According to a White House official, Ukrainians are still fighting hard for the town of Bakhmut and have not been repulsed from the city, refuting claims made by the Wagner Group. John Kirby, a spokesperson for the United States National Security Council, stated that an additional assistance package for Ukraine could be expected this week. The fight for the industrial city of Bakhmut has become the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s year-long assault on Ukraine. Most of Bakhmut’s prewar population of approximately 70,000 people fled the town in 2022. Ukrainian troops say it is hard to say how many civilians still remain in Bakhmut, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to 5,000.
Meanwhile, Finland will officially become a member of the NATO military alliance on Tuesday, according to the Finnish president’s office. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also confirmed this news and said that “tomorrow we will welcome Finland as the 31st member”. In response to Finland joining NATO, Russia will reportedly strengthen its military capacity. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told RIA Novosti news agency that “we will strengthen our military potential in the western and northwestern direction” and that “in the event that the forces and resources of other NATO members are deployed in Finland, we will take additional steps to reliably ensure Russia’s military security”. Finland has a 1,300km (810-mile) border with Russia, which will roughly double the military alliance’s frontier with Moscow.
In Slovakia, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers urged the European Union to exert “targeted pressure” on the Kremlin by sticking to sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year. The Czech and Slovak governments, led by Petr Fiala and Eduard Heger, respectively, met in the western Slovak city of Trencin. The premiers said in a statement that it is important for the EU and its partners to continue targeted pressure on the Russian Federation and thoroughly implement the sanctions. Allies should also “prevent bypassing the sanctions and create mechanisms to punish those responsible for crimes related to this aggression”.