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Putin refuses to waver on east Ukraine; Finland's leaders endorse NATO bid

Laura King and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

“Putin’s initial plan of drawing a line in the sand between Russia and NATO and reversing the latter’s expansion has spectacularly backfired,” she added. “This is precisely what Russia did not want: NATO expansion.”

The Kremlin responded by saying that Putin had already set in motion a strengthening of Russian defenses along its western flank. But Snetkov said Moscow would likely struggle to mount a significant response if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, given the vast deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine.

“It is bogged down in Ukraine, has pulled its troops from its other borders,” Snetkov said. “Realistically, what can it do? If it doesn’t respond, which I think is likely, this shows yet again the weakness of Russia and that it’s full of empty threats.”

More than a dozen Russian armored vehicles were destroyed crossing the Siversky Donets River near the village of Bilohorivka in Luhansk, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which posted pictures on Facebook of charred tanks and the remnants of two pontoon bridges. The photos could not be independently verified.

The village was the target of a Russian strike over the weekend that hit a school-turned-shelter, killing about 60 civilians, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian military said Thursday morning that it had repulsed nine Russian attacks over the last 24 hours in Luhansk and Donetsk, while admitting that Russian advances in the region had achieved “partial success.”

 

Russian airstrikes continued to rain down on the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, where the city’s last defenders have been holed up for weeks. The dire situation prompted Kyiv to offer the release of Russian prisoners of war in exchange for the safe evacuation of injured soldiers trapped inside the mill.

Negotiations were ongoing Thursday, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, but none of the options discussed so far was “ideal.”

The defenders, members of the Azov regiment, have refused to surrender despite heavy bombardment and quickly depleting sources of food, water and medicine.

Only a fraction of Mariupol’s 400,000 residents are believed to remain in the shattered city, which Mayor Vadym Boychenko said was reduced to a “medieval ghetto.” Many of the city’s evacuees have fled about 120 miles northwest to the town of Zaporizhzhia, which was hit by Russian shells and grenades, the Ukrainian military said Thursday.

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