NATO to welcome Nordic members as Ukraine fends off Russian forces

  • Finland is expected to announce its candidacy for NATO
  • Ukraine blocks major route for Russian gas to Europe
  • Russia imposes sanctions on Gazprom units in Europe and the United States
  • Ukrainian forces seek to cut Russian battlefield supply lines

kyiv/BRUSSELS, May 12 (Reuters) – Finland is expected to announce plans to join NATO on Thursday, with Sweden expected to follow soon after, diplomats and officials said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshapes the European security and the Atlantic military alliance.

NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to gain membership quickly, five diplomats and officials told Reuters, paving the way for an increased troop presence in the Nordic region in the period one year of ratification. Read more

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members, and adding Finland and Sweden would likely anger Moscow, which says expanding NATO is a direct threat to its own security.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited the issue as a reason for his actions in Ukraine, which has also expressed a desire to eventually join the alliance.

Moscow has also repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, threatening “serious military and political consequences”.

Asked on Wednesday whether Finland would provoke Russia by joining NATO, President Sauli Niinisto said Putin would be to blame. “My answer would be you caused this. Look at the mirror,” Niinisto said. Read more

On the front line, Ukraine said on Wednesday it had pushed Russian forces east and shut off gas flows on a route through Russian-held territory, raising the specter of an energy crisis in Europe.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said it had recaptured Pytomnyk, a village on the main road north of the second-largest city of Kharkiv, halfway to the Russian border.

In another village near Kharkiv taken over by Ukrainian forces in early April, resident Tatyana Pochivalova returned to find her home in ruins.

“I didn’t expect anything like this, such aggression, such destruction,” Pochivalova said in tears. “I came and kissed the ground, I just kissed it. My home, there is nothing. Where should I live, how should I live?”

The advance appears to be the fastest Ukraine has made since it ousted Russian troops from the capital kyiv and northern Ukraine in early April.

If maintained, it could leave Ukrainian forces threatening the supply lines of the main Russian attack force and place rear logistical targets in Russia even within artillery range.

In the south, the Ukrainian army said on Thursday morning that it had destroyed two tanks and an ammunition depot in the Russian-controlled Kherson region.

The Kremlin calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarize a neighbor threatening its security. He denies having targeted civilians.

Ukraine claims that it poses no threat and that the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of towns and villages show that Russia is waging a war of conquest.

GAS SUPPLIES

Ukraine’s decision on Wednesday to cut off Russian gas supplies through territory held by Russian-backed separatists was the first time the conflict has directly disrupted shipments to Europe.

Gas flows from Russian export monopoly Gazprom to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter after kyiv said it was forced to stop all flows from a single route, via the point Sokhranovka transit station in southern Russia.

Ukraine has accused Russian-backed separatists of siphoning off supplies. Read more

If the supply cut were to persist, it would be the most direct impact on European energy markets so far.

Moscow also imposed sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal gas pipeline which transports Russian gas to Europe, as well as on the former German unit of Gazprom, whose subsidiaries serve Europe’s gas consumption.

The implications for Europe, which buys more than a third of its gas from Russia, were not immediately clear.

Berlin said it was reviewing the announcement. A spokesman for the economy ministry said the German government was “taking necessary precautions and preparing for various scenarios”.

BURNT TANKS

As the fighting continued, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, across the border from Kharkiv, said a village had been shelled from Ukraine, injuring one person.

Ukrainian authorities have so far confirmed few details of the advance in the Kharkiv region.

“We have successes in the direction of Kharkiv, where we regularly repel the enemy and liberate population centers,” said Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, deputy head of the Main Operations Directorate of the Ukrainian General Staff. .

In southern Ukraine, where Russia has taken over part of the territory, kyiv said Moscow planned to hold a fake referendum on independence or annexation to make its occupation permanent.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was up to residents living in the Russian-occupied Kherson region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia, but any such decision must have a clear legal basis.

Russian forces also continued to shell Azovstal steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, the last stronghold of Ukrainian defenders in a town

“If there is a hell on earth, it is there,” wrote Petro Andryushchenko, assistant to the mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, who left the city.

Ukraine says it is likely that tens of thousands of people were killed in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities claim that between 150,000 and 170,000 of the city’s 400,000 inhabitants still live there among the ruins occupied by the Russians. Read more

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Costas Pitas and Stephen Coates; Editing by Lincoln Feast

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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