Finland and Sweden confirm they will seek NATO membership

NATO, Swedish and Finnish flags are seen in this illustration taken May 12, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
With Russia’s forces in retreat around the northeastern city of Kharkiv and its offensive in the eastern Donbas region faltering, Moscow is also confronting the prospect of a significant expansion of NATO that would bring the military alliance closer to its borders than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Finland’s government announced Sunday that the nation would apply for NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party announced that it also supported joining the alliance. If accepted into NATO, as is widely expected, both Nordic nations would cast aside a long history of military nonalignment, as they look to the Western alliance for protection against Russian aggression. The process of bringing them fully into NATO, though, will take time.

The likely expansion of NATO would represent another strategic setback for President Vladimir Putin of Russia. His forces suffered a humiliating defeat in their bid to seize Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and other cities in northern Ukraine after launching their unprovoked invasion nearly three months ago. Now they are also struggling in a scaled-back military campaign to seize more of eastern Ukraine.

After quick successes in the early weeks of the war, Russia has “lost momentum” in its renewed offensive in the east, the British military intelligence agency said Sunday, adding that Russia had suffered “high levels of attrition” over the past month. As wave after wave of Russian soldiers try to break through Ukrainian defensive positions in the Donbas region, contributing to severe casualties, the agency assessed that Moscow “has now likely suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat forces it committed in February.”

In other developments:

— Foreign ministers from NATO countries were set to conclude a weekend of meetings in Berlin on Sunday, along with their counterparts from Finland and Sweden.

— Turkey is working to negotiate a safe exit for the wounded Ukrainian soldiers sheltering in the bunkers of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where the remaining fighters are surviving on dwindling rations. The wives of some of the trapped fighters called on President Xi Jinping of China to intervene, hoping that his clout as an ally might sway Putin.

— Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, the minority leader, visited Ukraine on Saturday with three other senior Republican senators to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Senate leaders are working to pass a $40 billion emergency military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine.

— A Ukrainian rap and folk band won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, as European viewers and juries delivered a symbolic show of solidarity with the country in its defense against Russia.

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