Russia-Ukraine War News: In Ukraine and internationally, the scenario darkens for Russia

Kyiv, Ukraine — Europe on Monday pushed to tighten and widen its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Sweden poised to follow Finland in its quest for membership with NATO and EU officials working on it to bail out proposed sanctions targeting Russian oil exports that would help the Kremlin finance it’s war.

On the ground, Russia experienced further setbacks in its offensive in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian defenders are fighting desperately against attempted Russian advances, even successfully pushing back front lines in some areas.

In a small but symbolic boost to Ukrainian morale, a patrol of soldiers captured triumphant video of their advance to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian forces have already pushed back Russian troops from the region’s capital, making it difficult for them to hit the battered city with artillery.

As fighting raged, international efforts to respond to Russia’s aggression continued to gather momentum. The Swedish government is expected to announce later Monday its intention to seek NATO membership – as has its neighbor Finland. These are seismic developments for the Nordic countries, which have traditionally positioned themselves as militarily “non-aligned”.

Expanding NATO to include Sweden and Finland would be a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has described the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe as a threat and cited the reason for the attack on Ukraine. NATO says it is purely a defense alliance.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the accession process could go very quickly for both Finland and Sweden – although member Turkey has expressed doubts about the move.

In Brussels, EU officials worked to overcome opposition from a small group of countries, led by Hungary, to a proposed import embargo on Russian oil. Along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary is one of several landlocked countries heavily dependent on Russian oil. Bulgaria also has reservations.

“We will do our best to unblock the situation,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “I can’t guarantee it will happen because the positions are pretty strong.”

Weapons from NATO countries to Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia have helped Ukrainian armed forces with weak arms and outnumbered the Russian advance – and even pushed back in places.

NATO chief Stoltenberg said on Sunday that the war “is not going as Moscow planned.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to provide military support to Kyiv.

Since Russia failed to overrun the capital Kyiv in the early stages of its February 24 invasion, much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbass, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland.

It is difficult to paint a full picture of the unfolding struggle. Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around, and coverage has been constrained by Ukraine and the Moscow-backed separatists it has been fighting in Donbass for eight years.

Still, Ukrainian forces are wearing the Russians down, and the two sides have been fighting village after village.

A Ukrainian patrol in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops were being pushed back by a counter-offensive, reached the Russian border and shot a victorious video addressed to President Volodymyr Zelensky. The video, posted to Facebook by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Sunday, shows a dozen militants surrounding a post covered in blue and yellow, Ukraine’s colors. It was not clear where exactly the video was taken.

A soldier said the unit had “gone to the dividing line with the Russian Federation, the occupied country. Mr President, we have reached you. We’re here.” Other fighters made victory signs and raised their fists.

Along another stretch of the border with Russia, Ukrainian border guards said they thwarted a Russian attempt to send troops into the northern Sumy region on Monday morning. The Border Patrol Service said Russian forces used mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns to cover a “sabotage and reconnaissance group” crossing the border from Russia.

The Border Patrol Service said its officers returned fire, forcing the Russian group to withdraw to Russia. The area is mostly rural and has not seen intense fighting for more than a month. There was no immediate message from Russia.

In Donbass, the Ukrainian military said Russian troops had attacked civilian and military facilities in several cities.

Russian troops continued air and artillery strikes around the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol, the last stronghold of several hundred Ukrainian forces in the strategically important city, Ukraine’s General Staff said.

In an online press conference, many of the besieged soldiers’ wives called on the international community to help release “the entire garrison” who are suffering from dire shortages of food, water and medicine.

Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said his country offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians from Azovstal by ship, official state broadcaster TRT said.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that Belarus is deploying special forces along its border with Ukraine, as well as air defence, artillery and missile units to training areas in the west of the country. Belarusian forces were not directly involved in the conflict, although their territory was used as a base for the invasion.

But the presence of Belarusian troops near the border could pin Ukrainian troops there and prevent them from moving in support of the counter-offensive in Donbass.

Despite fighting in the wider Kharkiv region and the threat of Russian missile attacks, many people have returned to Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine, said Anna Malyar, deputy head of the defense ministry.

Refugees didn’t just return out of optimism that the war might die down.

“To live somewhere just like that, not to work, to pay for the apartment, to eat … they are forced to return for financial reasons,” Malyar said in a statement distributed by the RBK-Ukraine news agency.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Russia-Ukraine War News: In Ukraine and internationally, the scenario darkens for Russia

Chrissy Callahan

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