In blow to Putin, Turkey will not exclude Sweden and Finland from NATO

MADRID – NATO’s top official said on Tuesday that Turkey had dropped its objections to joining Sweden and Finland, two historically nonaligned countries that, alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have asked to join the military alliance.

Turkey’s turnaround is a blow to President Vladimir V. Putin, who, in justifying his neighbor’s invasion, bitterly protested past NATO expansions — and Ukraine’s efforts to join the alliance — as a threat for the security of his country.

Should Finland and Sweden formally join the alliance, as is widely expected, Russia will be looking at one of NATO’s newest members 800 miles from the border with Finland.

The announcement came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spent four hours meeting with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland while NATO heads of state gathered in Madrid for an annual summit. The alliance of 30 countries operates by consensus, meaning Turkey effectively vetoed their membership applications.

“I am pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday evening. “Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum addressing Turkey’s concerns, including over arms exports and the fight against terrorism.”

It was not clear what concessions, if any, were made to Mr Erdogan, whose objections centered on the pursuit of autonomy by ethnic Kurds in Turkey and neighboring countries. He has accused Sweden and Finland of protecting Kurds whom Turkey calls terrorists, and he objects to the arms sales embargo placed on Turkey by the Scandinavian countries after its foray into Syria to fight Kurdish forces.

The announcement came on a day when Western and Russian leaders, jockeying for the upper hand, made rival diplomatic efforts as Moscow’s armed forces continued their brutal campaign against Ukraine.

NATO heads of state will agree to bolster forces along the military alliance’s eastern flank, and President Biden, who strongly supported Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, planned to deploy two additional naval destroyers at a base in Rota, in the south, to be announced. from Spain. The meeting lasts until Thursday.

“By the end of the summit,” said Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, “you will see a more robust, effective, more credible, capable and more determined military stance.”

But when Western leaders met in Madrid, after the conclusion of a Group of 7 meeting in Germany, which was also dominated by the invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin launched his own diplomatic offensive.

On his first foreign trip since the Russian invasion began on February 24, Mr Putin visited Tajikistan, where he was hugged on the tarmac by his president, Emomali Rahmon. Eager to maintain its influence in Central Asia as it becomes increasingly isolated from the West, Putin also planned to attend a summit of regional leaders in Turkmenistan, an insular, gas-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea.

“In general, there is an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation in the Caspian Sea,” Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri V. Ushakov, told reporters on Monday, according to Russian news agencies.

Recognizing that their efforts to punish Moscow to date have had little effect on the war, the G7 leaders agreed to devise a plan to undermine Russia’s oil revenues. And with millions around the world facing acute hunger, leaders have also pledged to spend $4.5 billion this year to help ensure food security in an effort to counter the grain shortages caused by the invasion.

In Ukraine on Tuesday, as workers scoured the rubble of a shopping center in the city of Kremenchuk destroyed by a Russian rocket attack the day before – the death toll rose to 18, with dozens injured and 21 still missing – Moscow pushed its bombing campaign against civilian targets across the country, Ukrainian officials said.

From the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv to the northeastern foothills near Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials reported more Russian rockets and bombings overnight. At least eight civilians, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed and dozens injured, including a 3-month-old baby who was in a coma.

Vitaly Kim, head of Mykolaiv’s regional military administration, said on Tuesday that Russia fired at least 11 missiles at targets in the region, and that while several were shot down by air defense systems, others got through. Russians also shelled the small town of Ochakiv, on the Black Sea coast just east of the port city of Odessa, killing three people, Mr. Kim.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russian troops in the Kharkov region, near Russian territory, continued to shell civilian areas. At least five people have been killed and 22 injured, including three children, in the past 24 hours.

Among those injured in the rocket attack on the mall was a 22-year-old woman who had fled with her mother to Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, from Kharkov. “We hoped we would be safe here,” said the mother, Larisa, who didn’t feel comfortable sharing her last name. “This is a deep trauma to my soul.”

Natalia Humenuk, a spokeswoman for the armed forces in southern Ukraine, said Russia had fired at Mykolaiv with the same Soviet-era anti-ship missiles that hit the mall.

Designed primarily to destroy aircraft carriers, the missiles are considered highly inaccurate when used on land, posing a significant risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. British military intelligence says Russia appears to have launched dozens of them against land targets because its forces lack “precise modern missiles”.

At the G7 meeting in the Bavarian Alps that closed on Tuesday, leaders of the world’s richest democracies looked for new ways to economically punish Russia and curb its ability to wage war. They endorsed an unconventional tactic.

In an aggressive but risky effort to undermine funding for Russia’s military campaign, Mr Biden led an effort to manipulate the oil market on a scale the world has rarely seen by attempting a mirror version of OPEC, the powerful oil cartel, to put together.

Rather than limiting supply to maximize revenues for oil producers, as a cartel does, Mr. Biden tries to minimize how much one particular seller — Moscow — gets out of each barrel. On Tuesday, he led his group of seven colleagues to agree to go ahead with a plan that would curb the price of Russian oil as a way to cut revenues from Putin’s main export.

“Some people call it a reverse OPEC,” said Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This is a cartel that is trying to differentiate between Russian oil and other oil, creating a wedge that may or may not push world prices down.”

Oil was high on the agenda as the Russian president tried to bolster his own support abroad on Tuesday, on a field trip that suggested confidence that regardless of the toll the war takes on its citizens, his position at home is safe.

On Wednesday, Mr Putin will attend a summit of the leaders of the countries bordering the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest landlocked body of water: Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Iran. The political, economic and security aspects of the Caspian region and its vast oil and gas reserves have become more important to Moscow since the war in Ukraine started.

As sanctions over the war disrupt trade routes, countries friendly with Russia are emerging as new critical economic partners, though some are treading cautiously.

Kazakhstan, in particular, has said it will not help Russian companies evade Western sanctions. Seated onstage next to Putin at an economic conference in St. Petersburg this month, the president of Kazakhstan said he would not recognize pro-Russian separatist “republics” in eastern Ukraine, calling them “quasi-state territories.”

As another sign of the Kremlin’s multiple pursuit of influence in Central Asia, Russia is also urging countries to expand Russian-language education, including in Tajikistan, where five Russian schools will open in September, with $150 million in funding from Moscow.

Steven Erlanger and Michael D. Shear reported from Madrid, Valerie Hopkins from Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and Anton Trojanovskic from Paris. Reporting contributed by Jim Tankersley from Munich; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Shashank Bengali from London; and Marc Santora from Warsaw.

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