Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week

NATO leaders and delegates take part in a session during a NATO Summit conference in Bucharest, Romania on April 3, 2008. (AP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 10 May 2022

Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week

  • Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years
  • Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II

STOCKHOLM: To join or not to join? The NATO question is coming to a head this week in Finland and Sweden where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered the long-held belief that remaining outside the military alliance was the best way to avoid trouble with their giant neighbor.
If Finland’s president and the governing Social Democrats in both countries come out in favor of accession in the next few days, NATO could soon add two members right on Russia’s doorstep.
That would be a historic development for the two Nordic countries: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II.
NATO membership was never seriously considered in Stockholm and Helsinki until Russian forces attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24. Virtually overnight, the conversation in both capitals shifted from “Why should we join?” to “How long does it take?”
Along with hard-nosed Ukrainian resistance and wide-ranging Western sanctions, it’s one of the most significant ways in which the invasion appears to have backfired on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If Finland and Sweden join the alliance, Russia would find itself completely surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.
“There is no going back to the status quo before the invasion,” said Heli Hautala, a Finnish diplomat previously posted to Moscow and a research fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, the Western leader who appeared to have the best rapport with Putin before the Ukraine war, is expected to announce his stance on NATO membership on Thursday. The governing Social Democratic parties in both countries are set to present their positions this weekend.
If their answer is “yes,” there would be robust majorities in both parliaments for NATO membership, paving the way for formal application procedures to begin right away.
The Finnish Social Democrats led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin are likely to join other parties in Finland in endorsing a NATO application. The situation in Sweden isn’t as clear.
The Swedish Social Democrats have always been staunchly committed to nonalignment, but party leader and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has said there’s a clear “before and after Feb. 24.”
The party’s women’s faction, led by Climate and Environment Minister Annika Strandhall, has come out against NATO membership.
“We believe that our interests are best served by being militarily nonaligned,” Strandhall told Swedish broadcaster TV4. “Traditionally, Sweden has been a strong voice for peace and disarmament.”
Neither Finland nor Sweden is planning a referendum, fearing it could become a prime target of Russian interference.
Sweden and Finland have sought — and received — assurances of support from the US and other NATO members in the application period should they seek membership.
Both countries feel they would be vulnerable in the interim, before they’re covered by the alliance’s one-for-all, all-for-one security guarantees.
The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if the Swedes and Finns decide to join NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said last month it would force Moscow to strengthen its military presence in the Baltic region.
However, analysts say military action against the Nordic countries appears unlikely, given how bogged down Russian forces are in Ukraine.
Many of the Russian troops stationed near the 1,300-kilometer (830-mile) border with Finland were sent to Ukraine and have suffered “significant losses” there, Hautala said.
She said potential Russian countermeasures could include moving weapons systems closer to Finland, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, economic countermoves and steering migration toward the Russian-Finnish border, similar to what happened on Poland’s frontier with Belarus last year.
There are signs that Russia already has increased its focus on Sweden and Finland, with several airspace violations by Russian military aircraft reported in recent weeks and an apparent campaign in Moscow with posters depicting famous Swedes as Nazi sympathizers. Putin used similar tactics against Ukraine’s leaders before launching what the Kremlin called its “special military operation.”
After remaining firmly against membership for decades, public opinion in both countries shifted rapidly this year. Polls show more than 70 percent of Finns and about 50 percent of Swedes now favor joining.
The shocking scenes playing out in Ukraine made Finns draw the conclusion that “this could happen to us,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
During the Cold War, Finland stayed away from NATO to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, while Sweden already had a tradition of neutrality dating to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. But both countries built up robust conscription-based armed forces to counter any Soviet threat. Sweden even had a nuclear weapons program but scrapped it in the 1960s.
The threat of a conflict flared up in October 1981 when a Soviet submarine ran aground off the coast of southwestern Sweden. Eventually the sub was tugged back out to sea, ending a tense standoff between Swedish forces and a Soviet rescue fleet.
As Russia’s military power declined in the 1990s, Finland kept its guard high, while Sweden, considering a conflict with Russia increasingly unlikely, downsized its military and shifted its focus from territorial defense toward peacekeeping missions in faraway conflict zones.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 prompted the Swedes to reassess the security situation. They reintroduced conscription and started rebuilding defensive capabilities, including on the strategically important Baltic Sea island of Gotland.
Defense analysts say Finland and Sweden have modern and competent armed forces that would significantly boost NATO’s capabilities in Northern Europe. Finnish and Swedish forces train so often with NATO that they are essentially interoperable.
Adding new members typically takes months, because those decisions need to be ratified by all 30 NATO members. But in the case of Finland and Sweden, the accession process could be done “in a couple of weeks,” according to a NATO official who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified because no application has been made by the two countries.
“These are not normal times,” he said.


British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

Updated 11 August 2022

British Daesh ‘Beatle’ Aine Davis deported from Turkey; arrested at Luton airport

  • Davis faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm
  • CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik: ‘It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi, Davis’ wife, that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes’

LONDON: A British man accused of being part of a Daesh kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was remanded in custody Thursday on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him to the UK.

Aine Davis, 38, was an alleged member of the Daesh cell that held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.

Two of the four have already been brought to justice in the United States for the gruesome beheadings and killings of several American captives, while another of the quartet died in Syria.

British police arrested Davis after he was deported by Turkish authorities and landed at Luton airport near London late Wednesday.

He faces three counts under UK terrorism laws, two related to terrorism fundraising in 2014 and one related to possessing a firearm.

Appearing at a London magistrates’ court flanked by two suited police officers Thursday morning, Davis — sporting a short beard and grey T-shirt — spoke only to confirm his name and that he was of no fixed abode.

His lawyer confirmed he would not be entering a plea or seeking bail at this stage.

Chief magistrate Paul Goldspring said bail would in any case be refused partly due to Davis’ “propensity to travel on forged documents” and ordered him held in prison.

He referred the case to the crown court, which deals with serious criminal offenses, with a pre-trial hearing set for September 2 at the central criminal court, known as the Old Bailey.

Goldspring noted that if convicted, Davis will face “years, not months” in jail.

The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

They were allegedly involved in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The accused cell members, who all grew up in west London, allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the UK to the US in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the US at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.

They were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain and then the US.

There they faced federal court charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

The other “Beatles” executioner, Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.

Davis was arrested in Istanbul in 2015 by Turkish authorities on suspicion of being a member of Daesh, and was using a forged travel document, the magistrates’ court heard Thursday.

He was convicted in Turkey 18 months later, sentenced to seven-and-a-half years imprisonment, and released in July into an immigration detention center where he remained until he was deported this week.

In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.

She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before going to fight with Daesh in 2013.

“It’s believed that this (money) was to be collected by Mr. Davis or an associate,” CPS prosecutor Kashif Malik told the court Thursday, noting it had been raised in the UK “to support terrorism.”

He said Davis had sent messages and photos to his wife from Syria.

“It is plain from images that Davis sent to El-Wahabi that he has been with fighters in Syria and was not in Syria for lawful purposes,” he added. “On occasions he was in possession of a firearm.”

A 2014 search of the couple’s London property found speeches by Osama bin Laden and prominent Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, Malik said.

“We believe this was material left behind by Mr. Davis,” he added.


Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

Updated 11 August 2022

Delhi to enforce mask mandate again after spurt in COVID cases

  • People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of $6

NEW DELHI: New Delhi will enforce a mask mandate again after COVID-19 infections rose in the past fortnight, a government order showed on Thursday, though a similar order in April failed to improve compliance.
People caught without masks in public in the Indian capital will have to pay a fine of 500 rupees ($6), the order dated Aug. 8 and shared with reporters on Thursday, said. Presently, mask-wearing is uncommon even in shopping malls and crowded markets.
New Delhi reported 2,146 new infections in the past 24 hours and eight deaths, the worst figures among Indian states and federal territories.
The country reported 16,299 new infections during the period, taking the cumulative total to 44.2 million, while deaths rose by 53 to 526,879. The actual numbers are believed to be multiple times higher.


Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Updated 11 August 2022

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

  • Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis
  • The president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to fire top agricultural officials if an investigation shows they improperly announced a decision to import sugar amid a shortage without his approval, his press secretary said Thursday.
It’s the stiffest punitive step newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could take against officials over an apparent irregularity early in his six-year term. He took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory and inherited daunting problems.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said a resolution authorizing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar by the Sugar Regulatory Board, which Marcos Jr. heads, was posted on the website of the Sugar Regulatory Administration under the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis and skyrocketing commodity prices sparked in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Cruz-Angeles said the president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials. The document was taken down from the website by Thursday.
“This resolution is illegal,” she told a news conference. “An investigation is ongoing to determine whether any acts that will cause the president to lose trust and confidence in his officials can be found or if there is malice or negligence involved.”
“If such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she said.
Officials dealing with sugar shortages and fast-rising prices, caused largely by the devastation of sugarcane fields, milling factories and refineries by a powerful typhoon in December, have opted to secure additional sugar imports to ease the crisis.
But Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal, saying it needed to be studied to protect consumers from rising prices while making sure “that we do not destroy the local industry,” Cruz-Angeles said.
Marcos Jr. also inherited a pandemic-battered economy, lingering coronavirus threats, deep poverty, decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, law and order problems and political divisions inflamed by the recent elections.


Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

Updated 11 August 2022

Britain, Denmark contribute more money and weapons to Ukraine

  • Britain to send more multiple-launch rocket systems and precision guided M31A1 missiles
  • Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by $114 million

COPENHAGEN: Britain and Denmark will provide more financial and military aid to Ukraine, they said on Thursday as European defense ministers met in Copenhagen to discuss long-term support for the country’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
Britain, which has already donated advanced weapons systems to Ukraine and given thousands of its troops military training, said it would send more multiple-launch rocket systems.
It would also donate a “significant number” of precision guided M31A1 missiles that can strike targets up to 80km away.
“This latest tranche of military support will enable the armed forces of Ukraine to continue to defend against Russian aggression and the indiscriminate use of long-range artillery,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
“Our continued support sends a very clear message, Britain and the international community remain opposed to this illegal war and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin’s invasion.”
Denmark will increase its financial aid to Ukraine by 110 million euros ($114 million), Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a conference in Copenhagen hosted by Ukraine, Denmark and Britain.
“This is a war on the values that Europe and the free world are built upon ... Today we reaffirm our commitment to support of Ukraine,” she said.
The new measures will take Denmark’s total aid to Ukraine since the start of the war to more than $417 million (3 billion Danish crowns).
Just over half of the financial aid announced on Thursday will be spent on weapons procurement and support of weapons production. The rest will be spent on supplies of Danish weapons and military equipment, as well as military training.
The announcements come after the government in Kyiv repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons, including long-range artillery, as it tries to turn the tide on Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Earlier this month, Ukraine said it had received another delivery of high-precision heavy weapons from Germany and the United States.
Moscow, which has accused the West of dragging out the conflict by giving Ukraine more arms, says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine aimed at safeguarding Russia’s security against NATO expansion.


Blinken, Kagame discuss UN report that Rwanda supports rebel group

Updated 11 August 2022

Blinken, Kagame discuss UN report that Rwanda supports rebel group

  • Regional analysts expect US Secretary of State to privately exert pressure to stop Rwanda’s alleged support for the M23 rebel group

KIGALI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday he discussed with Rwandan President Paul Kagame “credible reports” that Rwanda continued to support the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Blinken said Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi had agreed to engage in direct talks to address the fighting in eastern Congo.

The US senior diplomat is on a visit to Kigali less than a week after it emerged United Nations experts had found “solid evidence” Rwanda has been interfering militarily in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda’s government has disputed the UN findings.

The conflict was a focus of his meeting with Tshisekedi on Tuesday.

“My message to both President Tshisekedi and President Kagame this week has been the same: any support or cooperation with any armed group in eastern DRC endangers local communities and regional stability, and every country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the others,” Blinken said during a joint media event with his Rwandan counterpart.

“Both presidents have agreed to engage in direct talks with each other.”

Kagame and Tshisekedi met at a summit in Angola to de-escalate tensions from the rebel insurgency.

Rwanda has previously denied accusations by Congo that it supports the M23 and that it has sent troops into the country. The M23 has denied it receives Rwandan support.

A target of the M23 and Rwandan operations in Congo has been the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu militia which Rwanda accuses Congo of using as a proxy. Congo’s government has denied this.

Standing next to Blinken, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said Kigali backed peace in the region.

“We agreed on the need to eradicate all irregular armed groups operating in the eastern DRC including the FDLR and its factions,” Biruta said.

Biruta later told local media that Rwanda was not supporting the M23 rebel group.

Since May, M23 has waged its most sustained offensive in years, killing dozens and displacing tens of thousands of people. By July, it controlled a territory in Congo almost three times as large as it did in March, UN experts said.