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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Finland and Sweden confirm they will seek NATO membership

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, left, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin giving a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday.

By Marc Santora

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. NATO leaders said they would accelerate Finland and Sweden’s membership bids, though the process of bringing them fully into the alliance 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:

— Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, said President Joe Biden should declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has urged. “I think it’s a good idea — I would support that,” McConnell said in Stockholm on Sunday. He visited Ukraine on Saturday with three other senior Republican senators to meet with Zelenskyy.

— Hours after its Eurovision Song Contest victory, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra released a music video for its winning song that was filmed in the ruins of towns that were heavily bombed during Russia’s invasion.

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