Ukraine Latest: NATO Says Turkey Doesn’t Plan to Block Nordics

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Bloomberg News

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Finland announced it will apply to join NATO, and Sweden is likely to follow. Turkey doesn’t plan to block the Nordic countries’ membership bids, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said after meetings in Berlin. The military alliance in June is expected to highlight Russian behavior as a direct threat in an updated strategic document. 

The UK defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of the forces it sent to Ukraine in February, and its offensive in the Donbas region has stalled. Ukraine on Saturday won the Eurovision Song Contest. 

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Key Developments

Russia’s Backyard Weighs Opportunities, Threats From Putin’s WarNATO Lauds Historic Moment as Finland Applies to Join AllianceEU Drafts Plan for Buying Russian Gas Without Breaking Sanctions’Straw Owner’ Hides $1 Billion Worth of Russian Yachts, US SaysEU Draft Cuts Euro-Area GDP Forecast, Sees 6.1% Inflation World’s Food Problems Piling Up as India Restricts Wheat Exports

All times CET:

NATO Chief Says Turkey Doesn’t Plan To Block Accession (3:22 p.m.)

“Turkey has made it clear that its intention is not to block membership” of NATO for Finland and Sweden, said Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, speaking after a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. 

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Stoltenberg said he was confident Turkey’s concerns , which came to the forefront on Friday, would be addressed without delaying the membership procedure. “A quick and swift process,” is still expected, he said.  

Addressing concerns about possible moves by Russia before the Nordic nations are fully ratified, Stoltenberg said “we will look into ways to provide security assurances, including by increasing NATO presence in the Baltic region, in and around Finland and Sweden.”

Some German Industry May Move to US in Gas Fallout (3:20 p.m.)

The shift from Russian gas to costlier LNG could prompt some German manufacturers to relocate to the US, Michael Huether, director of the research institute IW Cologne, said in an interview with Stuttgarter Zeitung and the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. 

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As Germany prepares to shift permanently away from cheaper Russian supplies, the US’s energy independence could make it an attractive option, Huether said. 

He added that Russia’s economy will be permanently damaged by its standoff with the West. “Putin is committing economic suicide,” Huether said.  

War Will Impact World for Decades, Germany Says (3 p.m.)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock predicted the war in Ukraine “will not be over so quickly” and said Germany and its international allies will face fallout from Russia’s invasion for decades. 

“Russia’s break with all the norms of peaceful coexistence, especially the European peace order, the deliberate destruction of humanitarian law: all this is a radical turning point in the international order,” Baerbock said after hosting talks with NATO counterparts in Berlin.  

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“All this has drastically changed the security situation in the European and Transatlantic sphere, and it requires far-reaching strategic answers,” she added.

Finnish President to Meet with US Senators (2:40 p.m.)

Sauli Niinisto will meet with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican senators John Barrasso, Susan Collins and John Cornyn in Helsinki on Monday, his office said. 

The meeting comes after Finland on Sunday said it would apply to join the NATO military alliance, and will focus on the Nordic country’s security policies and Russia’s war on Ukraine. McConnell and the senators met in Kyiv on Saturday with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. 

NATO Expected to Brand Russian Behavior a Direct Threat (12:19 p.m.)

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NATO allies are expected to highlight Russia’s behavior as a direct threat in an upcoming strategic document, where they’ll also address how to better support neighboring countries that are vulnerable to coercion and aggression, according to a NATO official. 

Allies will likely keep open the possibility of reviving relations if Moscow’s behavior changes, the official said, adding that the document will also address China and its relationship with Russia.

The so-called Strategic Concept document outlines the alliance’s priorities for the coming years, and is due to be finalized at NATO’s summit in Madrid in late June. The previous version, published in 2010, referred to Russia as a partner, wording that is set to be scrapped this time.

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Finland Applies to Join NATO to Deter Russian Aggression (12:03 a.m.)

Finland is applying to join the NATO defense alliance to deter potential aggression from Russia as its neighbor wages a full-scale war in Ukraine.

The formal decision was taken on Sunday, President Sauli Niinisto said at a press conference in Helsinki. The move comes days after Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the Nordic country “must apply for NATO membership without delay.”

Kuleba, Blinken Meet in Berlin (10:25 a.m.)

Ukraine’s foreign minister met with Antony Blinken in Berlin, where the US Secretary of State is attending the NATO meeting. Blinken relayed details of the latest round of U.S. security assistance for Ukraine. 

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Freeing up grain exports was among the topics of discussion as Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports prevents the breadbasket nation from shipping. 

The pair “committed to seeking a solution to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets,” according to a readout from the State Department.  

Russia Fires Cruise Missiles at Lviv Region, Governor Says (10:22 a.m.)

Russia’s navy fired cruise missiles at Lviv region in Ukraine’s far west, potentially from submarines in the Black Sea, regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyi said on Telegram. Four missiles hit a military target, with no casualties reported. Two were intercepted. 

Separately, an adviser to Mariupol Mayor Pitro Andryushchenko said Russian forces dropped incendiary bombs on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as part of ongoing assaults. 

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Ukraine’s defense of Azovstal is still tying down Russian combat troops and inflicting casualties, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which said ground, air and heavy artillery assaults continued on Saturday. Ukrainian officials are attempting a negotiated evacuation of medics and injured servicemen. 

Rheinmetall Adviser Criticizes Scholz Over Tank Delay (8:50 a.m.)

Dirk Niebel, an adviser to the German defense firm Rheinmetall AG, said Chancellor Olaf Scholz was dragging his feet over obtaining export approval for up to 100 of the company’s Marder tanks to Ukraine. 

“Do you want to lose more time? That costs even more lives,” Niebel, a former development minister, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. “You need to give Ukraine the support it needs for its survival fight now.” 

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The company has started to prepare the fighting vehicles and could start delivery in two to three weeks with sufficient ammunition, he said. Germany’s transfer of Gepard anti-aircraft vehicles has also been held up over a lack of ammunition.

Baerbock Says Sweden, Finland Could Join NATO Quickly (9:05 a.m.)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Berlin that Sweden and Finland would be able to join NATO “very quickly” if they decide to go ahead with applications, as is expected, and that there wouldn’t be a “grey zone” in the accession process. 

Her Canadian counterpart, Melanie Joly, underscored the need to move quickly, noting “disinformation campaigns that are going on in Finland and Sweden” as well.

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Russia’s Donbas Offensive Has Lost Momentum, UK Says (8:15 a.m.)

Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains in the Donbas region over the past month and during that time has sustained “consistently high levels of attrition,” the UK defence ministry said in an intelligence update.

“Russia has now likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February,” the UK said. “Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.”

The assessment comes days after Ukrainian repelled Russian attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in the Luhansk region, 

Russia’s Backyard Weighs Opportunities, Threats From Putin’s War (7 a.m.)

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With Putin’s invasion of Ukraine stalling, other former Soviet states are weighing prospects for pulling away from Moscow’s orbit even as they fear risks of potential border conflict. 

The war is sending tremors along an arc of instability stretching from Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova through the Caucasus and into Kazakhstan in central Asia. Putin’s intentions have become an urgent national security question in countries with so-called “frozen conflicts” or that have large pro-Russian minorities. 

UniCredit, Citigroup Explore Asset Swaps to Exit Russia: FT (6 a.m.)

UniCredit SpA and Citigroup Inc. are considering swapping assets with Russian financial institutions as they try to exit the country while avoiding large writedowns on their operations there, the Financial Times reported. 

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The banks have explored deals to swap their Russian businesses for the local buyer’s foreign units, people with knowledge of the plans told the newspaper. UniCredit is also working on deals with non-sanctioned banks to swap its Russian loan books for their foreign credit portfolios, according to the report.

Ukrainian Band Kalush Orchestra Wins Eurovision (1:20 a.m.)

The Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in a show of support for the war-torn nation, the Associated Press reported. The public vote from home was decisive in securing the band’s victory, according to the report.

Front man Oleh Psiuk made a plea to the live crowd and television audience of millions for the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped in the Azovstal steel plant to be freed, AP said. 

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy celebrated the victory in a Telegram post, saying “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” He said Ukraine will host the contest next year — as the winning country typically does — and hopes to “one day” host participants and guests in Mariupol.

‘Straw Owner’ Hides $1 Billion Worth of Russian Yachts, US Says (11:15 p.m)

US authorities are alleging that a Russian tycoon acted as the “straw owner” of two yachts worth more than $1 billion, including the $700 million Scheherazade, a superyacht linked to Putin.

Court filings in the South Pacific island of Fiji, where the US is trying to seize the $325 million yacht Amadea, reveal what US officials allege is a nest of offshore shell companies that were set up with the help of a yacht broker to conceal the true owners of both vessels — an allegation that lawyers for the listed owner and the broker dispute. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Fiji on the fate of the Amadea.

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The layers of companies and trusts, stretching from the Marshall Islands to Switzerland, indicate the beneficial owner of both yachts is the former president of state-controlled Rosneft OJSC, Eduard Khudainatov, according to the documents. Khudainatov doesn’t appear on any sanctions lists.

EU Drafts Sanctions-Compliant Russia Gas Buying Plan (9:30 p.m.)

The European Union is set to offer gas importers a solution to avoid a breach of sanctions when buying fuel from Russia and still effectively satisfy President Vladimir Putin’s demands for payment in rubles.

In new guidance on gas payments, the European Commission plans to say that companies should make a clear statement that they consider their obligations fulfilled once they pay in euros or dollars, in line with existing contracts, according to people familiar with the matter. The EU’s executive arm told the governments that the guidance will allow them to purchase gas without breaching EU sanctions.

The clock is ticking because many firms have payment deadlines this month. If they don’t pay, gas flows could be cut off. 

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