Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military has faced a deadlocked war. the prospect of a larger NATO and a defending country buoyed by their victory in a hugely popular pan-European music competition on Sunday.
Finland announced it would apply to join NATO when top diplomats from the Western alliance, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the war. 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 insult Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has described post-Cold War NATO expansion in Eastern Europe as a threat to Russia. NATO says it is purely a defense alliance.
Ukraine said it was holding back Russian offensives in the east of the country on Sunday. Western military officials said the campaign Moscow launched there after its forces failed to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, has slowed to a crawl.
“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.”
Ukraine, meanwhile, celebrated a victory that boosted morale Euro Vision 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 awards ceremony to host 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 it a grueling fight for 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.
Ukraine’s military said on Sunday it repelled a renewed Russian offensive near Bakhmut and Slavyansk in the eastern Dontesk region. A regional official said Russian troops made renewed attempts to make a breakthrough near the eastern city of Izyum early Sunday but were held back by Ukrainian forces.
“The enemy is constantly checking the positions of our forces and trying to break through them, but did not succeed and again suffered heavy losses of people and equipment,” wrote Oleh Sinegubov, the governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in a Telegram post.
His claims could not be independently verified.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its Daily Intelligence Update on Sunday that the Russian army had lost up to a third of the combat strength it had pledged to Ukraine at the end of February and continued to suffer “consistently high attrition” without gaining any significant territory.
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry said on Twitter.
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 shifted to a new level of long-range artillery combat – 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 Finlandwhich shares both a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) 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,” said President Sauli Niinistö, who announced Finland’s decision together with Prime Minister Sanna Marin, in Helsinki.
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 potential offers from the Nordic nations were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not a positive 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 affect 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.
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