An unconfirmed video uploaded last night appears to show two Russian coastal defence missile systems moving along a road on the Russian side of the border that leads to Helsinki.
The missile systems, which were seen driving past a sign to the Finnish capital, are thought to be the K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defence system, designed to take out surface ships up to and including aircraft carrier battle groups.
The Russian deployment comes as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she expects her government ‘will end the discussion before midsummer’ on whether to apply for NATO membership.
Recent opinions polls by a Finnish market research company put 84% of Finns as viewing Russia as a ‘significant military threat’, up by 25% on last year.
In response, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov euphemistically warned the move would ‘not improve’ the security situation in Europe, and Moscow lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov added more bluntly it would mean ‘the destruction of the country’.
‘We have repeatedly said that the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation and its further expansion will not bring stability to the European continent,’ Peskov said.
An unconfirmed video uploaded last night appears to show two Russian coastal defence missile systems moving along a road on the Russian side of the border that leads to Helsinki
The video clearly shows road signs leading to the Finnish capital of Helsinki. Finland, currently neutral, shares a 830 mile long border with Russia
A current map of Nato membership in Europe. Sweden and Finland have historically avoided membership in order to not provoke Russia, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed their calculus
A man walks past the Kharkiv Regional Institute of the National Academy of Public Administration building which was destroyed during Russian shelling in Kharkiv on Tuesday
Yesterday NATO announced two multinational naval groups of sixteen ships led by the Royal Netherlands Navy will be patrolling the Baltic Sea coasts of members such as Poland and Estonia to ‘maintain a credible and capable defensive capability’.
Finland, along with neighbouring Sweden, has historically avoided NATO membership, despite close alignment with the West, in an effort not to provoke Russia.
But the Scandinavian country shares a 830 mile long border with Russia and has been unnerved by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, having been invaded once before by the Soviet Union in 1939.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s ruling party formally began debating the possibility of launching a bid for membership yesterday, a move which would signal a complete role reversal in policy for the Scandinavian kingdom that has remained militarily neutral for decades.
Party secretary Tobias Baudin told local media that the NATO review should be complete within the next few months.
‘When Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden’s security position changed fundamentally,’ the party said in a statement.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (left) indicated that Finland would decide whether to apply for Nato membership before midsummer, angering the Kremlin which said the move ‘would not improve the security situation in Europe’. Meanwhile, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (pictured right with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen), has begun discussing the possibility of joining NATO today
Residents stand outside their apartments as shops burn after a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Monday
Ukrainian tanks move down a street in Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Monday after Russian troops retreated from the area
Firefighters clear the debris and search for bodies under the rubble of a building hit weeks ago by a Russian attack after receiving reports of a smell emerging from the area, in Kharkiv on Monday
A man walks with a bicycle next to a truck that carries black bags with corpses of people killed during the war with Russia and exhumed from a mass grave for investigations in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv on Monday
In Sweden, the ruling centre-left Social Democrats have historically opposed NATO membership but the more than six-week conflict in Ukraine has reignited debate in the Scandinavian kingdom.
A policy reversal for the party, which ruled for an uninterrupted 40 years between the 1930s and 1970s, would be historic and could pave the way for Sweden to apply to join NATO.
The party, led by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, are said to have begun discussing the possibility of joining NATO today, with the issue expected to be a central to parliamentary elections scheduled for September 11.
Sweden is officially non-aligned militarily, although it is a NATO partner and abandoned its position of strict neutrality after the end of the Cold War.
Having initially stressed that non-alignment had ‘served Sweden’s interests well,’ Andersson recently conceded that she was ready to discuss the policy and in late March said she ‘did not rule out’ a bid to join NATO.
Mr Peskov made clear that Russia would have to ‘rebalance the situation’ with its own measures were Sweden and Finland to join Nato.
The spiral of escalation has seen both countries increase their defence spending, with Helsinki announcing plans to spend £11 on drones and Stockholm adding another £243 million to their military budget.
In Ukraine, Russian forces are continuing to pull out of Belarus to support operations in the east as Putin focuses his invasion on the Donbas region where Russian-allied separatists have claimed independence.
‘Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,’ the UK Ministry of Defence said today in its latest intelligence briefing.
‘Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push toward Kramatorsk.’
U.S. officials also point to further signs Russia’s military is gearing up for a major offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, switching its focus after Russian forces failed in their initial drive to capture Kyiv.
Donbas has been torn by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognised the separatists’ claims of independence.
Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to hope local support, logistics and terrain in Donbas favour Russia’s larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing Russian troops to gain more territory and weaken Ukraine’s fighting forces.
An elderly walks past an unexploded tail section of a 300mm rocket which appear to contained cluster bombs launched from a BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher embedded in the ground after shelling in Lysychansk, Lugansk region, on Monday
Russian troops drive a tank on a road outside the southern port city of Mariupol on Sunday
People walk down a street near past a building damaged by shelling in Irpin, in the outskirts of Kyiv, on Monday
Ukrainian soldiers shoot with assault rifles in a trench on the front line with Russian troops in Lugansk region on Monday
Russian troops have continued to shell Mariupol, with a British soldier fighting alongside Ukrainian marines in the besieged port city saying his unit has no choice but to surrender to the Russians.
Former care worker Aiden Aslin, 28, who moved to Ukraine in 2018 after falling in love with a woman from Mykolaiv, said forces have run out of supplies with Russians closing in.
It comes after claims Russia used chemical weapons dropped from a drone over Mariupol last night, as Putin continues his brutal assault on the strategic port city.
Aslin said in a message posted via a contact on Twitter: ‘It’s been 48 days, we tried our best to defend Mariupol but we have no choice but to surrender to Russian forces.
‘We have no food and no ammunition. It’s been a pleasure everyone, I hope this war ends soon.’
The post added: ‘We’re putting this out after direct consultation with his family. Until we’re told otherwise we’ll continue working on sharing the facts of the war. Hope for a prisoner exchange.’
Aiden Aslin is a former carer who previously fought against Isis in Syria. Now he says his unit will have to surrender to the Russians
Aiden Aslin, 28, moved to Ukraine in 2018 after falling in love with a woman from Mykolaiv , another Black Sea port close to Odessa. He is now in his fourth year with the Ukranian armed forces and was due to get married this Spring and complete his service in September
Aslin, from Newark, Nottinghamshire, is now in his fourth year with the Ukranian armed forces and was due to get married this Spring and complete his service in September.
When Russia launched their brutal invasion, Aslin was stationed in the Donbass region where separatists and the Ukrainian armed forces have been fighting since 2014.
There are an estimated 10,000 civilians who have been killed by Putin’s army in Mariupol which has seen some of the worst fighting of the war.
Corpses are now ‘carpeted through the streets’ of the crucial port city, according to its mayor Vadym Boychenko.
He accused Russian forces of having blocked weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys into the city in part to conceal the carnage. Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000.
Boychenko also gave new details of allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of victims of the siege.
Russian forces have taken many bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators, Boychenko said.
‘Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,’ he said.
Boychenko spoke from a location in Ukrainian-controlled territory but outside Mariupol.
The mayor said he had several sources for his description of the alleged methodical burning of bodies by Russian forces in the city, but did not further detail the sources of his information.
The discovery of large numbers of apparently executed civilians after Russian forces retreated from cities and towns around the capital, Kyiv, already has prompted widespread condemnation and assertions that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Eduard Basurin, deputy head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed up to 4,000 Ukrainian fighters are taking shelter in the Azovstal complex, one of Europe’s largest iron and steel works, which has so far defied Russian attempts to seize it.
He made the dire warning just hours after Ukraine accused Russia of unleashing a toxic agent from a drone over Mariupol, causing breathing issues.
This morning, the Azov Battalion showed footage purporting to show victims of the apparent attack, who said they have since suffered respiratory problems, high temperatures and tinnitus.
Making further threats on Russian state TV, Basurin said today: ‘What is Azovstal? It is a plant built back in Soviet times. There is a lot or concrete, iron, there are many underground floors. So it makes no sense to take this facility by storm.
‘Therefore, at the moment it is necessary to deal with the blocking of this plant, find all the exits and entrances. In principle, this can be done.
‘And after that, to turn, I think, to the chemical troops, who will find a way to smoke moles out of their holes.’
Yesterday’s alleged chemical attack has not been confirmed but would be the first time Russia is believed to have used toxic weapons in Putin’s barbaric invasion, which the Pentagon said is ‘deeply concerning’.
US Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said: ‘We are aware of social media reports which claim Russian forces deployed a potential chemical munition in Mariupol, Ukraine. We cannot confirm at this time and will continue to monitor the situation closely.
The Azov Batallion showed footage purporting to show victims of the apparent attack, who said they have since suffered respiratory problems, high temperatures and tinnitus
Eduard Basurin, deputy head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed up to 4,000 Ukrainian fighters are taking shelter in the Azovstal complex
Service members of pro-Russian troops pictured driving an armoured vehicle in the besieged city of Mariupol
‘These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said her department is working with partners to verify the claims, which pro-Russian separatist forces have denied.
She tweeted: ‘Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the people of Mariupol. We are working urgently with partners to verify details.
‘Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account.’
Armed forces minister James Heappey added today: ‘There are some things that are beyond the pale, and the use of chemical weapons will get a response and all options are on the table for what that response could be.’
President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted last night that the Russians might deploy chemical weapons, although he fell short of saying they had definitely been used in Mariupol.
The claim by the Azov Regiment (pictured), a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified
Residents carry their belongings near buildings destroyed by Russian troops, in the southern port city of Mariupol
A man walks past a storage place for burned armed vehicles and cars, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Monday
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a house after a Russian attack in Kharkiv on Monday
Ukrainian military expert Serhiy Grabskiy, head of the Union of Peacekeeping Operations, said that Russia faces serious losses in seeking to storm the Azovstal plant in the city.
‘There are a huge number of underground communications [channels] through which the defenders can seep into the rear of the enemy and inflict very painful blows on him,’ he said..
‘Trying to destroy them will take a long time and require simply colossal resources that Russia cannot afford.
‘Therefore, having despaired of winning such a fight, and realising that our guys will not give up, they are considering the use of chemical weapons of various properties.
‘Of course, Russia claims they don’t have chemical weapons.
‘But the statement [from Basurin] that they want or can use chemical troops or chemical weapons in this case can have a fairly unambiguous reaction.
But it should be noted that, as a rule, flamethrowers are also in service with the chemical troops.
‘That is, it is possible, for example, to burn underground communications channels with fire or use so-called thermobaric ammunition.’
Such weapons are illegal and Grabskiy said: ‘Russia itself declared that in 2017 it had eliminated all stocks of chemical weapons.
‘Therefore, God forbid, of course, to see this.
‘But I do not exclude the possibility of the use of toxic substances.’
Basurin was given time on Russia’s main channel to demand chemical weapons be used in a show hosted by Vyacheslav Nikonov, grandson of notorious Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, after whom the Molotov Cocktail is named.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Parliament tweeted to say it has received reports of Russian forces firing ‘nitric acid’ in the Donetsk region as it warned local residents to wear ‘protective face masks soaked in soda solution’. It is not clear if the incidents are linked.
It follows a warning from the Ministry of Defence suggesting that Russia could turn to the use of a deadly phosphorus bombs amid attempts to finally break heroic resistance in Mariupol.
While strictly not considered a chemical weapon, the substance burns fiercely and can cause horrendous injuries, and its use on civilians constitutes a war crime.
On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine suffered another devastating blow after his force’s death toll rose to 19,600 according to Kyiv’s estimates.
Russia has only admitted 1,351 of its troops have died fighting in Ukraine since Putin invaded on February 24, a fraction of the figure estimated by Ukraine’s armed forces.
Analysis has shown that a fifth of the Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine are officers who were sent to the battlefield to oversee Putin‘s chaotic invasion.
An investigation found that of 1,083 Russian servicemen killed whose identity has been verified, more than 20 per cent were officers.
BBC Russian Service counted 31 majors and 155 servicemen ranked between captain and second lieutenant among the dead.
Their bodies were returned to their homeland up to a month after their death, suggesting their could be many more high profile casualties still in Ukraine.
The high death toll betrays baffling Kremlin tactics which have seen officers being sent to the battlefield to make their tactical decisions, putting them in danger. In the West, these roles are delegated to non-commissioned officers.
An extra 15 per cent of the identified fatalities were elite paratroopers and 25 per cent were special forces personnel.
They were likely killed in the battle for Hostomel airport near Kyiv, where Russian paratroopers (VDV) were deployed by helicopter on the first day of the brutal invasion.
They were sent with unarmoured light vehicles and when infantry was halted in the convoy towards Kyiv, more paratroopers were airlifted in.
Oleksiy Melnyk, a retired colonel and director at the Razumkov centre, told The Times: ‘VDV are considered to be the most combat ready, effective, but at the same time they are not usually equipped with infantry fighting vehicles.
‘They are only equipped with light vehicles — they have no heavy armour. It’s another one of those stupid mistakes to use your special forces to complete infantry tasks.’
Meanwhile, a secret services ‘whistleblower’ in Moscow has warned of sinister plans for major new false flag attacks causing the ‘deaths of hundreds of civilians’ in border areas of Russia which will be ‘blamed on Ukrainians’.
The attacks will be used by Vladimir Putin‘s war machine to justify a general mobilisation of Russian troops and a new lurch to militarisation, it is claimed.
The source nicknamed Wind of Change told opposition activist Vladimir Osechkin that the attacks will be against ‘Z’ and ‘V’ war symbols which are to be painted in the coming days on prominent residential buildings in border areas of Russia.
The symbols linked to the war in Ukraine have been likened to modern-day swastikas and are being promoted by the Russian propaganda machine.
Explosions in blocks of flats could cause ‘hundreds of civilian victims’, according to the whistleblower, purportedly an FSB insider.
The ‘false flag’ attacks will be blamed on Ukrainians and ‘internal enemies’ in Russia but in fact are being prepared by the authorities, he alleged.
The aim is to provoke a groundswell of national spirit which will be used by the Kremlin to impose a general mobilisation ensuring a flow of manpower for Vladimir Putin’s faltering war effort.
Osechkin, the founder of gulagu.net who is now living in exile and on Russia’s most-wanted list after exposing hideous torture inside jails, said his secret services source ‘did not just pass us the information, but asked us to spread it as wide as possible’.
The whistleblower was trusted due to earlier information he leaked, said Osechkin.
‘I must ask you to warn against very specific terrorist risks to civil infrastructure in Russia,’ said the source.