(Kyiv) Finland took a major step towards NATO membership on Thursday, with Moscow denouncing a ‘threat’ to Russia, while Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine were further disrupted, witness geopolitical and energy upheavals induced by two and a half months of conflict.

The President and Prime Minister of Finland, Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin, said they were in favor of joining NATO “without delay” on Thursday, a prelude to a formal candidacy on Sunday from this Nordic country, which shares 1,300 km of border with Russia and was for a long time forced into a kind of enforced neutrality by Moscow.

The Kremlin was quick to criticize the move: Finland’s NATO membership would “definitely” be a threat to Russia, its spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said.

For his part, the Secretary General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg assured that “if Finland decides to apply, it will be warmly welcomed into NATO and the accession process will go smoothly and quickly”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also congratulated the Finnish president during a telephone exchange, he said in a tweet.

This announcement from Helsinki – which should be followed by a similar decision from Sweden in the coming days – shows how much the offensive against Ukraine launched by Vladimir Putin on February 24 has swayed Finnish opinion. According to a poll published on Monday, 76% of the 5.5 million Finns are now in favor of membership, three times more than before the war.

Worried about Moscow’s reaction to these likely requests to join the Atlantic Alliance, Stockholm and Helsinki signed mutual protection declarations with the United Kingdom on Wednesday, during a visit by Boris Johnson to the two countries.

Uncertainty was also mounting over Russian gas deliveries to Europe transiting through Ukraine, with Russian gas giant Gazprom announcing that volumes would fall by nearly 30% on Thursday, after a 18-year drop. % the day before.

Both parties blame each other. Kyiv has been saying for two days that it can no longer guarantee deliveries via the Sokhranivka facilities in the Luhansk region due to the presence of the Russian armed forces, and has asked Gazprom to increase volumes via another point. of transit, Soudja.

But Moscow ensures that the transit can be done perfectly via Sokhranivka, while redirecting the flow towards Soudja is impossible.

On Wednesday, Germany, one of the main European customers of Russian gas, said it had recorded a 25% drop in the volumes of Russian gas transported via Ukraine. Berlin had underlined that it had compensated for this drop, by increasing the volumes coming in particular from Norway and the Netherlands.

These gas disturbances could be on the menu of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba’s visit to Germany, where he was to participate on Friday and Saturday in a meeting with his G7 counterparts (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States).

The foreign ministers of NATO member countries will meet in parallel on Friday and Saturday, where they are expected to discuss their military support for Ukraine, and possibly also for Moldova.

US intelligence chief Avril Haines had indicated on Tuesday that Vladimir Putin had no intention of limiting his occupation drive to the Donbass regions and southern Ukraine – where a local Kherson city official said Wednesday want to ask that this region be annexed to Russia.

According to Haines, he wants to take the conflict to Transdniestria, a region of Moldova that seceded in 1990.

During his first public intervention Thursday in Berlin, Mr. Kouleba again pleaded for his country’s accession to the European Union.

“We hear very often that Ukraine belongs to the European family and now it is important to reserve (it) this place” in the EU, he declared on German television, while appearing to recognize that he did not hope for “the fastest possible accession”.

Kyiv applied for EU membership on February 28, but some member countries are skeptical, including on granting candidate status to Ukraine, a matter on which a decision is expected in June.

On the ground, the fighting continues, and no one has spoken of talks for several weeks.

Russian airstrikes left at least three dead and 12 injured overnight from Wednesday to Thursday near Cherniguiv, in northeastern Ukraine, according to local emergency services.

The regional governor, Viatcheslav Tchaouss, indicated that “critical infrastructures, including schools” had been affected, without further details.

The Russian army is continuing its offensive in the Donbass, where it is nibbling ground, with intense fighting in the Luhansk region. In particular, they are trying to take “full control” of the localities of Rubizhne and Severodonetsk, according to the Ukrainian presidency.

Locals who have refused evacuation are often pro-Moscow. “They give the Russians our coordinates, that’s for sure,” a soldier who uses the nom de guerre “Zastava” told AFP, whom he met on the front line in Novomykolaivka.

The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod, neighboring Ukraine in southwestern Russia, told him on Wednesday that shelling from Ukraine had left one dead and six injured.

On the diplomatic level, the UN Human Rights Council met Thursday in Geneva in an extraordinary session to examine the allegations of serious abuses committed by Russia in Ukraine, particularly in the Kyiv region that Russian forces occupied in March.

This is the first meeting of this body devoted to the deterioration of the human rights situation in Ukraine since the UN General Assembly suspended Moscow in early April. Moscow has announced that it will not participate in this meeting requested by Ukraine.

Kyiv’s proposed text calls for the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine to conduct “an investigation” into events in the Kyiv, Cherniguiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions between late February and March, “with a view to to hold those responsible accountable”.

Russia has been accused by Kyiv and several Western countries of committing war crimes in Ukraine since its offensive began on February 24. Investigations by the International Criminal Court and the Ukrainian authorities are ongoing.

According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, a 21-year-old Russian soldier will soon be tried for having killed an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian on his bicycle.

The soldier, Vadim Chichimarin, was traveling with four other Russian soldiers after their convoy was attacked on February 28, according to the prosecutor’s statement. They allegedly stole a car in the Sumy region (east) and Chichimarin shot dead the civilian “so that he would not report them”, according to the press release, which does not specify the date of the trial.

The United Nations Security Council is also due to meet Thursday from 10 a.m., at the request of France and Mexico, to examine the situation in Ukraine.



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