Ukraine live updates: Finland to apply to NATO; Russian effort slows – USA TODAY

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Russia’s military advance in Ukraine is “losing momentum,” a senior NATO official noted on Sunday, adding that with the alliance’s help, Kyiv could come out of the war victorious.

“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters in Berlin. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”

Top NATO diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are meeting Sunday in Berlin to discuss added assistance to Ukraine. Also on the agenda is expansion of the alliance to include Finland, and possibly Sweden.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met with Blinken on Sunday. He noted on Twitter that more American aid and weapons are on the way.

Blinken and Kuleba “also discussed the impact of Russia’s brutal war, including on global food security, and committed to seeking a solution to export Ukraine’s grain to international markets,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

MAPPING THE WAR: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Latest developments:

►Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office said on Sunday that 227 children have died and over 400 injured since the invasion began.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a small group of Republican senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday.

►The U.S. is again accusing Russia of using the U.N. Security Council to spout disinformation and conspiracy theories about biological weapons in Ukraine to distract from its war in Ukraine. U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills called the Russian claims “categorically false and ludicrous.”

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Ukrainian official weighs in on Finland, Sweden in NATO

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna said on ABC News’ “This Week” that the acceptance of Finland and Sweden into NATO would show that the alliance has learned from how it handled Ukraine’s 2008 membership application.

“NATO has learned on the mistakes” it made in 2008 with Ukraine’s request to join “by making promises without delivering on decisions in terms of membership which has basically led to three wars, two of which are now happening on Ukrainian territory.”

Stefanishyna noted Russian troops are now pulling away from major areas in western Ukraine, but her country is not “overly optimistic.”

“We see that Putin has readjusted his strategy,” she said, adding, “the only possible winning scenario for him is the long-lasting war, which is not the case for us and for the democratic world.”

Republicans visit Kyiv: Sen. Mitch McConnell, other GOP leaders meet with Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine

Niinsto: Putin calls joining NATO ‘a mistake’

Finnish President Sauli Niinsto said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “quite calm and cool” when Niinsto told him that Finland would be applying for NATO membership.

Niinsto said Sunday on CNN Sunday that Putin did not repeat earlier threats about what would happen if the neutral Nordic country that borders Russia tried to join the alliance. 

He said he was surprised Putin “took it so calmly.” 

Niinsto said he doesn’t believe Russia will attack Finland for trying to join NATO, though Putin did call the move “a mistake.” 

The Finnish leader noted the security situation has changed to the point Finland has no choice but to align itself with other Western countries in NATO.

“Europe, the world, is more divided. There’s not very much room for nonaligned in between,” he said.

Finland wants to join NATO

Finland’s government announced Sunday that it would apply for membership in NATO.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin declared their intent at a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Finnish support for joining NATO has jumped by 25%, according to poll results reported by France24.

Independent since 1917, Finland has been neutral since a 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union. The Nordic country shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

ICYMI: The week in Ukraine’s war with Russia: Key events explained in 5 graphics

Will Putin use a nuclear weapon?

From nearly the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has teased the use of a nuclear weapon. 

But most political scientists, nuclear arms experts, Western officials and seasoned Kremlin watchers say it’s highly unlikely he would detonate a nuclear weapon to break an impasse over Russia’s stalled offensive in Ukraine, now into its third month. 

“If the conflict in Ukraine essentially remains an overt one between Russian and Ukrainian forces, with the West playing more of a proxy role, if we stay where we are today in terms of Western involvement in the conflict, I see no likelihood at all,” said Dmitri Trenin, until recently director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. 

Read more on Putin’s strategy here. 

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Ukraine wins Eurovision contest

Ukraine celebrated a morale-boosting victory in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday.

The folk-rap ensemble Kalush Orchestra won the glitzy, televised Eurovision contest with its song “Stefania,” which has become a popular anthem among Ukrainians during the war. Votes from home viewers across Europe cemented the victory.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed his nation would claim the customary honor of hosting the next annual competition.

“Step by step, we are forcing the occupiers to leave the Ukrainian land,” Zelenskyy said.

Republican senators visit Zelenskyy

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming, visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday.

The visit marks “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the United States Congress, as well as from the American people,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram.

McConnell told Senate colleagues this week that he supports the latest round of assistance recently passed by the U.S. House.

“Helping Ukraine is not an instance of mere philanthropy. It bears directly on America’s national security and vital interests that Russia’s naked aggression not succeed and carries significant costs,” McConnell said Thursday, according to a press release published on the senator’s site. 

Contributing: Associated Press