Madrid (AFP), June 28 – The United States will strengthen Europe’s defenses with a wave of new military deployments, President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday, as more Russian missiles crashed into Ukrainian cities.
News of the US plan came as NATO leaders gathered to welcome Sweden and Finland as candidates for alliance membership, a double blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his attempt to redesign the Europe security map.
Biden bragged that the US announcement was exactly what Putin “didn’t want” and Moscow reacted with predictable fury, denouncing Sweden and Finland’s entry plan as “destabilizing” and blaming a NATO “aggressive” to seek to contain Russia.
As Western leaders gathered in Madrid, Ukrainian officials complained that Russian missiles had hit civilian homes and businesses in and around the cities of Dnipro, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, killing at least seven and injuring 14.
In Kremenchuk, the town where a Russian missile destroyed a shopping center on Monday and – according to local officials – killed at least 18 civilians, clearance operations continued.
A giant crane was working near the impact site and in the rubble-strewn parking lot, shopping carts full of clothes and household items lay abandoned.
Western leaders have called the Kremenchuk strike a war crime and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded a visit by UN investigators. Russia said it was targeting a Ukrainian depot stockpiling Western weapons.
– ‘What needs to be done’ –
The Russian Defense Ministry said it inflicted serious casualties on Ukrainian troops defending the town of Lysychansk in the eastern Donbass region and said the Kharkiv attack hit Ukrainian command centers and a military base. training for foreign “mercenaries”.
Moscow’s February 24 invasion of pro-Western Ukraine triggered massive economic sanctions and an outpouring of support for Zelensky’s government, including shipments of advanced weapons.
At this week’s summit, two formerly neutral European countries – Sweden and Finland, Russia’s northwest neighbor – will be accepted as candidates for NATO membership and Washington has announced that it will transfer the headquarters of his 5th Army Corps in Poland.
An army brigade will move in and out of Romania, two F-35 fighter squadrons will be deployed in Britain, US air defense systems will be sent to Germany and Italy, and the US Navy destroyer fleet in Spain will drop from four to six.
“That’s exactly what he didn’t want, but exactly what needs to be done to ensure Europe’s security,” Biden said, of Putin’s efforts to roll back Western influence and restore power. influence or control over the territories of the former Russian Empire.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO enlargement was “the opposite” of what Putin had hoped for, and said leaders at the summit would “clearly state that Russia represents a direct threat to our security”.
Moscow has taken the bait.
– Arms shipments –
“The Madrid summit confirms and consolidates the policy of this bloc of aggressive containment of Russia,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, Russian news agencies reported.
“We regard the enlargement of the North Atlantic alliance as a purely destabilizing factor in international affairs.”
Swedish and Finnish leaders are to be welcomed as candidates for full alliance membership, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to lift his veto threat – NATO ally blames Stockholm and Helsinki to house wanted Kurdish activists.
Turkey announced on Wednesday that it would seek the extradition of 33 suspected “terrorists” under the agreement signed on Tuesday with Sweden and Finland to allow them to make offers of membership.
On Tuesday, Zelensky addressed the NATO summit via video link, asking for modern artillery and financial support.
“We need much more modern systems, modern artillery,” he said, calling financial support “no less important than help with weapons.”
NATO countries, which have already committed billions of dollars in military assistance to Kyiv, will agree on a major military and economic support package to help them repel the Russian invasion.
A sanctions task force made up of key allies of Ukraine has frozen more than $330 billion in financial resources held by Russia’s elite and its central bank since the invasion of Moscow, it announced on Wednesday. .
– Missile artillery –
Russia’s Task Force on Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO) says allies have frozen $30 billion in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and officials and tied up $300 billion belonging to Russia’s central bank .
Norway has said it will donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decisions by Britain, Germany and the United States.
Kyiv wants long-range missile artillery to counter Russia’s superiority in shorter-range guns on Ukraine’s eastern battlefield.
Earlier this week, at their summit in Germany, the G7 leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies agreed to impose new sanctions targeting Moscow’s defense industry, raising tariffs and banning imports of country gold.
But the Kremlin was unfazed, insisting Ukrainian forces must surrender to end the fighting.
“The Ukrainian side can stop everything before the end of the day,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“An order for nationalist units to lay down their arms is necessary,” he said, adding that Kyiv had to respond to a list of demands from Moscow.