Ukraine: Russians retreat because Finland prefers to join NATO

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world with its invasion of Ukraine, its military faced a faltering war, the prospect of a larger NATO and a defensive nation bolstered by its victory at the popular European Music Competition on Sunday.

Top NATO diplomats, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, met Sunday in Berlin as Finland announced it would apply to join the Western alliance. Sweden’s ruling party plans to announce its position on seeking NATO membership later on Sunday.

The entry of two non-aligned nations into the alliance would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who justified the war in Ukraine by claiming it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

Western military officials said on Sunday that Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, which is believed to have begun with the aim of capturing Kyiv and overthrowing the Ukrainian government, has slowed down. They said the invading Russian army has lost up to a third of its combat power since February.

“The brutal invasion of Russia is losing momentum,” said NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Guiwana. “We know that with the courage 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. Kalush Folk Rap Orchestra won the televised Eurovision contest with their song “Stefania”, which became a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Voices from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory.

President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged that his country would claim the usual honor of hosting the next annual competition.

“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers to leave Ukrainian territory,” Zelensky said.

Russian and Ukrainian fighters are fighting a fierce battle for control of the Donbass region, the industrial heartland in the east of the country. Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped soldiers are based in eastern Ukraine, where they fought Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.

Meanwhile, Russian troops. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Sunday that it is still experiencing “consistently high levels of attrition” while failing to achieve any significant area.

“The Russian Donbass offensive has lost its momentum and is significantly behind schedule,” the ministry said. He said on TwitterHe added that the forces suffer from “the continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”

“Under the current conditions, it is unlikely that Russia will significantly accelerate the rate of its progress over the next 30 days,” the ministry said.

Ukraine’s supporters’ assessments of Russia’s performance in the war came with the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after weeks of bombardment.

The largely Russian-speaking city of a pre-war population of 1.4 million lies 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, and was a major military target earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture major cities and control on her.

Ukraine’s military has said Moscow is now focusing instead on guarding supply routes, while firing mortars, artillery and air strikes in an effort to deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications in the country’s east.

Ukrainian forces are clearing villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv after the Russians are expelled, and some residents have returned.

“The war has turned into a new level of remote artillery combat – we shoot at them, and they shoot at us,” said a Ukrainian commander, who gave only his first name, Serhiy.

Russia is also hitting railways, factories, and other infrastructure across Ukraine. A Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv region of western Ukraine, near the border with Poland. Early Sunday morning.

There was no immediate information about the dead or wounded, Lviv Regional Governor Maxim Kositsky posted on the Telegram messaging application.

Russia has targeted railway facilities and other critical infrastructure in western Ukraine as a major gateway to NATO-provided weapons. Western officials said that despite the attacks, there was no tangible impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.

After failing to capture Kyiv in the aftermath of the February 24 invasion, Putin shifted his focus eastward to Donbass, with the goal of seizing territory not already occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.

Air strikes and artillery bombardment make it too dangerous for journalists to move in the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it appears to have slashed back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

In his evening speech on Saturday, Zelensky said that “the situation in Donbass is still very difficult” and that Russian forces “are still trying to emerge victorious at least to some extent.”

In southern Donbass, the port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov is now largely under Russian control, with the exception of a few hundred Ukrainian troops who refused to surrender and are still hidden in the Azovstal steel plant.

Reportedly, a convoy of 500 to 1,000 vehicles carrying civilians from Mariupol managed to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhia on Saturday. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Verychuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded soldiers from the steel plant.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said his country has offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians by ship from Azovstal, according to state broadcaster TRT. Kalin said Russian and Ukrainian officials have not given Turkey a clear answer on the evacuation plan, but it is still on the table.

The invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns in other countries along Russia’s flank that it might be next. The government of long-neutral Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia, officially announced Sunday that it will apply for NATO membership.

“This is a historic day,” President Sauli Niinistö announced Finnland’s decision along with Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is set to announce its decision on NATO membership on Sunday. If upheld, as expected, an application to join the Western Military Alliance may be submitted within days.

NATO operates unanimously, and potential bids for the Nordic countries were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “has no favorable opinion”.

Turkish 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 have to talk about, of course, with our NATO allies,” he said.

In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told the Finnish president that there are no threats to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

Marin, Finland’s prime minister, said joining NATO would help ensure 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, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Pekatoros in Odessa, and other AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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