© Reuters. A Ukrainian police officer guards as refugees from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol arrive at a registration and humanitarian aid centre for internally displaced people, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine May 8, 2022.
(Reuters) – Finland said on Thursday it would apply to join NATO “without delay”, with Sweden expected to follow suit, suggesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will bring about the very expansion of the Western military alliance that Vladimir Putin aimed to prevent.
The Kremlin said Finland’s move was “definitely” a threat to Russia and that the enlargement of the U.S.-led alliance would not make Europe or the world more stable.
* Ukraine reported pushing back Russian forces in a counterattack that could signal a shift in the momentum of the war and shut gas flows on a route through Russian-held territory, raising the spectre of an energy crisis in Europe.
* Russia said on Thursday its forces hit two ammunition depots in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine. The defence ministry said Russia had destroyed a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile system in the Kharkiv region and a radar station near Odesa.
* One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies warned the West that the increasing military support given to Ukraine by the United States and its allies risked triggering a conflict between Russia and NATO.
* The Russian military’s failure to seize the Ukrainian capital was inevitable as in the preceding years they had never directly faced a powerful enemy, and they are not up to the job in Ukraine, said a former mercenary with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group who fought alongside the Russian army.
Reports of battlefield developments could not be immediately verified by Reuters.
ENERGY AND SANCTIONS
* Ukraine’s announcement on Tuesday that it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point bringing Russian fuel to Europe does not present a gas supply issue, the European Commission said on Thursday.
* Moscow has slapped sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal pipeline that brings Russian gas to Europe, as well as the former German unit of the Russian gas producer Gazprom (MCX:), whose subsidiaries service Europe’s gas consumption.
* NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to apply to join the alliance in the coming days and will grant membership quickly, diplomats and officials said, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forces a radical rethink of European security.
* Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats called a parliamentary debate for Monday as the country prepares for an expected decision to join NATO, abandoning decades of military non-alignment.
POLITICAL AND HUMAN IMPACT
* The U.N. Human Rights chief said a thousand bodies had been recovered in the area of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in recent weeks, adding that many of the violations it is verifying since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians in the conflict.
* The Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine plans to ask Russian President Putin to incorporate it into Russia, TASS news agency said, citing a Russian official. The ousted governor said the region’s people want to return to being part of Ukraine.
* The near-constant crump of shellfire washed over the battered hamlet of Vilkhivka, testifying to fierce fighting beyond its wind-swept fields between Ukrainian troops pressing a counter-offensive and Russian forces that once occupied the area. Villagers have only just begun filtering back to retrieve possessions from properties, salvaging what they can despite the peril from unexploded ordnance.
* “The war will end when Russia returns our right to live,” Ukrainian President Zelenskiy told French students via videolink.
* “This war will not last forever. There will be a time when peace negotiations will take place. I do not see that in the immediate future. But I can say one thing. We will never give up,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.