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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Putin’s aim to weaken NATO falters as Finland and Sweden weigh joining

Residents and authorities say the Russian soldiers who left have occupied large areas of the country with buried land mines and bombs stolen by jurors – some hidden as booby traps in the ground. Explosives must now be detected and neutralized before residents can resume normal lives.

By Dan Bilefsky and Steven Erlanger

IAmid heightened security concerns spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden are seriously considering applying for NATO membership and are widely expected to join, underscoring how the actions of President Vladimir Putin have backfired by strengthening the alliance he has been seeking to tame.

Putin has portrayed NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to Russia and has been intent on winding back the clock 30 years, to just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The war, however, has not only emboldened the desire of former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO but is also driving militarily nonaligned countries like Sweden and Finland into the arms of the alliance.

The accession of Sweden and Finland would be another example of how the invasion has undermined Putin’s stated goals. And the United States announced an additional $800 million in military and other security aid for Ukraine, continuing its support of the government in Kyiv as it braces for another Russian offensive.

In Ukraine, the war has turned what had been a generally Russia-friendly population in large parts of the country into a defiant enemy. Instead of diminishing the trans-Atlantic alliance, Putin has strengthened it. Instead of sowing divisions within it, he has united it while prompting it to reinforce its military presence in NATO countries bordering Russia like Poland and the Baltic States.

As the prospect of NATO’s expansion intensified Wednesday, investigators were also accelerating efforts to collect evidence of alleged Russian atrocities outside Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. French forensics teams and Ukrainian authorities were exhuming bodies from communal graves, and European experts described “clear patterns” of human rights violations by Russian forces.

Here are other major developments:

— An initial report by a mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented a “catalog of inhumanity perpetrated by Russia’s forces in Ukraine” and found “instances in which war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed,” the U.S. ambassador to the organization said Wednesday. The report also found violations committed by Ukrainian forces.

— In his latest address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine offered to exchange a detained pro-Russian politician for Ukrainians being held captive by Moscow’s forces. Ukraine’s security service said Tuesday that officers had detained Viktor Medvedchuk, who has long been considered one of Putin’s closest allies in Ukraine.

— Residents and Ukrainian authorities say departing Russian soldiers have laced large swaths of the country with buried land mines and jury-rigged bombs, with some hidden as booby traps inside homes. The explosives must be found and neutralized before residents can resume a semblance of normal life.

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