Russia faces a bogged-down war, the prospect of a bigger NATO and an opponent buoyed by wins on and off the battlefield almost three months after it shocked the world by invading Ukraine.
Top diplomats from NATO met in Berlin on Sunday, with the alliance’s chief and declared that the war “is not going as Moscow had planned”.
“Ukraine can win this war,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, adding the alliance must continue to offer military support to Kyiv.
He spoke by video link to the meeting as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.
On the diplomatic front, both Finland and Sweden took steps bringing them closer to NATO membership despite Russian objections.
Finland announced on Sunday that it was seeking to join NATO, citing how the invasion had changed Europe’s security landscape.
Several hours later, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats endorsed the country’s own bid for membership, which could lead to an application in days.
If the two non-aligned Nordic nations become part of the alliance, it would represent an affront to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has cited NATO’s post-Cold War expansion a threat to Russia.
While Moscow lost ground on the diplomatic front, Russian forces also failed to make territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine said it held off Russian offensives in the east, and Western military officials said the campaign Moscow launched there after its forces failed to seize the capital of Kyiv has slowed to a snail’s pace.
Ukraine, meanwhile, received a morale boost with victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night, a triumph seen as sign of the strength of popular support for Ukraine across Europe.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that his nation would claim the customary winner’s honour of hosting the next annual competition.
“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.
Russian and Ukrainian fighters are engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas. Ukraine’s most experienced and best-equipped soldiers have fought Moscow-backed separatists in the east for eight years.
Even with its setbacks, Russia continues to inflict death and destruction across Ukraine. At the weekend, its forces hit a chemical plant and 11 high-rise buildings in Siverodonetsk, in the Donbas, the regional governor said.
Russian missiles destroyed “military infrastructure facilities” in the Yavoriv district of western Ukraine, near the border with Poland, the governor of the Lviv region said.
The Ukrainian military said it held off a renewed Russian offensive in the Dontesk area of the Donbas.
Russian troops also tried to advance near the eastern city of Izium, but Ukrainian forces stopped them, the governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Oleh Sinegubov, reported.
The Ukrainian claims could not be independently verified, but Western officials also painted a sombre picture for Russia.
Britain’s defence ministry said in an 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.
After failing to capture Kyiv, Putin shifted the invasion’s focus to the Donbas, aiming to seize territory not already occupied by the Moscow-backed separatists.
In the southern Donbas, the Azov Sea port of Mariupol is largely under Russian control, except for a few hundred Ukrainian troops who have refused to surrender and remain holed up in the Azovstal steel factory.
Oleksandr Stashevskyi and Cianan McQuillan
(Australian Associated Press)