The Western military organization NATO has officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance in a historic move on Wednesday. The development comes after the alliance reached a deal with Turkey to accept the membership bids from both countries after initial objections from Ankara.
The summit — arguably the most important meeting of the alliance in recent months, and perhaps years — has also seen the alliance reiterate its condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, pledge to beef up its defenses in Europe, and slam China as posing a "challenge" to its interests.
NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced earlier in the week that the Western military organization would increase the number of troops within its rapid response force — which comprises land, air, sea and special forces units that are capable of being deployed quickly — to 300,000 from about 40,000 personnel.
Russia has issued an initial reaction to the NATO deal that allows its expansion to go ahead, roughly doubling the land border Russia will have to share with NATO members, with one official calling it "a purely destabilizing factor."
UK announces 1 billion pounds in military support to Ukraine
The U.K. will be providing an additional 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) in military support to Ukraine, Reuters said citing the British government.
The new funding will boost Ukraine's defense capability, including air defense systems, new electronic warfare equipment, and equipment for Ukrainian soldiers, the news agency said.
"UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine's defences against this onslaught. And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement, according to Reuters.
This comes after Britain pledged a further 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine in May.
The UK also announced this month a new training program for Ukrainian forces with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.
— Chelsea Ong
Russia has not shown meaningful attempt at diplomacy, Blinken says at NATO
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. has not seen meaningful Russian diplomacy in ending the war in Ukraine.
"We have not seen any interest on the part of Vladimir Putin in engaging in any kind of meaningful diplomatic initiative," Blinken said during the NATO Madrid Summit. "But in any event, as we've said from the start, it's really important that the Ukrainians define the terms of any potential negotiation," he added.
America's top diplomat said that the U.S. will continue to send security assistance to Ukraine in order to mitigate and repel Russian aggression.
"When a negotiating table eventually does emerge, which at some point it will, they [Ukraine] have the strongest possible hand to play at the negotiating table," he said.
— Amanda Macias
Putin says Russia will respond if NATO sets up infrastructure in Sweden and Finland
President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the U.S.-led military alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow's relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.
Putin's comment came a day after NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden's bid to join the alliance after the three nations agreed to protect each other's security.
'If Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, NATO will inevitably be drawn into the war,' Ukrainian official warns
Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak said that Russia will most likely push its war beyond Ukraine's borders into NATO-member territory, according to an NBC News translation.
"History has taught us that the aggressor's appetites grow with each concession," Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on the Telegram messaging app.
"That is why the security of not only Europe but all of humanity is under threat. And we believe that if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, NATO will inevitably be drawn into the war," he said, calling for more weapons and ammunition for Ukrainian forces.
"Russia is increasingly convinced that it cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield. That is why they increasingly resort to bloody terror and the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure," he added.
— Amanda Macias
Turkey optimistic about Ukraine grain exports
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expressing optimism that humanitarian corridors could be opened to enable the export of Ukrainian grain to the rest of the world amid Russia's war.
Tens of millions of people across the world are at risk of hunger as the four-month war has disrupted shipments of grain from Ukraine.
Speaking during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the margins of the NATO summit, Erdogan said, "We are trying to solve the process with a balancing policy. Our hope is that this balance policy will lead to results and allow us possibility to get grain to countries that are facing shortages right now through a corridor as soon as possible."
Turkey has played a central role in negotiations with Russia and Ukraine to try to reach an agreement that would allow for an increase of the amount of grain that can get out of Ukraine amid the conflict.
— Associated Press
Russia's imports drop more than 40% and car production is down by 60%, U.K. government says
The British government said that Russian imports have dropped more than 40% in the months after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
"Car production is also down by 60% and Russia's own Transport Minister has admitted that Russia's logistical infrastructure is now 'broken' as a result of sanctions," the British government wrote in a release on the effect of sanctions on Moscow.
To date, the United Kingdom has imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 people and on more than 120 businesses since the start of Russia's invasion. The British government added that stockpiles of vital imported manufacturing components "are likely to be depleted in the next three to six months."
"Nearly three-quarters of foreign companies have reduced operations in Russia, nearly a quarter of which have completely withdrawn," the British government wrote.
In the weeks since Russia invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor, the U.K., the U.S. and their allies have imposed rounds of coordinated sanctions that vaulted Russia past Iran and North Korea as the world's most-sanctioned country.
— Amanda Macias
U.S. working with Turkey on F-16 deal, Biden administration official says
The U.S. will work with Turkey on modernizing Ankara's F-16 fighter jet fleet on the heels of a brokered deal to allow Finland and Sweden to join the NATO alliance, a senior Biden administration official said.
"The U.S. Department of Defense fully supports Turkey's modernization plans for its F-16 fleet. These plans are in the works. And, you know, they need to be worked through our contracting processes," Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, told reporters on a call.
"The United States supports Turkey's modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security," she added.
Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not approve the NATO applications, citing Sweden and Finland's support for Kurdish organizations that Turkey considers security threats.
All 30 NATO members must approve a country's bid for it to be accepted into the alliance.
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the world's most powerful military alliance reached a deal to admit the two countries.
— Amanda Macias
Biden thanks Erdogan for allowing Finland and Sweden to join NATO
U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for agreeing to allow Sweden and Finland into the NATO military alliance.
"I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together with the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden and all the incredible work you're doing to try to get grain out of Ukraine, I was telling you, you're doing a great job. I want to thank you," Biden said alongside his Turkish counterpart.
Erdogan thanked Biden for renewed U.S. commitment to strengthening NATO and said the alliance will have to work together to resolve the mounting food crisis, Russian naval blockade of Ukraine's ports and issues related to oil and natural gas.
— Amanda Macias
UK imposes sanctions on Russia's second-richest man
The British government imposed sanctions on billionaire Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin, believed by the United Kingdom to be the second-richest man in Russia.
"Potanin continues to amass wealth as he supports [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's regime, acquiring Rosbank and shares in Tinkoff Bank in the period since Russia's invasion of Ukraine," the British government wrote in announcing the sanctions.
The British government also imposed sanctions on Anna Tsivileva, Putin's first cousin once removed and president of a prominent Russian coal mining company, JSC Kolmar Group. Her husband, Sergey Tsivilev, a local Russian governor, has also significantly benefitted from his relationship with Putin.
"As long as Putin continues his abhorrent assault on Ukraine, we will use sanctions to weaken the Russian war machine. Today's sanctions show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin's inner circle," a British government spokesperson wrote in a statement.
The new measures aim to prevent oligarchs from using U.K. trust services.
— Amanda Macias
Separatist official says 144 prisoners swapped with Kyiv
The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine said that it had carried out a prison exchange with Kyiv involving 144 fighters on each side.
"Today, we are returning home 144 fighters of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Russian Federation who were captured by the enemy," Denis Pushilin wrote on the Telegram messaging app. "We handed over to Kyiv the same number of prisoners from Ukrainian armed units, most of whom were wounded."
Pentagon's Austin reaffirms U.S. support to Ukrainian counterpart
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov on the sidelines of the NATO Madrid summit, according to a Pentagon readout of the call.
Austin condemned Russia's recent missile strike on a shopping mall and offered his condolences to the families of the civilians killed.
"Secretary Austin provided an update on U.S. security assistance efforts and exchanged perspectives with Minister Reznikov on its impact on the battlefield. The leaders also discussed plans for the next Ukraine Defense Contact Group to be held virtually in July," according to a Pentagon readout of the call.
Austin and Reznikov agreed to remain in close contact.
— Amanda Macias
Russian forces still beset by battlefield logistics issues, U.S. says
The National Security Council's John Kirby told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the Russian military is still beset by a slew of battlefield logistics problems as at least 50 countries ramp up support for Ukraine.
"The Russians for all the advantages that they have in terms of number still have not been able to overcome challenges to logistics, command and control, supply and unit cohesion," Kirby, a former Pentagon spokesman said.
"They are making some progress but it's not a lot. We are talking about kilometer by kilometer or street by street," he added.
Kirby's comments come as the NATO military alliance reached a deal to admit Finland and Sweden. Moscow, long wary of NATO expansion, has opposed the two nations' plans to join the alliance.
— Amanda Macias
NATO welcomes Sweden and Finland to join and slams Russia ... and China
The Western military organization NATO has officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance in a historic move on Wednesday.
NATO leaders, meeting in Madrid, have issued an official communique in which they said "the accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure," adding that the security of Finland and Sweden during the accession process is of "direct importance."
NATO reiterated that it condemned Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine in the strongest possible terms, calling it a "blatant violation of international law."
It added that "Russia's appalling cruelty has caused immense human suffering and massive displacements, disproportionately affecting women and children" and it blamed Moscow for intentionally exacerbating "a food and energy crisis, affecting billions of people around the world, including through its military actions."
The alliance also described China as being among those countries that, it said, "challenge our interests, security, and values and seek to undermine the rules-based international order."
NATO has announced that it will beef up its deterrence and defense assets, particularly in the Baltic states and eastern Europe. In its statement, it said "we will build on our newly enhanced posture, and significantly strengthen our deterrence and defence for the long term to ensure the security and defence of all Allies. We will do so in line with our 360-degree approach, across the land, air, maritime, cyber, and space domains, and against all threats and challenges."
— Holly Ellyatt
Ukraine's first lady likens herself to a cupboard in a bombed-out building: 'We're holding on'
Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska has said she, like many Ukrainians, are holding out for life to return to some kind of normality in future and that she barely gets to see her husband, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, since he was thrust into the unenviable position of wartime leader following Russia's brutal invasion.
"Fortunately those two months when I didn't see my husband at all, that's in the past, I can see him sometimes for a short time and not very often, but I can physically feel him next to me," Zelenska told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview for the "New Day" show airing Wednesday.
"This isn't normal, it's not a normal relationship when children cannot see their father and have to talk to him on the phone. So our relationship is on pause just as it is for many — well, all Ukrainians."
She said her family, like millions of others "are waiting to be reunited, to be together again, to spend evenings, to have dinner together, to talk to the children about their things ... but we're hanging on."
Zelenska likened herself to a cupboard that was pictured still standing in a bombed-out building in Borodyanka, a settlement northwest of Kyiv. The image went viral, seen by many as a symbol ofUkrainians' resilience in the face of Russia's invasion.
"I like this image, we're holding on just like that cupboard in Borodyanka where the occupiers bombed all the buildings there and we saw this photo of one of the buildings and there was a wardrobe or a cupboard there that stood undamaged. So we are holding on ... I'm like that cupboard in Borodyanka," she said.
— Holly Ellyatt
Next year the situation could be worse for Ukraine — and some NATO countries, Zelenskyy says
Ukraine's President Zelenskyy issued a stark warning to the country's NATO allies, saying that the situatio