Senior NATO diplomats, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met 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 NATO membership application later on Sunday.
The two non-aligned Nordic countries in the alliance would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who justified the war in Ukraine by saying it was a response to NATO’s expansion in Europe from the east.
Western military officials said on Sunday that Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, believed to have been launched with the aim of seizing kyiv and overthrowing the Ukrainian government, had slowed to a snail’s pace. They said the invading Russian army had lost up to a third of its combat strength since February.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said. “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 morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. Folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy Eurovision TV contest with their song “Stefania,” which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that his country will claim the customary honor of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers out of Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.
Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a fierce battle for the industrial heartland in the east of the country, the Donbass. Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped soldiers are based in eastern Ukraine, where they have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.
Meanwhile, Russian forces. continues to suffer “persistently high levels of attrition” while failing to reach any substantial territory, the UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Sunday.
“The Russian offensive on Donbass has lost momentum and is lagging far behind,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces were suffering from “low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to significantly accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
Assessments of Russia’s war performance by Ukrainian supporters came as Russian troops retreated from the vicinity of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after shelling it for weeks.
The largely Russian-speaking city with a pre-war population of 1.4 million is just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, and was a military target key at the start of the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold the major cities.
The Ukrainian military said Moscow was now focusing on protecting supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in a bid to wear down Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications in the area. east of the country.
Ukrainian troops clear villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv after repelling the Russians, and some residents were returning.
“The war has moved to a new level of ranged artillery combat – we shoot at them, they shoot at us,” said a Ukrainian commander who gave only his first name, Serhii.
Russia is also hitting railways, factories and other infrastructure across Ukraine. A Russian missile hit “military infrastructure” in Yavoriv district in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. early Sunday morning.
There was no immediate information about the dead or injured, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has targeted railway installations and other critical infrastructure in western Ukraine, a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Western officials said that despite the attacks, there had been no noticeable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.
After failing to capture kyiv after the Feb. 24 invasion, Putin shifted his focus east to the Donbass, aiming to seize territory not already occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to travel in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it seems like a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.
In his Saturday night address, Zelenskyy said “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious.”
In the southern Donbass, the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov is now largely under Russian control, except for a few hundred Ukrainian soldiers who have refused to surrender and remain holed up in the Azovstal steel plant .
A convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of Mariupol could have reached the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously injured soldiers from the steel plant.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians from Azovstal by boat, according to the official state broadcaster TRT. Kalin said Russian and Ukrainian officials had not given a clear answer to Turkey regarding the evacuation plan, but it was still on the table.
Ukraine’s invasion has other countries on Russia’s flank fearing that they could be next. The government of long-neutral Finland, which shares both a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia, officially announced on Sunday that it would seek NATO membership.
“It’s a historic day,” President Sauli Niinisto said, announcing Finland’s decision alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is due to announce its decision to join NATO on Sunday. If he decides in favor, as expected, an application to join the Western military alliance could occur within days.
NATO works by consensus and potential offers from the Nordic countries came into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not of a favorable view”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the two countries of supporting Kurdish rebel groups, but suggested that Turkey would not necessarily prevent them from joining NATO.
“These are the issues that we need to talk about, of course, with our NATO allies,” he said.
In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told the Finnish president that there was no threat to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations”. .
Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, said NATO membership would help secure peace for Finland.
“We’ve had wars with Russia, and we don’t want that kind of future for ourselves or our children,” she said.
Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
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