Finland, Russia’s neighbor, formally announces that it wants to join NATO

Sedan — 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, nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine.

Sweden’s ruling party plans to announce its position on seeking NATO membership later on Sunday. Bringing the two non-aligned Nordic nations into the alliance would be an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has justified the war in Ukraine by claiming it was a response to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

Russia’s military now faces a bogged-down war, the prospect of a bigger NATO and a defending country buoyed by its victory in a hugely popular pan-European music competition on Sunday.

Western military officials said Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, believed to have been launched with the aim of seizing kyiv and toppling the Ukrainian government, had slowed to a crawl. They said the invading Russian army had lost up to a third of its fighting strength since February.

“The brutal invasion (of) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said. “We know that with the courage of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”

The invasion has other countries along Russia’s flank worried that they may be next. Largely neutral Finland shares an 830-mile land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia.

“This is a historic day,” said President Sauli Niinisto, announcing Finland’s decision together with Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto attend a joint press conference on Finland's security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto attend a joint news conference in Helsinki on May 15, 2022.

Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is set to announce its decision on NATO membership on Sunday. If he wins, as expected, an application to join the Western military alliance could be filed within days.

Meanwhile, Ukraine celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the dazzling Eurovision television contest with their song “Stefania,” which has become a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from domestic viewers across Europe cemented the victory.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised that his nation would claim the customary honor of hosting the next annual competition.

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

Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in an uphill battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas. Ukraine’s most experienced and well-equipped soldiers are based in eastern Ukraine, where they have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists for eight years.

Meanwhile, Russia’s forces continue to suffer “consistently high levels of attrition” and fail to reach any substantial territory, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update on Sunday.

“Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum and is significantly delayed,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that the forces are suffering from “continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness.”

“Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to drastically accelerate its rate of advance in the next 30 days,” the ministry said.

Assessments of Russia’s war performance by supporters of Ukraine came as Russian troops withdrew from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after weeks of shelling it.

A destroyed car in front of a residential building after
A destroyed car in front of a residential building following a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv’s Saltivka district.

Aziz Karimov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million is just 50 miles southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, and was a key military target early in the war when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.

Ukraine’s military has said Moscow is now focused on protecting supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and aircraft attacks in a bid to reduce Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications in the country’s east.

Ukrainian troops are clearing villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv after pushing back the Russians, and some residents were returning.

“The war has changed 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 attacking railways, factories and other infrastructure in Ukraine. A Russian missile hit “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine, near the Polish border. Sunday morning.

There was no immediate information on deaths or injuries, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia has targeted rail facilities and other critical infrastructure in western Ukraine, a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons. Western officials have said that despite the attacks there has been no appreciable impact on Ukraine’s ability to resupply its forces.

After failing to capture kyiv following the February 24 invasion, Putin has shifted his focus east to Donbas, aiming to seize territory not yet occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.

Airstrikes and artillery shelling make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move around the east, hampering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it appears to be a back-and-forth slog with no breakthroughs on either side.

In his late-night speech on Saturday, Zelenskyy said “the situation in Donbas remains very difficult” and Russian troops “still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious.”

In southern Donbas, the Azov seaport of Mariupol is now largely under Russian control, except for a few hundred Ukrainian soldiers who have refused to surrender and remain in hiding at the Azovstal steel factory.

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians from Mariupol was reportedly able to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded soldiers from the steel plant.

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

NATO operates by consensus, and possible offers from the Nordic nations were called into question on Friday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “does not have a favorable opinion.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the two countries of supporting Kurdish rebel groups, but suggested Turkey would not necessarily block their NATO membership.

“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 are no threats to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be a “mistake” and would “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”

Marin, the Finnish prime minister, said joining NATO would help ensure peace for Finland.

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

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