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UKRAINE UPDATE: 8 FEBRUARY 2024

Sweden finally joins Nato in Baltic boost; Germany and UK resist Putin’s bid to sow discord

Sweden finally joins Nato in Baltic boost; Germany and UK resist Putin’s bid to sow discord
A handout photo made available by the US State Department shows Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (L) with US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken after receiving Nato ratification documents during a ceremony to formalise Sweden's membership in Nato at the Department of State in Washington, DC, US, 7 March 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / CHUCK KENNEDY / US STATE DEPARTMENT / HANDOUT)

Sweden’s accession to Nato can help solve a critical problem for military planners mapping out the alliance’s defences against a potential Russian attack: how to rapidly shuttle troops, weapons and other provisions to a front anywhere from the Baltic to the Arctic.

Germany and the UK vowed not to let President Vladimir Putin drive a wedge between them after a Russian hack of German intelligence exposed a disagreement over how to provide military support to Ukraine.

A pair of House Democrats are investigating SpaceX over claims that Russia is using the company’s Starlink internet terminals in its war against Ukraine.

The European Union will propose new sanctions related to the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison last month.

Sweden’s Nato accession unlocks defence options to fend off Russia

Sweden’s entry into Nato can help solve a critical problem for military planners mapping out the alliance’s defences against a potential Russian attack: how to rapidly shuttle troops, weapons and other provisions to a front anywhere from the Baltic to the Arctic.

After months of delays, the green light for Sweden’s membership means the Nordic nation can finally be woven into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s intricate defence plans, which designate Russia as a primary threat.

The move is more pressing with Russian troops starting to advance in Ukraine again. With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions apparent, European officials have started warning about the prospect of an attack on Nato within the next few years.

“We know that our eastern neighbour is highly unpredictable and also unfortunately very aggressive,” Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said in an interview. “But Sweden knows, and we also tell Sweden, that as members of Nato we are stronger together.”

After decades of non-alignment, Sweden and Finland applied to join Nato within months of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, fearing they were vulnerable to Putin’s aggression.

Finland became a member of the alliance in April, while Sweden was left in limbo by Turkey and Hungary.

Budapest was the last of the 31 allies to back Sweden’s accession with the parliament signing off in late February, after the two nations sealed a deal to ship four additional Swedish Gripen fighter jets to Hungary.

Read more about Sweden’s role in Nato:

Sweden’s membership was completed as remaining paperwork was submitted on Thursday. Its flag will be raised at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday.

Along with its strong navy and formidable air power, Sweden’s geography will play a crucial role in helping Nato deter any Russian attack — be it in the Baltics, along the Finnish border or in the Arctic, officials say.

Given the central part logistics play in sustaining a war, Sweden’s roads and railways are often the fastest routes to traverse the curving Scandinavian peninsula, including from one point in Norway to another in the same country.

In the Baltic, long seen as Nato’s Achilles heel, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will be able to rely on more immediate help and new routes for supplies from Finland, but also now from Sweden. Sweden’s island of Gotland, often referred to as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, cements Nato’s position in the region, locking in control of critical naval routes and airspace.

With Sweden and Finland on board, the vulnerability of the Suwalki Gap is also lessened. That’s a stretch of land between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and its ally Belarus which Moscow could cut off in a conflict. Allies in the past would have needed to squeeze through the gap to reinforce the Baltic nations.

Germany and UK vow not to let Putin divide Ukraine’s allies

Germany and the UK vowed not to let President Vladimir Putin drive a wedge between them after a Russian hack of German intelligence exposed a disagreement over how to provide military support to Ukraine.

“I don’t want to play into the hands of some Russian narrative about divisions between allies,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron told reporters at a joint news conference in Berlin with German counterpart Annalena Baerbock. He said there was “incredible unity between allies” and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Russian media last week published what they said was a conversation between high-ranking German air force officials about supplying long-range Taurus cruise missiles to the government in Kyiv.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly ruled out such a move, arguing that it could make Germany an active participant in the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. The UK government has privately urged Berlin to rethink, arguing that Kyiv badly needs the weapons, Bloomberg has reported.

As well as deeply embarrassing for Scholz’s governing coalition and the armed forces, the leak raised questions about his country’s security protocols and reliability as a Nato partner.

Baerbock said Ukraine’s allies would not let the Russian president intimidate them and sow discord.

“If we have different views, we will discuss that behind closed doors,” she told reporters. “Because we won’t let ourselves be divided by Putin, no matter what other means and methods he will use.”

Asked about supplying Taurus, she acknowledged that Ukraine needs ammunition and long-range missiles, though she added that there were many different types.

Though Cameron said the decision ultimately lay with Germany, he repeated several times that long-range weapons had helped Ukraine in its fight to repel Russia.

The UK has offered solutions to Berlin’s resistance, including a swap deal that would see Britain supply more of its own Storm Shadow missiles, and Germany then restock Britain with replacements.

Read more about the spying affair:

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius presented some initial findings of a probe into his country’s intelligence breach on Tuesday. He said it probably occurred when one of the participants joined a WebEx call from Singapore over a public Wi-Fi network hacked by Russia.

The government was checking its IT systems to assess whether tighter security was required to prevent such a lapse from happening again, he said.

Democrats probe SpaceX over Russia’s alleged use of Starlink

A pair of House Democrats are investigating SpaceX over claims that Russia is using the company’s Starlink internet terminals in its war against Ukraine.

In a letter to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Robert Garcia of California pressed the closely held company over whether it had “appropriate guardrails” in place to ensure that Starlink technology wasn’t obtained in violation of sanctions.

“Starlink is an invaluable resource for Ukrainians in their fight against Russia’s brutal and illegitimate invasion,” the legislators said in the letter dated 6 March. “It is alarming that Russia may be obtaining and using your technology to coordinate attacks against Ukrainian troops.”

The probe heightens the stakes for Elon Musk’s company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, after Ukrainian officials said recently that Russian troops were using illicitly obtained Starlink terminals on the front line. SpaceX provided the technology to Ukraine in the early days of Russia’s invasion, and Starlink has since become vital to Ukraine’s communications infrastructure.

EU proposes new Russia sanctions over death of Alexei Navalny

The European Union will propose new sanctions related to the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison last month.

The restrictive measures will include 35 persons and two entities, according to a draft of the proposal seen by Bloomberg.

The EU approved a modest package of sanctions last month aimed at Moscow, its 13th since Russia invaded Ukraine. Those measures focused on enforcing existing restrictions.

Among the proposed listings are several prison and government officials, judges as well as the IK-3 and IK-6 penal colonies, according to the draft.

Navalny’s death removed the most prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin ahead of the March 15-17 presidential election in which he’s seeking a fifth term. DM

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