in Ukraine was one of the “most defiant acts of terrorism in European history,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy spokesman Kirill Tymoshenko said at least 20 died in Monday’s blast, while local officials in downtown Kremenchuk said at least 18 were killed. At least 40 people were missing as rescue workers searched the rubble.
“Only completely insane terrorists who shouldn’t have a place on earth can launch missiles at such a target,” said Zelenskyy.
Tymoshenko said at least 59 people were injured, with 25 requiring hospitalization.
The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting in New York for Tuesday to discuss the attack. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said warplanes fired missiles at a nearby depot containing Western weapons, which caught fire. Ukraine officials deny the depot contained weapons and say the mall itself was hit by the missile.
French President Macron: “Russia cannot and must not win”
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has proposed a middle ground to end the war in Ukraine that would not embarrass Russia, has hardened his stance after Monday’s missile attack killed at least 18 people and wounded 59 in a crowded mall.
Macron called Monday’s attack in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk “a new war crime,” pledged continued Western support for Kyiv, and said Tuesday “Russia cannot and should not win.”
The airstrike on a shopping mall housing more than 1,000 people came as leaders of the Group of Seven were meeting in Germany, and it sparked images of the bombing of a theater in Mariupol that killed an estimated 600 people, killing much of the world frightened. The latest attack on civilians was part of intense Russian fire across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, and has drawn renewed attention to the war, even if it is dragging on.
Kyiv Mayor to NATO countries: You will be next if Russia is not stopped
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko not only appealed to Western allies to provide his country with “everything necessary” to repel the Russian invasion, but also warned that some of their own countries could be attacked by the Kremlin if he is not stopped.
“Wake up guys. This is happening now. You will be next. That will be knocking on your door in no time,” Klitschko said in Madrid, where NATO leaders are meeting.
Klitschko, who attended the summit with his brother Wladimir, who, like him, was a former heavyweight boxing champion, rejected the idea of ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia to end the war.
“Bully the bully, that’s the only way to stop him,” said Vitali Klitschko. “And in this case, Russia is the tyrant.”
President Joe Biden’s family is not welcome in Russia
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it had added 25 people to the list of Americans banned from entering Russia “in response to ever-widening US sanctions against Russian politicians and public figures.” Also attending will be First Lady Jill Biden and the couple’s daughter Ashley. The President was included on an earlier list. The latest list also includes four senators whom the department holds responsible for “forming the Russophobic course” in Congress. They are Republicans Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse and Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
“It just goes to show you that Russia’s capacity for these kinds of cynical moves is basically limitless,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. “So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that they would do something like that.”
The US and other countries have hit scores of Russian oligarchs with sanctions that have led to the confiscation of huge yachts and other property.
Ukraine: Russians kidnap mayor of Kherson
The mayor of Kherson, Ihor Kolykhaiev, was kidnapped by Russian forces occupying the southern city of nearly 300,000 people, a mayoral aide said. Halyna Liashevska said the mayor stayed in town after the Russians swept in out of a sense of duty to his constituents. Russian forces have routinely kidnapped pro-Ukrainian activists and other public figures in the cities they have overrun. Kolykhaiev was escorted from his office in handcuffs, Liashevska said.
Control of the region gives Russia a crucial “land bridge” connecting its mainland to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. Separatists have called for a referendum aimed at leaving Ukraine and becoming part of Russia.
Contribution: The Associated Press