BERLIN (AP) — A senior NATO official said Sunday Russia’s military advance in Ukraine appears to be stalling, and he expressed hope that Kyiv can win the war, as Russia’s neighbor Finland announced it wants to join the western military alliance.
Senior NATO diplomats meet in Berlin on Sunday to discuss continued support for Ukraine and efforts by Finland, Sweden and other countries to join NATO amid threats from Russia.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army and with our help, Ukraine can win this war.”
The president and government of Finland announced on Sunday that the previously neutral Nordic country, which shares a long border with Russia, intends to bid for NATO membership, paving the way for expansion of the 30-strong western one pave the way for a military alliance.
President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.
“This is a historic day. A new era is beginning,” said Niinisto.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to approve the decision in the coming days, but it is seen as a formality.
A formal application for membership will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely sometime next week.
Geoana, who chaired the meeting while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was recovering from a COVID-19 infection, said Ukraine’s supporters were “united, we are strong, we will continue to help Ukraine win this war”.
A key topic being discussed in Berlin is the expansion of NATO beyond its current 30 member states.
Sweden has also taken steps to join the alliance while Georgia’s bid is being discussed again, despite Moscow’s gloomy warnings about the consequences of its neighbor joining NATO.
“Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners,” Geoana said, adding that he expected allies to view their proposals positively.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country and others made it clear at a dinner late Saturday that they were ready to speed up the national ratification process for Finland and Sweden.
“If these two countries decide to join, they can join very quickly,” she said.
Denmark’s foreign minister dismissed proposals and objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin could prevent the alliance from accepting new members.
“Every single European country has the fundamental right to choose its own security arrangements,” Jeppe Kofod told reporters.
“We now see a world where Putin and the thinking he represents is the number one enemy of democracy,” he said, adding that NATO also stands by other countries like Georgia, which he believes belong to Russia would be “instrumentalised”.
On the sidelines of the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba earlier Sunday to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukrainian grain to international markets.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “underscored the continued commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war.”
Britain’s top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues outside of Europe during their meeting on Sunday – a reference to growing unease among democratic nations over the rise of China.
“In addition to protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we must also pay attention to Indo-Pacific security,” said Secretary of State Liz Truss.
The meeting follows a meeting of foreign ministers from the group of seven leading economies on Germany’s Baltic coast this week. Officials there expressed strong support for Ukraine and warned that Russia’s blocking of grain exports from Ukrainian ports risks fueling a global food crisis.
Tanner reported from Helsinki. AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed from Berlin.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine