A ceremony was to be held at NATO headquarters on Tuesday afternoon to add the Finnish flag to those of other members of the group,
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Finland would join the military alliance on Tuesday, less than a year after the country submitted its application in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that Finland is bringing a well-trained and well-equipped army to the alliance after Turkey became the last existing member to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous.
Stoltenberg also said that he is “absolutely sure” that Sweden will follow Finland as a new NATO member and that it is a priority that it happens as soon as possible.
Turkey has opposed Sweden’s candidacy, mainly because, according to Ankara, Sweden is too lenient towards groups that Turkey considers terrorists. Stoltenberg said he believes Sweden has followed the steps he agreed to in talks with Turkey to alleviate those concerns.
He also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded less NATO presence on the alliance’s eastern flank before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and that with offers from Finland and Sweden, Putin ended with the opposite.
“He is getting more NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance and he is getting two new members in Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said.
As NATO foreign ministers prepare for their talks, Stoltenberg said there is an urgent need for lethal and non-lethal support for Ukraine and called on allies to “maintain and further increase” their support. He noted that Ukraine also needs financial help.
Fight in backhaul
Ukrainian and Russian forces gave conflicting reports Sunday night about the state of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the site of months of fierce fighting between the two sides.
The head of Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group said his forces had raised a Russian flag over the administration building in Bakhmut and seized control “from a legal point of view.”
Ukraine’s army said Russian forces continued storming Bakhmut, but Ukrainian troops were “courageously defending the city while repelling numerous enemy attacks.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night speech on Sunday that the situation in Bakhmut was “especially hot” on Sunday.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called for the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, whom Russia has accused of spying, as Blinken spoke on the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Sunday.
A statement by US State Department Senior Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel did not mention the journalist by name.
In response to Blinken, Lavrov said that Gershkovich’s fate would be determined by a Russian court and told Blinken that it was unacceptable for Washington to politicize the case. Lavrov said the journalist was caught “red-handed,” although Russia has yet to produce evidence.
The statement said Blinken also sought the release of US citizen Paul Whelan, who has been detained for 1,553 days after being sentenced to a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage.
American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was released from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner exchange last year, urged the Biden administration to continue using “every tool possible” to secure the release of the American reporter.
The Kremlin claims that Gershkovich was using journalism as a cover for spying, something the newspaper has vehemently denied. The Wall Street Journal demanded Gershkovich’s immediate release, calling his arrest Thursday “a callous affront to a free press.” At the same time, The New York Times published a statement from a coalition of news organizations expressing deep concern over Gershkovich’s arrest.