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Finland seeks NATO membership ‘without delay’ as Ukraine pushes back Russian forces

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Flags wave outside the Alliance headquarters ahead of a NATO Defence Ministers meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

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(Note profanity in final paragraph quote)

By Anne Kauranen and Jonathan Landay

HELSINKI/KHARKIV (Reuters) – Finland said on Thursday it would apply to join NATO “without delay”, with Sweden expected to follow suit, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brings about the very expansion of the Western military alliance that Vladimir Putin aimed to prevent.

The decision by the two Nordic countries to abandon the neutrality they maintained throughout the Cold War would be one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.

They are the two biggest EU countries that had stayed out of NATO, and Finland’s 1,300-km (800-mile) border will more than double the frontier between the U.S.-led alliance and Russia, putting NATO guards a few hours’ drive from the northern outskirts of St Petersburg.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement in Helsinki. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”

Five diplomats and officials told Reuters that NATO allies expect both countries to be granted membership quickly, paving the way for increased troop presence in the Nordic region to defend them during a one-year ratification period.

The announcement came even as Russia’s war in Ukraine was hitting another turning point, with Ukrainian forces driving Russian troops out of the region around the second largest city Kharkiv, their fastest advance since forcing Russia to withdraw from the capital and northeast more than a month ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited NATO’s potential expansion as one of the main reasons for Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine launched in February.

Ukraine had also expressed a desire to eventually join the U.S.-led Western alliance, although it has since offered to accept a form of neutral status as part of peace talks.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, threatening “serious military and political consequences”.

Asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining NATO, Niinisto said: “My response would be that (Putin)caused this. Look at the mirror.”

NATO describes itself as a fundamentally defensive alliance, built around the principle that an attack on one member is an attack on all, effectively granting U.S. allies the protection of American superpower might, including its nuclear arsenal.

Moscow sees that as a threat to its influence in neighbouring countries. But Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has caused a shift in public opinion in the Nordic region, with political parties that had backed neutrality for generations now coming to embrace the view that Russia is a menace.

UKRAINIAN COUNTER-ATTACK

On the front lines, Ukraine has mounted a bold counter-offensive in recent days that has ousted Russian forces from villages north and east of Kharkiv, where Russian troops had held the outskirts since the beginning of the invasion.

Reuters journalists have confirmed in recent days that Ukraine is now in control of territory on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, around 40 km (25 miles) from Kharkiv.

To the north, the Ukrainians have been pushing towards the Russian border. In the latest advance, they announced on Wednesday they had captured the village of Pytomnyk, halfway to the Russian border along the main highway north of Kharkiv.

“The withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv Oblast (region) is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population,” Britain’s ministry of defence said in an update on Thursday.

Ukraine’s general staff said in an update overnight: “The enemy is regrouping in order to prevent our forces from advancing further” around Kharkiv, with combat under way where Russians had crossed the Siverskiy Donets.

Ukraine’s advances near Kharkiv could put some of Russia’s main supply lines to eastern Ukraine, located on the far bank of the Siverskiy Donets, within range of Ukrainian artillery, and even allow it to bombard staging areas inside Russia.

Both sides reported strikes overnight across the Russia-Ukraine border, which Reuters was not able to confirm.

Ukrainian officials reported shelling across the frontier from the Russian border town of Tyotkino, and air strikes that killed and wounded civilians in the northern Ukrainian city of Novhorod-Siversky.

Russia said one person was killed and seven wounded in Solokhi, a village near the border in its Belgorod region. Authorities have declared an alert in Belgorod and Kursk regions near the frontier.

Elsewhere, the Ukraine general staff said Russia had had some success advancing towards Kudryashivka and Sievierodonetsk, part of Moscow’s main assault in the eastern Donbas region.

Air strikes were continuing on Azovstal, a giant steelworks in the ruined southeastern port city of Mariupol where Ukrainian defenders have been making a last stand.

In the hamlet of Vilkhivka on Kharkiv’s eastern outskirts, the Ukrainian advance had made it possible for residents to return to comb through the wreckage of homes destroyed in heavy fighting weeks ago.

A grizzled pensioner recounted how Russian troops had used him and other villagers as human shields before retreating after fierce fighting.

“Can they really be called real soldiers after that?” he spat. “They are motherfuckers, not military men!”

Commodities

Oil Up as Economic Growth Worries Continue

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© Reuters.

By Gina Lee

Investing.com – Oil was up on Thursday morning in Asia, recovering from early losses as concerns over tight global supplies outweighed fears over slower economic growth.

Brent oil futures jumped 1.45% to $110.69 by 12:58 AM ET (5:58 AM GMT), after falling by more than $1 earlier in the session. WTI futures rose 1.07% to $108.18 recovering from an earlier loss of more than $2 and were up 56 cents, or 0.5%, at $107.60 a barrel for July 2022.

Both Brent and WTI benchmarks fell about 2.5% on Wednesday.

“A slump in Wall Street soured sentiment in early trade as it underlined concerns over weakening consumption and fuel demand,” Rakuten Securities commodity analyst Satoru Yoshida told Reuters.

Asian stocks on Thursday followed a steep Wall Street selloff, as rising global inflation, China’s zero-COVID policy, and the Ukraine war led to fears of an economic recession.

“Still, oil markets are keeping a bullish trend as a pending import ban by the European Union on Russian crude is expected to further tighten global supply,” said Yoshida.

The European Union earlier in the month proposed a new package of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The package includes a total ban on Russian oil imports in six months’ time, but the measures have not yet been adopted amid continued resistance to the plan from member countries including Hungary.

On Wednesday, the European Commission unveiled a €210 billion ($220.65 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s U.S. crude oil supply data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed a draw of 3.394 million barrels for the week to May 13. Forecasts prepared by Investing.com predicted a build of 1.383 million barrels, while an 8.487-million-barrel build was reported during the previous week.

Crude oil supply data from the American Petroleum Institute released the day before, showed a draw of 2.445 million barrels. Capacity use on both the East Coast and Gulf Coast was above 95%, with those refineries near their highest possible running rates.

 

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Commodities

Oil prices recoup early losses on China hopes, global supply fears

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workers walk as oil pumps are seen in the background in the Uzen oil and gas field in the Mangistau Region of Kazakhstan November 13, 2021. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

By Yuka Obayashi and Florence Tan

TOKYO (Reuters) -Oil prices rose on Thursday, recovering from early losses, on hopes that planned easing of restrictions in Shanghai could improve fuel demand while lingering concerns over tight global supplies outweighed fears of slower economic growth.

Brent crude futures for July were up $1.53, or 1.4%, at $110.64 a barrel at 0447 GMT, after falling by more than $1 earlier in the session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for June rose 93 cents, or 0.8%, to $110.52 a barrel, recovering from an early loss of more than $2. WTI for July was up $1.57, or 1.5%, at $108.50 a barrel.

Both benchmark prices fell about 2.5% on Wednesday.

“A slump in Wall Street soured sentiment in early trade as it underlined concerns over weakening consumption and fuel demand,” said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst with Rakuten Securities. [MKTS/GLOB]

Asian shares on Thursday tracked a steep Wall Street selloff as investors fretted over rising global inflation, China’s zero-COVID policy and the Ukraine war. [MKTS/GLOB]

“Still, oil markets are keeping a bullish trend as a pending import ban by the European Union on Russian crude is expected to further tighten global supply,” Yoshida said.

The European Union this month proposed a new package of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. This would include a total ban on oil imports in six months’ time, but the measures have not yet been adopted, with Hungary being among the most vocal critics of the plan.

The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a 210 billion euro ($220 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, and to use the pivot away from Moscow to quicken its transition to green energy.

Also, U.S. crude inventories fell last week, an unexpected drawdown, as refiners ramped up output in response to tight product inventories and near-record exports that have forced U.S. diesel and gasoline prices to record levels. [EIA/S]

Capacity use on both the East Coast and Gulf Coast was above 95%, putting those refineries close to their highest possible running rates.

In China, investors are closely watching plans in the country’s most populous city, Shanghai, to ease restrictions from June 1, which could lead to a rebound in oil demand at the world’s top crude importer.

Stephen Innes from SPI Asset Management said news that Shanghai planned to gradually resume inter-district public transport from May 22 was positive for risk and supporting oil prices.

($1 = 0.9537 euros)

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Commodities

Oil falls 2% on Powell comments, hopes for Venezuela supply

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Oil pump jacks are seen at the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas deposit in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, Argentina, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – After hitting seven-week highs, oil prices slumped 2% on Tuesday as Reuters reported that the United States could ease some restrictions on Venezuela’s government, raising hopes that the market could see some additional supplies.

Prices also fell after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned the economy could be hurt by attempts to reduce inflation.

Brent crude fell $2.31, or 2%, to settle at $111.93 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell $1.8, or 1.6%, to settle at $112.40 a barrel.

Powell suggested there could be some economic pain involved in bringing inflation down. The U.S. central bank will “keep pushing” to tighten U.S. monetary policy until it is clear that inflation is declining, he said.

“Some of those comments tempered buying enthusiasm on the oil side,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration will authorize U.S. oil company Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) to negotiate with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government as soon as Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing sources. There is no final U.S. decision yet on renewing Chevron’s current limited license to operate in Venezuela, the source said.

Oil prices have generally been rising as Russian supply is squeezed by bans from several countries and an economic downturn due to broad sanctions on Moscow imposed by the United States and allies.

Russia’s production dropped by 9% in April, and the country, part of the OPEC+ group, produced far below levels required under a deal to gradually ease record output cuts made during the worst of the pandemic in 2020.

This month, non-Russian deliveries into the Polish port of Gdansk hit the highest in at least seven years, as refiners in eastern Germany and Poland switched.

“Ultimately, this is a supply-side story,” said Fawad Razaqzada, analyst at City Index. “Unless OPEC and its allies ramp up production and fast, it is difficult to see how prices can go down meaningfully.”

EU foreign ministers failed on Monday in their effort to pressure Hungary to lift its veto on the proposed oil embargo. But some diplomats now point to a May 30-31 summit as the moment for agreement on a phased ban on Russian oil.

U.S. crude and gasoline stocks fell last week, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday. U.S. government data is due on Wednesday. [API/S] [EIA/S]

(The story corrects to remove bullet and paragraph on Brent discount to WTI as first-month Brent crude futures are for July while first-month WTI futures are for June.)

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