KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Finland’s leaders came out Thursday in favor of applying to join NATO, and Sweden could do the same within days, in a historic realignment on the continent two and a half months after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. a shiver of fear among Moscow’s neighbors.
The Kremlin reacted by warning that it will be forced to take “military-technical” measures in retaliation.
On the ground, meanwhile, Russian forces attacked areas in central, northern and eastern Ukraine, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part of their offensive to seize the industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine recaptured some towns. and towns in the northeast.
The first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the start of the conflict will begin in kyiv on Friday. A captured 21-year-old member of a tank unit is accused of shooting dead a civilian on a bicycle during the first week of the war.
The President and Prime Minister of Finland announced that the Nordic country should apply immediately to become a member of NATO, the military defense pact founded in part to counter the Soviet Union.
“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said this week.
While the country’s Parliament has yet to weigh in, the announcement means Finland will almost certainly apply and gain admission, though the process could take months to complete. Sweden, likewise, is considering putting itself under NATO protection.
That would represent a major shift in Europe’s security landscape: Sweden has eschewed military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland embraced neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.
Public opinion in both nations shifted sharply in favor of NATO membership after the invasion, sparking fears in countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.
Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and would amount to a severe setback for Putin, who had hoped to split and push back NATO in Europe, but instead is seeing what happens. contrary.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden with open arms.
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory measures of a military-technical and other nature to counter emerging threats to its national security.”
NATO’s funneling of arms and other military support to Ukraine has already been central to kyiv’s surprising success in hampering the invasion, with the Kremlin warning again in chilling terms on Thursday that the aid could lead to direct conflict between the two. NATO and Russia.
“There is always a risk that such a conflict will turn into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for everyone,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.
While Russia’s advance in Donbas has been slow, its forces have gained some ground and taken some villages.
Four civilians were killed on Thursday in three communities in the Donetsk region, which is part of Donbas, the regional governor said.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia’s focus on Donbas has left its remaining troops around the northeastern city of Kharkiv vulnerable to a counterattack by Ukrainian forces, who have recaptured several towns and villages around the city.
Russian rocket attacks on Thursday killed one person and wounded three in a Kharkiv suburb, the regional governor said.
The fighting in the east has driven thousands of Ukrainians from their homes.
“It’s terrible there now. We were leaving under the missiles,” said Tatiana Kravstova, who left the city of Siversk with her 8-year-old son Artiom on a bus headed for the central city of Dnipro. “I don’t know where they were pointing, but they were targeting civilians.”
Ukraine also said Russian forces fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, which has been a haven for civilians fleeing Mariupol, and attacked the Chernihiv and Sumy regions in the north.
Nighttime airstrikes near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine have killed at least three people, Ukraine’s military said. He said that Russian troops fired rockets at a school and a student dormitory in Novhorod-Siversky and that some other buildings, including private houses, were also damaged.
And eight to 12 Russian missiles hit an oil refinery and other infrastructure in Ukraine’s central industrial hub of Kremenchuk on Thursday, the region’s acting governor Dmytro Lunin wrote in a Telegram post. In early April, he said, the refinery, which had been the last fully functional in Ukraine at the time, was put out of action by an attack.
In the southern port of Mariupol, which has largely been reduced to smoldering rubble with little food, water or medicine, or what the mayor called a “medieval ghetto,” Ukrainian fighters continued to hold out at the Azovstal steel plant, the last bastion of resistance in the city.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations were under way with Russia to secure the release of 38 critically injured Ukrainian defenders of the plant. She said Ukraine hoped to exchange them for 38 “important” Russian prisoners of war.
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki, and other AP employees around the world contributed.
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