The Ukraine-Russia War: Live Updates – The New York Times

For years, President Vladimir Putin viewed NATO expansion as an existential threat that would leave Russia trapped with Western missiles on its doorstep. Now, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have revived the Russian leader’s nightmare, as NATO is on the cusp of its biggest potential expansion in nearly two decades.

After traversing a postwar era of non-alignment and neutrality, Sweden and Finland are now actively exploring the possibility of joining the military alliance forged in the Cold War, with officials from both countries scheduled to meet their NATO counterparts on Saturday.

Russia immediately criticized, halted electricity exports to Finland and promised an unspecified “military-technical” response after warning that the move would pose a clear threat to its national security.

Some analysts have expressed concern that Russia is paving the way for the threat to deploy nuclear weapons near the border with Finland. But officials in both Sweden and Finland have played down the threat, noting that with Russia’s enclave of Kaliningrad only 200 miles away, Moscow already has nuclear-capable missiles at easy range.

The admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO, a process that could take up to a year to complete, would bring the Western military alliance directly to Russia’s 810-mile border with Finland and mark another profound shift in Europe’s strategic landscape. Because of the Russian war in Ukraine. At the same time, the Pentagon is rotating new forces in Europe to reinforce the eastern flank of the coalition, indicating that the temporary reinforcement of forces is likely to become permanent.

As Western powers engaged in what Ukraine’s defense minister called a “long new phase” of the war, developments on the ground carried the idea that Ukraine was still fighting Russia persistently in the east and reported that it was gaining ground.

credit…Finbar O’Reilly for The New York Times

In recent days, Ukrainian forces have begun consolidating their control over the main city of Kharkiv, after months of Russian attacks and heavy bombardment. Ukrainian officials, seemingly replaying the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv, said their affected battalions were withdrawing in order to protect vital supply lines to the east and reinforce troubled units elsewhere in the Donbass in the east of the country.

The head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration said Saturday that Ukrainian forces have launched a counterattack against Russian forces around the northeastern city of Izyum, which Russia seized last month and had hoped to use as a base to head south to other major cities.

In a flurry of American diplomacy, Kentucky minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell made a surprise visit Saturday to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky. The entourage of US lawmakers was the latest to travel to the country as the US deepens its commitment to Kyiv’s fight against the Russian invasion.

The US Secretary of State, Anthony J. Blinken, is in Germany on Saturday, to meet with his NATO counterparts ahead of talks with Sweden and Finland.

In a phone call on Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was seeking to join NATO because Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine had “fundamentally changed” Finland’s security environment.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Mr. Putin had warned the Finnish leader of the “mistake” of abandoning Finland’s policy of military neutrality.

“By joining NATO, Finland strengthens its security and assumes its responsibility,” the Finnish president said in a statement, adding that Finland wants to “attend to practical issues arising from being a neighbor of Russia in a correct and professional manner.”

credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

There was initial alarm as Turkey, a longtime member of NATO, signaled this week that it might seek to prevent northern countries from joining the alliance. But a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday retracted any potential challenge, saying Turkey was only trying to ensure that the security concerns of coalition members were responded to.

The potential growth of NATO has added to the growing list of setbacks for Mr. Putin. Russia’s military offensive in eastern Ukraine remains stalled, and the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said in its latest assessment that the Ukrainians have now won the Battle of Kharkiv.

Having failed in its initial campaign to seize the Ukrainian capital and overthrow the government, the Kremlin cannot accept another defeat in the East.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Saturday, the country’s military intelligence chief, Major-General Kirillo Budanov, said the coming months would be crucial.

“The breaking point will be in the second half of August,” he said. “Most active combat operations will be over by the end of this year.”

But with Russian forces turning back around Kharkiv toward the Russian border, they are expected to fight hard to keep vital supply routes open through the region. Russia also controls a large swath of land across southeastern Ukraine, where it is increasingly consolidating its position. Analysts say the military campaign will continue to turn into a long-term path characterized by heavy casualties on both sides and devastating long-range bombing.

credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, has warned of “very difficult weeks” ahead. “No one can say for sure how many there will be,” he said in a statement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the battle to regain control of the Russian-occupied territories would be long and arduous, but vowed not to give it up.

“The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy,” he said.

The impact of battlefield engagements continues to spread around the world.

credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The war halted wheat production in Ukraine and Russia, both major suppliers, while fighting and a naval blockade in the Black Sea disrupted grain transportation. Poor harvests in China, along with a heat wave in India and drought in other countries, have also increased global supplies.

But India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, says it is banning exports with some exceptions, a move that could exacerbate global shortages exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and deepen the already dire outlook for hunger worldwide.

India holds about 10 percent of the world’s grain reserves, according to US Department of Agriculture data, a large surplus resulting from its massive subsidies to its farmers. It was seen for months as a country that could help make up for the shortfall in global supplies.

“Russia’s war of aggression has spawned one of the most serious food and energy crises in modern history,” the leaders of the world’s richest democracies, the Group of Seven, said in a statement on Saturday, adding that the problem “now threatens those more than others.” vulnerable all over the world.”

credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Contribute to reporting Carlotta Gal from Kharkiv, Ukraine; Mark Santora from Krakow, Poland; Stephen Erlanger from Tallinn, Estonia; Matthew Mbok Big And Cassandra’s Vineyard from London; Emily Cochran from Washington; And Sameer Yasir from New Delhi.

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