By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia pounded areas in Ukraine’s east on Thursday, including the last pocket of resistance in besieged Mariupol, as the war pushed Finland closer to ending decades of neutrality and seeking NATO membership.
The conflict on the ground slogged on even as the globe-shaking repercussions of the invasion spread, with Ukraine’s military recapturing some towns and villages in the country’s northeast but acknowledging that Russian forces have seen “partial success” farther south in the eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas.
Finland’s president and prime minister said Thursday that the Nordic country should apply “without delay” for membership in the Western alliance, founded in part to counter the Soviet Union. The announcement means Finland is all but certain to apply to — and be accepted in — the military alliance, though there are several steps in the process and it could take months to complete. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide within days on joining NATO, whose members are committed to mutual defense.
Russia said Finland’s move would not help stability and security in Europe. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s response would depend on what specific steps NATO took to bring its infrastructure closer to Russian borders. Finland and Russia share a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border.
NATO’s support of Ukraine — particularly by supplying weapons — has been critical to Kyiv’s surprising success in stymieing Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb. 24. Many observers thought Moscow’s larger and better-armed military would be hard to stop, but the Ukrainians have bogged Russian troops down and thwarted their goal of overrunning the capital.
Still, the war has unleashed staggering destruction, killed thousands and forced millions from their homes, while shattering Europe’s sense of post-Cold War stability.
In the wake of their failure to take Kyiv, Russian forces pulled back and regrouped — and switched their focus to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas, a region where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for eight years. While Russia’s advance there has been slow, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces noted Thursday that Moscow has achieved a “partial success.”