In Blow to Putin, Turkey Won’t Bar Sweden and Finland From NATO

MADRID — NATO’s top official said Tuesday that Turkey had dropped its objections to the membership of Sweden and Finland, two historically nonaligned nations that, alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have asked to join the military alliance.

Turkey’s reversal is a blow to President Vladimir V. Putin, who in justifying the invasion of his neighbor bitterly protested previous expansions of NATO — and Ukraine’s efforts to join the alliance — as a threat to his country’s security.

Should Finland and Sweden be formally adopted into the alliance, as is widely expected, Russia will look across 800 miles of border with Finland at one of NATO’s newest members.

The announcement came after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met for four hours with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland, as NATO heads of state gathered in Madrid for an annual summit. The 30-nation alliance operates by consensus, which meant that Turkey effectively held a veto over their membership applications.

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” the secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Tuesday evening. “Turkey, Finland and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports, and the fight against terrorism.”

It was not clear what concessions, if any, were made to Mr. Erdogan, whose objections centered on the quest for autonomy by ethnic Kurds in Turkey and neighboring countries. He has accused Sweden and Finland of sheltering Kurds whom Turkey calls terrorists, and he objects to the embargo on arms sales that the Scandinavian countries placed on Turkey after its incursion into Syria to fight Kurdish forces.

The announcement came on a day when Western and Russian leaders, jockeying for the upper hand, made rival diplomatic pushes as Moscow’s military forces pursued their brutal campaign against Ukraine.

The NATO heads of state will agree to strengthen forces along the military alliance’s eastern flank, and President Biden, who strongly supported NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, planned to announce the deployment of two additional Navy destroyers to a base in Rota, in the south of Spain. The meeting is scheduled to continue through Thursday.

“By the end of the summit,” declared Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, “what you will see is a more robust, more effective more combat-credible, more capable, and more determined force posture.”

President Biden before a news conference in Madrid on Tuesday.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

But as Western leaders met in Madrid, after concluding a Group of 7 meeting in Germany that was also dominated by the invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Putin engaged in his own diplomatic offensive.

Making his first trip abroad since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Mr. Putin visited Tajikistan, where he was embraced on the tarmac by its president, Emomali Rahmon. With the Kremlin keen to preserve its influence in Central Asia as it becomes increasingly isolated from the West, Mr. Putin also planned to attend a summit of regional leaders in Turkmenistan, an insular, gas-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea.

“In general, an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation reigns in the Caspian,” Mr. Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri V. Ushakov, told reporters on Monday, according to Russian news agencies.

Better Understand the Russia-Ukraine War

  • History and Background: Here’s what to know about Russia and Ukraine’s relationship and the causes of the conflict.
  • How the Battle Is Unfolding: Russian and Ukrainian forces are using a bevy of weapons as a deadly war of attrition grinds on in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russia’s Brutal Strategy: An analysis of more than 1,000 photos found that Russia has used hundreds of weapons in Ukraine that are widely banned by international treaties.
  • Outside Pressures: Governments, sports organizations and businesses are taking steps to punish Russia. Here are some of the sanctions adopted so far and a list of companies that have pulled out of the country.
  • Stay Updated: To receive the latest updates on the war in your inbox, sign up here. The Times has also launched a Telegram channel to make its journalism more accessible around the world.

G7 leaders, acknowledging that their efforts to punish Moscow have to date had little effect on the war, agreed to pursue a plan aimed at undercutting Russia’s oil revenue. And with millions around the world facing acute hunger, the leaders also pledged to spend $4.5 billion this year to help ensure food security, seeking to counter grain shortages caused by the invasion.

In Ukraine on Tuesday, as workers combed the rubble of a shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk that was destroyed in a Russian missile strike a day earlier — the death toll was raised to 18, with dozens injured and 21 still missing — Moscow pressed its bombardment of civilian targets across the country, Ukrainian officials said.

A woman wounded in the Russian strike on a shopping center in Kremenchuk, Ukraine.Credit…Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

From the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv to the northeastern reaches near Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials reported more Russian missile and bombing strikes overnight. At least eight civilians, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed and dozens wounded, including a 3-month-old baby who was in a coma.

Vitaly Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said Tuesday that Russia had launched at least 11 missiles on targets in the region, and that while several had been shot down by air defense systems, others got through. Russians also shelled the small town of Ochakiv, on the Black Sea coast just east of the port city of Odesa, killing three people, Mr. Kim said.

In the Kharkiv region, near Russian territory, Russian forces continued to shell civilian areas, according to Ukrainian officials. At least five people were killed there in the last 24 hours and 22 wounded, including three children.

Among those wounded in the missile strike on the mall was a 22-year-old woman who had fled with her mother to Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, from Kharkiv. “We hoped we would be safe here,” said the mother, Larisa, who did not feel comfortable sharing her last name. “This is a deep trauma for my soul.”

Natalia Humenuk, a spokeswoman for the armed forces in southern Ukraine, said that Russia had fired on Mykolaiv using the same Soviet-era anti-ship missiles that had struck the shopping mall.

The missiles are designed primarily to destroy aircraft carriers, and are considered highly inaccurate when used on land, posing a significant risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. British military intelligence officials say Russia appears to have launched dozens of them against land targets because its forces lack “more precise modern missiles.”

Clearing debris on Tuesday at a school hit by a shelling in Kharkiv.Credit…Sergey Kozlov/EPA, via Shutterstock

At the G7 meeting in the Bavarian Alps that concluded on Tuesday, leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies searched for new ways to punish Russia economically and inhibit its ability to make war. They endorsed an unconventional tactic.

In an aggressive but risky attempt to undermine the financing of Russia’s military campaign, Mr. Biden led an effort to manipulate the oil market on a scale the world has rarely seen by trying to assemble a mirror version of OPEC, the powerful oil cartel.

Instead of limiting supply to maximize revenue for oil producers, as a cartel does, Mr. Biden is trying to minimize how much one particular seller — Moscow — reaps from each barrel. On Tuesday, he led his Group of 7 counterparts to agree to proceed with a plan that would cap the price of Russian oil, as a way of driving down revenue from Mr. Putin’s most important export.

“Some people are calling it an inverse OPEC,” said Simon Johnson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist. “This is a cartel that is attempting to discriminate between Russian oil and other oil, creating a wedge, which may or may not drive down global prices.”

Oil was very much on the agenda as the Russian president sought to solidify his own support abroad Tuesday, in an excursion that suggested confidence that whatever toll the war is taking on his citizens, his position at home is secure.

On Wednesday, Mr. Putin is to head to a summit of the leaders of the countries bordering the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest landlocked body of water: Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Iran. The political, economic and security aspects of the Caspian region and its vast oil and gas resources have taken on greater importance for Moscow since it began the war in Ukraine.

President Vladimir V. Putin with his Tajikistan counterpart, Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe on Tuesday.Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Shcherbak

As sanctions over the war disrupt trade routes, countries friendly to Russia are emerging as newly critical economic partners, though some are treading carefully.

Kazakhstan in particular has said it will not help Russian companies skirt Western sanctions. Seated onstage next to Mr. Putin at a St. Petersburg economic conference this month, Kazakhstan’s president said he would not recognize the pro-Russian separatist “republics” in eastern Ukraine, calling them “quasi-state territories.”

In another sign of the Kremlin’s multipronged pursuit of influence in Central Asia, Russia is also pushing countries to expand Russian-language schooling, including in Tajikistan, where five Russian schools are scheduled to open in September, with $150 million in financing from Moscow.

Russian forces hit Ukrainian farmland in the Donetsk region on Tuesday.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Steven Erlanger and Michael D. Shear reported from Madrid, Valerie Hopkins from Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and Anton Troianovski from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Jim Tankersley from Munich; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Shashank Bengali from London; and Marc Santora from Warsaw.

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