Vladimir Putin’s turbulent war sees a battlefield and diplomatic setbacks

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nearly three-month invasion of neighboring Ukraine suffered setbacks on the battlefield and in the corridors of power on Sunday, as long-neutral Finland said it would apply to join the military alliance. of NATO and neighboring Sweden said it would not be far off. behind.

A British intelligence survey updated on Sunday estimated that Russia had lost almost a third of the ground forces it committed to the invasion that began on February 24, casting doubt on the Kremlin’s hopes for a more modest military success focused on maintaining and expanding territory in southern Ukraine. and this

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military officials said a counteroffensive by their forces against the siege of Russian positions near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, had been so successful that some Ukrainian troops had advanced as far as the Russian border.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Sunday via video link as alliance foreign ministers met in Berlin. to discuss the war and the need for more supplies for the Ukrainian forces.

“They failed to take kyiv. They are withdrawing from Kharkiv and their main offensive in Donbas has stalled,” Stoltenberg said.

Manpower shortages, logistical problems and fierce resistance from local Ukrainian forces have seriously delayed the Russian offensive in the south, according to the latest assessment by the British Ministry of Defence.

SEE ALSO: Finnish Leader Stands Firm on NATO in Talks with Putin

“Despite initial small-scale gains, Russia failed to make any substantial territorial gains over the past month and maintained consistently high levels of attrition,” the ministry said on Twitter. “Russia has now likely suffered losses of a third of the ground combat force it committed in February.”

To add insult to injury, Ukrainian spirits were lifted over the weekend when the Kalush Orchestra, the folk-rap group that was the country’s entry in the annual continent-wide Eurovision song contest, took home the top prize. on Saturday night for her song “Stefania”, clearly benefiting from anti-Russian sentiment in the popular telephone vote.

Not only was Russia banned from this year’s competition because of the war, but Italian police said it thwarted Russia-based Killnet hacking network’s efforts to corrupt the production and voting of the final. held in Turin.

nordic candidates

Some last-minute overtures from Putin also failed to derail the momentum that could soon bring two modern and sophisticated armies into NATO.

In a weekend phone call with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin warned his Finnish counterpart that joining the Western military alliance would be a “mistake” that would have an unspecified “negative impact” on bilateral relations.

SEE ALSO: Sweden Takes Big Step Towards NATO Candidacy

But just hours later, Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made it official by announcing Sunday at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki that they were formally requesting that Parliament approve a bid to join the 30-nation alliance.

“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said at a news conference on Sunday morning.

Senior alliance officials and most European leaders have indicated they strongly support the bid, although Turkey has expressed reservations.

Unanimity among members of the existing alliance is required to admit a new country.

And just hours after that, Sweden also said it was taking an important step to end its long-standing policy of neutrality, as the ruling Social Democratic Party said it was now in favor of applying for NATO membership as well.

Public and elite opinion in both Scandinavian countries has changed dramatically since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Sweden’s centre-left Social Democrats had long opposed formal NATO membership in part because they did not want to provoke Moscow. And Finland, part of the Russian Empire until after World War I, has long been politically respectful of its giant neighbor.

“The party board at its meeting on May 15, 2022 decided that the party will work for Sweden to apply for NATO membership,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.

Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is expected to start the process for a formal application soon.

The two Scandinavian countries would be NATO’s 31st and 32nd members, and senior alliance officials have said in recent days that both requests are likely to be approved quickly.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other NATO foreign ministers are in Berlin discussing the state of the war in Ukraine, with the anticipated bids from Finland and Sweden also likely to feature prominently. on the agenda.

Turkey has raised some questions about the offers, citing what it said were significant Kurdish exile communities in both countries with links to violent separatist movements inside Turkey.

But Stoltenberg, who has strongly defended the addition of Finland and Sweden, said on Sunday that he thought the deadlock could be resolved.

“I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that does not delay the membership or the accession process,” he told reporters in a video link.

And while some Republicans in Washington have criticized some of President Biden’s decisions on the war, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was leading a congressional delegation in Stockholm on Sunday after a visit to kyiv, predicted that NATO expansion would be bipartisan. support on Capitol Hill.

“They will be important additions to NATO, if they decide to join,” McConnell told reporters while in Stockholm, adding that “I think the United States should be first in line to ratify the treaty for these two countries to join. ”

still worried

The Kremlin has shown no overt signs of conceding defeat in the Ukraine campaign, which continues to receive rave coverage in Russia’s state-controlled press.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on a trip to Algeria last week that Russia’s isolation in the fighting has been exaggerated and that many countries share Moscow’s view that Ukraine and NATO were the main instigators. from the war.

But Putin missed the opportunity for a major political or military gesture at national Victory Day commemorations last week, and Russian defense officials have yet to order a general mobilization to recruit more troops to replace those lost in the wars. fighting in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s forces appear highly motivated and are being replenished by a steady stream of weapons and intelligence from the US and its allies.

Mr McConnell predicted on Sunday that a now $40bn US military, economic and humanitarian aid package, delayed by Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, last week in a parliamentary maneuver, should soon go through the Senate and address Biden. desk.

“We hope to invoke adjournment, hopefully by a significant margin, on the motion to proceed on Monday, which would prepare us to pass the [aid bill] on Wednesday,” McConnell said Sunday.

In kyiv, Ukrainian officials were encouraged by the unexpected course of the war so far, saying Russian forces appear to be preparing for a “third phase” by defending the modest territorial gains they have made in the Donbas region, after having left the region. fight for kyiv and other important urban objectives.

“Russian forces are still trying to show at least some victory,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night address to the nation over the weekend, an approach he called “crazy” after 80 days of massive operations. unsuccessful measure.

“Step by step, we are forcing the occupier to leave our country,” Zelenskyy said.

And Ukraine may get a little extra help from an unexpected source: Kalush Orchstra bandleader Oleh Psiuk told reporters on Sunday that the group would sell its Eurovision-winning statuette at auction and donate the proceeds to a fund. charity that helps the Ukrainian army.

— This article was based in part on reports from cable services.

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