Finland announced on Thursday that it would apply to join NATO "without delay," and Sweden is anticipated to follow suit, indicating that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will result in the same extension of the Western military alliance that Vladimir Putin sought to prevent.
The decision by the two Nordic countries to renounce the neutrality they maintained throughout the Cold War would be one of the most significant security moves in Europe in decades. The Kremlin reacted angrily to Finland's declaration, calling it a clear threat to Russia and threatening an unspecified response.
Russia's war in Ukraine reached a new turning point, with Ukrainian forces driving Russian troops out of the territory surrounding Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, their quickest progress since forcing Russia to retreat from the capital and northeast over a month prior.
Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg stated that Finland would be "warmly welcomed" and pledged a "smooth and swift" membership process. Adding Finland to the alliance would increase both Finland's and the coalition's security, he said.
Finland and Sweden are the two largest EU nations that have not yet joined NATO. Finland's 1,300-kilometer border with Russia will more than double the distance between the US-led alliance and Russia, bringing Nato troops within a few hours' drive of St. Petersburg's northern fringes.
In a joint statement, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated, "Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay," We hope that the remaining national procedures required for this decision will be taken swiftly within the coming days.
When asked if Finland's entry into NATO posed a direct threat to Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded, "Absolutely. The expansion of NATO does not increase the stability and safety of our continent.
"This cannot fail to arouse our regret, and is a reason for corresponding symmetrical responses on our side," he added, without elaborating on the prospective replies. In the past, Russian officials have discussed the possibility of stationing nuclear-armed missiles in the Baltic Sea.
Asked on Wednesday whether Finland would antagonize Russia by joining NATO, Niinisto responded, "Putin is to blame. Consider the mirror.
Five diplomats and officials told Reuters that Nato allies expect both nations to be awarded membership swiftly, allowing for a more prominent troop presence in the Nordic region to defend them during the one-year ratification process.
Putin mentioned the potential expansion of NATO as one of the primary reasons for the February commencement of Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine. Long aspired to join NATO, Ukraine has recently offered to accept a neutral status as part of peace negotiations.
Nato describes itself as a defensive alliance based on a treaty stating that an assault on one member is an attack on all, which offers US allies the protection of the American superpower, including its nuclear arsenal.
Moscow views this as a danger to its influence in neighboring nations. However, Putin's decision to attack Ukraine has created a shift in public opinion in the Nordic region with politica. Political decades supported neutrality suddenly adopting the idadoptedRussia is a threat.
Ukraine has launched a daring counteroffensive on the front lines in recent days, driving Russian forces from areas north and east of Kharkiv, where they had held the periphery since the start of the invasion.
Journalists from Reuters have established in recent days that Ukraine currently controls an area on the banks of the Siverskyy Donets River, approximately 40 kilometers from Kharkiv.
The Ukrainians have been pressing towards the Russian border in the north. In their most recent push, they announced on Wednesday the recapture of the settlement of Pytomnyk, located midway between the central highway north of Kharkiv and the Russian border.
"The withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv Oblast [region] is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population," the British Ministry of Defense said in a Thursday report.
In an evening update, the Ukrainian general staff said that the Russians were gathering near Kharkiv "in order to prevent our forces from advancing further" with fighting taking place where Russian troops had crossed the Siverskiy Donets.
Ukraine's advances near Kharkiv might put some of Russia's main supply lines to eastern Ukraine, located on the opposite bank of the river, within range of Ukrainian artillery and potentially allow it to assault staging facilities within Russia.
Both sides reported nocturnal attacks across the Russia-Ukraine border, but Reuters could not confirm these claims.
Ukrainian officials reported shelling across the border from the Russian border town of Tyotkino and airstrikes that killed and injured civilians in the northern Ukrainian city of Novgorod-Siversky. Russia reported one fatality and seven injuries in Solokhi, a border settlement near Belgorod.
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian military staff said that Russia had succeeded in advancing towards Kudryashivka and Sievierodonesk as part of Moscow's primary offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Airstrikes continued on Azovstal, a massive steelwork in the destroyed port city of Mariupol in the southern Ukraine, where Ukrainian defenders were making their final stand.
In the village of Vilkhivka, located in the eastern suburbs of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian advance made it possible for inhabitants to return and sift among the debris of homes destroyed in weeks of fierce fighting.
A grizzled senior recalled how Russian troops had used him and other villagers as human shields before withdrawing from brutal combat.
He snarled, "Can they really be called soldiers after that?" "They are motherfuckers and not soldiers!"