Ukraine update: Sometimes NATO doesn’t seem like much of an alliance

Ukraine update: Sometimes NATO doesn’t seem like much of an alliance

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered his 84th daily update to the people of Ukraine. He also spoke on the phone with the president of the United Arab Emirates in an effort to get a new source of fuel, discussed a new assistance package with the president of the European Union, welcomed the U.S. embassy back to Kyiv, and dealt with the 1,001 items it takes to keep a nation afloat in the midst of a military invasion that represents a genuine existential crisis. Zelenskyy goes into the category of leaders who are engaged in trying to save their nation from a heartless enemy that hasn’t just demonstrated disdain for avoiding civilian targets, but has deliberately sought out hospitals, schools, and bomb shelters for destruction. 

There’s a second category of leaders like Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and prime minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson who are not in Zelenskyy’s awful position at the moment, and seem determined to keep it that way. To that end, both Sweden and Finland are working overtime to seek swift membership in NATO. After seeing what Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has been willing to do in Ukraine and how difficult it has been for the world to respond without actually putting their own forces on the ground, Sweden and Finland are determined that they will not stand alone. Nobody wants to be the next Ukraine. They see this as both the best protection for their nations if they are attacked, and the best possible insurance that they won’t be attacked in the first place. 

There’s a third category of leaders, like U.S. President Joe Biden, who see clearly that what’s happening in Ukraine is a threat that goes way beyond the borders of one nation. If Russia is able to successfully carve out a chunk of Ukraine, as it already did in 2014, there is no reason to believe that “New Russia” will have any real boundaries. Putin has already established a process in which he funds and arms dissatisfied factions, sends in Russian forces to “assist,” helps those armed dissidents take over some small slice of their host nation, officially recognizes that area as a “people’s republic,” then uses that as an excuse to drag the whole nation into Russia. It’s not just Ukraine: Russia is already working to repeat this process in Moldova and in Georgia. Other nations are sure to follow. Russia can be stopped in Ukraine—at a terrible price—or it can be stopped later at what may be an insupportable cost. Leaders in this category are sweating every day to get more assistance to Zelenskyy because that’s the best way to stop the illegal invasion of Ukraine from becoming Act One in World War III.

Finally, there is a fourth category of leaders: Those who feel like this is a terrific time to leverage a world crisis for their own benefit. Into this category fall Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic.

As Sweden and Finland have been moving to get their applications into NATO, Erdogan first made it known that he was going to oppose their joining the alliance. What was his official reason? The first excuse was that Sweden and Finland are “host to many terrorist organizations.” If you’ve not heard of Turkish planes being hijacked by Swedish nationalists or Istanbul being bombed by Finnish terrorists, that’s because what Erdogan actually means is that both nations are actually, by long tradition, accepting of political refugees from around the world. That means that both nations took in refugees from Syria following the Russian invasion there, and it means that they took in Kurdish refugees when Turkey and Russia teamed up to crush much of the Kurdish homeland (with help from Donald Trump, who waved bye to Kurdish allies while leaving them stranded).

Both Sweden and Finland also assisted Kurdish groups associated with the separatist group PKK, which Turkey classifies as terrorists, in helping them to defeat ISIS in the Middle East. So did several existing members of NATO. So did the United States.

So why is Erdogan so set on not letting Sweden and Finland into the club because they assisted a group supported by many others at the time? Because Erdogan isn’t really concerned about that at all. Instead, the presence of Kurdish refugees in the applicant states is an excuse to push back against the real grit in Erdogan’s clamshell: sanctions over military hardware imposed after Turkey bought military equipment from Russia, which is a NATO no-no. In particular, Erdogan is PO’d because he had ordered 100 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S., which were all put on hold after he turned around and bought S-400 air defense systems from Putin.

So Erdogan is holding up the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO until the U.S. agrees to give him his planes. But he can’t quite say it that way, so he’s making other excuses while waiting to see if he can get what he wants. That includes pumping out propaganda like this, where a Swedish-made missile is explicitly blamed for the death of a Turkish soldier. The really fun thing about this post? The identified weapon is actually not Swedish at all. It’s a Russian RPO-A.

This is what targeted misinformation looks like. A beautiful example how facts are manipulated to suit an alternate agenda. Down below a tweet from Abdullah Ağar, a Turkish defence and security expert and media personality. He makes regular appearances on Turkish TV.

— Kemal (@kemal_115) May 18, 2022

Meanwhile, the president of Croatia suddenly determined, just as the applications were coming in on Wednesday, that he had to support his ally Turkey and also oppose the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO. What is Milanovic’s problem? Is he also concerned about the Kurds? Not exactly. This isn’t about the PKK. Or Turkey. Or Sweden. Or Finland. It’s about this nonsense. 

Milanovic is in a bitter verbal dispute with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic over a number of issues, including whether to support the NATO applications Sweden and Finland submitted on Wednesday.

What does Milanovic want before he lifts his veto over something he has no actual reason to oppose?

Before Croatia’s parliament ratifies NATO membership for the two Nordic nations, Milanovic wants a change of neighboring Bosnia’s electoral law that would make it easer for Bosnian Croats to get their representatives elected to leadership positions.

So Erdogan is holding up the process because he wants his planes. Milanovic saw that when Erdogan threw his tantrum it got attention, so he decided to pile on his pet peeve, which doesn’t even have the kind of secondhand justification Erdogan provided. In other words … they’re jackasses. Jackasses who don’t believe their own nations are under immediate threat. Just be hopeful that no more pop up in the next couple of days.

Earlier this week, Turkey appeared to walk back the threat of blocking the admission of Finland and Sweden, then they immediately turned around and put that threat right back on the table. On Wednesday afternoon, Turkey’s prime minister seemed to make an offer that would was much less odious (and less filled with F-35s) than previous demands.

Turkish FM just now: • We need security guarantees that would indicate Finland and specifically Sweden won’t provide arms to PKK’s Syrian arm YPG

— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) May 18, 2022

If this one sticks, it’s likely because in a backroom somewhere, Erdogan has been promised his planes.

And now, back to the people actually fighting for their lives against a brutal enemy and really don’t have time to indulge in this foolishness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 · 11:14:53 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

Good Ukraine-related things are also happening outside Ukraine. 

⚡️ European Commission allocates $260 million to EU countries assisting most Ukrainian refugees. Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia will receive 248 million euros to help manage their borders and assist with the provision of food, transportation, and shelter.

— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) May 18, 2022

Thursday, May 19, 2022 · 3:00:45 AM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

When it comes to what’s happening across the Siverskyi Donets … there doesn’t appear to be much new information, but what information is available appears to be a good match for information passed over social media on Tuesday.

#Kharkiv Axis – #Ukrainian troops have bridged the Donets River in 2 locations, moved a large assault force across the river and attacked #Russian forces 90km NE of Kharkiv along critical #RUAF supply lines. #UAF may have seized the town of Zarichne and are still attacking NE.

— OSINT Aggregator (@AggregateOsint) May 18, 2022

However, the FIRMS data shows no new hot spots in the last 24 hours, and satellite images from May 18 don’t appear to show anything that resembles a pontoon bridge in the Rubizhne area. Right now, reports that Ukraine did move a significant force to the east bank of the river matches most available information, but it’s not clear they actually established two separate bridgeheads. 

This image reportedly shows damage to the village of Zarichne, north of the Staryi Saltiv bridge.

Ukraine forces recently captured Zarichne. Village in the Limansky district of the DPR, people were injured and at least 5 houses with civilians were damaged. Geolocation :50°06’33.2″N 36°49’42.7″E

— Hollowbyte (@Anapurnaiii) May 19, 2022

The loss of Zarichne has also been acknowledged on Russian Telegram accounts.

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