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Scenario Darkens for Russia Globally   05/16 06:10

   Europe pushed Monday to sharpen and expand its response to Russia's invasion 
of Ukraine, with Sweden poised to follow Finland in seeking membership of NATO 
and European Union officials working to rescue proposed sanctions that would 
target Russian oil exports helping the Kremlin finance its war.

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Europe pushed Monday to sharpen and expand its 
response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Sweden poised to follow Finland 
in seeking membership of NATO and European Union officials working to rescue 
proposed sanctions that would target Russian oil exports helping the Kremlin 
finance its war.

   On the ground, Russia saw more setbacks in its offensive in eastern Ukraine, 
where Ukrainian defenders are fighting desperately against attempted Russian 
advances and even successfully rolling back the front lines in some areas.

   In a small but symbolic boost for Ukrainian morale, a patrol of soldiers 
recorded triumphant video of their push right up to the Russian border in the 
region of Kharkiv. Already, Ukrainian forces have pushed Russian troops back 
from the region's capital, making it harder for them to hit the battered city 
with artillery.

   As fighting raged, international efforts to respond to Russia's aggression 
continued to pick up pace. The Swedish government is expected to announce its 
intention to seek NATO membership later Monday -- as its neighbor Finland has 
done. Those are seismic developments for the Nordic countries that have 
traditionally positioned themselves as militarily "nonaligned."

   An enlargement of NATO to include Sweden and Finland would be a serious blow 
to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the alliance's post-Cold 
War expansion in Eastern Europe a threat and cited it as a reason for attacking 
Ukraine. NATO says it is a purely defensive alliance.

   NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the membership process for 
both Finland and Sweden could be very quick -- though member Turkey has cast 
doubts over the move.

   In Brussels, EU officials worked to overcome opposition from a small group 
of countries led by Hungary to a proposed embargo on imports of Russian oil. 
Hungary is one of a number of landlocked countries that are highly dependent on 
Russian oil, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has 
reservations.

   "We will do our best in order to deblock the situation," EU foreign policy 
chief Josep Borrell said. " I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because 
positions are quite strong."

   Weapons from NATO countries to Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia 
have helped the outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainian forces bog down the Russian 
advance -- and even turn it back in places.

   Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, said Sunday the war "is not going as Moscow had 
planned."

   "Ukraine can win this war," he said, adding that NATO must continue to offer 
military support to Kyiv.

   Since Russia's failure to overrun Kyiv, the capital, in the early stages of 
its Feb. 24 invasion, much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas, Ukraine's 
eastern industrial heartland.

   Determining a full picture of the unfolding battle there is difficult. 
Airstrikes and artillery barrages make it extremely dangerous for reporters to 
move around, and reporting is restricted by Ukraine and the Moscow-backed 
separatists it has been fighting in the Donbas for eight years.

   Still, Ukrainian forces are grinding down the Russians, and the two sides 
have been battling village-by-village.

   A Ukrainian patrol in the Kharkiv region, where Russian troops have been 
pushed back by a counteroffensive, reached the Russian border and made a 
victorious video there addressed to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The video 
posted Sunday on Facebook by Ukraine's Ministry of Defense shows a dozen 
fighters around a post covered with blue and yellow, Ukraine's colors. It was 
not clear exactly where the video was shot.

   One soldier said 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.

   Along another section of the frontier with Russia, Ukrainian border guards 
said they defeated a Russian attempt Monday morning to send troops into the 
northern Sumy region. The border guard service said Russian forces deployed 
mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns in an attempt to cover a "sabotage 
and reconnaissance group" crossing the border from Russia.

   The border guard service said its officers returned fire and forced the 
Russian group to retreat back into Russia. The area is largely rural and hasn't 
seen intense fighting in more than a month. There was no immediate word from 
Russia.

   In the Donbas, the Ukrainian military said that Russian forces targeted 
civilian and military sites in multiple towns.

   Russia troops continued air and artillery strikes around the Azovstal steel 
plant in Mariupol, the last holdout of several hundred Ukrainian forces in the 
strategically important city, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

   In an online news conference, many wives of the besieged soldiers urged the 
international community to help gain the release of "the entire garrison," 
which is suffering from a dire lack of food, water and medicine.

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

   Britain's Defense Ministry said Monday that Belarus was deploying special 
operations forces along its border with Ukraine and air defense, artillery and 
missile units to training ranges in the west of the country. Belarus' forces 
have not been directly involved in the conflict, though its territory was used 
as a staging ground for the invasion.

   But the presence of Belarusian troops near the border may keep Ukrainian 
troops pinned down there, preventing them from moving to support the 
counteroffensive in the Donbas.

   Despite the fighting in the wider Kharkiv region and the threat of Russian 
missile attacks, many people were returning home to Kharkiv and other cities 
around Ukraine, Anna Malyar, deputy head of the Ministry of Defense, said.

   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," Malyar said in remarks 
carried by the RBK-Ukraine news agency.

 
 
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