Senior NATO diplomats, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, gathered in Berlin on Sunday as Finland announced it would apply to join the western alliance. Sweden’s ruling party plans to announce its position on the bid for NATO membership later on Sunday.
The two non-aligned Nordic nations becoming part of the alliance would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has justified the war in Ukraine as a reaction to NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
Western military officials said Sunday that Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, believed to have been launched with the aim of seizing Kyiv and overthrowing the Ukrainian government, has slowed to a crawl. They said the invading Russian army had lost up to a third of its fighting strength since February.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine celebrated a morale-boosting victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. Folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy televised Eurovision competition with their song “Stefania,” which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Voices from home viewers across Europe cemented the win.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised his nation would claim the customary honor of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step we are forcing the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian country,” said Zelenskyy.
Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a bitter struggle over the country’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbass. Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped soldiers are stationed in eastern Ukraine, where they fought Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.
Meanwhile, Russia’s armed forces. continues to suffer from “consistently high attrition” while failing to reach significant territory, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on Sunday.
“Russia’s Donbass offensive has lost momentum and is significantly behind schedule,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the armed forces “continually suffer from low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
Ukrainian supporters’ assessments of Russia’s war performance came as Russian troops retreated from the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, after weeks of bombing it.
Located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, the largely Russian-speaking city, with a pre-war population of 1.4 million, was a key military target early in the war when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.
Ukraine’s military said Moscow is now instead focusing on guarding supply routes while it launches mortars, artillery and airstrikes to decimate Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications in the east of the country.
Ukrainian troops evacuate villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv after pushing back Russians, and some residents returned.
“The war has moved to a new level of artillery distance – we shoot at them, they shoot at us,” said a Ukrainian commander, who gave only his first name, Serhii.
Russia is also attacking railways, factories and other infrastructure across Ukraine. A Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. early Sunday morning.
There is no immediate information about dead or injured, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has targeted railway facilities and other critical infrastructure in western Ukraine, a key gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Western officials said despite the attacks, there has been no significant impact on Ukraine’s ability to replenish its armed forces.
After failing to capture Kyiv following the February 24 invasion, Putin has shifted his focus east to the Donbass to seize areas not already occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.
Airstrikes and artillery fire make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move around the east and hamper efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems to be a back and forth with no major breakthroughs on either side.
In his late-night address on Saturday, Zelenskyy said “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and Russian troops “are still trying to come out of it at least somewhat victorious”.
In southern Donbass, the Mariupol port on the Sea of Azov is now largely under Russian control, except for a few hundred Ukrainian troops who have refused to surrender and are hiding at the Azovstal steel factory.
According to reports, a convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars carrying civilians from Mariupol was able to reach the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhia on Saturday. Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk had said the authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded soldiers from the steel mill.
Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the country offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians from Azovstal by ship, according to official state broadcaster TRT. Kalin said Russian and Ukrainian officials have not given Turkey a clear answer on the evacuation plan, but that it is still on the table.
The invasion of Ukraine has other countries on Russia’s flank fearing they may be next. The government of long-neutral Finland, which shares both a 1,340-kilometer land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia, officially announced on Sunday that it would apply for NATO membership.
“This is a historic day,” President Sauli Niinisto announced Finland’s decision together with Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party will announce its decision on NATO membership on Sunday. If the result is positive, as expected, an application to join the western military alliance could be submitted within a few days.
NATO operates by consensus and the Nordic nations’ potential bids were called into question on Friday, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable opinion”.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the two countries of supporting Kurdish rebel groups but indicated that Turkey would not necessarily prevent them from joining NATO.
“These are the issues that we obviously have to discuss with our NATO allies,” he said.
In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told the Finnish President that there were no threats to Finland’s security and that joining NATO was a “mistake” and “would negatively impact Russian-Finnish relations.”
Marin, Finland’s prime minister, said joining NATO would help guarantee peace for Finland.
“We have had wars with Russia and we do not want such a future for us or for our children,” she said.
Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa, and other AP staffers around the world contributed to this report.
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https://abc7.com/ukraine-russian-finland-nato/11852405/ Russia-Ukraine War News: Russians Disabled in Ukraine; Finland applies to join NATO