Finland has moved one step closer to applying for NATO membership. Its leadership officially extended its support for expedited membership in the transatlantic alliance. President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the decision and it is one that is enjoying heavy initial support among Finnish citizens and lawmakers. It a joint statement, Finland’s leaders said, “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.” Neighboring Sweden is expected to move forward with its own decision on NATO membership in a matter of days.
The leadership’s statement brings to bear a crucial question NATO will need to closely examine during the application process: Exactly what benefits do Finland, and perhaps eventually Sweden as well, bring to the table? Aside from aggravating Moscow, of course, and adding more fuel to Moscow’s NATO Expansion argument.
Russia wasted no time in saying it would consider a Finnish application to be a violation of international legal obligations. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of military and other nature, in order to curtail the threats that arise to its national security in this regard,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Moscow views the moves by the Scandinavian neutral nations to join NATO is viewed as a knee-jerk reaction to the war in Ukraine. With the war not progressing the way Vladimir Putin anticipated, Russia is now viewing events in Finland and Sweden with deep suspicion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that a peace agreement with Russia will be contingent upon all Russian forces leaving Ukrainian territory. The remarks were made while speaking to Chatham House, a British think tank. Zelenskiy also said, “I was elected by the people of Ukraine as president of Ukraine, not as president of a mini-Ukraine of some kind. This is a very important point.” Indeed, it is. However, Russia shows no signs of letting up, as the situation in Mariupol has revealed. It’s not very realistic to think Moscow would be willing to return to pre-23 February boundaries willingly.
Evacuation efforts in Mariupol have concluded. The last women, children and elderly civilians left Azovstal steelworks earlier today, leaving only Ukrainian soldiers in the sprawling steel plant. With the civilians having left, Russian forces are expected to redouble their efforts to capture the plant and break the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
The fate of the Russian frigate Admiral Makarov remains unknown at the present time. The Ukrainian government and military claim the ship was struck by an antiship missile near Snake Island yesterday. Russia has denied the claim, of course, and today released pictures of the frigate supposedly back at its homeport of Sevastopol.
Russian forces launched a missile attack against the Ukrainian port city of Odesa earlier Saturday. Ballistic missiles targeted a furniture factory and damaged nearby buildings. There has been no word on casualties. As fighting in Mariupol draws to a close, expect Russia to pay more attention to Odesa and other targets along the Black Sea coastline west of Crimea.
We’re moving into military exercise season in the Baltic region. Every year at this time a number of modestly sized exercises crop up in and around NATO nations. Days later, similar exercises sprout up in and around Russia and Belarus. The dueling maneuvers increase in size and complexity, usually culminating on the NATO side with the commencement of BALTOPS, a major exercise held annually that involves ships, aircraft and equipment from over a dozen NATO member-states. This year, the spring exercise season’s stakes are considerably higher than usual given the continuing war in Ukraine, as well as the heightened tensions between Russia and the West. Both NATO and Russia will use the maneuvers to send a message to the other side, as well as work up their respective forces.
Moscow got the jump on NATO by holding wargames in Kaliningrad which included simulated launches of SS-26 Stone (Iskander to the amateurs and social media ‘experts’) short range ballistic missiles. According to statements released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian forces in Kaliningrad practiced multiple strikes against simulated enemy missile batteries, airfields, protected infrastructure, military equipment and command posts belonging to a generic enemy. Russian personnel also roleplayed avoiding “a possible retaliatory strike” and working in areas of radiological and chemical agent contamination.
To put it in basic terms, Russian forces in Kaliningrad just ran a military exercise intended to work up its nuclear-capable forces and demonstrate how capable military personnel in Kaliningrad are when it comes to working amid a tactical nuclear or chemical exchange. The message here is simple; Russia takes the possibility of a limited nuclear war far more seriously than does NATO, and Moscow wants the world to be aware of this.
NATO also has several large-scale maneuvers set for this month and beyond. Arrow 22 is set to begin soon in Finland and will run for two weeks. British, US, Polish and Finnish troops will be taking part, as well as soldiers from other NATO members. The exercise is gaining more attention than usual owing to Finland and Sweden. Both nations are tentatively moving closer to applying for NATO membership as the security situation with regards to Russia continues to deteriorate in the Baltic region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the world against underestimating the chances of a nuclear conflict emerging from Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The risks now are considerable,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s state television. “I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.” Lavrov’s warning comes as the West increases its material support for Ukraine as the war shifts to the Donbas region. Heavy weapons are now being shipped from NATO nations into Ukraine, including self-propelled artillery and self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems. Russia’s previous warnings that NATO equipment could be considered a legitimate target of war once it enters Ukrainian territory. In Washington, Moscow’s ambassador to Russia has told the United States to stop weapons shipments to Ukraine, warning that Western weapons are inflaming the conflict. Lavrov extended the argument in his comments. “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”
While Lavrov’s warnings could be nothing except for bluster, his words should not be dismissed entirely. The risks of a potential nuclear escalation are at least present at this stage. We’re at a point now where the United States and her allies need to consider the viewpoint of Russian leadership. It would help to view the situation from the perspective of Russia and not make decisions largely based on interpretations stemming from a prism of Western views and opinion. The stakes for Russia in this conflict are enormous, to say the least. If Vladimir Putin concludes there is no chance of a victory on the battlefield through only conventional means, all bets are off.
The West should not be intimidated from supporting Ukraine. However, at the same time, some government officials in Europe and the US might want to consider how their recent remarks are being interpreted by the Kremlin. For example, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted a US goal now is to see Russian military capabilities significantly weakened to the point where it cannot conduct military operations abroad in the aftermath of this conflict. Austin’s words run the risk of being interpreted as the US posing an existential threat to Russia and provoking Moscow into expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Escalation is not in the best interests of anyone.
The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine commenced late Monday following missile strikes against military targets in western Ukraine and preparatory artillery fire strikes against Ukrainian forces in the east. Russia has spent the past two weeks reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the Donbas region in preparation for this moment. Ukraine had also resupplied and reinforced its ground forces in the east to the best of Kiev’s ability. These efforts have attracted Russian attention, as was made apparent by the missile attacks on military targets deep in the Ukrainian rear areas like Lviv. Disrupting the flow of war supplies from outside Ukraine has become a high priority for Russia, a lesson learned the hard way earlier in the conflict. The supply routes coming from Poland and other NATO nations into Ukraine are going to be targeted more as the offensive in Donbas is now getting underway.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that a new phase of the war has begun. During an interview with India Today, the diplomat said, “This operation in the east of Ukraine is aimed as it was announced from the very beginning to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.” When he was questioned about the growing rhetoric over nuclear weapons, Lavrov blamed the Ukrainian government, and specifically Volodymyr Zelenskiy for fueling false allegations.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is modifying its forecast for global economic growth over the next 24 months as the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine continue to expand. When the war started in February, 2022, economies around the world hadn’t yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now these recoveries will be hampered by the war, jeopardizing growth in nations mainly across Europe and Asia. Naturally, Russia and Ukraine are feeling the most direct and immediate effects of the war.