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NATO takes major step toward welcoming Sweden, Finland to alliance

The ceremony in Brussels took place as Russian forces continued to make ‘substantive progress’ in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde flank NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, after signing their countries' accession protocols at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on July 5, 2022. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
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NATO members took a major step Tuesday to welcome Sweden and Finland into the transatlantic military alliance, as delegations gathered in Brussels to sign “accession protocols” for the two states to join. The protocols must next be ratified by the 30 member states in their national parliaments, a process that could take months.

“This is truly a historic moment for Finland, for Sweden, for NATO — and for our shared security,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, noting that NATO’s door “remains open” to other democracies.

The signing ceremony follows a decision during a NATO summit in Madrid last week to invite Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. It came after some wrangling with NATO member Turkey, which had blocked the countries from joining over historical grievances about what Ankara saw as their support for militant groups. A deal was struck to end the standoff when Sweden and Finland agreed to address issues raised by Turkey, including the possible extradition of Kurds labeled “terrorists” by the Turkish authorities.

The decisions by Finland and Sweden, traditionally nonaligned militarily, to join NATO will not only transform Europe’s security landscape but probably further strain relations with Russia, which opposes the alliance’s expansion near its border.

Delegations from Finland and Sweden at the signing event expressed gratitude and said joining would strengthen “collective security” and aid the alliance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the major factor in leading the two countries to seek membership.

“This is a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg added.

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The ceremony in Brussels took place as Russian forces continued to make “substantive progress” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, following the capture of the city of Lysychansk, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry. Unlike in earlier phases of the war, Russia appears to have “achieved reasonably effective co-ordination” between groupings of its armed forces under military leaders, the ministry said Tuesday.

However, the intelligence update added that Ukrainian forces have probably withdrawn in good shape and in line with existing plans. “There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces will now be able to fall back to a more readily defendable, straightened front line,” it said.

The ministry said it predicted that further battles for Donbas would be characterized by “slow rates of advance” by Russian forces and the mass use of artillery “leveling towns and cities in the process.” And on Tuesday, Russia fired missiles at a market and residential area in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, damaging several houses and destroying one. At least two people were killed and seven injured, officials said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly video address Monday, said it will take “colossal funds” to rebuild critical infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and waste processing plants, and to restore “normal economic life.”

Zelensky said that “tens of thousands” of homes have been destroyed across the country and that “thousands of enterprises are out of business.”

“That is why the recovery of Ukraine is not only about what needs to be done later, after our victory, but also about what needs to be done at this time,” he said. “The reconstruction of our state is not just the restoration of the walls that we had. … Ukraine must become the freest, most modern and safest country in Europe.”

Earlier Monday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimated at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano, Switzerland, that his country needs $750 billion for a sweeping three-stage rebuilding and recovery plan.

Did Putin inadvertently create a stronger NATO?

On Tuesday, Russia’s lower house of parliament approved legislation that would force businesses to produce whatever the government wants, at a price and time frame set by it. The legislation, among two measures that cleared the State Duma, is expected to pass swiftly through both houses of Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament before being signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has struggled to sustain personnel and equipment, with Western countries imposing broad sanctions and supplying Ukraine with weapons.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said it was necessary to “optimize” the work of the military-industrial complex and related enterprises. He said the legislation would allow Russia to mobilize its economy to support what Moscow calls its “special military operation” against Ukraine.

“This does not mean that any enterprise — small, medium-size businesses, any other — will be forcibly involved in the implementation of state defense order measures,” he said, noting that they would not affect companies not producing goods for the military. “There is no need for this.”

One of the two bills said the state could impose “special economic measures” during military operations, requiring firms to supply goods and services to the military. The second bill would give the government authority to alter the working hours of businesses supplying the goods — employees may be asked to work at night, on weekends and on holidays — with the possibility of no annual leave.

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, said discussions on the measures would continue behind closed doors Wednesday.

Suliman reported from London, Tsui from Washington and Dixon from Riga, Latvia.