In Ukraine and internationally, scenario darkens for Russia

AP , Monday 16 May 2022

Europe pushed Monday to sharpen and expand its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Sweden poised to follow Finland in seeking membership of NATO and European Union officials working to rescue proposed sanctions that would target Russian oil exports helping the Kremlin finance its war.

File Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto after a joint news conference following their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. AP


On the ground, Russia saw more setbacks in its offensive in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian defenders are fighting desperately against attempted Russian advances and even successfully rolling back the front lines in some areas.

In a small but symbolic boost for Ukrainian morale, a patrol of soldiers recorded triumphant video of their push right up to the Russian border in the region of Kharkiv. Already, Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian troops back from the region's capital, making it harder for them to hit the battered city with artillery.

As fighting raged, international efforts to respond to Russia's aggression continued to pick up pace. The Swedish government is expected to announce its intention to seek NATO membership later Monday _ as its neighbor Finland has done. Those are seismic developments for the Nordic countries that have traditionally positioned themselves as militarily ``nonaligned.''

An enlargement of NATO to include Sweden and Finland would be a serious blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the alliance's post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe a threat and cited it as a reason for attacking Ukraine. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the membership process for both Finland and Sweden could be very quick _ though member Turkey has cast doubts over the move.

In Brussels, EU officials worked to overcome opposition from a small group of countries led by Hungary to a proposed embargo on imports of Russian oil. Hungary is one of a number of landlocked countries that are highly dependent on Russian oil, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.

``We will do our best in order to deblock the situation,`` EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. `` I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because positions are quite strong.''

Weapons from NATO countries to Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia have helped the outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainian forces bog down the Russian advance _ and even turn it back in places.

Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, said Sunday the war ``is not going as Moscow had planned.``

``Ukraine can win this war,'' he said, adding that NATO must continue to offer military support to Kyiv.

Since Russia's failure to overrun Kyiv, the capital, in the early stages of its Feb. 24 invasion, much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas, Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland.

Determining a full picture of the unfolding battle there is difficult. Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around, and reporting is restricted by Ukraine and the Moscow-backed separatists it has been fighting in the Donbas for eight years.

Still, Ukrainian forces are grinding down the Russians, and the two sides have been battling village-by-village.

A Ukrainian patrol in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops have been pushed back by a counteroffensive, reached the Russian border and made a victorious video there addressed to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The video posted Sunday on Facebook by Ukraine's Ministry of Defense shows a dozen fighters around a post covered with blue and yellow, Ukraine's colors. It was not clear exactly where the video was shot.

One soldier said the unit went ``to the dividing line with the Russian Federation, the occupying country. Mr. President, we have reached it. We are here.'' Other fighters made victory signs and raised their fists.

Along another section of the frontier with Russia, Ukrainian border guards said they defeated a Russian attempt Monday morning to send troops into the northern Sumy region. The border guard service said Russian forces deployed mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns in an attempt to cover a ``sabotage and reconnaissance group'' crossing the border from Russia.

The border guard service said its officers returned fire and forced the Russian group to retreat back into Russia. The area is largely rural and hasn't seen intense fighting in more than a month. There was no immediate word from Russia.

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