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The first days of war in Ukraine, the Nato debate in Finland and Sweden, and sanctions on Russia

All the big cities of Ukraine are still resisting and have not fallen into Russian hands. Facing increasing military challenges, Putin ordered the Russian army "to activate preparation for using nuclear weapons" arguing that some NATO officials made "aggressive" statements. Additionally, Belarus, which is a close ally of Russia, held a referendum this week to decide whether the country would change the Constitution to allow the placement of Russian nuclear bombs on its territory. According to the dictator of that country, Alexander Lukashenko, 79% of the population participated and the "yes" won with 65% of the votes. Since the beginning of the invasion, Western countries have imposed harsh sanctions against Russia: • Disconnection of several Russian banks from the Swift international payment system. • Freezing of Russian funds abroad and financial rupture with the Central Bank of Russia. • Ban on Russian airlines from using the entire airspace of the European Union. • Sanctions on Russian trade in the energy sector, transport and some industrial products.

• Sanctions on oligarcs and persons from the government that are close allies of Vladimir Putin.

• Pro-Kremlin news sites like RT and Sputnik have been blocked in Europe. Three days ago, Russia said it was ready to negotiate with the Zelensky government and this morning they met in the Belarusian city of Gomel, located on the tripartite border of these countries, with the participation of minor officials and the Russian billionaire and former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Ukraine hopes for a ceasefire without losing territory but with the willingness to discuss an eventual 'neutrality' and thus abandoning its plans to join NATO. However, the Ukrainian government has now asked the European Union to admit immediately Ukraine as a country member. Many European countries have expressed that they consider this a "good idea" as Ukraine is "fighting for Europe". For now, the European Commission has decided to substantially increase military support to Ukraine with fighter planes and heavy weapons. By doing this, countries like Germany and Sweden have broken their traditional policy of not exporting weapons to conflict zones. Thousands of Ukrainians living abroad have suddenly returned to their country to enlist in the army and there are numerous Ukrainian celebrities who are already fighting on the front lines. Additionally, many European far-right groups have declared that they will go to Ukraine to fight the Russians, the Anonymous group has hacked some Russian news sites, and Elon Musk has supplied Ukraine with his Starlink internet service through his satellites to counter Russian cyber attacks. So far, there are about 500,000 Ukrainian refugees who have already crossed into Europe, of which half into Poland. In Russia, there have been numerous protests against Putin and the media are not allowed to use the word "war" in their coverage of the events. Chinese President Xi Jinping called Putin last month his "best friend" and has now said that China is willing to help Russia but does not like this military intervention. Other allies of Russia that have supported the invasion are Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and Syria, and only a few such as India have remained neutral. Finland announced this weekend that its Parliament will vote a citizen proposal that gathered 50,000 signatures last week regarding NATO membership. Sweden for its part has said that "they are waiting to see how everything evolves to take a decision about it." So far, the most repeated figures speak about 4,000 dead Russian soldiers. On the Ukrainian side, 300 dead soldiers and a similar number of civilians, including a dozen children. The Russian perspective is that

• The war actually started in 2014 and that Russia is only seeking to end it once and for all.

• Russia is coming to the rescue of its Russian citizens in eastern Ukraine who have been subjected to "genocide" by Nazis and "drug addicts in the Kyiv government"

• This is not a war but a "special military operation" that seeks to ensure the lasting of peace in Europe by preventing Ukraine to join Nato.


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