By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Russia accused a US journalist of spying as Finland moved closer to joining NATO, heightening tensions between Moscow and the West as the war in Ukraine reached its 400th day on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke in his video address on Thursday evening about the “tremendous path” his country had taken in the 400 days since its invasion of Russia on February 24, 2022.
“Ukraine will win at the front… we will not leave a single trace of Russia on our land, nor will we leave any enemy unpunished. We are preparing news about this,” he said. He didn’t give details, but the Ukrainian military is planning a counter-offensive.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal denied spying charges against its reporter, Evan Gershkovich, and called for his immediate release. The Kremlin said it was “caught in the act” but did not present documentary or video evidence.
The White House condemned Russia’s action and urged US citizens living in or traveling to Russia to leave immediately.
“These espionage allegations are ridiculous. The Russian government’s targeting of American citizens is unacceptable,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference.
The Russian security service FSB said it arrested Gershkovich, a 31-year-old who worked in Russia as a journalist for six years, in the Ural industrial city of Yekaterinburg, “on suspicion of espionage in the interests of the US government”.
He was taken to Moscow, where a court in a closed hearing ordered him to be held in custody until 29 May. Espionage under Russian law can be punished with up to 20 years in prison.
Western political analysts have speculated that Moscow may be trying to barter Gershkovich in a prisoner swap with Washington or use him as diplomatic leverage in some other way.
‘MORE BORN, NOT LESS’
Separately, the Turkish parliament passed a bill on Thursday to allow Finland to join NATO. Turkey’s parliament was the latest among 30 members of the western defense alliance to ratify Finland’s accession after Hungary’s parliament passed a similar bill on Monday.
Sweden has also applied for NATO membership in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One of Russia’s main justifications for the invasion was to prevent the expansion of the Western military alliance. The alliance and its members provided Kiev with military and economic aid.
“Both Finland and Sweden will soon become members, which means that President Putin is getting the exact opposite of what he wanted,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Fox News. “He Wanted Less NATO. He’s Getting More NATO.”
Ukraine said Russian forces continued their assault to the east, particularly in Bakhmut and nearby towns, as well as the town of Avdiivka, about 60km (37 miles) southwest of Bakhmut.
Bakhmut was the site of Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since WWII, with Russian forces seeking their first victory since mid-2022.
“Our defenses hold the city and repel numerous enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian military said on Facebook Thursday evening.
The Ukrainian military analyst and journalist, Andriy Tsaplienko, interviewed by the Ukrainian radio NV, said that the Russian forces are trying to repeat in Avdiivka what happened in Bakhmut.
“The city is under constant daily shelling. They understand that they can’t just capture it and instead are starting to destroy Avdiivka as much as possible,” Tsaplienko said.
RockedBuzz via Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield reports.
The Ukrainian military had said the day before that Russian fighters were having some success at Bakhmut. Evhen Dikyi, a Ukrainian military analyst interviewed on Ukrainian NV radio, said Russian forces controlled more than half of the city.
“I can tell you that Bakhmut is holding on. But there is heavy fighting in the city and he is approaching the city centre,” he said.
“If Russian forces are said to have made ‘some progress’ it is probably because they crossed the Bakhmutka River. They came wave after wave and we are talking a few hundred meters,” Dikyi added.
A month ago, it seemed likely that the Ukrainian army would abandon Bakhmut, but has since decided to stay and fight for it, hoping to deplete and deplete Russia’s strike force.
The invasion of Russia destroyed Ukrainian cities and displaced millions of civilians. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have died.
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters offices; Writing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Grant McCool)