kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Nearly three months after Russia shocked the world by invading Ukraine, its military faced a bogged-down war, the prospect of a bigger NATO and a defending country strengthened by its victory in a hugely pan-European music match. popular. Competition Sunday.
Top 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. 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. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia.
Western military officials said on Sunday that 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.”
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 became 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.
Russia has now likely lost a third of the ground combat forces it committed in February and continues to suffer “consistently high levels of attrition” without making any substantial territorial gains over the past month, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its update. intelligence daily. 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.
The largely Russian-speaking city, with a prewar population of 1.4 million, is just 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, and was a key military target early on. of the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold the major cities.
Now Ukrainian troops are clearing villages on the outskirts of Kharkiv after pushing back the Russians.
“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.
Ukraine’s military has said Moscow is instead focused on protecting supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and aircraft attacks in a bid to wear down Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications in the east.
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 border with Poland. Sunday morning. There was no immediate information on deaths or injuries, Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has been targeting 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, with the aim of encircling Ukraine’s most experienced and well-equipped troops and seizing territory still under control. control of the Ukraine.
Russian forces control a horseshoe-shaped swath of territory in the Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, which make up the Donbas region, the border area where Ukraine has fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
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 that “the situation in Donbas is still very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to emerge at least somewhat victorious.”
In southern Donbas, the Azov seaport of Mariupol is now largely under Russian control, except for the few hundred soldiers left at the Azovstal steel factory.
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 cars carrying civilians out of the city was reportedly able to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday, while Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities were negotiating the evacuation of 60 seriously wounded soldiers from the steel mill. .
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.
The invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia’s flank worried that they may be next. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest of any member of the European Union.
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.
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.”
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.
Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odessa, and other AP employees around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine