the Russians stranded in Ukraine; Finland supports NATO membership – WSB-TV Channel 2

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KYIV, Ukraine — (AP) — Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military has faced a bogged down war, the prospect of a bigger NATO and a defending country buoyed by their victory in a hugely popular pan-European country. Sunday music competition.

Finland has announced it will apply to join NATO, as senior 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 NATO membership application later on Sunday.

The two non-aligned Nordic countries being part of the alliance would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has cited NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe as a threat to Russia. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.

Ukraine said it was repelling Russian offensives in the east of the country on Sunday. Western military officials said the campaign Moscow launched there after its forces failed to seize Ukraine’s capital Kyiv had slowed to a snail’s pace.

“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 usual winner’s 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.

Ukraine’s military said on Sunday it had repelled a new Russian offensive near Bakhmut and Slaviansk in the eastern region of Dontesk. A regional official said Russian troops also made further attempts to break through near the eastern town of Izyum early on Sunday, but were held back by Ukrainian forces.

“The enemy is constantly checking the positions of our armed forces, trying to break through them, but did not succeed and again suffered heavy human and material losses,” wrote Oleh Sinegubov, governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in a Telegram article.

His claims could not be independently verified.

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 combat force it committed to Ukraine in late February and was still suffering ” consistently high levels of attrition” while gaining no 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.

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 to be a back and forth without major breakthroughs on either side.

In his Saturday evening speech, Zelenskyy said that “the situation in Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to come out at least somewhat victorious”.

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 .

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 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 Niinistö said, announcing Finland’s decision alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Helsinki.

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 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 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 in Finland.

“We’ve had wars with Russia, and we don’t want that kind of future for ourselves or our children,” she said.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa and other AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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