KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military faces a bogged down war, the prospect of a larger NATO and an adversary buoyed by victories on Sunday on and off the battlefield.
Senior NATO diplomats met with the leader of the alliance in Berlin and said that the war “does not happen as Moscow had planned.”
“Ukraine can win this war,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, adding that the alliance should continue to offer military support to kyiv. He spoke via video link at the meeting as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.
On the diplomatic front, Finland and Sweden have taken steps to bring them closer to NATO membership despite Russian objections. Finland announced on Sunday that it was wishing to join NATO, citing how the invasion had changed the security landscape in Europe. Hours later, Sweden’s ruling party endorsed the country’s own bid for membership, which could lead to a bid within days.
If the two unaligned Nordic nations were part of the alliance, it would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who cited NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe as a threat to Russia. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.
While Moscow has lost ground on the diplomatic front, Russian forces have also failed to make territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine said it repelled Russian offensives in the east on Sunday, and Western military officials said the campaign launched by Moscow after its forces failed to seize the capital of kyiv was was slowed to a snail’s pace.
Ukraine, meanwhile, celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. Folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy pan-European competition with their song “Stefania,” which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that his country will claim the usual winner’s honor of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers out of Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.
The band’s frontman, Oleh Psiuk, told a press conference on Sunday that the musicians were “ready to fight” when they returned home. The Ukrainian government prohibits men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country, but the six members of the all-male group received special permission to travel to Italy to represent Ukraine in the competition.
They will return to a country that is still struggling for its survival. 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.
Even with its setbacks, Russia continues to inflict death and destruction across Ukraine. Over the weekend, his forces struck a chemical plant and 11 high-rise buildings in Siverodonetsk, Donbass, the regional governor said. Governor Serhii Haidaii said two people were killed in the shelling and warned residents still in the city to stay in underground shelters.
Russia also continued to strike railways, factories and other infrastructure across Ukraine. Russian missiles destroyed “military infrastructure” in Yavoriv district in western Ukraine near the border with Poland, the governor of the Lviv region said.
Lviv is a major gateway for Western-supplied weapons that Ukraine acquired during the war.
The Ukrainian army said it had repelled a new Russian offensive in the Dontesk region of Donbass. Russian troops also tried to advance near the eastern town of Izyum, but Ukrainian forces stopped them, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov reported.
The Ukrainian claims could not be independently verified, but Western officials also painted a grim picture for Russia.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Sunday that the Russian military had lost up to a third of the fighting force it committed to Ukraine in late February and was failing to gain a substantial territory.
“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to significantly accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Russia’s war performance reviews took place as Russian troops retreated from the vicinity of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which was a key military objective at the start of the war and was bombarded for decades. weeks. The regional governor said there had been no shelling in the city for several days, although Russia continued to strike the wider Kharkiv region.
After failing to capture kyiv, Putin shifted the focus of the invasion to 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 seemed like a back-and-forth without major breakthroughs on either side.
In 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 .
Many of their wives called on the global community on Sunday to secure the release of “the entire garrison”, during an online press conference. The women painted a grim picture of the situation for the troops, saying they were suffering from severe shortages of food, water and medicine; untreated wounds sometimes resulted in sepsis.
One of the wives, Natalia Zarytska, told Sky News her husband told her the ring around the steelworks was getting smaller and “the end will be soon”.
“In my mind I think there’s no chance, but in my heart I feel we can save them,” she said.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said regional prosecutors had launched a criminal investigation into Moscow’s alleged use of restricted incendiary bombs at the steel plant. International law permits certain uses of incendiary munitions but prohibits their use to directly target enemy personnel or civilians.
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.
Ukraine’s invasion has other countries on Russia’s flank fearing they may be next, including Finland, which shares both a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in a phone call on Saturday that joining NATO would be a “mistake”.
In neighboring Sweden, after the ruling Social Democratic Party backed plans for NATO membership on Sunday, the plan was due to be discussed in parliament on Monday, with a Cabinet announcement to follow.
However, NATO works by consensus and potential offers from the Nordic countries have been questioned due to Turkish concerns. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he discussed Turkey’s concerns at the NATO meeting on Sunday, particularly Sweden’s and Finland’s alleged support for Kurdish rebel groups and their restrictions on arms sales to Turkey.
But during a visit to Sweden on Sunday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Finland and Sweden would be “significant additions” to NATO and that the United States should quickly ratify their membership. McConnell is leading a delegation of GOP senators to the area. They made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday in a show of support.
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