Finland poised to join NATO



The Manila Times

Americas And Emea

KYIV: Finland took a step Thursday toward fast-track NATO membership, triggering a blunt warning from the Kremlin, as the war in Ukraine throttled supplies of Russian gas to EUROPE AND THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO flED THE country passed six million. In Geneva, the UN Human (800-mile) border with Russia and Rights Council decided to probe its past is studded with conflict alleged Russian atrocities in with its giant neighbor. Ukraine, in a vote overwhelmingly NATO has already declared it approved by its members but will warmly embrace Finland and snubbed by Russia. Sweden, two countries with deep And in graphic new evidence pockets and well-equipped armies. of potential war crimes by Moscow’s Finland’s entry will be “smooth forces, CNN aired footage and swift,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg it said showed Russian troops promised on Thursday. shooting two unarmed civilians Germany, France and the powerful in the back. Agence France-Presse US Senate Foreign Relations (AFP) has not independently Committee also strongly voiced verified the footage. their support, and Britain has already Finland’s leaders declared their pledged its assistance. nation must apply to join NATO A special committee will announce “without delay” — a seismic Finland’s formal decision change in policy since Russia on a membership bid on Sunday. invaded its neighbor in February. Sweden, another neutral state, is “As a member of NATO, Finland widely expected to follow. would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat. The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow would be “forced to take reciprocal steps, militarytechnical and other, to address the resulting threats.” In launching the invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin cited in part what he called the threat from NATO, which expanded eastwards after the Cold War. Finland has been declared neutral in East-West crises for decades, and as recently as January its leaders ruled out NATO membership. But the February 24 invasion shocked the Nordic nation. It shares a 1,300-kilometer Russian gas Russia’s flow of gas to Europe, meanwhile, fell, spurring fears for Germany and other heavily dependent economies. Russian energy giant Gazprom announced it would stop supplying gas via the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline following retaliatory sanctions that Moscow imposed Wednesday on Western companies. Gazprom also said gas transiting to Europe via Ukraine had dropped by a third — a fall it blamed on Ukraine’s pipeline operator, which the company denies, pointing the finger at Russia. Ukraine and Poland are major supply routes for Russian gas to Europe and the two sides have kept flows going despite the conflict. The European Union’s heavy reliance on Russian energy has made it reluctant to add oil and gas imports to sanctions targeting Russia’s economy. Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, urged the bloc to impose an immediate embargo. “If the leaders had acted decisively in 1938, Europe could have avoided WW2,” he wrote on Twitter. “History won’t forgive us if we make the same mistake again.” With a global food crisis feared as Ukrainian exports tumble, host Germany said the G7 club of industrialized nations will tackle the issue for the world’s poorest nations at talks beginning Thursday. Shelling Fighting in Ukraine has been concentrated in the south and east since Russia abandoned attempts to seize Kyiv. Ukraine’s presidency said shelling continued throughout Luhansk — part of the Donbas region where Ukrainian forces are fiercely opposing Russian armor and Kremlin-backed separatists. Russian troops are trying to take complete control of Rubizhne, block a key highway between Lysychansk and Bakhmut and seize Severodonetsk, the office said. Zelenskyy said Thursday in his daily address to the nation that Russian forces have destroyed 570 health care facilities in the country, including 101 hospitals. “What for? It’s nonsense. It’s barbarity,” he said. In the northeastern region of Chernigiv three people were killed and 12 others wounded early Thursday in a strike on a school in Novgorod-Siversky, the emergency services said. In the southern port city of Mariupol, besieged troops in the vast Azovstal steelworks have been holding out against weeks-long bombardment, refusing demands to surrender. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said “difficult talks” were underway over the evacuation of 38 seriously wounded troops. Russia’s army said it struck Donetsk and Kharkiv on Thursday, killing more than 170 people and destroying Ukrainian drones and rockets. War crimes probe In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council voted 33-2 to investigate alleged atrocities by Russian troops. The resolution, brought by Ukraine, will focus on alleged crimes in the Kyiv, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions in late February and March. “These have been 10 weeks of sheer horror to the people of my country,” Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova told the UN meeting from Kyiv, accusing Putin’s forces of “pure evil.” The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already begun its own inquiry, sending investigators to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. The invasion has sparked an exodus of civilians, many of whom describe torture, sexual violence and indiscriminate destruction. The UN refugee agency said on Thursday the number of those who have fled Ukraine had passed six million, more than half of them going to neighboring Poland. Ukrainian prosecutors say they have received reports of more than 10,000 alleged crimes, with 622 suspects identified. On Wednesday, the office said it would launch the first trial for war crimes. CNN and the BBC on Thursday released what they said was security camera footage showing two Ukrainian civilians being shot in the back by Russian soldiers near a car dealership outside of Kyiv on March 16. One man died on the spot, the other shortly thereafter. Ukrainian authorities and witnesses interviewed by AFP also accused Russian forces of killing several civilians in March after shelling a residential home in the east Ukrainian village of Stepanki from a tank. “They started going into the house to hide,” said Olga Karpenko, 52, whose daughter was among those killed. The tank took aim and fired as they entered the house. “Four people died, two were injured. My daughter died from a shrapnel wound in the back of her head,” Karpenko said.