Russia’s War in Ukraine: US, EU Allies Pledge Arms for Kyiv, as Finland, Sweden Veer Closer to NATO

Written by | Friday, April 22nd, 2022

Russian forces have continued their new offensive in the east of Ukraine, assaulting cities and towns along a front hundreds of kilometers long, in what could be a potentially pivotal battle for control of the country’s industrial heartland. The Kremlin said it had launched a new phase of the invasion of Ukraine as fighting raged in the Donbas region and officials urged civilians to flee. “Another phase of this operation is beginning and I am sure it will be a very important moment in this entire special operation,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “the battle for Donbas” began on Monday (18 April), as Russian attacks in the region escalated, and promised that Ukraine would put up fierce resistance to Russia’s push there.
With the Russian offensive in eastern Donbas region escalating, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have promised military support for Ukraine. Seven planes carrying US weapons for Ukraine — part of an $800m weapons package that the Biden administration recently authorized — will be heading to Europe in the next 24 hours, a senior US defense official has said. Kyiv has called for additional weapons and support to stave off Moscow’s latest new offensive, where Russian forces have been amassing after their withdrawal from the Ukrainian capital area. In response, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz later said Germany intended to supply Ukraine with anti-tank and air defense weapons, as well as long-range artillery weapons, while the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised more artillery weapons as the conflict moved into a new phase.
Meanwhile, Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against their NATO bid, as politicians in Helsinki on Wednesday (20 April) are due to start debating whether the country should seek membership in the military alliance. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a spike in political and public support in both countries for joining the transatlantic bloc. The parliament session comes despite warnings by Russia of a nuclear buildup in the Baltic should Finland and neighboring Sweden join NATO. “I think it will happen quite fast. Within weeks, not within months,” Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said last week, referring to her country deciding on whether to apply for membership. The Nordic country, one of six EU member states, which traditionally has been militarily non-aligned, has been coordinating with Sweden that is also considering joining the military alliance. Nevertheless, the procedure in Sweden may be longer than in Finland — with some expecting Stockholm to apply for NATO membership; such a move would expand the western alliance from 30 to 32 members.
In a related but separate development, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised fears over a possible rise in crime and criminal activity in the EU, prompting its agencies to step up efforts. An internal EU document recently warned of the increased risk of human trafficking and sexual abuse, cyberattacks, infiltration of criminals, and circulation of weapons, drugs and illegal cigarettes. The EU also says there is a long-term risk that the flow of drugs to the EU will increase via Ukraine that is seen as a transiting country for heroin and other drugs like opium and methamphetamine from Afghanistan. Last month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) raised concerns over the risks of trafficking in persons fleeing Ukraine. The UN body especially warned about a potential increase in sexual abuse since most of the people leaving the country are women and children. The joint EU police agency, Europol, has deployed officers to Moldova, Poland and Slovakia to monitor potential threats regarding migrant smuggling and arms trafficking. While Ukrainian refugees can be targeted at different stages of their journey, Europol said the highest risks concern the targeting of victims under the pretense of promising transportation, free accommodation, employment or other sorts of support. It is estimated that four million people have so far left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

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