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Setbacks in east force Russia to scale back ambitions


By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Austin Ramzy


In a sign of Russian forces’ struggles on the battlefield, military analysts have said Moscow appears to be further scaling back its objectives even in eastern Ukraine, where it has recently been focusing its devastating firepower, and may be targeting a takeover only of part of the Donbas region on its border.


Off the battlefield, Ukraine and its Western allies continued to put pressure on Moscow on Monday as NATO held a large military exercise on Russia’s doorstep in Estonia. Although planned long before the invasion of Ukraine, the drills were a show of might by the alliance, which was further strengthened over the weekend when both Finland and Sweden confirmed that they would cast aside decades of strategic neutrality and apply for membership.


Ukrainian forces, buoyed by Western weapons and financial support, have mounted a fierce counteroffensive in the northeast of the country, pushing Russian forces away from the city of Kharkiv and allowing thousands of residents to return. On Sunday, the Ukrainian military released a video purporting to show a small unit erecting a pillar in the blue and yellow colors of the national flag at the Russian border outside Kharkiv.


Russia has refocused on the Donbas region to the southeast — where its forces have been fighting since 2014 — after failing in the early weeks of the war to seize the capital of Kyiv and other cities in northern Ukraine. But even in Donbas, its efforts to encircle Ukrainian forces have faltered amid heavy losses and battlefield reversals, and Moscow is now likely to narrow its ambitions and instead focus on securing only the Luhansk region, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Sunday.


In other developments:


— In Luhansk, Russian forces fired artillery barrages Sunday at the city of Sievierodonetsk, killing two people and damaging a chemical plant, a school, a hospital and homes, according to the regional military administration.


— Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, declared support for Finland’s and Sweden’s moves to join NATO, saying that “the United States ought to be first to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would grant fast-track membership to both nations, whose parliaments were holding debates on membership on Monday and were widely expected to approve the applications.


— McDonald’s is selling its Russia business as it looks to leave the country completely. The move, after 32 years in the country, is a significant departure for a brand whose growth across the world became the symbol of globalism and even the basis of a peace theory.

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