UKRAINE UPDATE: 12 JULY 2023: Zelensky slams Nato over membership bid resistance; France to supply Kyiv with long-range missiles

UKRAINE UPDATE: 12 JULY 2023: Zelensky slams Nato over membership bid resistance; France to supply Kyiv with long-range missiles

Nato notched a significant breakthrough — just hours before the start of a two-day summit in Vilnius, Lithuania — when Turkey agreed to stop blocking Sweden’s bid to join and allies then agreed on a fast-track process for Ukraine’s membership, but only once “conditions are met”.

US President Joe Biden met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, when the two discussed Turkey’s request to purchase F-16s.  

Latest developments

Nato showed lack of political will on membership bid, says Ukraine minister

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Bloomberg Television in an interview that Nato shouldn’t keep “the whole situation and Ukraine in limbo when it comes to membership”. He added that all conditions were already in place for Kyiv to receive an invitation at the summit in Vilnius and Ukraine would keep working with Nato members on a timeline. 

“The shorter it will be, the better it will be for everyone,” he added.

Dutch Cabinet’s collapse won’t change plans on F-16s 

The Dutch government’s abrupt collapse last week won’t change the country’s plans to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine once pilot training has been completed, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Netherlands and Denmark are leading the coalition to prepare the pilots, with the support of the UK and Belgium. The Dutch government is already looking into and discussing with its allies possible deployment plans. Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte has pledged that his caretaker cabinet will continue to support Ukraine in its military response to Russia’s invasion. He spoke on Saturday with President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Nato offers cautious optimism on Ukraine’s counteroffensive  

Ukraine holds the initiative across most of the frontline as Russian forces are stretched and lack artillery ammunition, a Nato official told reporters in Vilnius.

Russia continued to build up its defensive lines in rear areas, especially near occupied Crimea as it expects Ukraine may attack there, the official told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Both sides were suffering high casualties, with Russian losses likely at the highest point since the peak of the battle for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, the official said. 

Cluster munitions will help Ukraine save ammunition, says Nato official 

Cluster munitions will reduce the need for Ukrainians to expend artillery ammunition, which is in short supply by having bomblets spread across a targeted area, a Nato official said.

The munitions, especially the reliable US version, are effective in targeting airfields but also military personnel in trenches and will also help Ukraine to get rid of obstacles like mines, a Nato official told journalists in Vilnius.

US President Joe Biden agreed this month to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, fulfilling a request from Zelensky despite concern from arms control groups and human rights activists about the potential harm to civilians.

France to supply long-range missiles to Ukraine, says Macron  

President Emmanuel Macron said France would increase its delivery of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, including long-range Scalp missiles with deep-strike capacity.

The decision had been taken to boost Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive, Macron told reporters without elaborating on the timing or volume of the deliveries. Scalp is a cruise missile developed by France and the UK in the 1990s and has a range of more than 250km. 

Kremlin warns Nato on Ukraine, Sweden membership 

Ukraine’s potential entry into Nato would be “very dangerous for European security”, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to the state-run Tass news service.

Peskov also said Russia would take unspecified measures in response to Sweden’s membership of the military alliance, which he said had “negative consequences” for Russian security. At the same time, he said, Russia recognised Turkey’s obligations to Nato in backing Sweden’s membership, adding that Moscow and Ankara would continue to cooperate in areas of common interest despite disagreements on other matters.

President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was intended in part to prevent Nato expansion towards Russia’s borders. Instead, Finland and Sweden reacted by seeking membership and Nato allies have delivered billions of dollars of weapons to Ukraine.

Zelensky slams Nato for soft language on membership 

Zelensky issued an emotional warning ahead of his arrival in Vilnius that he had received indications that Nato allies were mulling a summit outcome that won’t endorse Ukraine’s membership bid strongly enough or set a timeline.

“This looks like there’s neither readiness to invite Ukraine to Nato nor make it a member of the alliance,” Zelensky wrote in the statement posted on Twitter and Telegram. He said that such an “unprecedented and absurd” outcome leaves an opportunity to make Ukraine’s Nato membership bid a trading chip in potential negotiations with Russia. 

Sweden says Nato ratification can be completed in days or weeks

Sweden expects Turkey and Hungary to ratify its application to join Nato shortly, and not wait until their parliaments reconvene this fall, foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said, after the Nordic country signed an agreement with Turkey paving the way for full membership in the alliance.

“Turkey’s and Hungary’s parliaments can ratify within days or weeks,” Billstrom said in an interview in Vilnius. “We have a clear agreement that this will be done as soon as possible, and as soon as possible obviously doesn’t mean this fall.” 

UK’s Sunak says Ukraine membership not matter for now 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that while Nato allies were keen to make progress on Ukraine’s membership of the military bloc, it’s “not a question for right now.

“What’s important at this summit is that commitment is reaffirmed and also that there is demonstrable progress towards that goal,” Sunak told reporters travelling with him to Lithuania for the Nato meeting.

“I think the Ukrainians themselves — and the defence minister has said — that is not a question for right now while they are in the middle of a conflict,” he added. 

Germany unveils €700m arms package 

Germany announced an additional package of military equipment for Ukraine worth about €700-million, including 25 Leopard 1 battle tanks, 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, two launchers for the Patriot air-defence system and 20,000 artillery rounds.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government was already the second biggest contributor of military aid to Ukraine, with pledges totalling €7.5-billion through May 31, according to data compiled by the Kiel Institute. The US tops the list with more than €40-billion.

Stoltenberg proposes fast-track membership process for Ukraine  

When the time comes, Nato would put Ukraine on a faster track to join the alliance than is typically required under a plan proposed by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The streamlined plan would remove the requirement for a so-called membership action plan to prepare the country for joining, Stoltenberg said on Tuesday in Vilnius.

“This will turn the membership programme process for Ukraine from a two-step process to a one-step process,” he said. 

Finland wants smooth path for Ukraine to join 

Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen welcomed the breakthrough between Turkey and Sweden as a “huge deal” for Sweden, Finland and the alliance as a whole, adding that “the Baltic, the High North and the Arctic region all benefit from this”.

Nato allies are also set to provide Ukraine with a package of long-term support, including more concrete language about its membership prospects. “Finland’s position is that it’s important that we make the process for Ukraine as smooth as possible,” Valtonen said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

She said her country would help Ukraine to meet the criteria for membership, on the military side but also in areas related to society and democracy.

Stoltenberg says ammunition remains a challenge 

Stoltenberg said more allies were signing new contracts to boost the supply of key military items — with allies making the biggest new investments in defence in decades — and production is gradually increasing.

“There is a challenge on Ukraine running low of ammunition,” he said in Vilnius.

“With both Finland and Sweden into the alliance, the whole task of protecting the Baltic area becomes so much easier.” 

Hungary is ready to ratify Sweden’s Nato bid  

Hungary supports Sweden’s Nato accession and it remains a “technical matter” to close the lengthy ratification process in the Parliament in Budapest, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Tuesday.

Szijjarto said last week that Hungary would back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance once Turkey, the other holdout, gives a sign that it’s also ready to do so. Turkey has now given such a signal, though Szijjarto didn’t explicitly refer to that in his Facebook post on his departure for the Nato summit in Vilnius.

“It’s a purely technical matter to close the ratification process now,” Szijjarto said.

UK signs defence contract with BAE Systems 

The UK has signed a new £190-million contract with BAE Systems to produce more artillery shells for use by Britain and its allies. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday confirmed that the UK’s production capacity of 155mm artillery ammunition had increased eightfold, allowing it to replenish its stockpiles due to the injection of an extra £5-billion in funding over the last year. 

Biden looks to move forward with F-16 sale to Turkey 

The US will progress with Turkey’s request to purchase F-16s, according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. US President Joe Biden was to meet with Erdogan later on Tuesday. 

“Biden has been clear and unequivocal — for months he supported the transfer of F-16s,” Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday. “He has placed no caveats or conditions on that and he intends to move forward.”  

US sanctions Serbia’s spy chief over corruption allegations

The US imposed sanctions on the director of Serbia’s spy agency, a close ally of President Aleksandar Vucic, over claims that he’s helped Russia undermine stability in the Balkans and facilitated drug and weapons trafficking. 

Aleksandar Vulin was targeted for acts that include using his post for personal gain and supporting Russia, the US Treasury Department said. He helped ensure that weapons shipments by a Serbian arms dealer who is already under US sanctions could cross the country’s borders.

Vulin is accused of “facilitating Russia’s malign activities that degrade the security and stability of the Western Balkans and providing Russia a platform to further its influence in the region”, the Treasury said.

Vulin, the 50-year-old former defence minister who now heads Serbia’s Security Information Agency, was targeted under Executive Order 14033, which allows the US to sanction people linked to corruption in the Western Balkans. 

Russia’s cash flood turns to trickle as energy revenues slide

Russia’s current-account surplus slumped in the second quarter from its peak a year earlier, reflecting a rapidly worsening trade situation that’s putting the rouble under pressure.

The surplus in the current account — roughly the difference between exports and imports — decreased to $5.4-billion in the last quarter, from $76.7-billion in the same period in 2022, according to preliminary central bank data published on Tuesday. It’s the smallest surplus since the third quarter of 2020. 

Plummeting revenues from energy exports are cutting into proceeds that have provided the Kremlin with a critical source of hard currency since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. With the economy under unprecedented sanctions in response to the war, lower crude prices and capped gas flows to Europe are combining with a recovery in imports to narrow a windfall that reached a record $233-billion in 2022.

The central bank still expects a current account surplus of $47-billion this year and $38-billion in 2024. On Tuesday, it said in a statement that Russia’s worsening trade balance was caused by a decrease in export volumes as well as the decline in prices mainly for energy exports. 

The current account balance turned negative in June due to seasonal factors and dividend payments by Russian companies amid an unfavourable market environment, the bank said.  

Finnish president signals Russia may leave demilitarised islands

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto declined to rule out shuttering Russia’s consulate on the demilitarised archipelago of Aland in response to Moscow closing Finland’s biggest consulate.

When Russia last week told Finland to shut down its St Petersburg mission, Helsinki vowed to retaliate, signalling it might boot diplomats from the consulate in Turku on the southwest coast. Yet a public outcry has instead focused on the Aland Islands, which sit in a strategic position on the Baltic Sea, with questions raised on why Russia should be allowed such a presence on Nato territory, monitoring that they remain free from military activity.

Read more: Finland plots retaliation as Russia orders consulate closing

“We will see,” Niinisto said in an interview on Bloomberg TV on Tuesday when asked whether the Aland consulate could be shuttered, and describing the diplomatic mission as “one consul and his wife”. 

“In Turku they have a bigger consulate and that would be similar to St Petersburg,” he said. “But we haven’t taken a decision yet. At least Turku is clearly on the table.” DM


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