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May 15, 2022, 10:27 p.m. EDT

War in Ukraine: West says Russians have lost momentum

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By Associated Press

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

Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence update that the Russian army had lost up to one-third of the combat strength it committed to Ukraine in late February and was failing to gain any substantial territory.

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry said on Twitter.

The assessments of Russia’s war performance came as Russian troops retreated from around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, which was a key military objective earlier in the war and was bombarded for weeks. The regional governor said there had been no shelling in the city for several days, though Russia continued to strike the wider Kharkiv region.

One Ukrainian battalion that had been fighting in the region reached the border with Russia on Sunday and made a victorious video there addressed to Zelensky.

In the video posted on Facebook by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, a dozen fighters stood around a blue-and-yellow post, Ukraine’s colors.

One explained that 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.

Despite the continuing threat of missile attacks, many people were returning home to Kharkiv and other cities around Ukraine, said Anna Malyar, deputy head of the Ministry of Defense, on Sunday. Refugees were returning not just because of optimism that the war might ebb.

“Living somewhere just like that, not working, paying for housing, eating … they are forced to return for financial reasons,” she said in remarks carried by the RBK-Ukraine news agency.

In the southern Donbas, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol is now largely under Russian control, except for several hundred Ukrainian troops who have refused to surrender and remain holed up in the Azovstal steel factory.

Many of their wives called on the global community to secure the release of “the entire garrison,” during an online news conference. The women said the troops suffered severe food, water and medicine shortages; untreated injuries were sometimes leading to sepsis.

The Ukrainian prosecutor-general’s office said regional prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into Moscow’s alleged use of restricted incendiary bombs at the steelworks. International law allows certain use of incendiary munitions but bars their use to directly target enemy personnel or civilians.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said the country had offered to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers and civilians by ship from Azovstal, according to official state broadcaster TRT.

The invasion of Ukraine has other countries along Russia’s flank worried they could be next, including Finland, which shares both an 830-mile 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.”

In Sweden, after the ruling Social Democratic Party on Sunday backed plans to join NATO, the plan was to be discussed Monday in parliament, with an announcement by the Cabinet to follow.

However, NATO operates by consensus, and the Nordic nations’ potential bids were thrown into question over concerns from Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he had discussed Turkey’s concerns at the NATO meeting, especially Sweden and Finland’s alleged support for Kurdish rebel groups and their restrictions on weapons sales to Turkey.

But during a Sunday visit to Sweden, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Finland and Sweden would be “important additions” to NATO and that the U.S. should swiftly ratify their membership. McConnell is leading a delegation of GOP senators to the region. They made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday in a show of support.

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