When Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine he apparently believed that Ukraine’s government would flee in exile and its military would collapse in a matter of days, a couple of weeks at tops. It is one of the greatest military miscalculations in history.
Ukraine’s government did not run, it has stood tall in defense of democracy, a symbol of freedom to the world. Ukraine’s military proved to be creative and adept at causing maximum damage to a far larger Russian invasion force, repelling the initial invasion plan of seizing the capitol of Kiev. Russian troops still have not defeated a small garrison of Ukrainian fighters, badly untnumbered and wounded, and without supplies of food, water, and ammunition, hold up in the massive steel plant at Mariupol, despite round-the-clock Russian bombardment for weeks now. It is reminscent of the 900 days siege of Leningrad by the Nazis in World War II.
The Associated Press reports, Ukraine: Russians withdraw from around Kharkiv, batter east:
Russian troops were withdrawing from around Ukraine’s second-largest city after bombarding it for weeks, the Ukrainian military said Saturday, as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Ukraine’s military said the Russian forces were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new — long-term — phase of the war.”
After failing to capture Kyiv following the Feb. 24 invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus eastward to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukraine has battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The offensive aims to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped troops, who are deployed in the east, and to seize parts of the Donbas that remain in Ukraine’s control.
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move around in the east, hindering efforts to get a full picture of the fighting. But it appears to be a back-and-forth slog without major breakthroughs on either side.
Russia has captured some Donbas villages and towns, including Rubizhne, which had a prewar population of around 55,000.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s forces have also made progress in the east, retaking six towns or villages in the past day. In his nightly address Saturday, he said “the situation in Donbas remains very difficult” and Russian troops were “still trying to come out at least somewhat victorious.”
“Step by step,” Zelenskyy the president said, “we are forcing the occupants to leave the Ukrainian land.”
Kharkiv, which is near the Russian border and only 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key military objective earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.
Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said. “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.”
Regional Gov. Oleh Sinegubov said via the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.
He added that Ukraine launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kharkiv that has been held by Russia since at least the beginning of April.
Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.
“The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided — there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said.
However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river in the town of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said.
Britain’s defense ministry said Russia lost “significant armored maneuver elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.
The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of “the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine.”
Another serious miscalculation by Vladimir Putin: he launched the war in Ukraine aiming to thwart NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. Among Russia’s preinvasion demands was a rollback of NATO’s “open door” policy, under which countries once part of the Soviet Union have joined the alliance.
Instead of a rollback, the Russian invasion appears to be producing further expansion by formerly neutral countries, right on Russia’s roughly 800-mile border with Finland.
The Washington Post reports, Ruling parties in Sweden, Finland back NATO membership in historic shifts:
Sweden’s ruling party dropped the country’s historic military nonalignment on Sunday and agreed to join NATO, shortly after Finland’s leaders officially announced they would do the same.
Speaking at a news conference earlier in Helsinki alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto described Sunday as a “historic day.”
The moves were major steps in ending decades of military neutrality for the two Nordic nations, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued to dramatically shift security considerations in Europe.
Both decisions represent a seminal shift in military thinking on the continent following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Amid threats from Moscow over NATO’s eastern expansion, Finland had held back from joining NATO since it was formed in 1949.
When NATO was formed with the intention of balancing the security threats from the Soviet Union and its allies, Finland and Sweden chose instead to adopt a position of neutrality and nonalignment.
For Putin, the two countries’ shift represents a significant blowback from his invasion.
“Russia has created what the Russian president always wanted to prevent,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday. Two countries that did not intend to join NATO before the Feb. 24 invasion are now “very likely” to do so, she said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said their accession would be a “turning point for security” in Europe. “Their membership in NATO would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open, and that aggression does not pay.”
“We’re now facing a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said. “And when we navigate in this new environment, the fundamental question for us is: How do we best protect Sweden? And the Kremlin has shown that they are prepared to use violence to achieve their political objectives and that they don’t hesitate to take enormous risks.”
“Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is not only illegal and indefensible, it also undermines the European security order,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said. While the country’s “200-year-long standing policy of military nonalignment has served Sweden well,” the nation now faced a “fundamental change,” she said. “As a member of NATO, Sweden not only achieves more security, but also contributes to more security.”
The decision still needs to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, but that is considered largely a formality. Once formal requests are submitted, each of NATO’s 30 member nations must approve, a process that could take months or longer.
NATO requires unanimity on the approval of new members, and Turkey has expressed skepticism over admitting Finland and Sweden to the alliance. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the countries as “home to many terrorist organizations.”
The comments — referring mainly to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant organization known as the PKK — were seen as a threat by Turkey to veto any NATO expansion.
[In] response to questions about whether Turkey will block or significantly delay membership for the Nordic countries, Stoltenberg expressed confidence that NATO would move swiftly.
“Turkey has made it clear: Their intention is not to block membership. Therefore, I am confident we’ll be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the accession process,” he said, without offering a specific timeline.
Baerbock also said the two countries could join “very quickly” if they made that decision.
The Washington Post adds, Why Turkey dissents on Finland and Sweden joining NATO and why it matters:
Finnish and Swedish officials have declared in recent days their intention to join NATO, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But their acceptance to the alliance requires unanimous consent among members, and the leader of one such state — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — has voiced hesitation about the two nations.
What has Turkey said about Finland and Sweden joining NATO?
Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey was not “favorable” toward the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We are following the developments with Sweden and Finland, but we don’t have favorable thoughts,” he told reporters. Sweden and Finland could move formally to join the group as soon as this week.
But Turkey hasn’t said it would veto the countries’ membership, and on Sunday, its foreign minister laid out several conditions for its support, including that the Nordic nations end what he called support for “terrorist organizations” in their countries, as well as export bans on Turkey.
On Saturday, an Erdogan adviser told Reuters: “We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey.”
Why does Turkey not want Finland and Sweden in NATO?
Erdogan alleged that Sweden and Finland were “home to many terrorist organizations,” referring primarily to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The PKK is a Kurdish guerrilla group that has fought a decades-long separatist insurgency in parts of Turkey. It was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1997.
The United States and Sweden have drawn Erdogan’s ire over their support of a PKK-affiliated militia in Syria, where the group was fighting the Islamic State. Turkey reprimanded the United States in February last year, and Ankara summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey over the matter two months later.
Turkey has aired other grievances about Sweden and Finland, including concerns about security guarantees and blocked exports of weapons to Turkey.
Can Turkey veto Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO?
Admission of Finland and Sweden to the alliance requires the unanimous support of all 30 NATO member states, so Turkey could object and stop the accessions from happening. However, Stockholm, Helsinki and Ankara have held talks in recent days to hammer out the issues.
The United States, which holds an outsize role in the alliance, has said there is broad support for the Nordic nations joining NATO. Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, cautioned that Erdogan has not formally declared he would act against Sweden and Finland. She told reporters: “It is not clear to me that Turkey is saying they will oppose Sweden’s application.”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Friday that there was “no question” about the support from most NATO members, adding that the Biden administration was “working to clarify Turkey’s position.”
In response to questions about Turkey’s stance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that the alliance would move swiftly.
“Turkey has made it clear: Their intention is not to block membership,” he told reporters Sunday. “Therefore, I am confident we’ll be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the accession process.”
The NATO membership vote could as early as this summer, depending on these negotiations.
Vladimir Putin knows that he fucked up. The AP adds:
In a phone call Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that there are no threats to Finland’s security and joining NATO would be an “error” and “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations.”
The Kremlin said the two leaders had a “frank exchange of views.”
Niinisto said the discussion “was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said accession to NATO by Finland and Sweden would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “turning it into an arena of military competition.”
Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended deliveries of electricity to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electrical grid operator. But only around 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and authorities did not expect shortages.
These Russian threats did not deter the leaders of Finland and Sweden from proceding with their press conference on Sunday.