Sweden to pursue NATO membership, Russia’s military bogged down in Eastern Ukraine

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced Monday that Sweden will join Finland in seeking NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The historic shift, which comes after more than 200 years of military nonalignment in the Nordic country, is likely to upset the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Finland announced Sunday that it was seeking to join the alliance, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly three months ago had changed Europe’s security landscape. Several hours later, Sweden’s governing party endorsed a bid for membership, which could lead to an application in days.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada is in favour of a “quick accession” for both countries ahead of meeting in Brussels with the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell.

 “Our goal is to be among the first countries to be able to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland,” said Joly. That process in the past has taken eight months to a year.

Those moves would be a serious blow to Putin, who has called NATO’s post-Cold War expansion in Eastern Europe a threat and cited it as a reason for attacking Ukraine. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.

Countries nearby worry they could be next after Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre land border and the Gulf of Finland with Russia. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in a Saturday phone call that joining NATO would be an “error.”

Sweden: NATO, but not bases

Sweden’s parliament on Monday debated the NATO question after the ruling Social Democratic Party broke its party’s longstanding position that Sweden must remain nonaligned and endorsed a plan to do so. 

“Sweden needs formal security guarantees that come with membership in NATO,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during the parliamentary debate, adding that the country was acting together with neighbouring Finland.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks at a news conference on Monday in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday, May 16, 2022. Sweden’s Social Democrats reversed their longstanding position on joining the alliance. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AP)

Andersson said Sweden would refuse nuclear weapons or permanent NATO bases on its soil — similar conditions as neighbouring Norway and Denmark insisted on when the alliance was formed after the Second World War.

Putin warned the West on Monday that Russia would respond if NATO began to bolster the military infrastructure of Sweden and Finland.

Speaking to the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states, Putin said the enlargement of NATO was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation.

Village-by-village battles

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meeting with top diplomats from the alliance in Berlin, said the war “is not going as Moscow had planned.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to offer military support to Kyiv.

Roman Pryhodchenko cries inside his house damaged by multiple shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. (Bernat Armangue/The Associated Press)

On the ground, Russia inflicted damage but failed to make significant territorial gains in eastern Ukraine, the focus of its war effort since its forces failed to seize the capital, Kyiv.

Russian and Ukrainian fighters are battling village-by-village for Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas. Ukrainian soldiers have fought Moscow-backed separatists there for eight years.

On Sunday, a Ukrainian battalion in the Kharkiv region reached the Russian border and made a victorious video there addressed to President Volodymyr Zelensky. The video posted on Facebook by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence shows a dozen fighters around a post covered with blue and yellow, Ukraine’s colours.

One said the unit went “to the dividing line with the Russian Federation, the occupying country. Mr. President, we have reached it. We are here.”

Other fighters made victory signs and raised their fists.

Determining a full picture of the fighting, especially the unfolding battle in the east, is difficult. Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around, and both Ukraine and the Moscow-backed separatists fighting in the east have introduced tight restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.

Russia hit 11 high-rise buildings

Over the weekend, Russian forces hit a chemical plant and 11 high-rise buildings in Siverodonetsk, in the Donbas, regional Gov. Serhii Haidaii said. Russian missiles also destroyed “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine, near the Polish border, the Lviv region’s governor said. Lviv is a gateway for Western-supplied weapons to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military said it stopped a renewed Russian offensive in the Donetsk area of the Donbas. It also blew up two railway bridges that had been seized by Russian forces in the eastern region of Luhansk, Ukraine’s Special Operations Command said Sunday. The aim was to prevent Russia from bringing in more troops to attack the towns of Lisichansk and Severodonetsk.

Ukrainian servicemen walk in the forest near a recently retaken village, north of Kharkiv, on Sunday. (Mstyslav Chernov/The Associated Press)

The Ukrainian claims could not be independently verified, but Western officials also painted a sombre picture for Russia.

Russians retreating from around Kharkiv

Russian troops were retreating from around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a key military objective earlier in the war. After weeks of bombardment and continuing strikes around the wider Kharkiv region, the regional governor said there had been no shelling in the city for several days.

Despite the continuing threat of missile attacks, many people were returning home to Kharkiv and other cities around Ukraine, Anna Malyar, deputy head of the Ministry of Defence, said.

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