Vladimir Putin’s troublesome war sees battlefield, diplomacy reverses

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

A British intelligence survey updated on Sunday estimated that Russia lost nearly a third of its ground forces in the invasion that began on February 24, giving the Kremlin hope for a more moderate military success focused on containment and expansion Territory of southern Ukraine. and east.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian military officials say their forces’ counteroffensive against besieging Russian positions near the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, has been so successful that some Ukrainian troops have advanced to the Russian border.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going according to Moscow’s plan,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters via video link on Sunday, as coalition foreign ministers gathered in Berlin to discuss the war and support for Ukrainian troops The need for more supplies.

“They failed to capture Kyiv. They are retreating from Kharkov and their main offensive in the Donbass has stalled,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

Manpower shortages, logistical problems and fierce resistance from local Ukrainian forces have left Russia’s offensive in the south severely behind schedule, according to the latest assessment by the British Ministry of Defence.

SEE ALSO: Finnish leader sticks to NATO stance in talks with Putin

“Despite small initial progress, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month while maintaining sustained high levels of attrition,” the ministry tweeted. One-third of the ground combat force committed in February.”

To make matters worse, Ukrainians’ spirits were lifted over the weekend when the Kalush Orchestra, the country’s folk rap group participating in the continent’s annual Eurovision Song Contest, won first prize on Saturday night for their song “Stefania,” apparently benefiting from mass phone calls. Anti-Russian sentiment in the vote.

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

Nordic candidate

Some last-minute urging from Mr. Putin also failed to derail the momentum that could soon bring two well-equipped modern militaries into NATO.

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

SEE ALSO: Sweden takes big step towards NATO bid

But just hours later, Mr Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin officially announced, at the presidential palace in Helsinki on Sunday, that they formally asked parliament for approval to join the 30-nation coalition.

“This is a historic day. A new era has begun,” Mr Niinisto told a news conference on Sunday morning.

Senior coalition officials and most European leaders have said they strongly support the bid, despite Turkey’s reservations.

The admission of a new country requires the unanimous consent of existing coalition members.

Just hours after that, Sweden also said it was taking a major step towards ending its longstanding neutrality policy, as the ruling Social Democratic Party said it was now also in favour of applying to join NATO.

Since the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, public and elite opinion in the two Scandinavian countries has changed dramatically.

Sweden’s center-left Social Democrats have long opposed formal NATO membership, in part because they don’t want to provoke Moscow. Finland, which had been part of the Russian Empire after World War I, has long shown political respect for its huge neighbor.

“The party committee decided at its meeting on 15 May 2022 that the party will work to push Sweden’s application to join NATO,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.

Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson is expected to begin the formal application process soon.

The two Scandinavian countries will become NATO’s 31st and 32nd members, and senior alliance officials have said in recent days that both applications could be approved soon.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other NATO foreign ministers are discussing the state of war in Ukraine in Berlin, and bids from Finland and Sweden are also expected to be at the top of the agenda.

Turkey has raised questions about the bid on the grounds that it says key Kurdish exile communities in both countries are linked to violent separatist movements in Turkey.

But Mr Stoltenberg, a strong proponent of joining Finland and Sweden, said on Sunday he thought the deadlock could be broken.

“I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns expressed by Turkey without delaying the membership or accession process,” he told reporters in a video link.

While some Republicans in Washington have criticized some of President Biden’s decisions in the war, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell happened to be leading a congressional delegation to Stockholm on Sunday after visiting Kyiv, where he The expansion of NATO is predicted to have bipartisan support. Support Capitol Hill.

“If they choose to join, they will be an important addition to NATO,” McConnell told reporters in Stockholm, adding, “I think the US should be the first to ratify the treaty to which these two countries are members.”

still worried

The Kremlin has shown no clear sign of admitting defeat in the Ukraine campaign, which continues to receive highly favorable coverage in state-controlled Russian media.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Algeria last week that Russia’s isolation in the battle was exaggerated, and that many countries agreed with Moscow that Ukraine and NATO were the main instigators of the war .

But Putin passed up the chance to make a major political or military gesture at last week’s National Victory Day commemoration, and Russian defense officials have yet to order a general mobilization to call up more troops to replace soldiers killed in fighting in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military appears highly motivated and is being replenished from a steady stream of armaments and intelligence from the United States and its allies.

Mr McConnell predicted Sunday that the current $40 billion U.S. military, economic and humanitarian aid package — which was delayed last week by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, in a congressional exercise — should be soon passed the Senate and into the hands of Mr. Biden. table.

“We hope to invoke the cloture – hopefully by a significant margin – in the motion on Monday that will allow us to approve [aid bill] Wednesday,” Mr McConnell said on Sunday.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian officials were encouraged by the unexpected course of the war so far, and said Russian forces appeared to be preparing to enter a “third phase” to defend their modest territorial gains in the Donbas region after abandoning the war. Fight for Kyiv and other major city objectives.

“The Russian army is still trying to achieve at least some victories,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address to the nation over the weekend, calling the approach “crazy” after 80 days of largely unsuccessful operations. “.

“Step by step, we forced the occupiers to leave our country,” Mr Zelensky said.

Ukraine may be getting additional help from an unexpected source: Kalush Orchstra band leader Oleh Psiuk told reporters on Sunday that the group would sell its winning Eurovision figurine at auction and donate the proceeds to a A charitable fund that helps the Ukrainian army.

— This article is based in part on Telegram service reports.

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