Russian military and diplomatic efforts were hampered.
Kyiv (Ukraine)- Russia lost diplomatic ground over the weekend as two more European countries moved closer to joining NATO. Also, its military is bogged down in a grinding conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Finland stated its plans to join the alliance on Sunday. They claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly had altered Europe’s security landscape. Several hours later, Sweden’s ruling party endorsed the country’s bid for membership, paving the way for an application in the coming days.
Those moves would deal a severe blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He called NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe a threat. He cited it as a reason for attacking Ukraine before these latest moves. NATO claims to be a purely defensive organisation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the war “is not going as Moscow had planned. He was in” meeting with top diplomats from the alliance in Berlin,
“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to offer military support to Kyiv.
Meanwhile, Russia inflicted damage but failed to make significant territorial gains in eastern Ukraine. The focus of its war effort since Russian forces could not seize the capital, Kyiv.
Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a village-by-village battle for Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas. Ukrainian soldiers have fought Moscow-backed separatists there for eight years.
Over the weekend, Russian forces hit a chemical plant and 11 high-rise buildings in Siverodonetsk. Russian missiles also destroyed “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine, near the Polish border. Lviv is a gateway for Western-supplied weapons to Ukraine, the governor of the Lviv region said.
The Ukrainian military said it held off a renewed Russian offensive in the Donetsk area of the Donbas. Ukraine also blew up two railway bridges seized by Russian forces in the eastern region of Luhansk. Ukraine’s Special Operations Command said Sunday. The move was to prevent Russia from bringing in more troops to attack the towns of Lisichansk and Severodonetsk.
Ukrainian forces stopped an attempted Russian advance near the eastern city of Izyum. Said the governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Oleh Sinegubov
The Ukrainian claims could not be independently verified, but Western officials also painted a sombre picture for Russia.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said that the Russian army had lost up to one-third of the combat strength in its daily intelligence update. In late February, it committed to Ukraine and was failing to gain any substantial territory.
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to accelerate its advance rate over the next 30 days dramatically,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Russian troops retreated from around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a key military objective earlier in the war. After weeks of bombardment, the regional governor said no shelling in the town for several days.
Russia continued to strike the wider Kharkiv region, but Ukrainian reported gains.
On Sunday, one Ukrainian battalion fighting in the region reached the border with Russia and made a victorious video addressed to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In the video posted on Facebook by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, a dozen fighters stood around a blue-and-yellow post, Ukraine’s colours.
One explained that the unit went “to the dividing line with the Russian Federation, the occupying country. Mr President, we have reached it. We are here.”
Other fighters made victory signs and raised their fists.
Despite the continuing threat of missile attacks, many people were returning home to Kharkiv and other cities around Ukraine, Anna Malyar, deputy head of the Ministry of Defense, said on Sunday. Refugees were returning not just because of optimism that the war might ebb.
“Living somewhere just like that, not working, paying for housing, eating … they are forced to return for financial reasons,” she said in remarks carried by the RBK-Ukraine news agency.
In the southern Donbas, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol is now mainly under Russian control, except for several hundred Ukrainian troops who have refused to surrender and remain holed up in the Azovstal steel factory.
Many of their wives called on the global community to secure the release of “the entire garrison” during an online news conference. The women said the troops suffered severe food, water and medicine shortages.
Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said his country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians by ship from Azovstal, according to the official state broadcaster TRT.
The invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia’s flank worried they could be next. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that joining NATO would be an “error in a Saturday phone call.”
In Sweden, after the ruling Social Democratic Party on Sunday backed plans to join NATO, the goal was to be discussed Monday in parliament, with an announcement by the Cabinet to follow.
However, NATO operates by consensus, and the Nordic nations’ potential bids were thrown into question over concerns from Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he had discussed Turkey’s worries at the NATO meeting, especially Sweden and Finland’s alleged support for Kurdish rebel groups and their restrictions on weapons sales to Turkey.
But during a Sunday visit to Sweden, U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Finland and Sweden would be “important additions” to NATO and that the U.S. should swiftly ratify their membership. McConnell is leading a delegation of GOP senators to the region. They made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday in a show of support.
Ukraine also celebrated a morale-boosting victory on Saturday night in the Eurovision Song Contest. The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy pan-European competition with its song “Stefania,” which has become an anthem among Ukrainians during the war.
Zelenskyy vowed his nation would claim the customary winner’s honour of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step, we force the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.
At a news conference Sunday, the band’s frontman, Oleh Psiuk, said the musicians were “ready to fight” when they returned home. Ukraine’s government prohibits men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country. But the all-male band’s six members received special permission to go to Italy to represent Ukraine in the contest.