What is NATO’s plan for Ukraine beyond just words?

Like in the 1950s, NATO seeks an effective strategic doctrine to navigate a new, challenging environment. The first step may involve gradually integrating Ukraine, but only after the conflict with Russia ends.

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While gathering in Washington to celebrate the alliance’s 75th anniversary, NATO’s heads of state and government have taken the first step in designing the architecture of European security.

“Ukraine’s future is in NATO. We will continue to support it on its irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership,” they announced in a joint statement.

Could this be a post-brainstorming proposal or a bid aimed at becoming an actual political and strategic goal?

Point 16 of NATO’s Washington Summit Declaration states: “We reaffirm that we will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.”

This means that despite the firm support expressed by some members, such as the Nordic bloc, the Baltics, Poland, Romania, and the UK, the consensus for Ukraine eventually joining the alliance is not unanimous among all 32 NATO countries.

And, last but not least, the “conditions” depend on Ukraine achieving relative military and security stability. Hostilities with Russia must cease, but even a simple ceasefire currently appears to be a distant prospect.

“The stalemate in Ukraine will continue to be a headache for the alliance. Accession of Ukraine to NATO will depend on further major reforms within the country, on ending the war, and on consensus among the allies that the alliance is ready for this: three major conditions that are not at all fulfilled,” says Jan Wouters, a lecturer from the Catholic University of Leuven, KU Leuven.

NATO’s reason to be

The main outcome of NATO’s 75th anniversary is that the alliance appears to have rediscovered its purpose. Point 6 of the Summit Declaration notes that “more than two-thirds of Allies have fulfilled their commitment of at least 2% of GDP annual defense spending and commend those Allies who have exceeded it”.

The current circumstances and growing global instability place security issues at the forefront of national budgetary priorities.

Jan Wouters says, “Russia is seen as more aggressive and dangerous as ever, requiring actions on land, in the air, in the seas and outer space, and the allies also discuss the ever-mounting challenges that China poses”.

Since 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the land grab in the Donbas region by local pro-Russian separatist militias backed by Russian military intelligence GRU special forces, Ukraine has been progressively integrating into NATO structures.

“We affirm our determination to support Ukraine in building a force capable of defeating Russian aggression today and deterring it in the future,” the conference’s documents say.  

“To that end, we intend to provide a minimum baseline funding of €40 billion within the next year,** and to provide sustainable levels of security assistance for Ukraine to prevail, taking into account Ukraine’s needs, our respective national budget procedures, and the bilateral security agreements which allies have concluded with Ukraine.”

‘Long-term security assistance’

“Irreversibility” refers to the deep and comprehensive integration of Ukrainian defence and security with its Western supporters, emphasising that simply providing military assistance is insufficient.

From a Long-Term Security Assistance perspective, Ukraine may require a structural approach. Are NATO members, including Europeans and Americans, capable of creating the necessary infrastructures for this purpose?

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“The problem is that we are facing a strong military inflation. So the same artillery shells, for example, that 155mm shells that are much used and in need by the Ukrainians, have gone up in price almost fourfold,” says Bob Deen, an Eastern Europe and Russian analyst for Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.

“The (Europeans) need to first buy it for the Ukrainians and then also buy it for themselves from the same suppliers who already have waiting lists and who have difficulties ramping up their production.”

According to Deen, the solution would involve increasing production within Ukraine itself.

“Already, several Western companies are either opening factories in Ukraine or exploring opportunities to do so. Production costs are significantly lower in Ukraine compared to Western Europe, where there is also a shortage of qualified personnel.”

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“And it’s very difficult to open, for example, a munitions factory in a country like the Netherlands, which is very densely populated, and not many people want a munitions factory in their backyard. Well, as in Ukraine, this is easier,” he adds.

“But then you face the challenge of Russia wanting to attack this factory. Therefore, it’s essential to enhance Ukraine’s air defence capabilities to protect these facilities during construction. I believe the solution lies in implementing a combination of these measures to maintain American engagement, particularly under a Trump administration,” concludes Deen.

Establishing arms manufacturing in Ukraine would make its path to NATO irreversible.

The urgent military situation in Ukraine and the immediate need to support its army necessitate short-term decisions, putting pressure on the European arms industry to act swiftly under these conditions.

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“We need to quickly purchase any available weapons on the market. This requires buying non-European weaponry, which negatively impacts the capacity of the European defence industry to develop its own production,” says Federico Santopinto, Senior Research Fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) in Paris.

“Financing the EU industry is a budgetary priority. This is why the European countries within the North Atlantic Alliance prioritise avoiding NATO’s pivot to Asia and remain focused on Europe, particularly the Russian threat”.

If this is the priority, Ukraine must set a clear goal, such as achieving irreversible integration with the West, especially for strategic purposes.

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A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and EU security

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU, Hafed Al-Ghwell writes.

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With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank.

Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. 

In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. 

Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. 

This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. 

The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. 

Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Lybia’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. 

Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad.

Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. 

The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya.

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This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa.

It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground.

Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

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It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence.

The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. 

This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. 

It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

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There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. 

Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. 

In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves.

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Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. 

Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Ahead of election, President Vladimir Putin’s programmes occupy most of TV shows in Russia

Thousands of Russians braved the cold for hours earlier this month to honour the Opposition politician Alexei Navalny after his funeral. They chanted anti-war slogans and covered his gravesite with so many flowers that it disappeared from view.

It was one of the largest displays of defiance against President Vladimir Putin since he invaded Ukraine, and happened just weeks before an election he is all but assured to win. But Russians watching television saw none of it.

A leading state television channel opened with its host railing against the West and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO.) Another channel led with a segment extolling the virtues of domestically built streetcars. And there was the usual deferential coverage of Mr. Putin.

Since coming to power almost 25 years ago, Mr. Putin has eliminated nearly all independent media and the Opposition voices in Russia — a process he ramped up after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin’s control over media is now absolute.

State television channels cheer every battlefield victory, twist the pain of economic sanctions into positive stories, and ignore that tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine.

Some Russians seek news from abroad or on social media using tools to circumvent state restrictions. But most still rely on state television, which floods them with the Kremlin’s view of the world. Over time, the effect is to whittle away their desire to question it.

“Propaganda is a kind of drug and I don’t mind taking it,” said Victoria, 50, from Russian-occupied Crimea. She refused to give her last name because of concerns about her safety.

“If I get up in the morning and hear that things are going badly in our country, how will I feel? How will millions of people feel? … Propaganda is needed to sustain people’s spirit,” she said.

Vladimir Putin’s broken promises

When Mr. Putin first addressed Russians as their new President on the last day of 1999, he promised a bright path after the chaotic years that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“The state will stand firm to protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of mass media,” he said.

Yet just over a year later, he broke that promise: The Kremlin neutered its main media critic, the independent TV channel NTV, and went after the media tycoons who controlled it.

In the following decades, multiple Russian journalists, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, were killed or jailed, and the Russian parliament passed laws curbing press freedoms. The crackdown intensified two years ago after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

New laws made it a crime to discredit the Russian military and anyone spreading “false information” about the war faced up to 15 years in prison. Almost overnight, nearly all independent media outlets suspended operations or left the country. The Kremlin blocked access to independent media and some social media sites, and Russian courts jailed two journalists with U.S. citizenship, Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva.

“The Putin regime is based on propaganda and fear. And propaganda plays the most important role because people live in an information bubble,” said Marina Ovsyannikova, a former state television journalist who quit her job at a leading Russian state television channel in an on-air protest against the war.

The Kremlin regularly meets with the heads of TV stations to give “special instructions on what can be said on air,” said Ms. Ovsyannikova.

Every day, TV stations serve up a mix of bluster, threats and half-truths — telling viewers the West wants to destroy their country, that sanctions make them stronger and that Russia is winning the war.

The Kremlin’s goal is to squeeze out any Opposition so that citizens “remain inert and compliant,” said Sam Greene, a director at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington.

The strength of the Kremlin’s grip on the media means that while Navalny’s death in an Arctic penal colony was major news in the West, many Russians didn’t know about it.

One out of five Russians said they had not heard about his death, according to the independent Russian pollster Levada Center. Half said they only had vague knowledge of it.

The most memorable event for Russians in February, the polling found, was the Russian military’s capture of the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka.

By trumpeting military victories, the Kremlin is focussed on creating a “happy feeling,” ahead of the elections, said Jade McGlynn, an expert on Russian propaganda at King’s College London.

Anti-war candidates are banned from the ballot, and there is no significant challenger to Mr. Putin. State television broadcasts dull debates between representatives of Mr. Putin’s opponents.

President Putin is not openly campaigning but is frequently shown touring the country — admiring remote tomato farms or visiting weapons factories.

The idea that Russia is thriving under Mr. Putin is a potent message for people who have seen their living standards fall since the war — and sanctions — began, driving up prices for food and other staples.

The war has also pushed Russia’s defence industry into overdrive, and people like Victoria from Crimea have noticed.

“If they tell me that new jobs have appeared, should I be happy or sad? Is this propaganda or truth?” she asked.

“Granules of truth”

Russian propaganda is “sophisticated and multi-faceted,” said Francis Scarr, a journalist who analyses Russian television for BBC Monitoring.

There is some “outright lying,” he said, but often Russian state media “takes a granule of truth and massively over-amplifies it.” For example, while unemployment in Russia is at a record low, news reports don’t explain it’s partly because tens of thousands of Russians have been sent to fight in Ukraine or have fled the country.

Many Russians know this, yet the idea that Russia is prospering – even if it contradicts what they see with their own eyes – is still attractive.

“The greatness of Russia tends to be measured throughout history in the greatness of the state and not in the greatness of the quality of life for its people,” said McGlynn of King’s College London.

Ahead of the election, state TV is ramping up that nationalistic theme, telling viewers it is their patriotic duty to vote. The Kremlin, experts say, is worried Russians may not come out in large numbers.

Videos released on social media – but not directly linked to the Kremlin – are aimed at combating apathy, especially among younger voters.

In one, a woman berates her husband for not voting. “What difference does it make? Will he not get elected without us,” the husband asks, indirectly referring to Mr. Putin. To which his wife warns him: inaction could leave their child without maternity payments.

The Kremlin wants high voter turnout, experts say, to lend an aura of legitimacy to Mr. Putin, whose re-election would keep him in power through at least 2030.

“No Opposition in modern Russia”

People can bypass government restrictions by using special links to foreign websites or accessing the Internet over private networks.

But it’s questionable whether many Russians — especially those living in Mr. Putin’s conservative heartland — even want to hear news conveyed in the language of the liberal West.

To “break through to the people who are not putting flowers on Navalny’s grave, they’re going to have to meet those viewers where they are and speak to them in a language that they understand,” said Greene. That means striking a balance between criticism of Mr. Putin’s regime and pride in the nation.

Even those soothed by the Kremlin’s propaganda also could long for a real choice at the polls.

“I don’t see any Opposition in modern Russia,” said Victoria, pointing out that the candidates running alongside Mr. Putin all have the Kremlin’s approval. “I don’t plan to vote in the elections,” she added.

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Germany’s Olaf Scholz has become a major problem for Ukraine

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Between leaked recordings, loose-lipped press conferences and confused policy, the German chancellor is in serious trouble.

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After months of what appeared to be an effective stalemate, a new narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is setting in: unless the West both expands and speeds up its support for the Ukrainian military, Russia could soon have a major window of opportunity.

And with the US House of Representatives still yet to clear a new package of American military aid, European NATO allies are moving to ramp up their contributions to the war effort. But not all of them are on the same page – and the continent’s largest economy is suddenly looking like a major political and strategic problem for both Ukraine and NATO as a whole.

Germany has been on a long journey since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The then-relatively new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz oversaw a major change in German defence policy by announcing the country would provide Ukraine with military hardware, a move that helped prove how seriously the West as a whole was taking the conflict.

Since then, however, the Germans’ part in the war has been somewhat muddled. On the one hand, German Euros and materiel have been reaching Ukraine, albeit on a stop-start basis. The country’s defence ministry clearly acknowledges the seriousness of the conflict: it has increasingly urged Europe to anticipate a larger Russian threat to countries beyond Ukraine, and is deploying combat-ready battalions to Lithuania, meaning German troops will be stationed just 100km away from the Russian border.

But on the other hand, Scholz’s government has lately been resisting pressure to share one of its most powerful military assets with the Ukrainians just when they need it most. 

The item in question is the Taurus missile, a stealth missile with a 500km range – twice the range of the British Storm Shadow and French Scalp missiles, both of which have been used by Ukraine to hit major Russian military targets.

The Ukrainians have been asking for the Taurus system for months, but Scholz has so far refused. The chancellor has claimed that the missiles cannot be sent to Ukraine because it would entail putting German troops on the ground to programme them, a move that he claimed could threaten a dangerous escalation.

Scholz made a major diplomatic misstep at a recent summit when he implied that French and British forces are operating cruise missiles that are ostensibly under Ukrainian control – something neither country admits is happening. The head of the UK House of Commons’s Foreign Affairs Committee called the remarks “wrong, irresponsible and a slap in the face to allies”. 

But worse than Scholz’s refusal to send Tauruses to Ukraine was the recent leak of a recording in which German air force officers could be heard directly contradicting Scholz’s argument, instead confirming that the missile would not in fact require the deployment of German manpower inside Ukraine.

The recording was revealed in Russian media, with Moscow threatening “dire consequences” for Germany if Taurus is deployed in Ukraine.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, who has voiced some of the Kremlin’s most extreme rhetoric since the invasion, responded with a pair of nationalistic tirades in response via the messaging app Telegram, sharing a Second World War-era poem entitled “Kill Him!” and writing, “The call of the Great Patriotic War has become relevant again: “DEATH TO THE GERMAN-NAZI OCCUPIERS!”

Caught out

That such a sensitive conversation could be recorded and leaked at all, not least by the Russians, has horrified many in Germany and NATO more widely. But the revelation that Scholz’s public pretext for withholding the Taurus is baseless has caused deep anger.

According to Benjamin Tallis, Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, the recording shows that the chancellor is not truly committed to a Ukrainian victory.

“Holding back like this risks a Ukrainian defeat, which would put all of Europe at great risk” he told Euronews. “Scholz’s arguments have been dismantled one by one and revealed to be excuses. Allies have sent similar weapons and faced no retaliation. All Scholz is doing is projecting weakness and making Germany more of a target.

“Following the Taurus leak, it seems that what Scholz is really afraid of is the weapon’s effectiveness. This betrays his position of not wanting Ukraine to win – and it’s an approach that lets down all Europeans by making us less safe.”

The saga of the Taurus missile and the leaked recording comes at an extremely inopportune moment in the Ukrainian conflict.

Recent Russian advances in the east of the country have owed a lot to a shortage of ammunition on the Ukrainian side, which Kyiv and some of its allies have attributed to certain Western countries’ slowness to resupply the war effort.

Aside from continuing to inflict major casualties on the Russian military – which Kyiv claims has lost well over 400,000 troops since February 2022 – the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently focusing on destroying high-value military assets that the Russians will struggle to replace, among them a high-tech Russian patrol ship that was hit by a sea drone on 4 March.

These strikes have multiple benefits: aside from costing nothing in Ukrainian lives, they both undermine Russia’s tactical abilities and challenge the idea that its enormous resources offer anything like a guarantee of victory. The same goes for missile and drone strikes within Russian territory, particularly in the border region of Belgorod, which Ukraine has targeted multiple times.

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But without enough Western hardware to continue these efforts, and with ever more reports of troops retreating from positions with depleted ammunition, Ukraine will struggle to keep its closest allies’ hopes alive.



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Why is Turkey finally getting behind Sweden’s NATO bid?

The last Nordic country to join the alliance is still waiting for Turkey and Hungary to clear its path.

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Sweden edged closer toward joining NATO on Tuesday after the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee greenlit a protocol for the Nordic country’s accession to the military alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped his objection to Sweden’s membership during a NATO summit in July, but it took him several months to send the bill to parliament for ratification and weeks for the parliamentary committee to give its consent.

The long-delayed protocol now needs to be approved by the full general assembly and it remains to be seen how quickly the issue will be taken up by the floor.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality and sought membership in NATO amid heightened security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Finland became NATO’s 31st member earlier this year, after Turkey’s parliament ratified its bid.

Why the delay?

Turkey’s opposition to Swedish membership in NATO stemmed from its belief that the Nordic country has been too soft toward supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden that Ankara views as security threats.

These include people associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people with alleged links to a coup attempt in 2016 against Erdoğan. Others are critics of the Turkish leader. 

Some observers have warned giving in to Ankara’s demands could undermine Sweden’s sovereignty, as well as the rights of those Erdoğan wants extradited to Turkey. 

Turkey, Sweden and Finland reached an agreement last year to tackle Ankara’s security concerns and Stockholm subsequently took steps to tighten its anti-terrorism laws, making support for extremist organisations punishable by up to eight years in prison.

But a series of anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm, some of which involved the burning of the Quran, angered Erdoğan’s government and the Turkish public.

While the demonstrations were condemned by the Swedish government, Turkey criticised Sweden – which has strict laws protecting free speech – for allowing displays of anti-Muslim sentiment.

What’s changed?

While Sweden strengthened its antiterrorism laws to address Ankara’s security concerns, NATO agreed to establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism and appointed Assistant Secretary-General Tom Goffus to the position.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the alliance’s summit in July that Sweden had agreed “to support actively the efforts to reinvigorate Turkey’s EU accession process.” 

Stockholm announced it would seek improved customs arrangements and take steps to implement visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Turkey’s EU membership talks came to a standstill in 2018 because of the country’s democratic backsliding and poor record on human rights.

Earlier this month, Erdoğan openly linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase US-made F-16 fighter jets. He also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

Some Western states banned arms exports to Turkey in 2019, following its military incursion into northern Syria against Kurdish militias. 

During Tuesday’s debate at the parliamentary committee, opposition legislator Oguz Kaan Salici questioned whether the government had received assurances from the United States concerning the sale of the F-16s.

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US President Joe Biden’s administration backs Turkey’s F-16 request, but many in the US Congress strongly oppose selling arms to Turkey, which wants to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets and modernisation kits for its existing fleet.

What happens next?

The approval by the parliamentary committee paves the way for Sweden’s accession protocol to be debated and ratified by the general assembly. It would then have to be signed off by Erdoğan to come into effect.

It was not clear when the full assembly would debate the bill.

Erdoğan’s ruling AK party and its allies command a majority in the 600-seat parliament. 

However, the Turkish president has said the decision rests with lawmakers. His ruling party’s nationalist allies remain uneasy with Sweden’s membership and accuse NATO members of indifference toward the PKK threat to Turkey.

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This week, Kurdish militants attempted to infiltrate a Turkish base in northern Iraq, killing 12 soldiers in two days of clashes.

Islamist parties, frustrated by what they perceive to be Western nations’ silence toward Israel’s military actions in Gaza, may vote against the bill.

The Hungarian factor

Hungary, the only other NATO holdout on Sweden, has not announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

Hungary’s governing Fidesz party – led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only allies in the EU – has stalled Sweden’s NATO bid since July 2022, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

Yet neither Orbán nor his senior officials have indicated what kind of redress they require from Stockholm to allay their reservations over Sweden joining the military alliance.

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Some critics have alleged that Hungary is using its potential veto power over Sweden’s accession as a tool to leverage concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over concerns over minority rights and the rule of law.

Hungarian officials have said repeatedly that their country will not be the last NATO member to endorse Sweden’s bid. But Ankara’s move toward ratification suggests that the time for further holdups may be running out.

Some opposition politicians in Hungary – who have argued for immediate approval of Sweden’s bid – believe that Orbán’s party is following Ankara’s timetable and will vote to approve once it seems clear that Turkey will imminently do the same.

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Germany gets serious about plans to make military ‘fit for war’

The return of full-scale armed conflict to Europe has Germany dramatically reframing its security policy.

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With Russia and Ukraine still locked in combat after nearly two years and a major Israeli-Palestinian conflict underway, the European Union and NATO are feeling their way into a chaotic new world security order – and Europe’s largest economy is shaking up decades-old ideas on what its military is actually for.

When the Ukrainian war first beckoned, Germany was initially wary of offering Kyiv direct military supplies. But shortly after Russia invaded, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recast Germany’s moral obligations to help resist Russian aggression in dramatic terms.

In his so-called Zeitenzwende or “turning point” address to the Bundestag, he decribed “Putin’s war” in Ukraine as one that risked a return to the dark days of Europe before the 1940s, alluding to Germany’s history as he pressed parliamentarians to support the shipment of weapons and supplies to a non-EU, non-NATO ally.

“Many of us still remember our parents’ or grandparents’ tales of war,” he said. “And for younger people it is almost inconceivable – war in Europe. Many of them are giving voice to their horror…

“The issue at the heart of this is whether power is allowed to prevail over the law. Whether we permit Putin to turn back the clock to the nineteenth century and the age of the great powers. Or whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like Putin in check.

“That requires strength of our own.”

The speech was a major turning point not just in the Ukrainian conflict, but in the German government’s way of discussing military strategy, which given the country’s history until 1945 has long been a difficult subject. Until recent years, contributing to world security via NATO rather than unilaterally increasing German military power has proven sufficient to avoid reopening awkward discussions about what a “strong” Germany might mean for Europe.

Since the Zeitenzwende speech, Germany’s contributions to Ukraine have been at times halting, with complaints from Kyiv and other European partners that Berlin is not moving fast enough to deliver on its promises.

But with the Ukrainians struggling to push Russia back on their crucial southeastern front, Germany is trying to push things further. And Scholz’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, is  now talking about Germany’s defence posture in terms unlike anything heard since the country was reunified in 1990.

Writing in newspaper Tagesspiel recently, Pistorius called for “fundamental changes” to the German army, the Bundeswehr, which he said needs major structural reform “to be effective and fit for war in the future”.

That phrasing is starkly different from the relatively tentative way German governments have addressed military strength in recent decades – and in his final paragraph, Pistorius wrote in even more strongly unilateral terms that will have made many thinkers and policymakers in Berlin uncomfortable.

“We need a change of mentality not only in the Bundeswehr, but also in politics and society,” he declared. “At stake is the security of our country, and thus the foundation for social coexistence, progress and economic growth. As a state and a society, we need to be able to defend ourselves and be resilient so that we can continue to live in peace, freedom and security in the future.”

Ready to fight

According to German security policy expert Minna Ålander, based at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Pistorius’s words have been met with a degree of astonishment, as well as pushback from the left of his party, the Social Democrats. Many of his party colleagues share a deep aversion to the normalisation of war, and are alarmed that Pistorius is ready to talk in these terms.

However, she also told Euronews that the structural problems facing the Bundeswehr are simply too serious for the government to avoid given the promises it’s already made.

“There was a sense of waning impetus after the summer, but Germany is under a lot of pressure to deliver on the pledge to send a 4,000-strong brigade to Lithuania, as Pistorius promised,” she said.

“Currently, the Bundeswehr isn’t able to set it up and it’ll likely take some years until the brigade is fully manned and equipped. That is not great for a country the size of Germany.

“It’s become also a question of prestige to an extent. In addition, Germany has made really lofty promises of troop contingents – 30,000 troops, 85 ships and jets – so all of this is a huge challenge considering the condition of the Bundeswehr at the moment.

“Simply throwing money into the Bundeswehr won’t help if the structural issues (especially inefficiency) aren’t addressed.”

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Time to pay

This is, of course, not just about Germany itself.

Looming over the strategy shift is the NATO spending requirement – that is, the obligation on all treaty members to spend at least 2% of their annual GDP on defence. 

Germany has historically not fulfilled this requirement, and Scholz alluded to putting that right in the turning point speech, but it has yet to appear in a long-term budget. Scholz has now reaffirmed this promise, saying Germany will start meeting the target “in the 20s and 30s” – a pledge that might help forestall a major risk to the alliance’s legitimacy.

The shortfall in spending by European NATO members was a fixation for Donald Trump, who as US president frequently complained that Germany specifically was freeloading on American defence spending and even threatened to pull out thousands of troops stationed there. 

“They make a fortune off the troops,” he told Fox News in 2020. “They build cities around our troops. We’ll let ourselves get rich first.”

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With Trump running for another term – and polling well against Joe Biden – former advisers-turned-critics have warned that should he be re-elected, he might well try and make good on his previous threats to pull the US out of NATO altogether.

And were Germany, the alliance’s second-largest economy, still not on track to meet its obligations once Trump was reinaugurated in January 2025, a NATO withdrawal would be easier for him to sell to the increasingly isolationist Republican Party.

The US leaving NATO would send Europe’s security order into disarray at an incredibly dangerous moment. And as Ålander told Euronews, it’s not just the conflict in Ukraine that’s brought the gravity of the situation home.

“I think that the Hamas attack and Gaza war have had an enormous impact on German society and politics. The shift to right-wing rhetoric was instant, especially on migration,” she said. 

“But there’s also a real point to be made that we will probably have to be ready for more conflicts potentially erupting in Europe’s vicinity, as the old security order has unravelled.”

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In fact, this is why Sweden should ultimately join NATO

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

One does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region, Dr András Rácz writes.

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On 6 October, Euronews published an op-ed by Dr Gladden Pappin, president of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, about why Sweden may not join NATO

Some of Dr Pappin’s arguments are indeed worth attention, though certainly not endorsement, while others, unfortunately, require factual corrections.

For one, Russia definitely is a threat.

Dr Pappin, known more as a political philosopher than a security expert, argues that there is not much urgency to get Sweden into the alliance. 

According to him, with its forces bogged down in Ukraine, Russia is not going to launch incursions into NATO territory anytime soon and “claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible.” 

This assessment is indeed surprising taking into account that Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is raging in the direct neighbourhood of Hungary, while also claiming the lives of ethnic Hungarian soldiers in the Ukrainian army.

What makes Dr Pappin’s line particularly noteworthy is that it directly contradicts the newest assessment of NATO. 

According to the final communique of the Vilnius Summit, released on 11 July, “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” 

In other words, while all members of the alliance agreed in Vilnius that Russia is the most important threat NATO needs to face, for some reason Dr Pappin tried to convince his readers about the opposite. 

By doing so, he implicitly contradicted even the Hungarian government, which also approved the Vilnius summit communique.

Sweden would make NATO considerably stronger

Another surprising element of Dr Pappin’s article is that according to him, “Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender.” 

However, the opposite is true, even according to Hungarian officials. Only a few days after his opinion article, Hungary’s Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi gave an interview in which he explicitly stated that the Swedish armed forces are suitably ready for NATO accession, adding that that the question of Sweden’s accession is primarily a political matter.

General Böröndi is certainly right. According to The Military Balance 2023, Sweden’s defence budget was slightly above $8 billion (€7.5bn) in 2022, thus nearly 2,5 times bigger than Hungary’s $2,99bn (€2.8bn).

Sweden has a small, but well-trained, very well-equipped armed force configured for territorial defence. Just to give one example: the country’s air force possesses nearly a hundred JAS-39 Gripen fighters. 

Somewhat ironically, the sole jet fighter operated by the Hungarian Air Force happens to be the same Gripen: approximately a dozen of them were leased from Sweden. Budapest is in the process of extending the lease contract that is about the expire in 2026.

A key element of Dr Pappin’s argument for the delayed accession ratification is that there is a deficit of trust in Budapest vis-à-vis Stockholm, meaning that Sweden shall not join until disagreements are resolved. 

However, had there been a real loss of trust, it is highly unlikely that Hungary would strive to maintain its military technological dependence on Sweden by extending the Gripen lease contract.

Putting cold steel aside, one does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region. 

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Sweden’s membership would decisively help improve the collective defence provided to our Finnish, Polish and Baltic allies on all levels, ranging from strategic planning to military logistics.

Concerted ambiguity in Hungary’s communication

Dr Pappin’s article appears to be part of a wider Hungarian communication manoeuvre aimed at creating ambiguity about Budapest’s position on Sweden’s accession, thus probably buying it time. 

The Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, presided by him, is an integral part of the Hungarian government. The HIIA is directly subordinated to the Office of the Prime Minister, and so is Dr Pappin. 

Generally speaking, no employee of any government would be allowed to publish opinion pieces on the policies of the given government without prior coordination and approval. 

Hence, the article of Dr Pappin is certainly not independent of the official policy of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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Interestingly enough, in terms of content, the article appears to contradict the official Hungarian explanations of why Sweden’s accession has not yet been ratified. 

Earlier, the government claimed that it already endorsed and supported Sweden in joining NATO; it is only the parliament that is unwilling to ratify the accession. 

However, this article casts some doubt on the credibility of this argument: had the Hungarian government been really in favour of Stockholm’s accession, no government officials would have published critical articles about Sweden’s readiness.

Contradictions aplenty

The Hungarian parliament, which is officially delaying the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession, is dominated by the constitutional majority of the ruling coalition led by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. 

Their parliamentary supermajority has been serving the government with impeccable obedience since 2010: in the Hungarian parliament, it is fairly normal that core numbers of the budget get modified literally overnight or that the parliament amends the constitution in a few days’ time, without any meaningful debate. 

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This parliament is unlikely to suddenly stand up against the government, particularly in a question of such strategic importance as the expansion of NATO.

Still, on the very same day when Dr Pappin’s article came out, an interview came out with Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian parliament, a veteran Fidesz politician and known foreign policy expert. 

Németh, who is as independent of the government as the rest of his parliamentary fraction, argued that Hungary would certainly support Sweden’s accession and the alliance would be stronger with Stockholm joining. 

In other words, two Hungarian officials voiced their opinions directly contradicting each other and did so exactly at the same time. The interview of General Böröndi may well be part of the same communication effort.

Who profits?

While discussing in detail why Sweden is supposedly not ready for NATO, Dr Pappin elegantly avoids even mentioning a key question: who does the Hungarian policy line actually benefit? 

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Németh was more open in his interview: he admitted that Hungary closely coordinates with Turkey on when the Swedish accession should be ratified.

Turkey is certainly benefiting from the Hungarian policy, as Ankara does not need to be alone in delaying Sweden’s accession. 

Turkey has been conducting a tough, but entirely rational, calculated policy: it has set a number of demands both vis-à-vis Sweden and the US. Once Ankara’s requests can be agreed upon, Turkey is highly likely to approve Sweden’s accession.

Meanwhile, there are simply no demands from the Hungarian side. Unlike Ankara, Budapest is not asking for anything at all from Stockholm, focusing solely on making critical remarks. 

This renders it unclear what Hungary would actually gain from delaying Sweden’s accession. It is at least questionable whether paying lip service to Ankara would be worth the damage inflicted upon the credibility of Budapest as a NATO ally.

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Meanwhile, Russia is applauding the delay

Meanwhile, there is another player that certainly does not mind the delayed Swedish NATO accession: Russia. 

Moscow has long been opposed to any enlargement of NATO. From the Kremlin’s perspective, Sweden’s NATO membership would mean that the Baltic Sea became “Lake NATO”, limiting the power of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, as well as of the other assets deployed to Kaliningrad. 

This forces Moscow to adjust its entire military posture in the Baltic Sea region. This is already happening, as Russia is in the process of recreating the old Leningrad Military District. 

As the process is at least cumbersome, Moscow certainly applauds the extra time granted by the delayed Swedish NATO accession. And from this perspective, Hungary is serving not only Turkish but also Russian interests.

Dr András Rácz is a Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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We can’t let Russia demoralise Ukraine’s Western backers

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

By stopping an aggressive, revisionist Russia dead in its tracks, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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On 3 October, Russian special police arrested and beat up a Russian Orthodox monk, Ilya Sigida, in his temple in the southern Russian town of Slavyansk-on-Kuban in the Krasnodar region. Sigida is not an ordinary monk but also holds the title of aide to the regional archbishop.

However, the Russian state felt confident to assault him because he wrote an article for the site of the bishopric about the way in which Christianity and Christians should view the unpleasant topic of war. The Russian army or its leadership weren’t even mentioned in the piece.

Sigida’s fate is just the latest example of why Russia simply isn’t the traditionalist Mecca it tries to be for the Western alt-right — while at the same time, it’s neither the ideological descendant of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, with the Kremlin’s actions clearly showing it’s become the polar opposite of its anti-fascist convictions of the past.

Yet, today, the number of those opposing the continued aid to Ukraine keeps growing, especially among the increasingly polarised extremes who see Vladimir Putin as the ultimate truthteller.

In turn, the conviction of the extremes has caused a ripple effect with the more moderate citizens of Europe and the US, and governments throughout the Western world are being made to justify their continued support of Ukraine.

This is why a shift has to be made from a purely emotional narrative at the outset of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 towards more rational geopolitical arguments about why supporting Kyiv actually means ensuring the future of the democratic world as a whole.

‘As long as it takes’ starting to irritate?

After almost 20 months of Russia’s total war against Ukraine, one thing is certain — the conflict is set to march on at least into the next year, with no end in sight. 

While many in the West had high hopes after Ukraine’s swift rout in Kharkiv and less swift, but nonetheless effective, victories in Kherson, the reality of war saw Moscow muster enough manpower not to allow a quick and painless breakthrough of its main defensive lines. 

In political terms, this means that the cost of aiding Ukraine — both in military and economic terms — continues to rise, all amidst a crisis of democracy not seen in the Western world since the 1920s and 1930s. 

The “as long as it takes” catchphrase of US President Joe Biden’s administration is starting to irritate a part of the domestic electorate, a feeling also present throughout Western Europe. 

These voices are not prevalent, but they cannot be ignored, in a way that they present great peril, not only to Ukraine but to the prestige and position of the collective West in an increasingly fractured world.

Support for Ukraine reached maturity

Yet, the unprecedented polarisation of American society, coupled with the end of “Pax Americana” — the period of relative peace in the Western hemisphere that saw the US become the dominant political, economic and cultural power — is something that Ukraine’s leadership and all those that support the struggle of its people for freedom from foreign occupation have to contend with. 

And we are now at the stage where the global movement to help Ukraine reaches its maturity. 

It now goes well beyond posting flags next to personal accounts on various social networks; it is not merely a feel-good cause one can carelessly stand behind, nor is it a social fad. 

Aid to Ukraine is a strategic political, economic, military and societal decision, which will shape the future of the Western world alongside Ukraine itself. 

The Ukrainian cause is just, moral, and essential as a legitimising factor for the Western brand of democracy, along with the European Union and NATO. 

After many blunders and dubious interventions in places like the Middle East, the Western world has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate its own values, resolve and strength.

Placing our bets on David vs Goliath

If the West were to allow Ukraine to be left alone against the much more powerful aggressor, it would most probably receive new chances to support a just cause, only this time it would likely be the Baltic states or Poland. 

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In other words, abandoning Ukraine would be like extending an invitation to a resurgent and revisionist Russia to march on further into Eastern Europe. 

Let us not forget that, for Putin’s regime, the die has been already cast and there is no going back. 

If the Kremlin isn’t stopped in the Ukrainian steppes, it will advance towards central Europe, destroying NATO’s reputation every step of the way. The West is invested in this war — a war it most certainly didn’t desire, but a war that brings advantages as well. 

This is why the favourable rational aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian War should be pushed to the front of the debate in Western polities. 

There has been too much emphasis on morality, tapping into the altruistic motives of societies driven most often by self-interest. 

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This moral narrative, while true, has shaped the war through the eyes of the casual nominally powerless Western observer as a hopeless, albeit valiant, struggle of David vs Goliath. But in the real world, it’s difficult to place your bets on David.

Defending the borders of the democratic world

Since Russia’s war in Ukraine is now also a conflict of strategic importance for the West itself, the main legitimising narrative of supporting Kyiv’s war effort and wrecked economy cannot rely mainly on arguments of morality. 

Putting into play rational geopolitical arguments would actually provide an understandable set of strategic goals which the democratic Western world aims to achieve by aiding Ukraine. 

The main and rationally achievable aim has to be the containment of Russia. Its power projection needs to be clipped, its aggression curtailed in such a manner that it will not be able to convince anyone that it represents anything other than a regional power with delusions of grandeur. 

The whole autocratic world is watching and, while the US has lost the stomach for unwise and audacious foreign military interventions after erring greatly in the Middle Eastern theatre, investing in Ukraine is precisely the initiative needed to help stave off the geopolitical sharks that have sensed the scent of blood in the water.

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Not a single US soldier has died in Ukraine, the cause is perfectly just, one anyone can stand behind without later feeling remorse, and it represents being on the right side of history. 

But it’s more than that: this is a genuine opportunity for both the US and a united Europe to prove that they can defend the borders of their democratic world. 

The Ukrainians are willing to fulfil this role, not because they are bellicose fanatics, but because their own survival and their core cultural and national identity are in grave danger. 

Ukrainians are fighting against getting wiped from the face of the Earth and then being reconstructed in the Kremlin’s own image, piecemeal.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians know what is at stake

This is no one’s proxy war. Instead, it is a case of intersected interests. 

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For Russia, it is a battle to protect the regime in the Kremlin, to prolong its lifespan, and a great revanchist leap which would prove to the West once and for all that Russia is mightier even than the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire put together. 

Amidst that, Putin wants to reign until his natural death and to be viewed as a fearsome emperor. 

For Ukraine, it is a matter of survival — both physical and spiritual. Russia would not only murder and repress Ukrainians, it would reconstruct the historic, cultural, national and even religious identity of the remains of the Ukrainian people. 

Ukrainians don’t need Biden or NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to tell them to fight. They know what is at stake. 

For China, this war is an opportunity to tie a weakened Russia closer to itself to further exploit it. Beijing would also like to see a weakened Russia trapped in this conflict forever since it would drain both the Kremlin’s resources and those of the West. 

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The West has an interest to stop an aggressive, revisionist power in its tracks, crippling it for decades, and putting Russia in such a position that it won’t matter who’s in power. It may become democratic, or it may not, but it won’t pose a danger to its neighbours. 

And by achieving this goal, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world.

Now is the time to explain this to electorates

It falls to the leading political figures and parties of the Western world to explain to their electorates that investing in Ukraine is synonymous with investing in their own future. 

It doesn’t matter if one is on the side of the progressives or the traditionalists in the great values-based divide of today. Aid to Ukraine works to the general advantage of the West as a whole. 

It would really help the debate if the Western traditionalist electorate was more familiar with the ideological eclecticism of Putin’s Russia, which can propagate Joseph Stalin as well as any tsar, and which isn’t above misusing the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran for the gain of its propaganda. 

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Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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This is why Sweden might not join NATO after all

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone — it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion, Dr Gladden Pappin writes.

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Fifteen months after Sweden was invited to join NATO, its accession to the joint defence alliance is at a clear inflexion point. 

Until this summer, Sweden’s accession looked like a fait accompli, pending what everyone assumed would be an eventual, pro forma approval by Hungary and Turkey. 

But as Ukraine’s defensive efforts have run aground and attention has turned elsewhere even in the most hawkish corners of the Western alliance, the Swedish candidacy is firmly on the rocks.

It is worth asking why. 

‘Rapid shedding of historical neutrality’

In the weeks after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, fundamental assumptions about the structure of the Western alliance were thrown out the window. 

Age-old policies of neutrality suddenly looked “immoral,” and pressure was duly brought on Sweden and Finland to step away from the sidelines and join NATO. 

During the spring of 2022, Swedes themselves expressed concern at the rapid shedding of their historical neutrality. Yet international frustration is currently directed at Turkey and Hungary for not yet ratifying Sweden’s accession.

Hungary and Turkey aren’t stalling arbitrarily. The core problem with Sweden’s accession is that treating it as an inevitable expansion has undermined trust within the alliance. 

Resolving potential points of dispute prior to expansion is essential for a defensive alliance. 

Unlike a mere security alliance where military norms and methods are harmonised, a mutual defensive alliance demands a far higher level of commitment. 

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone; it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion.

Risks that need to be resolved beforehand

In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s senior members and international influencers decided to push hard for its expansion — on an expedited basis, sidestepping typical NATO procedures. 

But when diplomats describe Hungary’s hesitations about ratifying Sweden as an “annoying sideshow,” they stir bad blood which does not contribute to the strengthening of a defensive alliance. 

While Hungary and Turkey have agreed to NATO’s expansion at a political and diplomatic level, the decision ultimately rests with the parliaments of both countries.

There are other reasons that Sweden’s accession has stalled, as well. In recent months, Sweden has been undergoing a series of violent public incidents surrounding the burning of the Quran that have angered Turkey and prompted disappointment from the Hungarian foreign ministry as well. 

Just recently, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg noted that the country has experienced an “unprecedented” wave of violence.

NATO’s founding documents imply that internal stability and security, as well as mutual compatibility, are preconditions for accession and that internal strife shouldn’t be imported into NATO. 

According to Article 4, parties to the treaty “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” 

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Allowing a new member to join NATO while it undergoes internal turmoil, or is in political tension with an existing member, brings with it obvious risks that should be resolved beforehand.

Engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation

Some level of cultural compatibility is also assumed by accession. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty insists that “the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations” among the parties result from the treaty. Both Hungary and Turkey have complaints on these grounds. 

In April, Sweden joined the European Commission’s case against Hungary at the European Court of Justice — part of the EU-level actions that are holding up billions of euros of funds to which Hungary is otherwise entitled.

As a diplomatic strategy for paving the way to accession, decisions like these are strange, to say the least.

Second, state educational programming in Sweden has characterised Hungary as a backsliding democracy — drawing outrage from Hungarian parliamentarians. 

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While some have sought to pooh-pooh the anti-Hungarian educational material, noting that it was several years old, these issues are precisely the type that should be sorted out prior to accession. 

Instead of engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation of Hungary, Sweden has assumed that Budapest will follow Ankara and hence does not require much direct attention. Such an approach is hardly good preparation for a defensive alliance.

Periodic Quran burnings need to be resolved in satisfactory manner

Similarly, an important part of Turkey’s international image is as a guardian of Islamic culture and civilisation. 

The periodic burnings of the Quran that occur in Sweden are not only offensive to Turkey but also indicate the presence of a difficult internal situation. 

Although Hungary comes from a different cultural background, it enjoys good relations with Turkey and is able to understand the perspective that has caused Ankara to take a cautious approach toward the Swedish accession. 

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Currently, it is an open question whether these matters can be resolved in a manner satisfactory to Turkey as well as to the parliamentary representatives of Hungary’s voters.

From a security standpoint, the urgency of the early days of the war has also faded. With Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is not going to be launching incursions into NATO territory anytime soon, and claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible. 

Arguments for NATO’s expansion now have to be made in a more specific and strategic, not broad-brush manner. 

Sweden’s accession is on hold precisely because Turkey and Hungary understand the nature of the alliance and want to proceed only when the diplomatic, strategic and political elements have been fully resolved.

Urgency to join NATO subsided

The larger reason, then, is that Sweden’s accession to NATO no longer looks like an urgent military imperative for key NATO members. 

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Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender, and the scenarios for mutual defence are likelier to involve committing American troops to protect Sweden than vice versa. 

Given that cultural differences among NATO members — and within countries — have already been increasing, it is important to ask whether each expansion strengthens overall defensive resilience or stretches mutual goodwill beyond the breaking point, by creating mutual obligations that eventually generate animosity.

In recent days, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has explained that Poland will not be transferring new arms acquisitions to Ukraine. 

Likewise, President Andrzej Duda has warned that Poland will not be pulled down along with Ukraine, as the latter continues to suffer. 

With NATO’s most hawkish members hesitant about their own arms transfers, while the alliance itself remains formally uninvolved, it is natural that overall sentiment toward expansion might also cool or slow.

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NATO membership is a serious committment

Ultimately, it is crucial to understand what the commitment to NATO membership means both for an incoming member and for existing members of NATO. 

Decisions about expanding collective defence obligations can only be made clearly when that is evaluated frankly and democratically by each existing member. 

With the rush of spring 2022 now a fading memory, the opportunity for cooler heads to ask questions has now arisen.

Sweden may yet join NATO, or the difficulties that have arisen may block its path for the foreseeable future. 

Either way, the overall interests of the alliance are served only when each member — including the new one — is fully prepared for the mutual obligations such a step entails.

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Dr Gladden Pappin is President of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (HIIA). Since 2021, he has been living in Hungary and has been a senior guest lecturer at Mathias Corvinus Collegium.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Russia woos Haftar, but can the Derna floods give Libyans another chance?

Moscow seized the disaster diplomacy initiative after the deadly Derna floods, with Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov arriving in eastern Libya with a promise of aid. Russia is helping Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar while seeking geostrategic payback. But the Derna tragedy has also drawn the US back into Libya, and that could be a game-changer.

On a moonless night shortly after two dams in the port city of Derna collapsed, killing thousands, a hulking Russian Ilyushin IL-76 military cargo aircraft landed at an airport near Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“Russian Defence Ministry sends logistical reinforcements, rescue & search equipment after Storm Daniel,” noted a post by a local Libyan news site days after the landing on X, formerly Twitter.

Accompanying photographs showed teams unloading aid packages from the aircraft while a military truck, draped with the flags of Russia and Libya, waits on the tarmac at Benghazi’s Benina airport.

The messaging was clear and gained momentum over the next few days: the Russian defence ministry was on the ground, providing a rapid response in eastern Libya, a region controlled by strongman Khalifa Haftar, head of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

On Sunday, September 17 – a week after “Libya’s 9/11” as the Derna disaster has been dubbed – Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov himself was in town, meeting Haftar at the strongman’s Benghazi office.

The Russian defence ministry’s No. 2 is fast becoming Moscow’s “Africa Man”, making several trips to the continent, particularly coup-hit former French colonies such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Yevkurov was last in Libya when Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash near Moscow on August 23. Over the past few years, Wagner provided indispensable services to Haftar, securing oil wells and deploying fighters during the eastern Libyan strongman’s 2019 assault on the capital, Tripoli, in western Libya. Following the Wagner chief’s demise, Yevkurov is seen as the main organiser of the post-Prigozhin era of Russian relationships with Africa.

Read moreRussian general, master spy duo organise in Africa after Prigozhin’s demise

Just a day after Prigozhin’s death, Haftar showed that he was ahead of the intrigues in Moscow when his Benghazi media office released a photograph of the Russian deputy defence minister gifting the Libyan strongman a pistol during his visit.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yunus-bek Yevkurov offers Khalifa Haftar a pistol in Benghazi on August 24, 2023. © Khalifa Khaftar media office via AFP

With its 1,700-kilometer Mediterranean coastline across from southern Europe, and its desert land borders providing a gateway to the Sahel and central Africa, Libya is considered vital to Russia’s interests across the two continents. The oil-rich North African nation is divided between the UN-recognised government administering western Libya and Haftar-controlled territory in the east.

Russia has proved to be a new, loyal ally to Haftar. But the septuagenarian Libyan strongman is not known for his geopolitical fidelity. In the course of an intrigue-packed military career, Haftar has switched sides, worked with rival powers, and managed to save his skin while amassing a fortune. The Derna disaster has repositioned him at the centre of a North African “Great Game”, with the victims of the floods in danger of turning into pawns.

Seeking docking rights for Russian warships

Russia’s outreach in eastern Libya predates the Derna disaster and has been largely opaque and shadowy.

Just two days before Yevkurov’s humanitarian trip to Benghazi, the Wall Street Journal published a report warning that Russia was seeking access for its warships in eastern Libya.

“The Russians have requested access to the ports of either Benghazi or Tobruk,” the US daily reported, citing Libyan officials and advisers. Yevkurov’s meeting with Haftar in August focused on discussing “long-term docking rights in areas he controls in the war-torn country’s east,” the newspaper added.

Prigozhin’s death and the Russian defence ministry’s efforts to fold Wagner mercenaries – including around 1,200 fighters still stationed in Haftar’s facilities – into a direct chain of command have increased the geopolitical stakes, according to Emad Baadi, nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Atlantic Council.

“It’s about securing a warm water port on the Mediterranean, at Europe and NATO’s southern flank, which has been a covert objective of Russia for quite a long time, but on which it hadn’t made inroads, partly because its presence in Libya was never made fully official, let’s say. This is slightly changing now, given the increased high profile, and nature of the visits that we’ve seen with the deputy minister of defence,” said Baadi.

Since NATO intervened in the 2011 uprising to oust Muammar Gaddafi, Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently criticised the operation and used Libya as an example of the Western military alliance’s failure.

More than a decade later, Putin is determined to turn that failure to Russia’s advantage.

“I think they are in Libya to stay, both for resource extraction and strategic positioning, from where they can basically threaten southern Europe and destabilise the security of southern Europe,” said a Western diplomat who declined to be named. “Putin wants to undermine democracy in Europe and what better way to do that than to use Libya as a launching pad for cynically sending illegal migrants into southern Europe. I think this is a medium-to-long-term strategic plan.”

From Tartus to Tobruk, or Benghazi

Russia’s efforts to lobby Haftar for naval access are aimed at duplicating Moscow’s achievements in Syria following the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to experts.

Following its 2015 intervention on Assad’s behalf, Russia has substantially increased the use of its naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only Mediterranean port to which Moscow has access.

With a naval presence in either Benghazi or Tobruk, Russia could significantly increase its reach, by having “surface-to-air missiles deployed, anti-ship cruise missiles, electronic warfare equipment, but more importantly, be able to deploy the Russian Mediterranean fleet to set port,” said Baadi.

“This setup in having both, the eastern flank of Europe [from Tartus] and also the southern flank of Europe [from Libya] presents a strategic advantage, both vis-a-vis Europe and against NATO as well,” he added.

‘Discussing fire safety with an arsonist’

Given the geostrategic stakes, the US is keeping a close eye on Russia’s outreach to Haftar in the wake of the Derna flooding.

Just days after Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yevkurov left Benghazi, the Americans were on the tarmac.

On Thursday, September 21, General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command, and Richard Norland, US special envoy to Libya, arrived in Benghazi in an aircraft bearing humanitarian aid.

After a stop in Tripoli, where they held talks with representatives of the country’s internationally recognised government, the two senior US officials met the strongman of eastern Libya.

“Gen. Langley met with LNA commander Haftar in Benghazi to discuss the importance of forming a democratically elected national government, reunifying the Libyan military, and safeguarding Libyan sovereignty by removing foreign mercenaries,” the US Embassy in Libya said in an X post.


The messaging drew snide quips from Libya analysts monitoring the LNA’s crackdown on journalists and activists following a protest by flood-hit Derna residents outside the city’s landmark Al Sahaba mosque.

“Meeting Haftar to discuss democratic elections is like discussing fire safety with an arsonist. Shut the door on your way out mate,” said Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, on X.

“I think the West is very naïve about how to engage with Haftar,” said Tarek Megerisi, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “My advice to the US would be to take a very strong line in pushing back against the securitisation of the Derna crisis,” he added, referring to what Amnesty International has called the LNA’s “well-honed machinery of repression to silence criticism, muzzle civil society and evade responsibility”.

‘America’s man’ or ‘Russia’s man’ in Libya?

US policy on Libya over the past few years has been characterised by muddle and absence, according to many analysts.

“Washington is playing catchup on Libya because policy is always overshadowed by other priorities,” said Frederic Wehrey, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Libya surfaces in US consciousness when there are threat concerns: ISIS [the Islamic State group], energy security and Russia’s spoiling influence in Libya.”

Since 2014 – when his military “Operation Dignity” on Benghazi split the country in two – Haftar has positioned himself as an indispensable Libyan player who has at various points engaged with the US, Russia, France, Italy, the EU, Egypt and the UAE, even as he dismays officials in global and regional capitals.

A Gaddafi-era army officer, Haftar began the post-2011 chapter as “America’s man” – the product of a 20-year stay in Virginia after the CIA failed to find another country to house his commando force engaged in covert operations against the longtime Libyan dictator. 

“In the back of Russia’s mind, Haftar is still “America’s man” in Libya, especially after the twenty years that Haftar spent in Virginia,” noted Khalil El Hasse in a Washington Institute briefing.

“On whether Haftar is America’s man or Russia’s man, I think he thrives on being in the grey zone – which is fully, neither. But I do think that the Americans have displayed a naiveite that perhaps the Russians have not because the Russians are as opportunistic, if not more opportunistic, than Haftar himself,” said Baadi.

The US and its European allies have played the opportunistic game with Haftar, but they are falling behind Russia in strategy and the Libyan people have been the biggest losers, according to experts.

“A variety of international powers have crafted their relationship with this personality under the guise of counterterrorism,” said Stephanie Williams, former UN special envoy to Libya and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution. “Nations tend to prioritise these kind of discrete files – whether it’s counterterrorism or oil or counter-migration – at the expense of frankly, the kind of institution-building that was needed in the wake of 2011.”

More than a decade after Gaddafi’s ouster, the international roadmap for the North African country is focused on a “Libyan-led” process towards parliamentary and presidential elections.

The process, led by the current UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, a veteran Senegalese diplomat, has a whiff of dismaying familiarity for most Libyans, who have endured election cancellations, obstructions and irregularities by their political elites.

During the September 10 protests outside the Al Sahaba mosque in Derna, residents vented their rage against Aguila Saleh, the eastern-based parliament speaker and Haftar ally. At 79, Saleh is viewed as a symbol of Libya’s political malaise, unilaterally pushing “legislation” through the chamber that favour his cronies and Haftar allies.

Saleh’s nephew, Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, was Derna’s appointed mayor when the dam disaster that was “decades in the making” struck. Ghaithi was sacked shortly after the tragedy.

Read moreLibya’s deadly dam collapse was decades in the making

The Derna disaster could provide a tipping point for change, and it’s one that should be seized by countries supporting democracy in Libya before the Russians – under a new “Africa man” – can play spoiler.

“Derna does in fact represent an opportunity for responsible international and regional actors to correct the trajectory of their policy on Libya, to first of all stand with the Libyan people,” said Williams. “There is a moral responsibility now because what happened in Libya is going to happen somewhere else, we’re going have a climate change-driven event that will be compounded by conflict, chaos and misgovernance.”



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