Finland is expected to announce its intention to join NATO on Thursday, with Sweden likely to do so soon after, diplomats and senior officials said, amid a reconfiguration of European security priorities. and the Atlantic military alliance after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to receive accession quickly, five diplomats and representatives told Reuters, paving the way for increased troop presence in the Nordic region during the one-year ratification period.
In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members, and the addition of Finland and Sweden would likely anger Moscow, which says NATO enlargement is a direct threat to its own security. .
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited this issue as a reason for his actions in Ukraine, which has also expressed a desire to join the alliance.
Moscow has also repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden not to join the alliance, threatening “serious military and political consequences”.
Asked Wednesday whether Finland would provoke Russia by joining NATO, President Sauli Niinisto said it would be Putin’s fault. “My answer would be that you caused this. Look in the mirror,” Niinisto said.
On the front lines, Ukraine said Wednesday it had pushed back Russian forces in the east and shut off gas flows on a route through Russian-controlled territory, raising the specter of an energy crisis in Europe.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said it had recaptured Pytomnyk, a village on the main road north of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, halfway to the Russian border.
In another town near Kharkov, recaptured by Ukrainian forces in early April, resident Tatyana Pochivalova returned to find her house in ruins.
“I did not expect something like this, such aggression, such destruction,” said a tearful Pochivalova. “I came and kissed the ground, I just kissed it. There is nothing in my house. Where am I going to live, how am I going to live?”
The advance appears to be the fastest Ukraine has mounted since it expelled Russian troops from the capital kyiv and northern Ukraine in early April.
If maintained, it could allow Ukrainian forces to threaten the supply lines of the main Russian strike force, and put rear-area logistics targets in Russia itself within artillery range.
In the south, the Ukrainian military said early Thursday 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 that threatens its security. He denies attacking civilians.
Ukraine says it poses no threat and that the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of towns and cities show that Russia is waging a war of conquest.
Ukraine’s move 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.
Russian export monopoly Gazprom’s gas flows to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter after kyiv said it had been forced to cut off all flows on one route, via the Sokhranovka transit point, in the south of Russia.
Ukraine accused Russian-backed separatists of diverting supplies.
If the supply cut persists, it would be the most direct impact so far on European energy markets.
Moscow has also imposed sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal pipeline, which carries Russian gas to Europe, as well as the former German unit of Gazprom, whose subsidiaries service 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 studying the announcement. A spokesman for the Economy Ministry said the German government was “taking the necessary precautions and preparing for various scenarios.”
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 about the advance through the Kharkov region.
“We are reaping successes in the Kharkov direction, where we are driving the enemy back and liberating 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 seized a swath of territory, kyiv has said Moscow plans to hold a bogus referendum on independence or annexation to make its occupation permanent.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that residents living in the Russian-occupied Kherson region can decide whether they want to join Russia, but any decision must have a clear legal basis.
Russian forces have also continued to shell the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol, the last stronghold of Ukrainian defenders in the city.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is there,” wrote Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko, who has left the city.
Ukraine claims that tens of thousands of people are likely to have been killed in Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities say between 150,000 and 170,000 of the city’s 400,000 inhabitants still live there among the Russian-occupied ruins.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.