In the past 24 hours, the city of Kharkov has been hit with over fifty Russian artillery and multiple-launch rocket fire strikes. The intensity of these attacks has increased dramatically as large convoys of Russian troops, equipment and vehicles continue their transit towards the Donbas region. The purpose of the artillery and rocket attacks is militarily sound; keep the Ukrainian forces in and around Kharkov from interfering with the movement of Russian forces into the east. Unfortunately, while these strikes are logical in the military sense, they are causing considerable amounts of collateral damage.
According to a report from the Svenska Dagbladet, a daily Swedish newspaper, Sweden intends to submit its application for NATO membership in late June according to sources. Part of the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a shift in security priorities by Stockholm and Helsinki. If either, or both, countries decide to join NATO it will bring about a dramatic change in the security and foreign policy pictures for Northeastern Europe.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims the last units of Ukrainian Marines still fighting in Mariupol have surrendered. There has yet been no confirmation that this news is accurate. If it turns out to be true though, Mariupol will become the first major Ukrainian city to fall since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February.
The national leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are on their way to Kiev to tour the city and meet with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy later today. Estonian President Alar Karis said in a Twitter post that the purpose of the visit is to show “strong support” to the people of Ukraine and meet with their Ukrainian counterpart.
Lithuania’s president took advantage of the anniversary date for the May 3 Constitution of 1791 to lob a shot across Russia’s bow. While in Warsaw addressing an online session of both Poland’s and Lithuania’s parliaments, President Gitanas Nauseda affirmed that Lithuania will never recognize the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, its military pressure on eastern Ukraine or Russian moves to influence Belarus. “Lithuania will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and will be taking steps toward ending the actual occupation of part of eastern Ukraine,” the Lithuanian president said. “Whatever happens, we cannot allow Ukraine to slide back into the past.”
Poland’s president Andrzej Duda also said today that Russia’s actions in Ukraine “must never be accepted.”
The two leaders were joined in Warsaw by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the leaders of Latvia and Estonia to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the joint Poland-Lithuanian constitution. Symbolically, the setting and event were tailor-made to demonstrate the Eastern European unity against Russia’s expansionist actions and desires in recent years. The consensus from Riga to Warsaw is that once Russia is finished with Ukraine, it will set its sights on the Baltics and eventually Poland. Perhaps even before the Ukrainian adventure is brought to a favorable end for Moscow.
Belarus has been a cause for concern recently. From the large-scale unrest and protests following the presidential election last year to Alexander Lukashenko gravitating nearer to the Russian sphere of influence, the nations bordering Belarus suspect that Russia’s ambitions include developing that country into a springboard for future operations against the Baltic states and Poland.
Polish President Andrzej Duda is visiting the United States later this week. His first stop will be Washington DC for a working visit with President Trump at the White House. Discussions between the two leaders are expected to revolve around energy security, defense, and economic issues. It is no secret that Duda, as well as a majority of Poles, want a larger contingent of US troops to be permanently stationed in their home country. Along with this, Poland has its sights set on increasing American investment, and ultimately on acquiring American natural gas as a new energy source.
Energy security is a matter of national importance for Poland. Through its time under the bootheel of Soviet occupation, the nation relied on Russia for most of its natural gas and oil. When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved this did not change. Poland continues to be reliant on Russian gas and oil to meet its energy needs. Duda is anxious to find an alternative source for energy, and the hope is that US natural gas will be it. Duda’s second stop on his US trip will be Houston, Texas, home to a number of major US oil and natural gas corporations.
Defense will also be a major topic. While in Washington, the Polish leader is expected to announce that his country will be purchasing thirty-five F-35 Lightning II fighters. Duda will also likely push for US troops to be relocated to Poland from bases in Germany. US and Polish defense officials have been working on a deal to bring a large military base, and permanent US troop presence to Poland. Earlier this year, Polish media reported that the US was considering basing a US Army division headquarters in Poznan, a special operations base near Krakow and making the US Air Force detachment in Lask permanent.
The plan for an increased US presence in Poland has to be weighed against the potential of it escalating tensions with Russia. A balance needs to be found given the brittle geopolitical foundation in Eastern Europe.