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    Finland to apply to NATO; Russian effort slows


    Russia’s military advance in Ukraine is “losing momentum,” a senior NATO official noted Sunday, adding that with the alliance’s help, Kyiv could come out of the war victorious.

    “The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters in Berlin. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”

    An intelligence update from Britain’s Ministry of Defence on Sunday echoed Geoana and also said the invading army has probably lost one-third of the ground combat forces it committed at the beginning of the war.

    Top NATO diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met Sunday in Berlin to discuss added assistance to Ukraine. Also on the agenda was expansion of the alliance to include Finland and possibly Sweden.

    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with Blinken on Sunday. He noted on Twitter that more American aid and weapons are on the way.

    Blinken and Kuleba “also discussed the impact of Russia’s brutal war, including on global food security, and committed to seeking a solution to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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    ►Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office said Sunday that 227 children have died and over 400 have been injured since the invasion began.

    ►The U.S. is again accusing Russia of using the U.N. Security Council to spout disinformation and conspiracy theories about biological weapons in Ukraine to distract from its war in Ukraine. U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills called the Russian claims “categorically false and ludicrous.”

    USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive the latest updates straight to your inbox

    Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where the invading forces have focused their efforts after failing to take Kyiv, has “lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule.”

    That was Sunday’s intelligence assessment from Britain’s Ministry of Defence, which added that Russia has not gained any substantial territory in the last month and has probably lost one-third of the ground forces it had when the war began.

    Low morale and diminished combat effectiveness are also hampering Russia, said the British statement, noting those circumstances are likely to continue and it would be difficult for Moscow to turn the tide of the war in the coming weeks.

    “Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the update said.

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    Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said on ABC News’ “This Week” that the likely acceptance of Finland and Sweden into NATO would show the alliance has learned from how it handled Ukraine’s 2008 membership application.

    One of the mistakes to learn from, Stefanishyna said, was “making promises without delivering on decisions in terms of membership, which has basically led to three wars, two of which are now happening on Ukrainian territory.”

    Finland formally announced Sunday it would seek entry into NATO, citing the Russian invasion as a major factor, and Sweden’s governing party endorsed a bid for membership, which could lead to an application in days.

    Both nations are hoping to avoid the brutal assault Ukraine is now trying to repel. Stefanishyna noted Russian troops are now pulling away from major areas in western Ukraine, but her country is not “overly optimistic.”

    “We see that Putin has readjusted his strategy,” she said, adding, “the only possible winning scenario for him is the long-lasting war, which is not the case for us and for the democratic world.”

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    Finnish President Sauli Niinsto said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “quite calm and cool” when Niinsto told him that Finland would be applying for NATO membership.

    Niinsto said Sunday on CNN that Putin did not repeat earlier threats about what would happen if the neutral Nordic country that borders Russia tried to join the alliance. He said he was surprised Putin “took it so calmly.” 

    Niinsto said he doesn’t believe Russia will attack Finland for trying to join NATO, though Putin did call the move “a mistake.” The Finnish leader noted the security situation has changed to the point Finland has no choice but to align itself with other Western countries in NATO.

    “Europe, the world, is more divided. There’s not very much room for nonaligned in between,” he said.

    A day after he and other Republican senators visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that Finland and Sweden would be “important additions” to NATO.

    ”I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join,” McConnell, a longtime NATO supporter, told reporters from Stockholm. He noted Finland and Sweden, unlike some members of the Western alliance, would likely be in a position to pay their NATO obligations and would offer significant military capabilities.

    Finnish leaders expressed their support for joining NATO last week, and on Sunday they formalized their intentions by announcing the Nordic nation will apply for membership.

    President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin declared their intent at a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. “This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.

    Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Finnish support for joining NATO has jumped by 25%, according to poll results reported by France24.

    Independent since 1917, Finland has been militarily nonaligned since a 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union. The Nordic country shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

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    From nearly the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has teased the use of a nuclear weapon. 

    But most political scientists, nuclear arms experts, Western officials and seasoned Kremlin watchers say it’s highly unlikely he would detonate a nuclear weapon to break an impasse over Russia’s stalled offensive in Ukraine, now in its third month. 

    “If the conflict in Ukraine essentially remains an overt one between Russian and Ukrainian forces, with the West playing more of a proxy role, if we stay where we are today in terms of Western involvement in the conflict, I see no likelihood at all,” said Dmitri Trenin, until recently director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. 

    Read more on Putin’s strategy here. 

    – Kim Hjelmgaard

    Ukraine celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday.

    The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy, televised Eurovision contest with its song “Stefania,” which has become a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory.

    President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed 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.

    Contributing: The Associated Press



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