Nearly three months after Russia stunned the world by invading Ukraine, its military faced a tug-of-war, with the prospect of a larger NATO and a defending country winning a hugely popular pan-European music competition on Sunday.
Finland has announced that it will apply to join NATO, as top Western diplomats, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, gathered in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the war.
Sweden’s governing party plans to announce its position on seeking NATO membership later on Sunday.
The two non-aligned Nordic countries will be insulted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has described NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe as a threat to Russia. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.
Ukraine says it has stopped Russian attacks on Sunday. Western military officials say Moscow launched an operation after its forces failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which slowed to snail’s pace.
“Russia’s brutal aggression is losing momentum,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircia Giona.
“We know that with the courage and support of the Ukrainian people and the army, Ukraine can win this war.” Ukraine, meanwhile, has celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glittering, television Eurovision contest with its song “Stefania”, which became a popular music among Ukrainians during the war. Home audience votes across Europe have cemented the victory.
President Volodymyr Zelensky promised that his nation would demand the traditional honor of hosting the next annual competition.
“We are gradually forcing the occupiers to leave Ukrainian territory,” Zelensky said.
Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a humiliating battle for Donbass, the country’s eastern industrial hub.
Ukraine’s most experienced and well-equipped troops are based in eastern Ukraine, where they have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.
Ukraine’s military said on Sunday it had stopped a new Russian offensive near Bakhmut and Slavyansk in the eastern Dantesk region.
A regional official said Russian troops were making renewed efforts to advance near the eastern city of Izim on Sunday morning, but were stopped by Ukrainian forces.
Oleh Sinegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, wrote in a telegram post, “Enemies are constantly checking the position of our armed forces, trying to break through them, but to no avail and again heavy human and equipment damage.”
His claim could not be independently verified.
Britain’s defense ministry said in a daily intelligence update on Sunday that the Russian military had lost one-third of its promised combat power to Ukraine by the end of February and was facing a “high-level offensive” after failing to gain significant territory. .
The ministry said on Twitter that “Russia’s Donbass attack has lost momentum and has retreated significantly,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the force “has lost its relentless morale and effectiveness of the war.” “Under the current circumstances, Russia is unlikely to accelerate its advance rate dramatically in the next 30 days,” the ministry said.
Evaluation of Russia’s war performance by Ukrainian supporters comes as Russian troops retreated after weeks of bombings around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
The largely Russian-speaking city with a population of 1.4 million pre-war is located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod and was an important military target at the beginning of the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold large cities.
The Ukrainian military says Moscow is now focusing instead on guarding the supply route, launching mortar, artillery and air strikes in an attempt to destroy Ukrainian forces and destroy strongholds in front of the country.
Ukrainian troops are pushing back the Russians, clearing villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv, and some residents are returning.
“The war has moved to a new level of distance artillery fighting – we shoot at them, they shoot at us,” said a Ukrainian commander who gave only his first name, Serhi.
Russia is also attacking railways, factories and other infrastructure across Ukraine. A Russian missile has struck a “military infrastructure facility” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine near the Polish border. Sunday morning.
Levi’s regional governor Maxim Kozitsky posted on the telegram messaging app that no immediate information was available on the number of dead or injured.
Russia has targeted railway facilities and other important infrastructure in western Ukraine, a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Western officials say the attack did not have a significant effect on Ukraine’s ability to replenish its forces.
After failing to occupy Kyiv after the February 24 invasion, Putin turned his attention to the Donbass to the east, aiming to occupy territory already occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.
Air strikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the war. But it seems to be a front and back slog without much success on either side.
In his speech on Saturday night, Zelensky said “the situation in Donbass is very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to win at least somewhat.” In the southern Donbass, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol is now largely under Russian control, except for a few hundred Ukrainian soldiers who have refused to surrender and are trapped in the Azovstal steel plant.
A convoy of 500 to 1,000 vehicles carrying civilians from Mariupol was reportedly able to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhiya on Saturday. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk says authorities are discussing the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded soldiers from the steel plant.
A spokesman for Turkey’s president, Ibrahim Kalin, said the country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians from Azovstal by ship, according to the state-run TRT. Kalin said Russian and Ukrainian officials had not given a clear answer about the plan to evacuate Turkey, but that it was still on the table.
As a result of Ukraine’s aggression, other countries bordering Russia are also worried that they may be next. The long-neutral Finnish government, which shares both the 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border with Russia and the Gulf of Finland, officially announced on Sunday that it would apply for NATO membership.
“This is a historic day,” said President Sauli Ninistিস্ত, announcing Finland’s decision with Prime Minister Sanaa Marin in Helsinki.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is set to announce its decision on NATO membership on Sunday. If it turns out to be favorable, as expected, the request to join the Western military alliance could happen in a few days.
NATO is working through consensus and potential bids from the Nordic countries were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “not a favorable opinion”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlুতt Cavusoglu has accused the two countries of supporting the Kurdish rebel group, but advised that Turkey would not block their accession to NATO.
“These are issues that we must talk to 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 an “error” and “negatively affect Russia-Finnish relations.” Finnish Prime Minister Marin says joining NATO will help ensure peace for Finland.
“We have a war with Russia, and we do not want a future for ourselves or our children,” he said. (AP) _
Euras Karmanau of Lviv, Mastislav Chernov of Kharkiv, Elena Bekataros of Odessa and other AP staff from around the world contributed to this report.