Sweden, Finland in historic bid to join Nato; US Senate on verge of passing $40bn aid package

Sweden, Finland in historic bid to join Nato; US Senate on verge of passing $40bn aid package
Bombed buildings about to be demolished as essential services and people begin to return to the town of Borodianka on 15 May 2022 in Borodianka, Ukraine. (Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said a $40-billion package of US aid to Ukraine may be approved on Wednesday, 18 May.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will back Nato membership in a move that paves the way for joining neighbouring Finland in an entry bid. 

Turkey doesn’t plan to block the Nordic countries’ efforts to join the alliance, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said after meetings in Berlin. Nato is expected to highlight Russian behaviour as a direct threat in an updated strategic document, which will be released at the end of June.

The UK defence ministry has estimated that Russia has lost a third of the forces it sent to Ukraine in February, and said its offensive in the Donbas has stalled. 

The public vote from home helped secure victory for the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, on Sunday, 15 May.

Key developments

Ukraine policy dogs Germany’s Social Democrats

Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party lost a regional election for the second straight week amid wavering support for the German chancellor’s Ukraine policy. The ballot again took place under the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Scholz’s approval rating has slumped after he was criticised for foot-dragging on supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons, and for blocking an immediate ban on Russian energy imports.

McConnell confident of green light for Ukraine aid package

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell predicts that a $40-billion Ukraine aid package will pass the Senate with broad bipartisan backing on Wednesday, 18 May, after being delayed by GOP colleague Rand Paul. 

Speaking to reporters from Stockholm, McConnell said the US should back the expansion of Nato to include Sweden and Finland, and called on US President Joe Biden to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

McConnell and three other Senate Republicans met in Kyiv on Saturday, 14 May, with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. They’ll travel to Helsinki on Monday, 16 May, for talks with Finland’s president.

Sweden’s ruling party supports joining Nato

Sweden’s Social Democrats have decided to back Nato membership in an historic decision that paves the way to join neighbouring Finland in an entry bid over the coming days.

The party, which for decades has been a strong opponent of Swedish membership in any military alliance, shifted its stance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The decision means that there will now be an overwhelming majority in Sweden’s parliament in favour of joining Nato.

Poland laments EU approach to Russian gas payments

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, criticised the European Union for a plan to offer the bloc’s importers a solution to avoid a breach of sanctions when buying gas from Russia, and still satisfy President Vladimir Putin’s demands over payment in rubles. 

“I am disappointed to see that in the European Union there is consent to pay for gas in rubles,” Morawiecki said on Sunday, 15 May. “Poland will stick to the rules and will not yield to Putin’s blackmail.” Russia halted gas flows to neighbouring Poland in late April.  

Bloomberg reported on 14 May that the European Union had developed a solution to avoid a sanctions breach.

Read more: EU drafts plan for buying Russian gas without breaking sanctions  

Turkey doesn’t plan to block accession — Nato chief

“Turkey has made it clear that its intention is not to block membership” of Nato for Finland and Sweden, said Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, speaking after a two-day meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin. 

Stoltenberg said he was confident Turkey’s concerns , which came to the forefront on Friday, 13 May, would be addressed without delaying the membership procedure. “A quick and swift process” is still expected, he said.  

Addressing concerns about possible moves by Russia before the Nordic nations are fully ratified, Stoltenberg said, “We will look into ways to provide security assurances, including by increasing Nato presence in the Baltic region, in and around Finland and Sweden.” 

Gas fallout: Some German manufacturers may move to US

The shift from Russian gas to costlier LNG could prompt some German manufacturers to relocate to the US, Michael Huether, director of the research institute IW Cologne, said in an interview with Stuttgarter Zeitung and the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. 

As Germany prepares to shift permanently away from cheaper Russian supplies, the US’s energy independence could make it an attractive option, Huether said. He added that Russia’s economy will be permanently damaged by its standoff with the West: “Putin is committing economic suicide.”  




War will impact world for decades, Germany says

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock predicted the war in Ukraine “will not be over so quickly” and said Germany and its international allies will face fallout from Russia’s invasion for decades. 

“Russia’s break with all the norms of peaceful coexistence, especially the European peace order, the deliberate destruction of humanitarian law: all this is a radical turning point in the international order,” Baerbock said after hosting talks with Nato counterparts in Berlin.  

“All this has drastically changed the security situation in the European and Transatlantic sphere, and it requires far-reaching strategic answers,” she said.

Nato expected to brand Russian behaviour as a direct threat

Nato allies are expected to highlight Russia’s behaviour as a direct threat in an upcoming strategic document, where they’ll also address how to better support neighbouring countries that are vulnerable to coercion and aggression, according to a Nato official. 

Allies will likely keep open the possibility of reviving relations if Moscow’s behaviour changes, the official said, adding that the document will also address China and its relationship with Russia.

The so-called Strategic Concept document outlines the alliance’s priorities for the coming years, and is due to be finalised at Nato’s summit in Madrid in late June. The previous version, published in 2010, referred to Russia as a partner, wording that is set to be scrapped this time.

Finland applies to join Nato to deter Russian aggression

Finland is applying to join the Nato defence alliance to deter potential aggression from Russia as its neighbour wages a full-scale war in Ukraine.

The formal decision was taken on Sunday, 15 May, President Sauli Niinisto said at a media conference in Helsinki. The move comes days after Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the Nordic country “must apply for Nato membership without delay”.

Swedes and Finns are increasingly in favour of joining the Nato defence bloc after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adding pressure on the countries’ leaders to change long-standing policies of military non-alignment.

Kuleba, Blinken meet in Berlin

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Berlin, where Blinken is attending the Nato meeting. Blinken relayed details of the latest round of US security assistance for Ukraine. 

Freeing up grain exports was among the topics of discussion as Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports prevented the breadbasket nation from shipping. 

The pair “committed to seeking a solution to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets”, according to a statement from the US State Department.  

Russia fires cruise missiles at Lviv region, governor says

Russia’s navy fired cruise missiles at the Lviv region in Ukraine’s far west, potentially from submarines in the Black Sea, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi said on Telegram. Four missiles hit a military target, with no casualties reported. Two were intercepted. 

Separately, an adviser to Mariupol Mayor Pitro Andryushchenko said Russian forces dropped incendiary bombs on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as part of ongoing assaults. 

Ukraine’s defence of Azovstal is still tying down Russian combat troops and inflicting casualties, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which said ground, air and heavy artillery assaults continued on Saturday, 14 May. Ukrainian officials are attempting a negotiated evacuation of medics and injured servicemen. 




Rheinmetall adviser criticises Scholz over tank delay

Dirk Niebel, an adviser to the German defence firm Rheinmetall AG, said Chancellor Olaf Scholz was dragging his feet over obtaining export approval for up to 100 of the company’s Marder tanks to Ukraine. 

“Do you want to lose more time? That costs even more lives,” Niebel, a former development minister, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. “You need to give Ukraine the support it needs for its survival fight now.”

The company has started to prepare the fighting vehicles and could start delivery in two to three weeks with sufficient ammunition, he said. Germany’s transfer of Gepard anti-aircraft vehicles has also been held up over a lack of ammunition.

Baerbock says Sweden, Finland could join Nato quickly

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Berlin that Sweden and Finland would be able to join Nato “very quickly” if they decide to go ahead with applications, as is expected, and that there wouldn’t be a “grey zone” in the accession process. 

Melanie Joly, Baerbock’s Canadian counterpart, underscored the need to move quickly, noting “disinformation campaigns that are going on in Finland and Sweden” as well.

Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum, UK says

Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains in the Donbas region over the past month and during that time has sustained “consistently high levels of attrition”, the UK defence ministry said in an intelligence update.

“Russia has now likely suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat force it committed in February,” the UK said. “Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.”

The assessment comes days after Ukrainian repelled Russian attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in the Luhansk region.

Soviet states weigh opportunities, threats from Putin’s war

With Putin’s invasion of Ukraine stalling, other former Soviet states are weighing prospects for pulling away from Moscow’s orbit even as they fear risks of potential border conflict. 

The war is sending tremors along an arc of instability stretching from Ukraine’s neighbour Moldova through the Caucasus and into Kazakhstan in central Asia. Putin’s intentions have become an urgent national security question in countries with so-called “frozen conflicts” or that have large pro-Russian minorities. 

Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra wins Eurovision

The Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in a show of support for the war-torn nation, the Associated Press reported. The public vote from home was apparently decisive in securing the band’s victory.

Front man Oleh Psiuk made a plea to the live crowd and television audience of millions for the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped in the Azovstal steel plant to be freed, AP said. 

Zelensky celebrated the victory in a Telegram post, saying: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” He said Ukraine will host the contest next year — as the winning country typically does — and hopes to “one day” host participants and guests in Mariupol. DM


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