Russia warns of possible military threat as Finland, Sweden apply for NATO

Russia warns of possible military threat as Finland, Sweden apply for NATO

Ukrainian servicemen who surrendered are taken away on Tuesday after evacuating the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. ALEXANDROV AP NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that Finland and Sweden have applied for membership in the alliance, overhauling their decadeslong foreign policy.

After receiving application letters from the two countries' ambassadors, I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. He described the nations as their closest partners. The application must be considered by NATO's 30 member countries, a process that is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two countries could become NATO members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly, according to the Associated Press.

Moscow has threatened to react with unspecified military-technical measures if the Nordic states make what it called the grave mistake of joining NATO. The Kremlin warned that military tensions will increase in Europe if the alliance expands to Russia's doorstep.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia will be watching how NATO uses Finland's and Sweden's territory and will make its conclusions.

Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have participated in NATO's military exercises for years, Lavrov said. NATO has taken their territories into account in planning its eastward movement. It seems to make no difference in this context. He said that Moscow saw no reason for Finland and Sweden to be worried about their security. The Finnish president and the Finnish ambassadors have been saying that they see no threats from Russia, Lavrov said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said that his country would retain its neutral status even though European Union allies Sweden and Finland had overhauled their decadeslong foreign policy to apply for NATO membership.

"The situation for us looks a bit different," he told German radio stationer Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday, saying there was overwhelming public support for neutrality in Austria.

Schallenberg said that the country, which gets 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia, would continue to provide humanitarian support to Ukraine rather than lethal weapons.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered this week at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol.

The ministry said that 694 militants surrendered, including 29 wounded, over the past 24 hours. Since May 16, 959 militants surrendered, including 80 wounded. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that two employees of Finland's embassy in Russia will have to leave the country in response to a similar move by Helsinki.

During a visit to the Russian-held city of Kherson in southern Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said funds had already been allocated to a project to rebuild roads, bridges and buildings.

Russian troops took control of Kherson in late April. The port city is now using Russian rubles rather than Ukrainian hryvnias, and Russian forces have installed a pro-Moscow military-civilian administration Khusnullin said that rebuilding destroyed parts of the city would be Russia's first priority, but Moscow was specifically interested in supporting Kherson's agriculture sector.