Russian forces meanwhile are trying to advance in the strategic region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine, partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and which Moscow has made its main objective since the withdrawal of its troops. around kyiv at the end of March.
But they come up against fierce resistance from the Ukrainian forces.
At the end of a meeting of heads of diplomacy from NATO countries in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock affirmed that the countries of the Alliance, individually, would not relax their efforts “in particular on military assistance” to Ukraine.
After decades apart from military alliances, Finland had announced a few hours earlier that it would officially request to join NATO, before a decisive meeting in Sweden with a view to a probable simultaneous request from the two countries, direct consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine launched on February 24.
“It’s a historic day. A new era is dawning,” said Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, whose country shares a 1,300 kilometer border with Russia. The day before, he had called Vladimir Putin to inform him of this decision, which the Russian president described as a “mistake”.
Moscow had previously threatened “military-technical” reprisals, without specifying which ones, and, overnight from Friday to Saturday, had suspended its electricity supply to Finland – around 10% of the Nordic country’s consumption.
This candidacy and that of Sweden are proof “that aggression does not pay”, reacted Sunday the Secretary General of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, assuring that NATO was ready to strengthen the “security guarantees” for these two countries.
He also said he was “confident” in the possibility for the countries of the Alliance to find a compromise with Turkey, which had expressed its hostility to the accession of Sweden and Finland.
– “Lost momentum” –
On the ground, four Russian missiles destroyed military installations in western Ukraine, in the Yavoriv district near the Polish border, without causing any casualties, the governor of the Lviv region, Maxim Lviv, announced on Sunday. Kozytsky, on Telegram.
Ukrainian forces also destroyed two cruise missiles over the Lviv region, largely untouched since the start of the Russian invasion, the governor added.
Moscow also announced that Russian “high precision” missiles had targeted two Ukrainian command points and four artillery ammunition depots overnight near Zaporijzhya, Paraskovievka, Konstantinovka and Novomikhaïlovka in the Donetsk region (east).
Russian aircraft destroyed two missile launchers and a radar system in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine. And Russian anti-aircraft defense systems destroyed 15 Ukrainian drones, according to Moscow.
But if Moscow is shelling out its successes, British military intelligence services estimated on Sunday that the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine had “lost momentum”.
According to them, Russia has suffered huge losses and is in serious danger of getting bogged down in its attempt to conquer the east of the country.
Moscow’s troops failed to make substantial territorial gains, putting their battle plan “significantly behind schedule”, the sources said.
“Russia has now probably suffered losses of a third of the ground combat force it committed in February,” they added. “Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to significantly accelerate its pace of progress over the next 30 days.”
In Berlin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kouleba and discussed the latest US security assistance, the US State Department said.
Blinken “underscored the enduring commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war,” State Department spokesman Ned Price.
For his part, Mr. Kouleba welcomed the “precedent” created by Germany’s decision to provide the first heavy weapons to kyiv, in a video posted on his Facebook account.
“The day I arrived in Berlin, there was training for Ukrainian soldiers in the use of German 155mm caliber self-propelled artillery,” Kouleba said after visiting four days in Berlin. “Soon these self-propelled Howitzers will hit the enemy. A precedent has been set. The psychological barrier (to supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine) has been overcome,” he said.
Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday evening in Italy, thanks to the massive support of European viewers, was hailed by NATO and many European leaders, offering a moment of joy to the people of kyiv.
This victory “is a small ray of happiness”, told AFP Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old entrepreneur living in the capital. The support of the European public has been “incredible”, “it is very important for us in the current context”.
Welcoming this victory and hoping that “in the battle against the enemy is not far away”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised to organize “one day” Eurovision in a “free, peaceful and rebuilt Mariupol “, in reference to the martyr city of south-eastern Ukraine where the last Ukrainian fighters are entrenched in the Azovstal steelworks.
President Zelensky stressed, however, that the “situation in Donbass remains very difficult. Russian troops are trying to achieve at least one victory there”.
“We are preparing for major offensives in Severodonetsk, and around the Lyssytchansk-Bakhmut axis,” said Serguiï Gaïdaï, Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region, which forms with that of Donetsk the Donbass mining basin, describing a situation increasingly critical humanitarianism.
“The Lugansk region is constantly under chaotic fire…there is absolutely no gas, water or electricity,” he said on Saturday evening.
The Russians have been trying in particular for three weeks, without success, to cross the Severskyi Donets river, at the level of the village of Bilogorivka.
In this almost deserted village, an AFP team saw the roads strewn with abandoned military equipment. Only three soot-covered corners remained of a school that was bombed a week ago, a strike that kyiv touts as one of the gravest crimes committed by Russian forces since they began their invasion of Ukraine, along with 60 civilians killed.
In Vilkhivka, another liberated village near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city close to the Russian border, the scars of the violence of the fighting which saw the Ukrainians pushing the Russians towards their border and retaking villages occupied since beginning of the invasion are everywhere.
According to locals, the battle for the recapture of Vilkhivka took place at the end of March, but the Ukrainian army prohibited access to the area until a few days ago.
Symbolically, the inscription “Azov was there”, with the symbol of the Ukrainian regiment resembling the Nazi swastika, was affixed to one of the tanks, next to the “Z” which had been painted there by the Russian troops.
Dozens of houses in this village of around 2,000 inhabitants were gutted by shells, explosions or fires. The streets are strewn with debris, bullet casings and other remnants of ammunition.
kyiv says its troops have killed nearly 20,000 Russian servicemen. On March 25, Moscow said its forces had killed at least 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers. But both figures are widely suspected to be inflated and could not be verified by AFP or independent observers.