Nato leaders have announced a new “strategic concept” in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, describing Moscow as “the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and stability”. Nato has invited Sweden and Finland to become members of the military alliance, according to a communique published by the Nato summit in Madrid. Leaders also pledged further help to Kyiv and agreed on a package of support aimed at modernising the country’s defence sector.
Russian president Vladimir Putin issued fresh warnings that Russia would respond in kind if Nato set up military infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they joined the US-led alliance. If Sweden and Finland wanted to join Nato then they should “go ahead” Putin said. “But they must understand there was no threat before, while now, if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to respond in kind and create the same threats for the territories from which threats towards us are created.”
Putin also pushed back against allegations that Russian forces were responsible for a strike on a crowded shopping centre in the Ukrainian town of Kremenchuk on Monday in which 18 people were killed. “Our army does not attack any civilian infrastructure site. We have every capability of knowing what is situated where,” Putin said. Moscow said its military fired a “high-precision air attack at hangars where armament and munitions were stored” and the explosion of those weapon caches caused a fire in the nearby shopping centre – a claim discredited by first-hand accounts from survivors and expert analysis.
Ukraine announced the largest exchange of prisoners of war since Russia invaded, securing the release of 144 of its soldiers, including 95 who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. Ukrainian military intelligence said that most of the Ukrainians released had serious injuries, including burns and amputations, and are now receiving medical care.
The frequency of shelling on the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk is “enormous”, the regional governor of Luhansk said on Wednesday. Lysychansk “is constantly being shelled with large calibres. The fighting is continuing at the outskirts of the city. The Russian army is trying to attack constantly,” Serhiy Haidai said.
At least four people were killed and five wounded by a Russian missile strike on a residential building in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv, local officials said. Photographs from the scene showed smoke billowing from a four-storey building with its upper floor partly destroyed by the attack on Wednesday morning. Moscow admitted to the strike on the city but said its forces had hit what it called a training base for “foreign mercenaries” in the region.
US president Joe Biden announced that the US will increase its military forces across Europe with more land, sea and air deployments. During the Nato summit in Madrid, Biden announced the stationing of a brigade of 3,000 combat troops in Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters in the UK and two navy destroyers in Spain. Nato members are expected to announce further commitments to a strengthening of forces on the alliance’s eastern flank.
Britain will also commit an extra 1,000 troops and one of its two new aircraft carriers to the defence of Nato’s eastern flank. The forces will be earmarked for the defence of Estonia, where Britain already has about 1,700 personnel deployed, but they will be based in the UK, ready to fly out to defend the Baltic country if deemed necessary.
Separately, Downing Street said it has pledged another £1bn ($1.2bn) in military aid, almost doubling the UK commitment to military support. Defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said some money would likely be spent on supplying longer-range rocket artillery. This will be a “first step” to allow Ukraine to move towards “mounting offensive operations” to regain territory,” Downing Street said.
Zelenskiy announced the end of diplomatic ties between Ukraine and Syria after the Russia-ally recognised the independence of eastern Ukraine’s two separatist republics, Donetsk and Luhansk. “There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria,” Zelenskiy said, adding that the sanctions pressure against Syria “will be even greater.”
Ukraine and the European Union have signed an agreement that liberalises road transport. According to the agreement, Ukrainian carriers no longer need to obtain permits to enter the European Union.
Turkey says it will seek the extradition of 33 alleged Kurdish militants and coup plot suspects from Sweden and Finland under a deal to secure Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ Nato membership bids. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped weeks of resistance to Sweden and Finland joining Nato after crunch talks ahead this week’s Nato summit.