Finland to Join NATO Tuesday
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Finland will join the military alliance on Tuesday, less than a year after the country submitted its application in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Finland brings a well-trained, well-equipped military to the alliance after Turkey became the final existing member to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous.
Stoltenberg also said he is “absolutely confident” that Sweden will follow Finland as a new NATO member, and that it is a priority for that to happen as soon as possible.
Turkey has expressed opposition to Sweden’s bid, mainly due to what Ankara says is Sweden being too lenient toward groups that Turkey considers terrorists. Stoltenberg said he believes Sweden has fulfilled steps it agreed to in talks with Turkey to allay those concerns.
He also said Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded less of a NATO presence on the alliance’s eastern flank ahead of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and that with the bids of Finland and Sweden, Putin ended up with the opposite.
“He’s getting more NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance and he’s getting two new members in Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said.
As the NATO foreign ministers prepare for their talks, Stoltenberg said there is an urgent need for both lethal and non-lethal support for Ukraine and called on allies to “sustain and further step up” their support. He said Ukraine needs economic aid as well.
Ukrainian and Russian forces gave competing reports late Sunday about the status of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the site of months of fierce fighting between the two sides.
The head of Russia’s paramilitary Wagner group said his forces had raised a Russian flag over the administration building in Bakhmut and had taken control “from a legal point of view.”
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were continuing to assault Bakhmut, but that Ukrainian troops were “courageously holding the city as they repel numerous enemy attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday that the situation in Bakhmut was “especially hot” on Sunday.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, called for the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, whom Russia has accused of spying, as Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by telephone Sunday.
A statement by U.S. State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel did not mention the journalist by name.
Responding to Blinken, Lavrov said that Gershkovich’s fate will be determined by a Russian court and told Blinken it was unacceptable for Washington to politicize the case. Lavrov said the journalist was caught “red-handed,” though Russia has yet to present any evidence.
The statement said Blinken also sought the release of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who has been detained for 1,553 days after being sentenced to a 16-year sentence at a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage.
U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner exchange last year, has urged the Biden administration to keep using “every tool possible” to secure the release of the U.S. reporter.
The Kremlin asserts Gershkovich was using journalism as a cover for spying, something the newspaper has vehemently denied. The Wall Street Journal has demanded the immediate release of Gershkovich, calling his arrest Thursday “a vicious affront to a free press,” while The New York Times published a statement from a coalition of news organizations expressing deep concern about Gershkovich’s detention.