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Nato unity faces scrutiny as defences to protect the Baltic states ramp up

The war in Ukraine will dominate this week's summit in Madrid, including the admission of Finland and Sweden as members.

By Ido Vock

Nato leaders will meet this week in Madrid for a pivotal summit of the alliance, the first since Russia invaded Ukraine this year. 

Ahead of the summit, the leaders of the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia warned that current plans for the defence of the countries, which all border Russia, would result in the countries being “wiped off the map” before an alliance counter-attack to retake them. The Baltics argue that if Russia has learned from its disastrous push on Kyiv in the initial days of the war, their capitals could fall before the alliance coordinates a counter-attack.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg says in an interview with the Financial Times today that the alliance’s new “strategic concept” – a roughly once-in-a-decade document setting out its goals and approaches for the coming 10 years – will switch from deterrence to a full defence of the countries bordering Russia. That would mean the alliance increasing the number of troops currently stationed in the Baltics enough to defend and even counter-attack against a Russian offensive.

The accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance will be the other big theme of the summit. Both countries have said they intend to join Nato after decades of neutrality, but it remains unclear whether Turkey – which accuses them of friendliness to a Kurdish group which Ankara classifies as terrorist – will block the process.

The Nato summit will follow a meeting of the G7, the grouping of the world’s richest democracies, which began yesterday in southern Germany. The grouping is discussing a price cap on Russian oil, intended to limit Moscow’s ability to profit from soaring energy prices. Some members have additionally proposed banning imports of Russian gold.

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[See also: Nato must keep faith with Ukraine]

Russia has also today defaulted on its foreign debt for the first time since the 1990s, according to Bloomberg. The default – a largely symbolic event as Moscow is banned from raising money on international bond markets anyway – illustrates Russia’s isolation from the global economy, which the G7 intends to further.

Over the weekend, Russia attacked targets in Ukraine it has largely left alone in recent weeks, including the capital Kyiv and the western city of Lviv. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said that the attacks were intended to intimidate Ukraine ahead of the G7 summit.

Leaders at both the G7 and Nato summits will be hoping to project an image of Western unity and resolve against Russia. But in the face of a politically difficult cost-of-living crisis and the prospect of a difficult winter – perhaps marked by gas shortages as Russia turns off the taps to Europe – as well as divisions over what a settlement to the Ukraine war could be acceptable, the question is whether that unity can last into what promises to be a tough winter.

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