Finland and Sweden took a major step towards joining NATO on Wednesday, after their prime ministers said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.
The Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, said on Wednesday that her country, which shares a 1,300km border with Russia, would decide whether to apply to join the alliance “quite fast, in weeks not months”, the UK’s Guardian reported.
Russia has repeatedly warned both countries against joining NATO and would see any such move as a provocation. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has said that if Finland and Sweden entered NATO, Russia would have to “rebalance the situation” with its own measures.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Stockholm, with her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, Marin said Finland had to be “prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia” and that “everything had changed” when Moscow attacked Ukraine, the Guardian reported.
Both countries are officially non-aligned militarily, but became NATO partners – taking part in exercises and exchanging intelligence – after abandoning their previous stance of strict neutrality when they joined the EU in 1995 after the end of the cold war.
Finland declared independence in 1917 after more than a century of Russian rule, and its heavily outnumbered army twice fought off Soviet forces during the second world war before ceding some border territory. Sweden has not fought a war for 200 years.
Many commentators expect the two Nordic nations to act in tandem on whether to join, although Finland – widely seen as likely to apply before a NATO summit in Madrid scheduled for June – looks closer than Sweden.
A Swedish security policy review is expected to be completed before the end of May and Andersson has said she will await its outcome before making any decisions. However, a positive Finnish decision would put pressure on Sweden to follow suit.
Both countries have received public assurances from the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, that their applications would be welcome, as well as expressions of support from members including the US, UK, Germany and France. Any membership application must be accepted by all 30 Nato states, which could take four months to a year.
US, South Korea, Japan hold missile defense exercise with eye on North Korea, China
The United States, South Korea and Japan participated in a ballistic missile defense exercise off Hawaii’s coast last week, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, reviving combined drills with an eye on North Korea as well as China.
It was the first time the three countries have held such drills since 2017, after relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit their lowest in years in 2019 amid renewed historical disputes dating to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean Peninsula, Reuters reported.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative who took office in May, has vowed to improve relations with Japan and deepen the U.S. alliance to better deter North Korea, including by expanding or resuming joint drills.
The missile warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercise took place Aug. 8-14 during the multinational Pacific Dragon drills, and demonstrated the three countries’ commitment to respond to challenges posed by North Korea, protect shared security and bolster the rules-based international order, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The participants shared tactical data link information in accordance with a trilateral information sharing agreement, the statement said.
U.S.-led joint missile defence measures have been a sore point with China, which retaliated economically against South Korea’s 2016 decision to host a U.S. military Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
Beijing says the THAAD radar can penetrate its territory and has called on Yoon to honour assurances made by his predecessor to not to increase THAAD deployments, participate in a U.S.-led global missile shield or create a trilateral military alliance involving Japan.
Yoon has said those do not represent formal agreements and that Seoul is not bound by them.
South Korea’s ministry of defense also confirmed on Tuesday that its troops would resume long-suspended live field training during their joint military drills with the United States to be held from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1.
The two sides have scaled back combined military drills in recent years due to COVID-19 and efforts to lower tensions with the North, which has accused the exercises of being a rehearsal for invasion.
Putin says Russia and North Korea will expand bilateral relations
Russian President Vladimir Putin told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the two countries will “expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts,” Pyongyang’s state media reported on Monday.
In a letter to Kim for Korea’s liberation day, Putin said closer ties would be in both countries’ interests, and would help strengthen the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the Northeastern Asian region, North Korea’s KCNA news agency said.
Kim also sent a letter to Putin saying Russian-North Korean friendship had been forged in World War II with victory over Japan, which had occupied the Korean peninsula, Reuters reported.
The “strategic and tactical co-operation, support and solidarity” between the two countries has since reached a new level is their common efforts to frustrate threats and provocations from hostile military forces, Kim said in the letter. KCNA did not identify the hostile forces, but it has typically used that term to refer to the United States and its allies.
Kim predicted co-operation between Russia and North Korea would grow based on an agreement signed in 2019 when he met with Putin.
Author Salman Rushdie on ventilator after stabbing in New York
Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British author of a controversial book titled “The Satanic Verses” was stabbed as he was about to give a lecture in New York on Friday.
Police said Rushdie was stabbed “at least once in the neck, and at least once in the abdomen” after an assailant rushed to the stage and lunged at the 75-year-old writer just as he was being introduced to the audience.
Rushdie was airlifted to hospital where he spent hours in surgery. On Friday evening, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak.
“The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email to Reuters news agency. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
Police identified the suspect as 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey.
Stacey Schlosser, who witnessed the attack, told The Associated Press that Rushdie was stabbed six to eight times before the attacker was restrained.
“Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to react. I mean, there were tons of people that rushed the stage,” Schlosser said.
Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, has been banned in several countries, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.
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