EU Hikes Military Aid for Ukraine as Sweden Edges to NATO Membership

Europe pledged another half billion dollars in military support for Kyiv on Friday and Sweden edged closer to joining NATO as the war in Ukraine entered its 12th week.

At a meeting of the world’s most powerful democracies, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promised Ukraine an extra 500 million euros ($520 million), bringing the bloc’s total military aid to two billion euros.

“The recipe is clear –- more of the same,” Borrell said.

Group of Seven foreign ministers are in the German sea resort of Wangels, where they are discussing the crisis with counterparts from Ukraine and Moldova.

“It is very important at this time that we keep up the pressure on Vladimir Putin by supplying more weapons to Ukraine, by increasing the sanctions,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared the G7 would provide support “over the long term… until Ukraine’s victory.”

President Vladimir Putin invaded Russia’s neighbor on February 24, unleashing a worldwide shock that has been felt especially in northern and eastern Europe.

Finland’s leaders on Thursday recommended their country ditch a decades-long posture of neutrality and join NATO as soon as possible.

In Sweden, a security policy review by parliamentary parties on Friday highlighted the advantage of becoming a member of the alliance.

“Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a deterrent effect in northern Europe,” it said.

“Within the framework of current cooperation, there is no guarantee that Sweden would be helped if it were the target of a serious threat or attack,” it said.

The report stopped short of offering a concrete recommendation, although expectations are high Sweden will follow Finland when the government announces its decisions in coming days.

Cruise Missiles

Many analysts see the war as turning into a grinding conflict after expectations of a lightning victory by Russia sputtered out.

After several weeks, Russia abandoned attempts to seize the capital Kyiv as the Ukrainian army defended fiercely and the West began to pump in billions of dollars’ worth of military support.

Since then, Russia has on focusing its efforts in the eastern region of Donbas, where it has been supporting ethnic Russian-separatists.

Ukraine’s army said Friday Russian artillery reinforcements had been brought in to shell villages in the northeastern Chernigiv region, near the border with Russia.

Russian troops are trying to establish “full control” over the eastern town of Rubizhne, it said.

Artillery and aviation power are pounding the southern port city of Mariupol, where a number of Ukrainian troops are holding out at a huge steelworks despite a weeks-long siege, it said.

The Russians are now making “massive use” of supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles to target civilian infrastructure, Ukrainian armed forces chief Valery Zaluzhny said on Facebook.

“One of the reasons for the enemy’s transition to this tactic is the refusal to use aviation, which suffers vast losses,” he said.

War Crimes

More than six million people have fled Ukraine, more than half of them going to neighboring Poland, according to the UN refugee agency.

Accounts of torture, sexual violence, and indiscriminate destruction by Russian troops are multiplying.

Witnesses who spoke to AFP in the village of Stepanki, near the eastern regional capital of Kharkiv, accused Russian forces of shelling a home, killing several people.

They said six people who lived in the house were drinking tea in the courtyard when a Russian tank approached.

“They started going into the house to hide,” said Olga Karpenko, 52, whose daughter was among those killed. The tank took aim and fired at them as they entered the house.

“Four people died, two were injured. My daughter died from a shrapnel wound in the back of her head,” Karpenko said.

The UN Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly on Thursday — in a session boycotted by Russia — to probe allegations of atrocities in the Kyiv, Chernigiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy regions.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has already begun its own inquiry, sending investigators to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.

Gas Supplies

Economists on Friday were poring over the impact of a downturn in Russian gas supplies for Europe, where several countries, including Germany, are heavily dependent on Russian energy.

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced Thursday it would stop supplying gas via the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline following retaliatory sanctions that Moscow imposed on Western companies.

Gazprom also said gas transiting to Europe via a site in Ukraine had dropped by a third.

Ole Hvalbye, a specialist with the Scandinavian bank SEB, said the loss through Ukraine amounted to around two percent of European gas consumption, while the Polish pipeline had carried little gas for several months.

The fall is “not dramatic… (but) sends a signal about what could happen next,” he said.

Ukraine and Poland are major supply routes for Russian gas to Europe and the two sides have kept flows going despite the conflict.

Last year, Russian imports accounted for nearly 40 percent of the EU’s gas consumption.

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