BERLIN — The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said on Sunday the security bloc would grant fast-track membership to Sweden and Finland, mounting pressure on Vladimir V. Putin, who justified his invasion of Ukraine by what he presented as the need to move the military alliance away from Russia’s borders.
“President Putin wants Ukraine defeated, NATO defeated, North America and Europe divided,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Berlin after meeting foreign ministers members of the alliance. “But Ukraine is on its feet, NATO is stronger than ever, Europe and North America are firmly united.”
Both countries said their candidacies were imminent. The Finnish Parliament is expected to ratify a NATO candidacy on Monday. And Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party said on Sunday it would vote for NATO membership – all but guaranteeing the Nordic nation would end 200 years of neutrality.
NATO member countries in Europe
NATO member countries in Europe
The possibility of NATO troops deploying along Russia’s 810-mile border with Finland comes as Mr Putin faces notable setbacks in the war he started in Ukraine nearly 100 years ago. three months.
Ukrainian forces have moved closer to the Russian border in recent days after pushing back Russian troops from the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. And evidence piled up on Sunday that Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbass region is faltering after modest initial gains.
Estimates based on publicly available evidence suggest that more than 400 Russian soldiers were killed or injured as they attempted to cross the Donets River in the village of Bilohorivka in the eastern Luhansk region in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces. The debacle was probably one of the bloodiest engagements since the start of the war, leading even influential pro-Russian bloggers to begin expressing concern, despite Kremlin efforts to criminalize dissent.
“I have been silent for a long time,” Yuri Podolyaka, a war blogger with 2.1 million followers on the Telegram messaging app, said in a video posted on Friday, saying he had avoided criticizing the military Russian.
“The last straw that overwhelmed my patience,” he said, “was the events around Bilohorivka, where because of the stupidity – I emphasize, because of the stupidity of the Russian command – at least one group battalion tactics was burned, possibly two.
British intelligence officials said on Sunday that Russia had lost a third of the ground forces it had committed to the Ukraine offensive. The attrition rate, if confirmed, would make it extremely difficult for Russia to achieve a decisive victory against a well-motivated and increasingly well-armed and trained enemy, analysts say.
But in Russia, Kremlin propaganda and repression of independent media have effectively shielded the majority of the population from the true human cost of war. Emergency economic measures by the Russian government have so far mitigated the impact of the sanctions.
Western and Ukrainian officials say thousands of Russian soldiers have already died in the conflict. But reports of the deaths have been heavily censored by the state and concentrated among working-class families spread across the world’s largest country, preventing local tragedies from turning into national mourning.
Many Russians believe that the war is no longer against Ukraine, but has turned into a proxy conflict with the United States and NATO, which they say are exploiting the conflict to destroy their nation, according to interviews with half a dozen Moscow residents. and in provincial Siberia.
If pushed to its limits, Russia will always continue to fight, some said, even if it risks provoking a nuclear war.
Finland and Sweden’s decision to apply to join NATO only played into the narrative of the Kremlin-driven siege, tapping into the patriotic feelings of a nation that prides itself on uniting to push back foreign threats over the centuries.
For their part, the two Nordic states have long been wary of Russian power.
Finland was part of the Russian Empire and fought to maintain its independence from the Soviet Union during World War II. Sweden and Russia fought to dominate Eastern Europe in the 18th century.
But Finland and Sweden both remained neutral after the Soviet Union clashed with the United States and its allies in the aftermath of World War II. The end of that neutrality is a stark sign of the extent to which Mr. Putin’s strategic calculation in Ukraine has backfired and undermined longstanding Russian security priorities.
To justify his invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin said he was concerned about the enlargement of NATO, and in particular the deployment of new missiles near the Russian borders. This concern is shared by the majority of Russian citizens, who believe that the United States took advantage of their country’s weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union to bring missiles to its borders.
An application to join NATO must be approved unanimously by its 30 members. One such member, Turkey, raised questions about pending applications, although he hinted that he would not oppose admission if his own security concerns were taken into account. account.
Antony J. Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said after meetings in Berlin on Sunday that there was strong support among current NATO members for bringing the two Nordic states into the alliance. US officials have said their application processes should be completed within months, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday her country would be among the first to ratify them.
The Baltic states joined NATO in 2004, bringing the alliance to the border with the heartland of Russia. And in 2008, President George W. Bush promised that Ukraine and Georgia could join NATO and pushed the alliance to make similar statements.
Western European countries, however, were hesitant to keep this promise. Before the war, the United States and its European allies had declared that Ukraine would not be qualified to join NATO anytime soon.
After Russia invaded, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed Western powers to follow through on his government’s desire to join NATO, but has since said he would be more open to a neutral Ukraine. if his safety was guaranteed.
On Sunday morning, Mr. Blinken met in Berlin with Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, to discuss the war. The State Department said the two men discussed details of further US security assistance to Ukraine.
Mr Kuleba posted a photo of the two men standing in a room and smiling on Twitter. “More weapons and other aid are on their way to Ukraine,” he wrote.
Edward Wong reported from Berlin, and Anatoly Kurmanayev from Mexico City. The report was provided by Anton Troyanovsky from New York; Carlotta Gall from Prudyanka, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; and Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland.