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NATO members have pledged support for an “irreversible path” to future membership for Ukraine and more aid. Although a formal timeline for Ukraine’s NATO membership wasn’t agreed upon at the Washington DC summit, the 32 members expressed “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s war effort. NATO announced further integration with Ukraine’s military and committed €40 billion in aid over the next year, including F-16 fighter jets and air defense support. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that supporting Ukraine is in NATO’s own security interest.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the transfer of US-built F-16 jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands, expected to be operational this summer. NATO members also agreed to establish a new unit to coordinate military aid and training for the Ukrainian army, aiming to deepen ties with Ukraine. The joint statement highlighted Ukraine’s “concrete progress” on necessary reforms but stated that a formal membership invitation would be extended only when certain conditions are met.

The summit’s declaration identified Russia as the most significant threat to security and criticized China for supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. Beijing responded angrily, accusing NATO of fabricating disinformation and provoking confrontation. China also urged NATO to stay out of the Asia-Pacific region, accusing the alliance of undermining regional peace and stability by strengthening military ties with China’s neighbors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended the summit, meeting with world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer and US politicians, to secure continued support for Ukraine. NATO leaders aimed to present a united front on Ukraine, despite recent Russian gains on the battlefield and the absence of a clear timeline for Ukraine’s NATO membership. The summit, marking NATO’s 75th anniversary, occurred amid political challenges for US President Joe Biden and concerns over potential impacts of US domestic politics on the alliance. Biden reaffirmed support for Ukraine and called for increased defense investment from NATO members.

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Calls for calm have been issued in Finland and the Baltic states following a draft Russian decree proposing border revisions in the Baltic Sea. Latvia is seeking clarification, while Lithuania accuses the Kremlin of using the decree as an intimidation tactic. Finnish President Alexander Stubb stated that political leaders are monitoring the situation and Finland will respond calmly and factually.

The draft, issued by Russia’s defense ministry, suggested altering sea borders around Russian islands in the Gulf of Finland and the exclave of Kaliningrad. Initially reported by Russia’s Tass news agency, the draft aimed to redraw Soviet-era borders from January 1985. It was unclear if Finnish or Lithuanian waters near Kaliningrad would be affected, but the proposal included the eastern Gulf of Finland, islands near the Finnish coast, and areas around Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in Kaliningrad.

As members of the EU and NATO, Finland and the Baltic states have the alliance’s commitment to defend their borders. Finland’s defense and foreign committees convened emergency meetings, with Prime Minister Petteri Orpo stating there is no immediate cause for alarm.

The Russian proposals were subsequently removed from public view with a “draft deleted” notice. A Russian source later confirmed no plans to alter territorial waters in the Baltic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov directed questions to the defense ministry, noting the political landscape had changed since the 1980s and emphasizing the heightened confrontation in the Baltic region.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs suggested Russia’s approach was typical: probing reactions and retreating if met with resistance. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described the draft as an escalation against NATO and the EU, advocating a strong response.

Simultaneously, Sweden’s armed forces chief, Gen Micael Byden, warned of Putin’s ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Byden stressed the importance of keeping the Baltic Sea out of Putin’s control to maintain peace and stability. Sweden, a NATO member since March, has reinforced its military presence on the Baltic island of Gotland, which Gen Byden believes Russia has targeted.

In response to potential migration issues, Finland, which joined NATO last year, plans to prevent large-scale asylum seeker crossings from Russia. Helsinki fears Russia might exploit migration, but the UN refugee agency warns the draft law could lead to harmful pushbacks of legitimate asylum seekers, risking severe injuries, family separations, and deaths, according to UNHCR’s Philippe Leclerc.

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Special services in Poland uncovered and removed listening devices in a room where cabinet ministers were scheduled to convene. The regular cabinet meeting, typically held in Warsaw, was relocated to Katowice due to the attendance of several ministers, including Prime Minister Donald Tusk, at an economic conference there.

The increased spying activity in Poland is attributed to its role as a hub for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in 2022. The State Protection Service, in collaboration with the Internal Security Agency, detected and dismantled the eavesdropping devices during a routine security sweep of the room. The Internal Security Agency is currently investigating the matter further.

Despite the discovery, the cabinet meeting proceeded as planned in the building. A spokesperson for the Silesia regional authorities suggested that the device may have been part of the room’s old communication system.

In a separate development, a Polish judge sought asylum in Belarus, citing concerns over Poland’s policies towards Belarus and Russia. The judge’s actions have raised suspicions of espionage, particularly as he was due to preside over cases involving security clearance for NATO-related information.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski condemned the judge’s actions, referring to him as a traitor. Prime Minister Tusk has called for a meeting of the Secret Services College to discuss potential Russian and Belarusian influence in Polish politics. He emphasized concerns about the judge’s long-standing relationship with Belarusian authorities and its implications for national security.

This incident comes after the previous year’s arrest of several members of an alleged Russian spy network in Poland, accused of planning sabotage near the Ukrainian border.

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Ukraine’s President Zelensky has expressed concerns over Russia’s offensive tactics amid delays in Western weapon deliveries, particularly from the US, despite a recently approved $61 billion aid package. Zelensky emphasized the urgency of faster deliveries, citing the need for artillery shells and air defense systems to counter Russian aggression.

The situation escalated after a Russian missile strike killed four civilians and wounded dozens in Odesa. Russian forces also claimed the capture of additional villages in eastern Ukraine, heightening tensions along the frontline.

NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg echoed Zelensky’s sentiments, acknowledging Ukraine’s urgent need for weapons and the detrimental impact of delayed aid on the battlefield. However, he expressed optimism that forthcoming arms deliveries could help bolster Ukraine’s defenses.

Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO’s support for Ukraine’s eventual membership but downplayed the possibility of an official invitation at the upcoming Washington summit. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces reported withdrawals from positions in Donetsk amidst intensified Russian attacks.

The dire humanitarian situation was underscored by the harrowing journey of a 98-year-old woman who traversed several kilometers to escape shelling in the eastern village of Ocheretyne. Her ordeal serves as a poignant reminder of the human cost of the conflict.

The long-awaited approval of US military aid offers hope for replenishing Ukraine’s dwindling supplies, which have been stretched thin amid the ongoing conflict. Delays in aid delivery have been attributed to the loss of lives and territory, highlighting the critical need for timely support from Western allies.

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Two separate Russian strikes in Ukraine’s central Dnipropetrovsk region resulted in eight fatalities, including two children. The attacks targeted the main city of Dnipro and the town of Synelnykove, damaging homes and infrastructure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized the necessity for cities to have sufficient air defenses following the incidents.

Additionally, Ukraine claimed to have downed a long-range bomber inside Russian territory for the first time. In Synelnykove, six people, including an eight-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, were killed during the strikes on private residences. Another child was critically injured, with several others wounded. The regional capital, Dnipro, also suffered casualties when the train station and a five-story building were hit, resulting in two deaths and numerous injuries.

Rescue efforts are ongoing, with concerns that the casualty count may increase. Ukraine has repeatedly raised alarms about its dwindling arsenal capable of defending against Russian attacks, prompting calls for urgent military assistance from NATO. The recent escalation follows a deadly attack in Chernihiv, where 18 people were killed by Iskander cruise missiles.

Despite months of obstruction, a $60.8 billion US military aid package has seen renewed interest from Republican lawmakers, with a potential vote looming. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s air force claimed to have downed a Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber, which crashed in Russia’s Stavropol region after launching a missile strike on Ukraine. Russia attributed the incident to a technical malfunction, with two pilots rescued and efforts underway to locate others. This marks the latest in a series of confrontations between the two nations, with Ukraine citing the bomber’s use of Kh-22 missiles in attacks on Ukrainian cities.

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Russian authorities have reported several incidents of vandalism occurring at polling stations during the initial day of the presidential elections. These acts included pouring green dye into ballot boxes, setting them ablaze, and igniting fireworks within the polling stations. Despite these disturbances, Vladimir Putin is expected to secure another six-year term in office, as there is no significant opposition challenging his candidacy.

The voting process spans three days until Sunday, with turnout reaching 23% in Moscow by late afternoon. Most of the reported incidents took place in Moscow, Voronezh, and the region of Karachay-Cherkessia. BBC Verify has confirmed footage of several incidents, including the throwing of petrol bombs and the pouring of paint into ballot boxes.

Some incidents occurred in occupied areas of Ukraine, resulting in at least eight arrests. While the motives behind these acts remain unclear, some vandals reportedly shouted pro-Ukrainian slogans. The Central Election Committee has confirmed five incidents involving liquids being poured into ballot boxes, with the substance identified as “zelyonka,” commonly used as an antiseptic but also in protests.

Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova strongly condemned the perpetrators, labeling them as “scumbags.” She revealed that some of those detained admitted to committing the acts for financial gain and could face up to five years in jail. Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Putin’s critic Alexei Navalny, has called for opposition protests at polling stations on Sunday. She urged the West not to recognize Putin’s presidency, a sentiment echoed by NATO’s secretary-general, who declared the election not free and fair.

Polling stations opened in Kamchatka at 08:00 local time on Friday and will close in Kaliningrad at 20:00 on Sunday, marking the conclusion of the voting process.

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Denmark has announced significant reforms to its military, including extending conscription to women for the first time and increasing the standard service duration. This decision is part of a plan to bolster its defense capabilities and align with NATO targets amid heightened tensions in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen emphasized that the aim of these reforms is not to seek conflict but to prevent it. The government intends to achieve gender equality in the armed forces, with Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen stressing that more inclusive conscription will address defense challenges and contribute to national mobilization.

Denmark will become the third European nation, after Norway and Sweden, to mandate women’s conscription starting from 2026, alongside extending service duration for both genders from four to 11 months. These changes aim to increase the number of individuals serving in the military annually from 4,700 to 5,000, with approximately 25% being women.

With a current armed forces strength of around 20,000 personnel, Denmark, with a population of nearly six million, plans to raise its military spending from 1.4% to 2% of GDP to meet NATO’s requirements. Lawmakers have taken measures such as abolishing a public holiday to redirect funds towards defense spending.

Denmark has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine, providing advanced weapons, financial aid, and training to Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. Additionally, Finland and Sweden have recently joined NATO as the alliance strengthens its defenses in Europe amid ongoing geopolitical tensions.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently stated that if Donald Trump were to be re-elected as the President of the United States, he would not provide funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion. Orban asserted that Trump has made assurances to swiftly end the conflict if elected again, albeit without offering detailed plans. According to Orban, Ukraine lacks the capacity to sustain the war without financial and military support from the United States.

Orban’s vocal support for Trump was evident during his recent visit to Florida, where he met with the former president. Notably, Orban did not arrange a meeting with the incumbent US President, Joe Biden. This move has raised eyebrows, particularly as it’s unusual for a visiting foreign leader not to meet with the current administration. Orban’s stance on Ukraine stands in contrast to many European Union leaders who advocate for providing aid to Ukraine and criticize Orban’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Concerns are growing within the international community that a potential second Trump presidency could lead to a reduction in US assistance to Ukraine and NATO. The deadlock in the US Congress over a foreign aid bill further exacerbates these worries. Influenced by Trump’s stance, Republican lawmakers are insisting on additional funding for border security before advancing the bill. Trump himself has suggested offering loans to Ukraine instead of providing aid without conditions.

Meanwhile, as Russian forces continue to make gains in eastern Ukraine, the country faces acute shortages of ammunition. Ukraine heavily relies on weaponry from the US and other Western allies to counter Russia’s significant military strength. The ongoing conflict underscores the critical importance of international support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression.

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Many Swedes are expressing relief and a sense of safety now that Sweden has officially joined NATO after nearly two years of application. The decision to apply for NATO membership was prompted by concerns over Russian aggression in the region, particularly after the invasion of Ukraine.

While there is widespread support for membership, some opposition remains, primarily from the Left and Green parties, who fear being drawn into conflicts and prefer diplomatic solutions.

Despite concerns about potential conflicts, the government and military maintain that NATO membership will enhance Sweden’s security.

However, there are mixed opinions among the public, with some welcoming the decision while others worry about potential repercussions. While there hasn’t been widespread panic, there are discussions about the visible impact of NATO membership, such as increased military cooperation and the presence of foreign soldiers on Swedish soil.

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Sweden has cleared the final obstacle to its NATO membership after Hungary’s parliament voted to ratify its bid, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Initially met with delays and accusations of hostility from Hungary, Sweden’s application gained traction as Prime Minister Viktor Orban signaled support, emphasizing solidarity between the two nations.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson hailed the parliamentary ratification as a historic milestone, marking a significant departure from Sweden’s longstanding policy of neutrality spanning two centuries. This decision reflects Sweden’s commitment to defending its values and interests within the framework of the NATO alliance.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg lauded Hungary’s approval, emphasizing its role in strengthening and ensuring the security of the alliance. With parliamentary hurdles cleared, Sweden now awaits the formal invitation to join the 31-member NATO group, signaling a transformative shift in its defense posture and regional security dynamics.

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