Russian Threats Push Finland To Join NATO Alliance

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Finland’s leaders voted Thursday to apply to join NATO, and Sweden could do the same in days, in a landmark reshuffle on the continent 2 1/2 months after Russian presidential rule Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow’s neighbors.

The Kremlin responded by warning that it will be forced to take retaliatory “military-technical” steps.

On the ground, meanwhile, Russian forces stormed areas in central, northern and eastern Ukraine, including the last resistance zone in Mariupol, as part of its offensive to take the industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine left several towns and villages in the northeast. recaptured.

The first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since the start of the conflict will start in Kiev on Friday. A 21-year-old imprisoned tank unit member is accused of shooting a civilian on a bicycle during the opening week of the war.

Finland’s President and Prime Minister announced that the Scandinavian country must apply immediately for membership in NATO, the military defense pact created in part to counter the Soviet Union.

“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said this week.

While the country’s parliament has yet to weigh in, the announcement means Finland will almost certainly apply – and gain admission – although the process could take months. Sweden is also considering putting itself under NATO protection.

That would mean a major change in the European security landscape: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland assumed neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.

Public opinion in both countries shifted dramatically in favor of NATO membership after the invasion, sparking fears in countries along Russia’s flank that they could be next.

Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic and Arctic and would amount to a painful setback for Putin, who had hoped to divide and roll back NATO in Europe, but instead do the opposite. sees happening.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said the alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden with open arms.

Russia’s foreign ministry warned that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory actions of military-technical and other characteristics to confront emerging threats to its national security.”

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NATO’s routing of weapons and other military aid to Ukraine has already been critical to Kiev’s surprising success in holding back the invasion, and the Kremlin again warned on horrifying terms on Thursday that the aid could lead to an immediate conflict between NATO and Russia.

“There is always a risk that such a conflict will turn into a full-scale nuclear war, a scenario that will be catastrophic for everyone,” said Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council.

Although Russia’s advance into the Donbas has been slow, its forces have gained ground and captured some villages.

Four civilians were killed on Thursday in three communities in the Donetsk region, which is part of the Donbas, the regional governor said.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia’s focus on the Donbas has left the remaining troops around the northeastern city of Kharkov vulnerable to counter-attacks by Ukrainian forces, who recaptured several towns and villages around the city.

At least two civilians were killed in Russian attacks on Thursday in the outskirts of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, local authorities said.

The attacks also damaged a building housing a humanitarian aid unit, municipal offices and hospital facilities, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, the mayor of the suburb of Derhachi, wrote in a Telegram post.

None of the sites “had anything to do with military infrastructure,” Zadorenko said.

Fighting in the east has forced many thousands of Ukrainians from their homes.

“It’s terrible there now. We left under missiles,” said Tatiana Kravstova, who left the city of Siversk with her 8-year-old son Artiom on a bus bound for the central city of Dnipro. “I don’t know what they were targeting, but they were pointing at civilians.”

Ukraine also said Russian troops fired artillery and grenade launchers at Ukrainian troops around Zaporizhzhya, which has been a refuge for civilians fleeing Mariupol, and attacked in the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north.

At least three people were killed overnight in air strikes near Chernihiv, in northern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army said. It said Russian troops fired rockets at a school and student flat in Novhorod-Siversky and several other buildings, including private residences, were also damaged.

In his evening address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the attacks.

“Of course the Russian state is in such a state that any education only gets in its way. But what can be achieved by destroying Ukrainian schools? All Russian commanders who give such orders are simply sick and incurable.”

Noting that Thursday is International Nurses Day, Zelenskyy said the Russian military has damaged 570 medical facilities since the invasion began on Feb. 24 and completely destroyed 101 hospitals.

Twelve Russian missiles hit an oil refinery and other infrastructure in the central Ukrainian industrial center of Kremenchuk on Thursday, the region’s acting governor Dmytro Lunin wrote in a Telegram message. In early April, he said, the refinery, which at the time was the last fully functional in Ukraine, was knocked offline by an attack.

In the southern port of Mariupol, largely reduced to smoking rubble with little food, water or medicine, or what the mayor called a “medieval ghetto,” Ukrainian fighters held out at the Azovstal steel mill, the last stronghold of resistance in the city.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said negotiations are underway with Russia to win the release of 38 seriously injured Ukrainian defenders from the factory. She said Ukraine hoped to exchange them for 38 “key” Russian prisoners of war.

Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kiev, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and other AP employees around the world contributed.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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