A missile strike by state sponsor of terrorism Russia on a shopping mall in a civilian neighborhood of Kremenchuk, Ukraine killed at least 15 18 civilians and left scores injured, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.  At least 15 dead after Russian strike on shopping mall, Ukraine says:

The Pentagon said Monday that Russia launched about 60 missile strikes across Ukraine over the weekend, including an attack that hit an apartment building in Kyiv, killing one.


The Amstor mall was crowded with shoppers on Monday afternoon when at least one missile struck it, according to Ukrainian officials. Videos shared from the scene show buildings engulfed in smoke and civilians running for cover. Dmitry Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region, said 40 people were wounded, including two children, with 15 dead. With the rescue mission still ongoing, officials warned the number is likely to rise.

Zelensky said in a Telegram message Monday that there were more than 1,000 civilians at the mall when the missile hit, adding that the shoppers were “no danger to the Russian army.” The final number of victims, he said, was “impossible to imagine.”

The Ukrainian Air Force Command said the mall had been hit by at least one Kh-22 missile fired by Tu-22 M3 bombers operating in the Kursk region of Russia, near the Ukrainian border. Russian officials and state-run media outlets have suggested, without evidence, that the attack on the shopping mall was a deliberately staged provocation by Ukrainian forces.

[G-7] leaders from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan condemned the attack Monday, calling it “abominable” and vowing “unwavering support” for Ukraine. “Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” their statement said. “We will not rest until Russia ends its cruel and senseless war on Ukraine.”

Ukrainian officials urged G-7 leaders and other Western nations to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons, including antimissile systems they say would protect their cities against Russian attacks.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote on Twitter on Monday that the attack showed Russia should be “designated a state sponsor of terrorism” and called for more weapons. “We need missile defenses,” he said.

On Tuesday, Turkey agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids, removing a major hurdle to the two countries joining the alliance. Turkey drops objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, removing major hurdle to two nations joining the alliance:

Niinistö said in a statement that a joint memorandum on the matter was signed by Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday in Madrid ahead of what is shaping up to be a critical summit.

The joint memorandum underscores the commitment of Finland, Sweden and Turkey “to extend their full support against threats to each other’s security,” Niinistö said.

“The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” he added.

US and European officials had been eyeing the summit for potential progress in moving Finland and Sweden’s applications forward to join NATO.

On Wednesday, NATO formally invites Finland and Sweden to join the alliance:

NATO leaders on Wednesday formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, one day after Turkey dropped its objections to their membership, clearing the way for what would be one of the most significant expansions of the alliance in decades.

The historic deal, following Turkey’s agreement to a memorandum with the two Nordic countries, underscores how the war in Ukraine has backfired for President Vladimir V. Putin, subverting Russian efforts to weaken NATO and pushing Sweden and Finland, which were neutral and nonaligned for decades, into the alliance’s arms.

After weeks of talks, capped by an hourslong meeting in Madrid, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed to lift his block on Sweden and Finland’s membership in return for a set of actions and promises that they will act against terrorism and terrorist organizations.

“As NATO allies, Finland and Sweden commit to fully support Turkey against threats to its national security,” NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said, providing some details of the agreement. “This includes further amending their domestic legislation, cracking down on P.K.K. activities and entering into an agreement with Turkey on extradition,” he added, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which seeks an independent Kurdish state on territory partly within Turkey’s borders.
Mr. Stoltenberg confirmed at a news conference on Wednesday that the alliance had formally invited Finland and Sweden to join after Turkey lifted its objections on Tuesday night. Now, the legislatures of all 30 current members must ratify the accession, which could take several months.

The U.S. Senate is already pressing ahead with hearings on the application, and Mr. Biden has been a firm proponent of the new members.

* * *

Both Finland and Sweden had been militarily nonaligned for many years, but decided to apply to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. With Russia attacking a neighbor, both countries felt vulnerable, though Sweden, with a long tradition of neutrality, was more hesitant.
Mr. Putin warned both countries against joining NATO, but his threats proved counterproductive.

The two countries bring geostrategic benefits to the alliance. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia and has a well-equipped modern army; Sweden can control the entrance to the Baltic Sea, which will help a great deal in NATO planning to defend the more vulnerable countries in Eastern Europe.

The final push to resolve the dispute started early Tuesday, when President Biden called Mr. Erdogan to urge him to “seize the moment” on the eve of the summit, to allow discussions on other topics to proceed, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the discussion.

[In] a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Stoltenberg pointed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and promised that “Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes.” He did not mention NATO’s 2008 promise to make Ukraine a full member at some time in the future.

Alex Kingsbury writes at the New York Times, NATO Expansion, Compliments of Mr. Putin:

One of President Vladimir Putin’s goals for his invasion of Ukraine was to upend the balance of military power in Europe. Mr. Putin has achieved that goal, but surely not in the way he intended.

Instead of strengthening Russia and pushing NATO back to its Soviet-era frontiers, Mr. Putin now faces an alliance more united than at any other time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, more determined to curb Russian revanchism and — with two major Northern European powers, Sweden and Finland, seeking membership — more formidable as an adversary. At the NATO summit in Madrid this week, the road now looks clear for the alliance to expand and encompass those two nations.

[W]ithout the war in Ukraine, expanding NATO to the Nordic nations wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Sweden had not fought a war for 200 years, and Finland had long cultivated a policy of military nonalignment, though both nations are members of the European Union. But the Russian invasion shifted public attitudes swiftly and dramatically. Both countries immediately sent supplies and weapons to Ukraine. Public opinion polling in Finland and Sweden as the war began found support for joining NATO at 65 percent in Finland and 57 percent in Sweden. Both nations have strong militaries that could easily be integrated into NATO operations, and both nations are strong democracies, a prerequisite for membership.

The process for NATO membership isn’t automatic. New member states require the unanimous consent of all 30 existing NATO member states. In the United States, the expansion will require the support of at least 67 senators. [Will Putin loving Republicans try to block NATO expansion?] Yet Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO has said he expects the two countries will have a speedy ascension process, especially with Turkey dropping its objections on Tuesday. Both Sweden and Finland are part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a sort of associate member status.

The discussion at the summit about a larger, stronger NATO is playing out against the backdrop of a new strategic-concept document for the alliance — a vision for its trajectory for the next decade. As recently as a year ago, that document was poised to focus more broadly on China, climate change and cybersecurity — important priorities to be sure, yet superseded by events on the ground that create an opportunity for the alliance to focus on its core mission of safeguarding freedom and security in Europe by political and military means. The updated strategy also rightly addresses newer forms of warfare, ranging from cyber and artificial intelligence to disinformation.

[T]he Russian government warned of serious consequences if Finland and Sweden join the alliance, including deployments of additional troops to the Baltic region, though it has also sent signals that it is resigned to the enlargement. Finland and Russia share an 810-mile border, and the Kola Peninsula is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest metropolis, is a mere 100 miles from the Finnish border. And yet Russia already violates the airspace of its neighbors and conducts withering cyberattacks. Moreover, Mr. Putin probably reasons that the two countries have long been tightly integrated with NATO, even if they are not formal members.

Sweden and Finland will bring important modern, highly professional militaries with them into the NATO alliance, particularly submarines and fighter jets. (Finland is helping to build the F-35, a next-generation fighter jet, as a part of a consortium of the United States and about a dozen other nations.) Finnish and Swedish forces already conduct exercises with NATO troops, and much of the equipment is interoperable. And both nations are at the forefront of European efforts to combat disinformation flooding out of Russia.

One need not side with Mr. Putin or endorse his actions to understand why a Russian leader would be concerned about a military alliance expanding to the country’s border. Yet the list of Russian provocations (election interference in the United States, Britain and Spain; invasions of Crimea and Georgia; and a campaign of assassinations using chemical weapons, to name but a few) is now so long and the legitimate threat it poses to Europe so acute that the desire of Finns and Swedes to seek protection under the NATO umbrella is entirely understandable.

Mr. Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine is changing the security balance in Europe, though not in the way he imagined. In this fateful moment, NATO must take a serious look not only at deterring Russia but also at itself, its purpose and its readiness to really share that burden.

NATO will sharply increase the number of forces it keeps at a high readiness level to 300,000 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO to boost high-readiness forces in ‘biggest overhaul’ since Cold War:

The move to beef up the alliance’s ability to respond to a crisis is part of the “biggest overhaul of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

The NATO chief made the announcement one day before President Biden — who is in Germany with other members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations — joins other heads of state and government in Madrid for a NATO summit expected to focus on the war in Ukraine and the future of the alliance.

Transforming NATO’s quick-response force, which has some 40,000 troops, is one of the ways the 30-member alliance is responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Leaders also will discuss plans to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank, outline a new force model, announce funding decisions and publish a strategy document that lays out NATO’s strategy for the years ahead, according to NATO diplomats.

The last time the alliance published this type of strategy document, in 2010, ties with Russia were considerably warmer.

The latest version “will make clear that allies consider Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security,” Stoltenberg said in a news conference.

Stoltenberg said the NATO summit will be “transformative, with many important decisions, including on a new strategic concept for a new security reality, a fundamental shift in NATO’s deterrence and defense, and support to Ukraine now and for the future.”

The Russo-Ukraine War continues to yield mixed results. While Russia is engged in a grinding war of attrition to consolidate its gains in the eastern provinces of Ukraine, the Ukrainian military is enjoying success with counteroffensives elsewhere in the country. Near Kherson, Ukrainians regain territory in major counteroffensive (excerpt):

With Moscow concentrating its efforts on taking territory in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — battering cities, towns and Kyiv’s troops with a near-constant barrage of artillery fire — Ukraine has been able to make steady gains in the south. Village by village, more of the strategically important Kherson region is returning to Ukrainian control — another sign that Russia’s forces might be overextended with a front line that stretches about 300 miles.

Regaining control of Kherson, a rich agricultural region with Black Sea access, is critical for Ukraine. It’s the only position the Russians hold west of the Dnieper River, and a prime position to launch any future offensive down the Black Sea coast to the major port city of Odessa. The Ukrainian counteroffensive is squeezing Russian positions from two directions — the west and the north.

“Here, you can hunt them,” said a Ukrainian reconnaissance commander in the region whose call sign is “Makhno.” “They’ve committed everything to the east.”

[M]ost of the Kherson region has been occupied since the first week of the war — Moscow’s first major land grab after its tanks and troops advanced from the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.

But holding the territory has proved challenging while more Russian forces have been concentrated to the northeast. Near the school in Natalyne, another village that had been considered a “gray zone” — a status for areas considered not completely controlled by either side — returned to Ukrainian control a week ago.

This war has not gone at all according to plan for Vladimir Putin. It was supposed to be a blitzkried and over in a couple of weeks. About a third of Russia’s ground forces have been destroyed or captured in Ukraine. Both sides are taking heavy casualties.

Finally, the international sanctions on Russia are starting to take hold with major consequences to Russia. Russia defaults on foreign debt for first time since 1918:

Russia has defaulted on its foreign currency debt for the first time in more than a century, as tough Western sanctions designed to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine restrict its ability to pay overseas creditors.

The country has the cash but is unable to get it to creditors because sanctions have cut Russia out of international payment systems. A deadline for an overdue $100 million interest payment expired Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed paying creditors in rubles, which could then be converted to dollars, after the U.S. Treasury Department closed a loophole that had allowed the Kremlin to make debt payments owed to American bondholders through American banks.

The debt default adds to Moscow’s growing isolation from the global economy and could tarnish its reputation among financial investors in a way that potentially takes years to repair, political experts say, as investors worry Russia will continue to put its foreign policy interests ahead of its creditors.

Vladimir Putin is having a very bad war. I am surprised that he has not yet seen a Kremlin coup against him for his foolish war against Ukraine (or maybe we just have not heard of one because of state-controlled media in Russia). I don’t see how he can survive this massive strategic failure. His days are numbered.