Putin warns Finland, Sweden over NATO as Ukraine braces for eastern assault

After almost three months of fighting, more than six million refugees have fled Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Finland and Sweden on Monday to expect a “response” for applying to join NATO as Ukraine braced for a new push by Moscow’s forces in its eastern Donbas region.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Monday confirmed her country would apply to join the military alliance, the day after Finland — which shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia — said the same.

Russia, whose war has sparked global outrage, killed thousands and created millions of refugees, warned that NATO’s expansion would have consequences.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had earlier called it a “serious mistake with far-reaching consequences”.

But Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told lawmakers: “Our security environment has fundamentally changed.

– ‘Behind schedule’ –

NATO on Sunday promised its open-ended support, with German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock saying it would provide military assistance “for as long as Ukraine needs”.

“We are preparing for new attempts by Russia to attack in Donbas, to somehow intensify its movement in the south of Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Sunday.

Demoralized Russian troops had failed to make substantial gains and Moscow’s battle plan was “significantly behind schedule,” UK defense intelligence said.

The defense ministry later announced Ukrainian troops had regained control of territory near Kharkiv, which has been under constant attack since the invasion.

Ukraine’s presidency reported Monday that two people were killed and nine were wounded, including a child, in shelling on a Severodonetsk hospital.

But Russia’s attempt to cross a river to encircle it has been repelled with heavy losses of equipment, according to Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday.

-Waiting it out-

But some are trying to wait it out.

“It is dangerous here now. Then it changes and it becomes dangerous over there. What is the point of going back and forth?” she told AFP, on her way back to her basement.

“The people who sit here just think that everything will be fine,” said the policeman, Viktor Levchenko, of the dozens hiding in the underground corridors and intertwining basements of one of the city’s more fortified buildings.

– Mariupol evacuation –

Russia’s defense ministry said Monday it had reached a deal to evacuate wounded soldiers from the plant, where hundreds of Ukrainian troops remain holed up in underground tunnels.

A group of women whose partners are fighting at Azovstal have been touring European nations in recent weeks, hoping someone can save them.

Ukrainian commanders say they expect a turning point in their favor by August, but Western powers have cautioned the conflict will turn into a war of attrition stretching into next year.

Ukraine’s Western allies have unprecedented leveled economic sanctions against Moscow to punish it for the invasion, but at the same time, European nations continue to buy Russian oil and gas.

Portugal’s Foreign Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said it could take “a couple of weeks” to hammer out agreement, a timescale that would take the debate up to the next full summit of EU leaders.

Separately, French automaker Renault has handed over its Russian assets to the Russian government, marking the first major nationalization since the onset of sanctions.


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