The Finnish leadership announced support for accelerated NATO membership on Thursday, despite the Kremlin’s dire warnings of “military and political consequences”.
The decision by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin is strongly supported by lawmakers and citizens of Finland, although a few steps still need to be taken before the application process can begin. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in the coming days.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay.”
They said they hoped the application would be submitted within days. Finnish European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen said the Finnish parliament will vote on the issue early next week. Finland shares an 830 mile long border with Russia.
“We want to defend our freedom and our equality,” Tuppurainen said. “This isn’t just about territories and borders. This war is also about values and ideology.”
The response from the Kremlin, which had previously warned that membership could elicit a military and political response, was more muted on Thursday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s response will depend on how close NATO’s infrastructure is to the Russian border.
“The expansion of NATO and the military infrastructure of the alliance approaching our borders are not making the world and, importantly, our Eurasian continent more stable and secure,” Peskov said. “This is undeniable.”
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►Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said increasing Western arms supplies and the training of Ukrainian troops “have increased the likelihood that an ongoing proxy war will turn into an open and direct conflict between NATO and Russia.”
►Russian troops and affiliated armed groups are responsible for most civilian deaths during the war in Ukraine, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. She mentioned heavy artillery, multiple missile systems and missiles and air strikes.
►A Ukrainian human rights activist says LGBTQ people in her country are “on the front lines of the resistance” against the Russian invasion and that many have joined the Ukrainian military. Olena Shevchenko told a European forum via video link that Ukraine’s LGBTQ support groups have also joined in providing humanitarian aid.
War is responsible for rapidly rising prices in the world’s poorest countries
The war in Ukraine has caused the prices of food, fuel and fertilizers to rise to record highs in many parts of the world, leaving some of the world’s poorest countries vulnerable to food insecurity.
Ukraine and the Russian Federation supply about 30% of the world’s wheat and barley, a fifth of the maize and more than half of the sunflower oil. And Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil.
According to the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development, small-scale farmers cannot keep up with global price increases caused by the war, leaving them unable to afford machine fuel and fertilizer.
Parts of Africa, the Near East and Central Asia have been hit hardest by price shocks, the UN said. In Somalia, many farmers rely on irrigation powered by diesel engines: high fuel prices coupled with drought have left experts concerned about famine.
Russia still wants to take Kiev, warns Ukrainian general
Russia still plans to take over Ukraine’s capital, a Ukrainian general says. Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov said at a briefing that Russian forces will attempt to storm Kiev and have plans to take over the southern Mykolaiv and Odessa regions to build a land corridor to Moldova, a separatist region of Transnistria.
Hromov also said Russia will try to hold sham elections in conquered Ukrainian territories to annex them to Russia. The authorities appointed by Russia have already announced plans to seek annexation in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to take the capital in the early days of the invasion, but Russian forces have since focused on the hotly contested eastern Donbas region.
Contributing:Deirdre Shesgreen and Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press