Ukraine Updates: Turkey Agrees to Allow Sweden and Finland to Join NATO

Credit…Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

MADRID — NATO leaders will formally invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance on Wednesday after Turkey lifted its veto on their membership, NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday evening, 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, underscored 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. Erdogan had been blocking the Nordic countries’ NATO bids amid concerns over Sweden’s longtime support for the P.K.K. which has attacked nonmilitary targets and killed civilians in Turkey, is outlawed in that country and is designated by both the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

But the memorandum does not specify the extradition of any of the 45 people or so Mr. Erdogan wanted sent to Turkey to face trial on terrorism charges. Sweden has already passed tougher legislation against terrorism that goes into effect July 1.

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.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia 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 morning, 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.

The official, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the president conveyed the substance of his conversation with Mr. Erdogan to the leaders of Finland and Sweden. And after several hours of negotiations later that night, the two Nordic leaders consulted with Mr. Biden again before announcing the agreement with Turkey.

The American official said that the deal between Turkey and the two Nordic countries involved a series of compromises on both sides, including the statement by Turkey welcoming Finland and Sweden to apply and issues involving an arms embargo imposed on Turkey and Turkey’s belief that Finland and Sweden had offered safe havens to groups they considered terrorists.

American officials had for days played down Mr. Biden’s role in the negotiations, saying he would not be a broker between the other countries and insisted that it was up to Turkey, Finland and Sweden to resolve their differences.

After the agreement was announced Tuesday night, the senior administration official conceded that it was considered more diplomatic to publicly minimize Mr. Biden’s involvement. Doing so prevented Turkey from seeking concessions from the United States for agreeing to lift its veto, which might have complicated the discussions, the official said.

The next steps for Finland and Sweden are clear: NATO will vote on Wednesday to accept their applications. There will also be a quick study of their defense capacities and needs. But the talks are expected to be routine, since both countries are NATO partners and have exercised together with NATO allies.

The more difficult last step requires the legislatures of all 30 current members to vote to amend the NATO founding treaty to accept the new members. That has in the past taken up to a year, but is expected to be much quicker for the Nordic countries.

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.

Johanna Lemola contributed reporting from Helsinki, Finland.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Go-slow Turkey unlikely to reach Nordics deal at NATO meet -sources

  • NATO leaders meet in Madrid June 29-30
  • Ankara opposed Stockholm and Helsinki’s memberships
  • Turkey ready for months of talks if needed -sources
  • Stance helped Erdogan’s sagging polls ahead of vote

ANKARA, June 27 (Reuters) – A NATO summit this week is unlikely to see a breakthrough to overcome Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland’s membership bids as Ankara takes an unrushed approach to negotiations, according to Turkish officials and Western diplomats.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in what would be a historic enlargement of the Western defence pact. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan surprised allies by opposing it in May over what he called the Nordic countries’ support for terrorist groups. read more

Any membership bid requires approval of all 30 members of NATO, whose leaders convene in Madrid on June 29-30 in what some had billed as a stage to seal a deal.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Turkish negotiators are not concerned with deadlines imposed by foreign allies and are ready to press on for months if needed for the Nordic states to drop arms embargoes and crack down on what it sees as terrorist groups, the four sources told Reuters.

Based on draft language exchanged by NATO officials and the three sides this month, a big snag is Turkey’s demand that Sweden, in particular, extradites some Kurdish militants living there, said one person close to the matter.

The officials and diplomats did not rule out a last-minute deal. But Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin repeated a week ago that Ankara – NATO’s second-biggest military and a member for 70 years – awaits binding steps and does not see the summit as a deadline.

“There were meetings, but unfortunately steps we expected are not being taken,” said a Turkish government official involved in the talks. “It seems difficult for a result to come out of the NATO summit.”

In an interview with broadcaster Haberturk on Sunday, Kalin said he and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal would hold fresh talks with Finnish and Swedish officials in Brussels on Monday, followed by another round of talks between the leaders of NATO, Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday before the Madrid summit. read more

“Attending this summit does not mean we will take a step back from our position,” Kalin said, referring to Tuesday’s four-way meeting. “We have largely reached an agreement, there are some issues we don’t agree on. If we agree on those, that is how we’re going to go to Madrid.”

ELECTIONS AT HOME

The person close to the matter, who also requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of talks, said the document outlining Swedish and Finnish commitments had boiled down to a few sections not yet fully agreed.

They included the appropriate treatment of a NATO partner on arms export controls, which the Nordic states applied to Turkey in 2019; a recognition of certain groups as terrorists; and concrete action on extraditions of individuals, the person said.

Turkey ramped up engagement in mid-June but its approach “is not driven by internationally-set thresholds…like Madrid”, the person said, adding one step forward was Stockholm’s agreement to ongoing consultations on counter-terrorism.

Erdogan, facing tight general and presidential elections over the next 12 months, says the Nordics harbour people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and United States, as well as Gulenist followers of a cleric accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.

The tough stance has helped his polls rebound even as Turkey’s inflation rate soars and its currency tumbles largely due to the president’s unorthodox economic policies. read more

A Western diplomat said Erdogan would likely eventually back the membership bids and declare victory to voters. “But this issue could last for several more months as he looks toward an election and NATO allies get increasingly frustrated.”

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Qatar to host indirect Iran-US talks on reviving 2015 nuclear deal

Iran’s and U.S.’ flags are seen printed on paper in this illustration taken January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

DUBAI, June 27 (Reuters) – Indirect talks between Iran and the United States will start on Tuesday in Qatar’s capital, the Iranian foreign ministry said on Monday, amid a push by the European Union to break a months-long impasse in negotiations to secure a 2015 nuclear pact.

Confirming the arch foes will meet in Doha this week, the U.S. State Department said Iran needed to decide to drop additional demands that go beyond the nuclear pact. read more

“Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani will travel to Doha on Tuesday for the nuclear talks,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Naser Kanani told state news agency IRNA.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Earlier, a source briefed on the visit said that U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, was expected to arrive in Doha on Monday and meet the Qatari foreign minister. An Iranian official also told Reuters that Iran’s Bagheri Kani, would be in Doha for the talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Qatari government has yet to comment.

The pact appeared close to being secured in March when the EU invited foreign ministers representing the accord’s parties to Vienna to finalise an agreement after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.

But the talks have since been suspended, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

Last week, one Iranian and one European official told Reuters that Iran had dropped its demand for the removal of the IRGC’s FTO sanctions, but still two issues, including one on sanctions, remained to be resolved.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on Monday.

The 2015 nuclear pact imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, reimposing tough economic sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s ruling clerics responded by breaching the pact’s nuclear restrictions.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Humeyra Pamuk in Madrid
Writing by Parisa Hafezi
Editing by William Maclean, Bernadette Baum and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Spain turns to Africa, lobbies NATO, allies over Ukraine-driven migration

  • Spain hosts NATO summit this week
  • Spain likely to push for more shared intelligence, sources
  • Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to Canaries
  • Morocco clamping down on migration after deal with Spain
  • Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, NGOs say

MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is shifting its foreign policy towards Africa while lobbying the EU and NATO for support to address migration from the continent, aggravated by the Ukraine invasion, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration, the diplomats said.

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had revived a strategy mothballed by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and to tackle root causes such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

That drive has now taken on more urgency, they added.

“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbours around us and jointly managing phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can deal with on its own,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares told Reuters. He declined to give details.

Spain, its southern neighbours and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, the sources said.

On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces when around 2,000 people tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco in recent weeks has toughened containment measures following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. read more

Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entrance point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, Spanish data showed, with the busiest period of the year still to come.

Reuters Graphics

Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, including Africa and Latin America. Although it is largely a transit country, previous jumps in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.

Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to keep migrants from danger.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become enormous watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when all they aspire to is a better life,” Albares said.

Human rights groups and migration advocates, however, say Spain’s quest to outsource enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with a history of abuses and heavy-handed policing.

The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing the borders of the EU,” groups including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Spanish migration charity Walking Borders said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Sanchez’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid hopes to secure a commitment at the NATO summit to better policing of “hybrid threats,” including the possibility irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. It will also lobby NATO to dedicate resources to securing the alliance’s Southern Flank. read more

Madrid will ask NATO for “allied intelligence sharing,” including on issues related to migration, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalise and expand on existing intelligence cooperation.

At the summit, NATO will reinforce cooperation efforts with southern countries and agree a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and strengthening its defence and security,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper El Pais at the weekend.

The expanded NATO presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defence analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Institute, a think tank.

Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO could expand operations in Africa.

NATO sources and academics signal that Spain’s proposals will face resistance amid conflicting needs from countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbours in the Baltic States. read more

Spain says the growing influence of Russia in unstable countries including the Central African Republic and Sahel nation Mali risks fuelling insecurity to the south of Europe. read more

Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grains exports from Ukraine and Moscow ally Belarus’ policy last year of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.

“Putin wants to use food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of migration crisis of the magnitude we have seen in 2015-16 to destabilise the EU,” one European Union official told Reuters.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own exports of grains for a jump in global prices.

Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL

In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a flurry of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building for controlling borders and the fight against terrorism.

In June, the government sent to parliament a new development bill to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control to eight African countries.

Italy too has sought to enlist support, with the government earlier hosting a meeting of southern European nations to push for a post-Ukraine migration policy that distributes arrival numbers more evenly throughout Europe. read more

People are already on the move. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year have risen by 45%, and from neighbouring Mali they have doubled.

The rise has not yet been reflected by arrivals to European shores.

A Reuters review of data from European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed migrant numbers arriving in the Canary Islands from the Sahel region of Africa and below it, from Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rose in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

Whole families are increasingly making the trip to the Atlantic islands in fragile rubber dinghies from as far south as Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official in the Canary Islands.

Morocco remains the biggest origin country and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.

Those figures however fell by 85% in March and April from the previous two months, according to figures from Frontex, after Spain changed its policy on the disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s stance. Albares has attributed the drop directly to the change of policy.

Reuters Graphics

“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday, after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on human trafficking gangs.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Russia slides towards default as payment deadline expires

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals!<<<<

The clock on Spasskaya tower showing the time at noon, is pictured next to Moscow?s Kremlin, and St. Basil?s Cathedral, March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

  • Grace period runs out on $100 mln interest payment due May 27
  • Some Taiwanese bondholders did not received payment on Monday – sources
  • Russia says it has funds to pay, sanctions are to blame
  • Lapsed U.S. waiver, EU sanctions on NSD scupper Russia payments
  • CDS committee already declared ‘credit event’ occurred

LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) – Russia looked set for its first sovereign default in decades as some bondholders said they had not received overdue interest on Monday following the expiry of a key payment deadline a day earlier.

Russia has struggled to keep up payments on $40 billion of outstanding bonds since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system and rendered its assets untouchable to many investors.

The Kremlin has repeatedly said there are no grounds for Russia to default but it is unable to send money to bondholders because of sanctions, accusing the West of trying to drive it into an artificial default.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Russia’s efforts to avoid what would be its first major default on international bonds since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago hit a insurmountable roadblock in late May when the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) effectively blocked Moscow from making payments.

“Since March we thought that a Russian default is probably inevitable, and the question was just when,” Dennis Hranitzky, head of sovereign litigation at law firm Quinn Emanuel, told Reuters. “OFAC has intervened to answer that question for us, and the default is now upon us.”

While a formal default would be largely symbolic given Russia cannot borrow internationally at the moment and doesn’t need to thanks to plentiful oil and gas export revenues, the stigma would probably raise its borrowing costs in future.

The payments in question are $100 million in interest on two bonds, one denominated in U.S. dollars and another in euros , Russia was due to pay on May 27. The payments had a grace period of 30 days, which expired on Sunday.

Russia’s finance ministry said it made the payments to its onshore National Settlement Depository (NSD) in euros and dollars, adding it has fulfilled obligations.

Some Taiwanese holders of the bonds had not received payments on Monday, sources told Reuters. read more

For many bondholders, not receiving the money owed in time into their accounts constitutes a default.

With no exact deadline specified in the prospectus, lawyers say Russia might have until the end of the following business day to pay the bondholders.

SMALL PRINT

The legal situation surrounding the bonds looks complex.

Russia’s bonds have been issued with an unusual variety of terms, and an increasing level of ambiguities for those sold more recently, when Moscow was already facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a poisoning incident in Britain in 2018.

Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, chair in banking and finance law at Queen Mary University in London, said clarity was needed on what constituted a discharge for Russia on its obligation, or the difference between receiving and recovering payments.

“All these issues are subject to interpretation by a court of law, but Russia has not waived any of its sovereign immunity and has not submitted to the jurisdiction of any court in any of the two prospectuses,” Olivares-Caminal told Reuters.

In some ways, Russia is in default already.

A committee on derivatives has ruled a “credit event” had occurred on some of its securities, which triggered a payout on some of Russia’s credit default swaps – instruments used by investors to insure exposure to debt against default. This was triggered by Russia failing to make a $1.9 million payment in accrued interest on a payment that had been due in early April. read more

Until the Ukraine invasion, a sovereign default had seemed unthinkable, with Russia being rated investment grade up to shortly before that point. A default would also be unusual as Moscow has the funds to service its debt.

The OFAC had issued a temporary waiver, known as a general licence 9A, in early March to allow Moscow to keep paying investors. It let it expire on May 25 as Washington tightened sanctions on Russia, effectively cutting off payments to U.S. investors and entities.

The lapsed OFAC licence is not the only obstacle Russia faces as in early June the European Union imposed sanctions on the NSD, Russia’s appointed agent for its Eurobonds. read more

Moscow has scrambled in recent days to find ways of dealing with upcoming payments and avoid a default.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last Wednesday to launch temporary procedures and give the government 10 days to choose banks to handle payments under a new scheme, suggesting Russia will consider its debt obligations fulfilled when it pays bondholders in roubles.

“Russia saying it’s complying with obligations under the terms of the bond is not the whole story,” Zia Ullah, partner and head of corporate crime and investigations at law firm Eversheds Sutherland told Reuters.

“If you as an investor are not satisfied, for instance, if you know the money is stuck in an escrow account, which effectively would be the practical impact of what Russia is saying, the answer would be, until you discharge the obligation, you have not satisfied the conditions of the bond.”

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Additional reporting by Emily Chan in Taipeh and Sujata Rao in London; Editing by David Holmes, Emelia Sithole-Matarise & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

As Russia Chokes Ukraine’s Grain Exports, Romania Tries to Fill In

Stopping at the edge of a vast field of barley on his farm in Prundu, 30 miles outside Romania’s capital city of Bucharest, Catalin Corbea pinched off a spiky flowered head from a stalk, rolled it between his hands, and then popped a seed in his mouth and bit down.

“Another 10 days to two weeks,” he said, explaining how much time was needed before the crop was ready for harvest.

Mr. Corbea, a farmer for nearly three decades, has rarely been through a season like this one. The Russians’ bloody creep into Ukraine, a breadbasket for the world, has caused an upheaval in global grain markets. Coastal blockades have trapped millions of tons of wheat and corn inside Ukraine. With famine stalking Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, a frenetic scramble for new suppliers and alternate shipping routes is underway.

barge that had sunk in World War II.

Rain was not as plentiful in Prundu as Mr. Corbea would have liked it to be, but the timing was opportune when it did come. He bent down and picked up a fistful of dark, moist soil and caressed it. “This is perfect land,” he said.

67.5 million tons of cargo, more than a third of it grain. Now, with Odesa’s port closed off, some Ukrainian exports are making their way through Constanta’s complex.

Railway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.

During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.

But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.

Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.

Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.

Over the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.

Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.

When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.

Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.

That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.

“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ukraine News: Russia Calls E.U. Move to Advance Ukraine’s Joining ‘Hostile’

Credit…Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The European Union officially made Ukraine a candidate for membership on Thursday, signaling in the face of a devastating Russian military onslaught that it sees Ukraine’s future as lying in an embrace of the democratic West.

While Ukraine’s accession into the bloc could take a decade or more, the decision sends a powerful message of solidarity to Kyiv and a rebuke to Moscow, which has worked for more than a decade to keep Ukraine from building Western ties.

The step was seen as almost impossible mere weeks ago, not least because Ukraine was seen as too far behind in terms of eliminating corruption and instituting economic reforms.

But the decision to nonetheless give it candidate status was another leap for European nations that have been rapidly shedding preconceptions and reservations to back Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.

“Agreement,” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said on Twitter. “A historic moment. Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU.”

Candidacy in the European Union, which the 27 E.U. leaders also granted to Moldova, is a milestone but little else. It signals that a nation is in position, if certain conditions are met, to begin a very detailed, painstaking and yearslong process of changes and negotiations with the bloc, with a view to eventually joining.

When that might happen depends on the readiness of the country in question, which must align itself institutionally, democratically, economically and legally to E.U. laws and norms. On average, the process has taken other countries about 10 years; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years, but is unlikely to join.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called the E.U. move “one of the most important decisions for Ukraine” in its 30 years as an independent state.

“This is the greatest step toward strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, in our time, and precisely in the context of the Russian war, which is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Telegram.

The European Union began in 1952 as a free-trade bloc among a core six nations. It has grown through the years to not only include huge swaths of the European continent, but also to encompass policies far beyond trade and economics, although those remain its strongest and best-aligned types of joint work.

The war in Ukraine has forced the European Union into foreign policy, defense and military alignment, areas that it is both politically uncomfortable with and legally underqualified to address. Although no substitute for NATO, the bloc could in future years — by the time Ukraine actually joins — develop into more of a military union.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, the largest E.U. nations, gave a preview of the decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine in a visit last week to its capital, Kyiv. Still, a handful of member countries needed to be convinced that despite Ukraine’s unreadiness to join the union, it was vital to give it the prospect.

Important as the moment is for Ukraine, it is deeply significant for the European Union, too. Most members had been eager to keep the bloc from growing, partly because its 27 members already find it at times exceedingly hard to agree on key issues like democratic freedoms, economic overhauls and the role of the courts.

The bloc nearly doubled in size in the decade from 2004 to 2014, adding 13 members, many of them poorer former Soviet nations that swiftly gained access to wealthier labor markets and ample funding by the bloc.

That integration is still not complete, with several nations struggling with corruption, rule-of-law issues and economic backsliding. This calls into question the bloc’s capacity to absorb a country of Ukraine’s size and population.

Some European nations would have also liked to see Albania and North Macedonia, Balkan nations that have been candidates for more than a decade, admitted before Ukraine. Western Balkan leaders met with their E.U. counterparts earlier Thursday, but the meeting yielded no progress.

The move to grant Ukraine’s candidacy is bound to irritate Russia, which has described Ukraine’s aspirations to align itself with Western institutions like NATO and the European Union as a provocation and interference in its sphere of influence.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Russia’s Blockade of Ukraine Is ‘War Crime,’ Top E.U. Official Says

LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.

The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.

Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.

arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.

The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.

considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.

NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ukraine News: Zelensky Celebrates Support for Kyiv’s Path to E.U.

Credit…Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Speaking to the press after his meetings with European leaders on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the support they showed for Ukraine’s candidacy to join the European Union but said more immediate military aid would be needed to stand against Russia.

“The very course of European history has proved the correctness of the E.U.’s positive response to Ukraine’s aspirations,” he said. It will, he said, “strengthen freedom in Europe and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”

At the same time, he appealed again for more heavy weapons, especially for the battlefields in eastern Ukraine.

“We expect new supplies, especially heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery and missile defense systems,” he said. “Each batch of supplies saves people’s lives. And every day of delays or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians.”

Talks, he said, will not end the war. “We touched on the theme of diplomatic efforts of various countries to achieve peace,” he said. “Everybody sees the only obstacle to all these efforts is the unreadiness of the Russian Federation for real actions, for real negotiations.”

In his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky said that the meeting was a “big step,” and thanked the leaders of Italy, Romania, France and Germany for their defense aid. Mr. Zelensky also said that Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, would assist Ukraine in the transit of its goods, including exporting grain.

Before the visit, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky said far more weaponry would be needed to turn the tide in battles in the east. Ukraine will need 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 300 rocket artillery systems, the aide said.

During NATO minister meetings on Wednesday, the United States promised more than $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine, including many long-range artillery and missile systems. So far, the United States has provided 108 towed howitzers, 200 armored personnel carriers, 800 Stinger antiaircraft missiles and 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles.

But European weapons transfers have lagged, comparatively. Mr. Macron on Thursday promised an additional six self-propelled Caesar howitzers, in addition to 12 already supplied. Germany has provided 14 armored personnel carriers and 2,500 antiaircraft missiles, including Stingers.

A sense of disappointment was palpable among Ukrainian commentators and even some officials in Mr. Zelensky’s government on Thursday over perceived attempts in Europe to push Ukraine toward negotiations with Russia at this stage.

Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to the interior minister, posted on social media that “Macron, Scholz and Draghi are bringing us candidacy for the E.U. and a request to return to the negotiating process with Putin.”

The European Commission is expected to unveil its official recommendation on Ukraine’s application to become a member of the European Union on Friday and, officials say, it is likely to recommend that the nation be granted candidate status.

Still, though overshadowed now by war, the expected acceptance of Ukraine’s application to join the bloc was widely celebrated as a breakthrough for Ukraine, even though the process of joining the bloc is arduous and can take as long as a decade.

To join, a country must also make its political system, judiciary and economy compatible with the bloc by adopting the E.U.’s system of common law, as well as more than 80,000 pages of rules and regulations.

Nevertheless, the desire to link Ukraine more closely to Europe was the issue that animated street protesters who toppled a pro-Russian president eight years ago.

And the prospect of eventually joining would help rally Ukrainians today by signaling a postwar future within the European Union and an end to perceptions of Ukraine as a security buffer zone with Russia, Oleksiy Honcharenko, a member of Parliament, said in an interview.

“It’s a psychological weapon to demonstrate that Ukraine has a future,” he said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<