NATO openly pledged military support to Ukraine on Sunday, as Finland greeted its “historic” attempt to join the alliance and Western claims that Russia had suffered heavy losses in its advance eastward.
The pledge came after Finland jettisoned decades of military non-alignment for a bulwark against Russia, reshaping the balance of power in Europe and angering the Kremlin.
On the ground in Ukraine, Russia announced airstrikes in the east, as well as in Lviv, near the Polish border in the west, which has been largely spared the destruction elsewhere.
At a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany’s Annalena Baerbock said it would provide military assistance “as long as Ukraine needs it for its country’s self-defense”.
“Ukraine can win this war. Ukrainians bravely defend their homeland,” added NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Sweden’s ruling party said it was in favor of joining NATO just hours after Finland’s announcement, marking a remarkable turnaround in political and public opinion following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said the alliance would aim to provide both with interim security guarantees as applications are processed, including possibly by more troops in the region.
In Berlin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had heard “almost across the board, very strong support” for the bids, despite doubts from Turkey.
Ankara has accused both Sweden and Finland of harboring Kurdish extremists, but Stoltenberg said it was not blocking their membership and was confident in finding common ground.
The Kremlin insists the Scandinavian countries have nothing to fear, and in retaliation it has pulled the plug on electricity supply to Finland, with which it shares a 1,300-kilometer border.
Earlier, Western intelligence claimed that Russia has suffered massive military losses in Ukraine and will be bogged down in the strategic east by fierce local resistance.
Outside of the conflict, Ukraine basked in the morale-boosting glory of the landside victory of its participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s largest live music event.
On the battlefield, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed it carried out “high-precision” missile strikes against four artillery depots in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
Air strikes had also destroyed two missile launch systems and radar, while knocking out 15 Ukrainian drones around Donetsk and Lugansk, it added.
In Lviv, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said four Russian missiles hit military infrastructure near the border with Poland.
No casualties have been reported and Ukrainian forces said they destroyed two cruise missiles over the region.
Lviv was last hit by Russian missiles on May 3.
British defense chiefs said the Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region had “lost momentum”.
Demoralized Russian forces had made no substantial gains and Moscow’s battle plan was “significantly behind schedule,” Britain’s defense intelligence agency said.
“Russia has now probably lost a third of the force on the ground it deployed in February.
“Under the current circumstances, it is unlikely that Russia will accelerate its advance drastically in the next 30 days.”
Exact, reliable numbers of casualties are hard to come by, as Ukraine and Russia regularly publish claims of enemy killings.
Kiev says its troops killed nearly 20,000 Russian troops. Moscow said on March 25 that its troops had killed at least 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
But both figures are widely believed to be exaggerated and have not been verified by AFP or independent conflict monitors.
The Kremlin said in late March that about 1,351 of its troops had been killed.
A senior NATO military official estimated at the same time that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers could have been killed in the fighting so far.
Russia is increasingly turning its attention to eastern Ukraine after failing to take Kiev.
Western leaders have predicted a protracted war of attrition extending into next year.
But Ukrainian commanders are more optimistic and expect a turning point in August.
Russia has tried to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk, but has been repulsed, with heavy losses in equipment, the Lugansk governor said.
Local officials in Ukraine’s second city, Kharkov in the north, have said Russian troops are withdrawing from the surrounding region and Ukrainian forces are counterattacking.
Ukrainian troops have engaged in a rearguard action from a network of underground tunnels and bunkers in the bowels of a steel factory in the destroyed southern port city of Mariupol.
Families of the estimated 600 troops still at the massive Azovstal factory have called on China to intervene to ensure the release of the dead and injured.
Earlier this month, the United Nations and the Red Cross helped evacuate women, children and the elderly from the factory they were sheltering.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, said on Telegram that a “huge convoy” of 500 to 1,000 cars had arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhya.
In war-weary Kiev, news of runaway Ukrainian song contest success was met with bursts of joy and relief, bringing a break from the daily barrage of grim reports about the conflict.
“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important to us now,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from all over Europe was “incredible”.
“I am very happy,” said Andriy Nemkovych, a 28-year-old project manager. “This win is so good for our mood.”
“Stefania” by the Kalush Orchestra, a rap lullaby that combines folk and modern hip-hop rhythms, won popular votes from viewers and pushed the UK into second place.
President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the group, whose lyrics about home have become extra poignant with six million Ukrainians currently displaced outside the country.
But some were lukewarm.
“Now, it’s not the most important thing,” said Vadym Zaplatnikov, 61, who insisted that “getting Crimea back” would be a much more welcome announcement.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)