Finland is expected to announce on Thursday, May 12, its intention to join NATO with Sweden likely to follow soon after, diplomats and officials said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshapes European security and the Atlantic military alliance.
Five diplomats and officials told Reuters that NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to be given membership quickly, clearing the path for expanded troop deployment in the Nordic area during the one-year ratification process.
Norway, Denmark, and the three Baltic nations are already NATO members in the larger Nordic region, and the inclusion of Finland and Sweden would undoubtedly enrage Moscow, which sees NATO expansion as a direct danger to its own security.
The problem has been mentioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a rationale for his activities in Ukraine, which has stated a desire to someday join the alliance.
On the frontlines, Ukraine said on Wednesday that it had driven Russian forces back in the east and cut off gas shipments via Russian-controlled territory, heightening the prospect of a European energy crisis.
The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said that Pytomnyk, a village on the major route north of Kharkiv, roughly halfway to the Russian border, had been regained.
“The occupying forces moved to the defense to slow down the pace of the offensive of our troops,” it said. “The settlement of Pytomnyk… was liberated.”
The advance looks to be the most rapid that Ukraine has made since driving Russian soldiers out of northern Ukraine and away from the capital Kyiv in early April.
If this trend continues, Ukrainian troops may be able to threaten Russia’s main attack force’s supply lines, as well as place Russian rear logistical objectives within artillery range.
The Russian government refers to its efforts in Ukraine as a “special military operation” to demilitarize a neighbor who poses a security danger. It denies intentionally attacking people.
Ukraine claims it is not a danger and that Russia is fighting a conquering war as evidenced by the murder of thousands of civilians and the destruction of towns and cities.
Ukraine shut off Russian gas supplies through territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels on Wednesday, marking the first time the war has directly impacted imports to Europe.
Gas exports from Russia’s monopoly Gazprom to Europe via Ukraine decreased by a quarter after Kyiv claimed it had been obliged to block all supplies through one route, the Sokhranovka transit station in southern Russia.
Ukraine has accused militants supported by Russia of siphoning supplies.
If the supply cut continues, it will have the largest direct impact on European energy markets to date.
Moscow has also slapped sanctions on the owner of the Polish section of the Yamal pipeline, which transports Russian gas to Europe, as well as Gazprom’s former German subsidiary, whose subsidiaries serve Europe’s gas demand.
The implications for Europe, which buys more than a third of its gas from Russia, were not immediately clear.
Berlin said it was looking into the announcement. An Economy Ministry spokesperson said the German government was “taking the necessary precautions and preparing for various scenarios”.
As the fighting continued, the governor of Belgorod, a Russian province on the other side of the border from Kharkiv, reported a hamlet had been bombarded by Ukraine, injuring one person.
Few details concerning the march into Kharkiv have been confirmed by Ukrainian officials so far.
“We are having successes in the Kharkiv direction, where we are steadily pushing back the enemy and liberating population centers,” said Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of Ukraine’s General Staff.