Finland formally announces NATO membership offer

Finland formally announced on Sunday that it intends to apply for membership in the Western military alliance, and ignores Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that the measure would “negatively affect” peaceful relations between neighboring countries.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Marin announced the application for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in .

“This is a historic day,” Niinisto said. “A new era begins.”

Finland’s announcement that it is seeking entry into the 30-member US-dominated military alliance formed in the aftermath of had been awaited in the wake of ’s invasion of on February 24 and continued offensive.

Finland’s neighbor to the west, Sweden, is also expected to seek membership in the alliance, ending two centuries of military freedom of alliance.

The two Nordic countries’ NATO applications are likely to proceed quickly, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said in recent days that they will be welcomed.

The ’s press service said in a telephone conversation with Niinisto on Saturday that the Finnish leader had warned that his abandonment of his traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake as there were no threats to Finland’s security.

“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could adversely affect Russian-Finnish relations, which had been built up in a spirit of good neighborliness and partnership for many years, and were mutually beneficial,” the statement added.

Finland’s 1,300 kilometer long border with Russia would be the longest of any of the NATO countries.

“Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners,” said NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana on Sunday in Berlin, where NATO members will meet to discuss their continued support for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and expansion of the Atlantic Alliance.

Russia turned off electricity to Finland as a clear retaliation for its attempt to join NATO. Finland gets 10% of its energy from Russia and the gap is now filled by Sweden.

Turkey initially expressed concern that Finland and Sweden would join the security alliance, but said on Saturday that it did not close the door on the possibility. Each NATO enlargement requires the unanimous consent of the existing members.

The United States has said it will support NATO applications from Finland and Sweden.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba poses for a photo with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting in Berlin, Germany, in this photo posted on Twitter on May 15, 2022. Ukrainian Foreign Minister poses for a photo with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting in Berlin, Germany, in this photo posted on Twitter on May 15, 2022.

Earlier on Sunday, top diplomats from the United States and Ukraine met on Sunday in Berlin to talk about Russia’s invasion and the impact it has had not only on Ukraine, but also on the rest of the world.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of the support Ukraine has from its allies and discussed this week’s G-7 and NATO Foreign Ministers’ meetings.

Ukrainian forces launched a counter-offensive on Saturday near the Russian-controlled city of Izium in northeastern Ukraine, a regional governor said. Ukraine wants to push Russia out of its territory there and prevent it from encircling thousands of Ukrainian troops on the eastern front of the Donba.

Russia turned its focus on the Donbas after failing to conquer Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, at the start of the war. But Ukraine has recaptured some territory there, including its second-largest city in the northeast, Kharkiv.

Ukraine “seems to have won the battle of Kharkiv,” said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone taking Kharkiv, and then expelled them from all over the city, as they did against Russian forces trying to take Kyiv.”

A soldier from the Ukrainian National Guard patrols during a reconnaissance mission in a newly recaptured village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on May 14, 2022. A soldier from the Ukrainian National Guard patrols during a reconnaissance mission in a newly recaptured village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on May 14, 2022.

Latest developments in Ukraine: 15 May

The fighting was also fierce on the river Siversky Donets near the town of Severodonetsk. The governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said Ukrainian forces repulsed Russian attempts to cross the river and surround the city. However, Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst, said Ukraine had failed to halt Russia’s advance.

“Heavy fighting is taking place on the border with the Donetsk region, on the part of the Popas,” Gaidai also said, reporting heavy losses of equipment and personnel from the Russians.

While Russian troops have captured some villages and towns in the Donbas, Ukraine’s forces have recaptured others, without any of them appearing to have made much progress.

Meanwhile, a long convoy from the besieged Ukrainian port city of arrived safely in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

The 500- to 1,000-vehicle convoy, according to a Reuters report, was “the largest single evacuation from the city since the Russian invasion on February 24.”

The Ukrainian National Guard patrols during a reconnaissance mission in a newly recaptured village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, May 14, 2022. The Ukrainian National Guard patrols during a reconnaissance mission in a newly recaptured village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, May 14, 2022.

Expands NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that it would be a “mistake” for Finland to join NATO, according to a statement from the Kremlin.

The two leaders spoke by telephone on Saturday in a conversation initiated by Finland.

“The conversation was direct and uncomplicated, and it was conducted without difficulty. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Niinisto said in a statement from his office.

A statement from the Kremlin released after the talks said Putin had told Niinisto that abandoning Finland’s neutrality policy would have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations.

Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister said on Thursday that they want the country to join NATO “without delay” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a move that would be a major political shift for the traditionally neutral country.

“Putin stressed that the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake because there is no threat to Finland’s security,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

FIL - A general picture of the border crossing point with Russia, in Imatra, Finland, March 23, 2022. FIL – A general picture of the border crossing point with Russia, in Imatra, Finland, March 23, 2022.

Russia turned off electricity to Finland as a clear retaliation for its attempt to join NATO. Finland gets 10% of its energy from Russia and the gap is now filled by Sweden.

Sweden, another traditionally neutral Scandinavian country, is also expected to ask to join NATO in the coming days.

Turkey initially expressed concern that Finland and Sweden would join the security alliance, but said on Saturday that it did not close the door on the possibility. Each NATO enlargement requires the unanimous consent of the existing members.

The United States has said it will support a NATO application from Finland or Sweden if it chooses to apply.

US senators visiting

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led a delegation of Republican senators on a visit to Ukraine on Saturday. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the visit was a strong signal of bipartisan US support for Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian president’s administration.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the left, shakes hands with the minority leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., In Kyiv on May 14, 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on the left, shakes hands with the minority leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., In Kyiv on May 14, 2022.

Zelenskyy called on US lawmakers to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, according to The Kyiv Independent, an English-language newspaper in Ukraine, and to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.

At the same time, the group of seven industrialized nations that met in Germany promised to put more pressure on Russia with new sanctions and said they would never recognize the borders that the Kremlin is trying to forcibly retract.

Some information for this story came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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