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Putin and Lukashenko set for talks in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to hold talks with his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday, with the deepening of defense ties on the agenda.

The leaders are due to discuss progress in developing the “Union State,” a union between Belarus and Russia aimed at deepening economic and defense cooperation, as well as “the security concept of the Union State,” Belarusian news agency BelTA reported.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (center), Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon (left), Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (second from left), Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov (right) and Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko enter a hall of the State Russian Museum during an informal summit of the heads of state of the Commonwealth of Independent States in St. Petersburg on Dec. 27, 2022.

Alexey Danichev | AFP | Getty Images

Lukashenko and Putin are expected to hold a bilateral meeting on Wednesday to discuss “the international situation and security measures” and import substitution, as both countries look to minimize the pain of international sanctions, as well as the “development of high-tech industries.”

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said Tuesday the Kremlin “will likely attempt to coerce Belarus into further Union State integration” when the leaders meet on April 5 and 6, with intelligence sharing also a possible area of integration.

“The Kremlin may pressure Belarus for more integration concessions under the rubric of defending the Union State from claimed Western military and/or terrorist threats,” the ISW said.

Belarus has been a staunch, albeit subordinate, ally to Russia throughout the war, though it hasn’t actively participated in the conflict on the ground in Ukraine. It has allowed Russian troops to launch assaults on Ukraine from its territory, however, and last month Russia announced it would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying this was at Lukashenko’s request.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin now has ‘more NATO’ on his borders, alliance chief says

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg leave after a press conference during a NATO foreign affairs ministers’ meeting, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023.

Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP | Getty Images

“Finland now has the strongest friends and allies in the world,” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday as he welcomed the Nordic nation into the fold of the Western military alliance.

He said he’s “deeply proud” to welcome Finland into NATO, making the country its 31st member, adding that “at times like these, friends and allies are more important than ever” as the alliance continues to wrestle with support for Ukraine as its war with Russia rages on Europe’s doorstep.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine last February, it sent a list of proposals to the alliance, calling on it to roll back its deployments of troops and weapons to Eastern Europe, and for it to guarantee that Ukraine would never become a member of the group.

Russia has long objected to NATO’s expansion but its war in Ukraine has only made the group more desirable for European countries close to Russia which are outside the group.

Finland, which shares around 800 miles of land border with Russia, had enjoyed decades of military nonalignment but applied to apply to join the military alliance fearing an aggressive, seemingly expansionist Russia on its border.

With Ukraine watching Finland’s fast-tracked entry to the alliance, and with Sweden likely to follow, Stoltenberg said the door remains open to prospective members, though he didn’t mention Ukraine by name.

“President Putin wanted to slam NATO’s door shut. Today, we show the world that he failed.
Instead of less NATO, he has achieved the opposite. More NATO. And our door remains firmly open.”

— Holly Ellyatt

A bittersweet moment for Ukraine as Finland joins NATO

Congratulating Finland, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Finland now has a “reliable guarantee of safety – a collective guarantee.”

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

There was bound to be a bittersweet feeling in Kyiv yesterday as Finland joined the military alliance NATO after a fast-tracked accession process, given that Ukraine has also applied but faces far more barriers to entry.

Those include not only the fact Ukraine is in an active ongoing war with Russia but also a likely reluctance among some members who have warmer relations with Moscow (such as Turkey and Hungary) to antagonize Russia further at a time when relations between NATO and Russia are already dire.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s aggression against his country shows that only collective preventive security guarantees, like those offered by member of the NATO military alliance, are “reliable.”

Speaking in his nightly address Tuesday, after Finland became the 31st member of NATO after decades of military nonalignment, Zelenskyy said it was an historic event for “the whole of Europe, for the entire Euro-Atlantic community.”

Congratulating Finland, Zelenskyy said Finland now has a “reliable guarantee of safety – a collective guarantee.”

“Russian aggression clearly proves that only collective guarantees, only preventive guarantees can be reliable. That’s what we’ve always talked about. They also talked about speed – the speed of security decisions matters. Now we see what the speed of procedures can be,” Zelenskyy said.

Finland and Sweden both applied to join NATO last May, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and their membership bids were fast-tracked. Sweden is still waiting for its bid to be ratified by Turkey and Hungary.

— Holly Ellyatt

WSJ says lawyers met with detained reporter in Russian prison

An undated ID photo of journalist Evan Gershkovich. – A US reporter for The Wall Street Journal newspaper has been detained in Russia for espionage, Russian news agencies reported Thursday, citing the FSB security services.

– | Afp | Getty Images

Emma Tucker, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones newswires, said that Evan Gershkovich’s lawyers were able to meet with him in a Moscow prison.

The lawyers, retained by Dow Jones, said that Gershkovich is “grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world.”

“The legal avenue is one of several avenues we are working to advocate for Evan’s release. We continue to work with the White House, State Department and relevant U.S. government officials to secure Evan’s release,” Tucker wrote in a statement.

Tucker added that she spent time with Gershkovich’s family over the weekend.

“They are relieved to know we finally have contact with Evan. We continue to stand with Evan’s family as they face this ordeal,” Tucker said.

“I am also grateful for all of our colleagues at Dow Jones and peers in journalism who stand firmly by our side to defend Evan and the free press,” she added.

Gershkovich was arrested last week by Russian authorities over espionage allegations.

— Amanda Macias

Detained reporter in Russia ‘has never worked for the U.S. government,’ White House says

A picture taken on July 24, 2021 shows WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia.

Dimitar Dilkoff | Afp | Getty Images

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the charges against Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich ridiculous.

“Evan is not a spy. Evan has never been a spy. Evan has never worked for the U.S. government and he is an independent journalist employed by the Wall Street Journal,” Jean-Pierre said during a daily White House briefing.

Jean-Pierre added that Gershkovich’s case is “a priority for this president.”

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about Gershkovich’s detention and called for his immediate release. Blinken also called for the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

Whelan was arrested in 2018 on charges of acting as a spy for the United States. At the time he was arrested, Whelan was visiting Russia to attend a wedding, according to his brother, David Whelan. 

— Amanda Macias

U.S. approves $2.6 billion for Ukraine in latest security assistance package

U.S. Marines operate a HIMARS vehicle in the Philippines as part of joint exercises with that country in October 2022.

Jam Sta Rosa | Afp | Getty Images

The Biden administration approved a new security assistance package for Ukraine worth $2.6 billion.

The latest military assistance package, the 35th such tranche, is valued at $500 million and comes directly from U.S. arsenals. The remaining $2.1 billion is funded by the Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the U.S. has provided more than $35.1 billion in support.

The capabilities in the $500 million package are:

  • Additional munitions for Patriot air defense systems
  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS
  • 155 millimeter and 105 mm artillery rounds
  • 120 mm mortar rounds
  • 120 mm and 105 mm tank ammunition 
  • 25 mm ammunition
  • Tube-Launched, Optically tracked, Wire-Guided, or TOW, missiles
  • Approximately 400 grenade launchers and 200,000 rounds of ammunition
  • 11 tactical vehicles to recover equipment
  • 61 heavy fuel tankers
  • 10 trucks and 10 trailers to transport heavy equipment
  • Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair
  • Spare parts and other field equipment

“Russia alone could end its war today. Until Russia does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Blinken wrote in a statement.

— Amanda Macias

Finland officially joins NATO in ceremonies held at alliance headquarters in Brussels

Finland on Tuesday became the 31st member of NATO, wrapping up a historic strategic shift with the deposit of its accession documents to the alliance.

Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto (L) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, flanked by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (C) as he hands over Finland’s accession to NATO documents, during a joining ceremony at a NATO – North Atlantic Council (NAC) Foreign Affairs ministers’ meeting, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023. – Finland on April 4 became the 31st member of NATO, wrapping up its historic strategic shift with the deposit of its accession documents to the alliance. 

Olivier Matthys | AFP | Getty Images

Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto reacts during the North Atlantic Council (NAC) Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 4, 2023. 

Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP | Getty Images

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto (C) delivers a speech at the ceremony to install the Finnish national flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023. – Finland on April 4, 2023 became the 31st member of NATO, wrapping up its historic strategic shift with the deposit of its accession documents to the alliance. 

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Finnish military personnel install Finland’s national flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023.

John Thys | AFP | Getty Images

Congratulating Finland, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Finland now has a “reliable guarantee of safety – a collective guarantee.”

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg leave after a press conference during a NATO foreign affairs ministers’ meeting, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023.

Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP | Getty Images

Finland officially becomes the 31st member of NATO

A photo shows Finnish, Nato and US flags during a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, on April 4, 2023. Finland becomes the 31st member of NATO on April 4, 2023, in a historic shift that drew an angry warning of “countermeasures” from the Kremlin.

Johanna Geron | Afp | Getty Images

Finland officially became a member of the Western military alliance NATO, ending decades of military nonalignment.

On Tuesday, the Nordic country’s accession document was handed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels, where NATO foreign ministers are gathered until Wednesday.

Earlier. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was a “truly historic” day as he welcomed Finland into the alliance.

Russia, which shares around an 800-mile border with Finland, said the expansion of NATO increases the risk of conflict with Moscow and warned it would take “countermeasures to ensure our own security both tactically and strategically.”

Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, released a statement saying “the era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end. A new era begins” saying membership in the alliance “provides security for Finland. Finland, on the other hand, provides security for the Alliance.”

He said Finland’s membership “is not targeted against anyone” and that it remains “a stable and predictable Nordic country that seeks peaceful resolution of disputes.”

Niinisto also called for Sweden’s membership bid to be formally accepted, with NATO members Hungary and Turkey yet to ratify its accession.

“Finland applied to join NATO together with Sweden. Finland’s membership is not complete without that of Sweden,” Niinisto said.

“The persistent efforts for a rapid Swedish membership continue. Similarly, close cooperation continues to build common security and defence across the Nordic region.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia says Finland’s accession to NATO raises risk of conflict

With Finland set to formally become a member of NATO on Tuesday, Russia said the accession of a new member (and one it happens to share an 800-mile border with) increases the risk of conflict with Russia.

The Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Finland’s accession to NATO “is another aggravation of the situation” calling it an “encroachment on our security and the national interests of the Russian Federation, we talked about this and this is how we perceive it,” Peskov said, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

A New Year decoration Kremlin Star, bearing the letter Z, a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, at the Gorky Park in Moscow on Dec. 29, 2022.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Elsewhere, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said NATO was “strengthening its anti-Russian course, which leads to an escalation of the conflict,” as he spoke with Russian military officials Tuesday.

Shoigu remarked that the West was increasing its military assistance to Ukraine in the form of tanks and armored vehicles but signaled that Russia was strengthening its own arsenal, saying that some Belarusian military jets are now capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Last month, Russia announced it would deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. Shoigu noted Tuesday that Iskander rocket systems, which can be used to carry conventional or nuclear missiles, had been transferred to Belarus.

Shoigu said Russia had started training the Belarusian troops on how to use the missile system “for the defence of the Union State.” The “Union State” refers to Russia and Belarus’ cooperation in a number of areas including economic and defense policy.

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:


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